Gyms become a place for cross-generational fitness.
By Bonnie Miller Rubin and Joseph Boyle
“Are you afraid I’m gonna drop you?” she asks, smiling.
Oddly enough, baby Camila, who’s strapped to the front of mom Jennie Chávez’s body, doesn’t seem even remotely afraid, despite being flipped upside down every time Mom bends forward to stretch. In fact, the kid seems used to it. Cardio workouts might seem like a bad time to wear your baby, but you wouldn’t know it by watching this mother do aerobics with her child. To be any more relaxed, Camila would have to be asleep.
Throughout the room, five women work out with their children resting against them in baby carriers. The women talk to each other about motherhood and their children. For busy moms, these weekly workouts on Saturday mornings at the Body Boutique in Brookfield serve as a much-needed reprieve, as well as a welcome bonding experience with their own children and other moms.
“It’s social,” says Tori Hartmann, who instructs the Babywearing Bootcamp class. “They can sit here and talk about baby stuff, and it’s nice to have different people that are going through the same experience as you.”
The babies seem to like it, too. “Two of them fell asleep today,” Hartmann says.
The Body Boutique opened in June of 2015 and offers both performance and personal training, often in a group setting. Its founder, Noel Brue, is a professional bodybuilder who specializes in strength training and weightlifting.
The Babywearing Bootcamp class came about in January, when Hartmann, a mother to a baby girl and already an instructor at the Boutique, pitched the idea.
“There’s nothing for mothers when they want to work out with their child,” Brue says. “We saw a need in the industry and thought we’d give it a chance and see what happened. It’s been successful so far.”
Babywearing Bootcamp is one of many exercise services focused on incorporating your kids into your workout. If your child is too big for a carrier, you have other options.
Haleybird Studios in Wauwatosa offers yoga for parents and children aged toddler to 18. Like Babywearing Bootcamp, Haleybird was born from a desire to combine personal fitness and family time.
“I try to think like a customer,” says Haley Stozek, owner of Haleybird Studios and mother of four kids, all aged 8 and younger. “Everybody is crunched for time. Besides, this fit perfectly with our philosophy that yoga is for everyone.”
So, in 2008, Stozek started offering classes for the youngest yogis and their parents. While no one expects preschoolers to strike the perfect Downward Dog, the popular class is fun, promotes bonding and, most importantly, makes fitness a family priority.
The dual-generation workout is an emerging trend both nationwide and in the Milwaukee area. This isn’t about Mom or Dad rushing through their respective routines while Junior is in the club’s child care center – often little more than a blaring TV and some coloring books. This is about hitting the gym together.
While toddler swim and movement programs like Gymboree have been around for years, today’s menu is more varied, says Jill Stevens Kinney, a California-based health club consultant and operator of wellness programs in 15 states.
“This goes to the heart of parental concerns about obesity and too much screen time,” Kinney says. “What we’re seeing today is that parents have a different set of priorities, and very high on the list is the importance of activity. It emphasizes, ‘This is what we do – we are engaged in a community of healthy living.’”
For the competitive health club market, it provides another source of revenue, builds brand loyalty and creates a pipeline of future members.
According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, children ages 6 to 17 are the second-fastest-growing member demographic, behind the 55-plus population. In 2009, 4.6 million kids participated in club activities; in 2014, that number had zoomed to 8.3 million – a whopping 80 percent increase.
The Rite-Hite Family YMCA recently launched a pilot called Sportzone for children starting at age 5. The twice-weekly program is free with membership and features old-school games such as red rover, duck-duck-goose, jump rope, and hula hoops – a fad that had its heyday back when today’s grandparents were at recess.
“Sportzone is in direct response to member demand,” says Leila Wright, products director of sports and recreation at the Brown Deer site. “Attendance is steadily growing, and parents are already asking us to add additional days.”
Amanda Goss brings her 6-year-old daughter, Vada, to Sportzone and says it’s much easier to work out when her child wants to come, too. “She’s just much happier when she gets to burn it off,” says Goss, who also has a 2-year-old.
At Haleybird Studios, Stozek can understand why some parents might be intimidated by yoga, but people shouldn’t be put off by the image of lithe figures doing pretzel-like contortions. “Basically, if you can breathe, you can do yoga,” she says.
For 3-to-5-year-olds and their parents – okay, moms – the class fosters flexibility, balance and body awareness, but the ultimate goal is fun. For 6-to-12-year-olds, there’s more attention to form, but it is still secondary to the larger lesson of relaxation, Stozek says. “There’s just so much stimulation in our environment today. Calming the mind is a skill, and kids are craving it,” she says.
Even adult-oriented facilities – such as the Wisconsin Athletic Club – are catering more to families. The Kids’ Clubhouse (infant to 12) is still very popular with members, but today there’s a greater emphasis on healthy snacks and physical activity.
“We don’t have even have videos,” says Ian Casmer, the club’s director of sales. “The idea is to get children comfortable coming here, so they learn to value fitness and make it a part of their lives.”
Families who join together have a much lower attrition rate, stay longer and spend more money, says Kinney, who has seen other clubs add features such as obstacle courses – think bands, ropes and tunnels – as a way to get kids off the couch. “It’s different than being sports-specific, like starting your kid early in tennis, swimming or soccer. As kids get older, if they’re not in the top tier of their respective sports, they tend to drop out altogether.”
Although the structure of working out at a club helps some parents, others make changes in their family’s activity level at home.
Three years ago, Chong Pak of Mequon opted to take charge of her health with multiple “Beachbody” DVDs. By traveling no farther than her den, Pak was able to save 30 minutes of driving and devote more time to whittling her waist.
“I decided that I had to make some changes in myself and I just didn’t have time to run to the gym,” says Pak, a teacher and mother of three girls, from 11 to 21 years old. “I’ve lost 35 pounds and lowered both my blood pressure and my cholesterol. I am in the best shape of my life.”
Another bonus: setting a good example for her 11-year-old daughter, who joins her for the nightly workouts. As for her older daughters, when it comes to exercise, “I’m probably too late,” she says with a laugh.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there’s little research on the advantages and risks of organized activity for children under age 5. Still, Dr. Ellen Schumann, a pediatrician and administrator with Milwaukee-based Ministry Health Care, says that what is important is unstructured play and daily physical fitness.
Children should be exposed to a broad range of activity, Schumann stresses. “Variety – or what we adults would call cross-training – is important until middle school. It should be fun and non-competitive,” she says.
Crying should never be involved.
Bonnie Miller Rubin is a freelance writer in the Chicago area. Joseph Boyle is a Milwaukee Magazine editorial intern.