Action-packed Fitness Programs for Kids


Fitness classes that require kids to move their own body weight have gained momentum and popularity. For exercise or competition, kids can try CrossFit, parkour, American Ninja Warrior obstacle courses or rock climbing. Check out these new options for keeping your kids active. 


CrossFit includes a mix of aerobic exercise, body weight exercises and weight lifting. “The focus is to get them moving at first,” says Jeff Liebreich,co-owner of CrossFit South Philly. Kids’ CrossFit classes involve shorter, lower intensity workouts than in adult classes. After they master safe movements, kids progress to activities where they move objects.


Parkour practitioners aim to get from one point to another by running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling. “We take the concept of play and incorporate it with serious training techniques. Lessons follow a safe progression so kids won’t get hurt,” says Phil Pirollo co-founder of Pinnacle Parkour, in Cherry Hill, NJ.

“Some parents bring gamers in because they’re pretty inactive physically,” he notes. These kids enjoy how much parkour resembles their games in terms of the action.

Ninja warrior obstacle courses

Popularized by the TV show American Ninja Warrior, obstacle courses are “huge with kids,” says Mark Falcone, owner of iCore Fitness, an obstacle gym in West Chester, PA. iCore has replicated the obstacles from the show and offers kids’ programs based on functional movement exercises with some gymnastic components.

Rock climbing

“Rock climbing is a huge puzzle to solve with body and mind,” says Liz Pezzopane, director of youth programs at Philadelphia Rock Gyms, which has multiple locations in PA. The sport involves doing a lot of work with your body weight — pushing, pulling and balancing. It’s individually paced, with everyone working toward his own goal.

See page 2 for related health and safety info.


Stay safe

Because of the heights involved with rock climbing and obstacles, parents may find some of these activities a bit scary. “One of the most common misconceptions about parkour is that it’s not safe,” says Pirollo. “It’s a very controlled, very safe activity. Kids can get a lot out of
it without putting themselves at risk,” he reassures parents.

“No sport can be made completely safe,” says Pezzopane, “but we aim to reduce that risk as much as possible.” That includes protecting against falls and overuse injuries as well as knowing an athlete’s capabilities and limits. Falcone uses safety equipment like mats
and foam pits, and instructors trained in safety techniques are always nearby.

Most facilities have good safety measures in place for kids, but make sure you feel comfortable before you sign up your child for a class. Look for a good instructor-to-student ratio and instructors who are good at communicating proper technique to kids. Consider if your child is a good listener and will follow important safety instructions.

Stay healthy

“We encourage all sorts of active behavior and want to see kids do it in a healthy way,” says Dr. Al Atanda, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and director of the Nemours Center for Sports Medicine in Wilmington, DE.

In terms of physical and mental maturity, he recommends age 10 as a good starting point for these activities. He stresses that children who haven’t gone through puberty shouldn’t focus on weight-lifting activities because they would risk injury.

“Children are some of the best functional movers out there,” says Liebreich. “They are naturals.” However, parents should be cautious and pay attention to their individual child, says Dr. Atanda. “Be sure they can follow the rules and know their limitations.”   

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

Benefits of these types of classes include:
Fitness: “Kids who were unathletic now have stamina, coordination and upper body strength,” says Falcone.
Social interaction: As recess and free-play time get reduced at school, says Liebreich, fitness classes provide another way for children to get together to play with, challenge and encourage each other.
Confidence: “Physical activity is often related to building confidence,” says Pirollo. “Every move is an accomplishment in rock climbing. It does wonders for kids’ confidence,” says Pezzopane.
Focus: Kids' focus and behavior can improve, says Liebreich. That mental focus can translate into the classroom, agrees Pezzopane.
Injury prevention: Conditioning and strengthening exercises can prevent injuries in other sports, says Liebreich. “It prepares us for activities outside of the gym,” he says, like hiking, running a race or being on the rowing team.


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