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The Basics of a Youth Weight-Loss Program

With childhood obesity increasing, fitness centers need to be part of the solution. Offering a successful youth weight-loss program requires planning, commitment, a great staff and motivating ideas.

With the growing number of obese children, this is a market the fitness industry should not be missing out on. The key is understanding what can you do to get your overweight youth members involved within your facilities. The answer is in your programming! Fitness centers are known for developing programs and fusing them with other programs to meet the growing demands of their membership base. The same concept can be used to develop your own youth weight-loss program. First, you must determine your need for such a program. If your facility is family-oriented, the need is there, and taking action is necessary. If your facility is not youth-oriented, you may consider expanding your services.

Seven components to consider

The need for a youth program has been determined, so who is going to design and deliver this new results-driven and revenue-generating program? Do you have the appropriate time, space and equipment available? Do you have the marketing dollars to drive the program? Will your membership be supportive of the program? Do you have the right people to implement it? Consider these seven main components of creating, developing and implementing a youth weight-loss program. 1. Education. It is essential to have the right people in place to implement a youth program within your facility. The staff involved must have a desire to work with youth and be excited about the process, as well as have a professional approach to and execution of the new program. It is also important to have certified fitness professionals with a solid educational background. "Having a passion for working with kids is the most important aspect for the instructor," says Veronica Whitish, personal trainer at the Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick, Wash. "The challenges that you face with the program are much easier to handle when you have a genuine desire to help the youth." The other side of education involves the participants' parents. They must be held accountable for supporting and encouraging their children through the program. One way to ensure this is accomplished is through weekly parent/youth education and exercise sessions. 2. Motivation. A program that focuses on encouraging participants to be physically active every day and eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and grains (while eliminating poor food choices) sounds great. But, this alone will not provide youth with the motivation they need to succeed. Get to know why the participants are in your program; remember, their parents want them to lose weight, but the children may just want to have fun. The trick is delivering fun activities that motivate. The weight loss will follow. 3. Preparation. Homework? Yes. Ask your students to do what it takes to be successful. A results-oriented youth weight-loss program requires students to complete a series of activities outside of class that keep them focused on the true goal: life-long weight management. Examples of homework assignments include keeping food journals and exercise logs, goal setting, self-esteem assignments and learning to read nutrition labels. 4. Opportunity. A weight-loss program should be so much more than weight loss. You have the opportunity to be the catalyst that allows youth to see physical movement as an exciting experience. Provided you have the facility to explore multiple fitness options, include as many exercise modalities as possible (i.e., fitness stations at the park, exer-tainment options, rock climbing, indoor cycling, swimming, dodgeball and fitness obstacle courses). Give each individual the opportunity to explore as many modes of movement as possible; you may just be training the next generation of fitness center members. 5. Weight management. The focus of your program should be the benefits of proper nutrition and exercise for life, not the typical quick weight-loss program. Placing youth on restrictive diets and vigorous exercise routines will only lead them to a negative perception of both healthy eating and exercise. Equipping them with the appropriate education and programming will lead to a life-long positive experience with weight management. Evan Rippley, a participant in the youth weight-loss program at the Tri-City Court Club, says, "I accomplished many things as far as weight loss, not to mention the boost in self-esteem. When I began the program, I weighed 193 pounds ... I now weigh 170 pounds. My body fat percentage decreased by 12 percent. All of this was accomplished with minor adjustments to my diet and four workouts a week for 12 weeks." 6. Exercise. It is important to have a designated space within your facility, such as a group exercise studio, with easy access to free weights, Bosus, exercise balls, agility ladders and medicine balls. Remember, however, that you are not limited to this space alone. Does your facility have a basketball court, rock wall, teen fitness room or indoor cycling studio? All of these areas are great places to implement exercise while having fun. 7. Respect. A weight-loss program should focus on programming that makes each individual feel good about themselves. Most people enjoy competition if the playing field is level. It is important to be supportive; your youth will work hard as long as they have your support. "Going to school was hard because I felt bad about my weight, but now I am able to go to school without being embarrassed," says Rippley. "Now, with 23 less pounds, playing sports is much easier and a lot more fun. I loved the program, I love being 20 pounds lighter, and I have never felt better (oh, yeah - the girls swarm around me now)."

EMPOWER Your Fitness Center's Youth

The Tri-City Court Club, Kennewick, Wash., developed its own youth weight-loss program titled EMPOWER. Basics. The program is 12 weeks long, and each session has eight to 10 participants. The class is open to youth ages six through 15. Each 12-week session generates $2,500 in revenue, and has a 60-percent profit margin. The average weight loss per participant is 10 pounds. The most weight lost by a participant to date is 25 pounds. Program components. The program consists of weekly group meetings involving parents and youth, as well as three group workouts with a personal trainer. Each week, the program is divided into a fitness topic and activities. Topics focus mainly on nutrition, but also fitness, and range from smart goal setting, to exchanging food in your menu, serving sizes, nutrition labels, weight lifting, heart rate training and more. Activities include strength training and cardio drills, fitness activities such as indoor cycling and cardio equipment training, and sports activities such as rock climbing, racquetball, dodgeball, basketball and swimming. Challenges. One challenge the program faces is a lack of space. For the program to grow any further, scheduling and space availability must be considered.

Marketing your program

Once your program is designed, it must be marketed within your facility, as well as to the community. This can be done through your in-house newsletter, and at health fairs, hospitals and schools. The local newspaper is another way to market new programs within your facility. It is much easier to market your program once you have positive results. As positive results are established, contacting the local media to run a story on the unique features of your program is a great way to springboard to the next level. Word of mouth is a great marketing tool, so always be positive about changes and/or growth within your facility.

What challenges can you expect?

Any time a new program is implemented, obstacles will arise. Keeping people motivated is a challenge in any fitness facility, let alone a youth weight-loss program. There are many groups of people to consider with this program, such as the instructors, the parents and the youth. Interestingly, the biggest challenge of the three groups is the parents. They are responsible for bringing youth to your facility, as well as making sure they follow through outside of class. Parents are responsible for providing healthy meals and an environment where youth are able to be successful (i.e., arriving to class on time). Other challenges you will face may just come from within your own organization. Often, events will compete with each other. Seasonal events and/or classes can cause difficulty in the exclusive use of an exercise studio or gymnasium. The use of a free weight room or circuit training studio may cause conflict with the general membership. Communication is the key to success in any environment. It is also important to have complete support from all staff members in your facility; a program can only go so far unless it is fully supported.
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