Designing youth fitness equipment isn't as simple as miniaturizing adult equipment.
Tackling the problem of childhood obesity is no easy task, but it's one that more fitness facilities are taking seriously. Research has shown the benefits of exercise for people of all ages, but enticing kids to get off the couch and into a fitness center is half the battle. "The demand for youth fitness equipment is definitely on the rise, but the demand is for high quality and innovation, not just the cool things that kids may like," says John Salvitti, president of Strive Enterprises Inc., Canonsburg, Pa. "The market is concerned about fads and is intent on sustaining a child's interest level, so . . . there is a higher level of interest on programming."
Still, designing youth fitness equipment isn't as simple as miniaturizing adult equipment. "Children are not mini-adults," explains Phil Arney, owner of and partner in Youth Fitness Solutions Inc., Belton, Texas. "They have different needs and requirements than adults, so exercise and equipment for children needs to be designed for them." Yet the fact remains that children - especially teenagers - don't want to be treated like kids. "The mistake we cannot make in design is to make a kid feel like a kid," admits Salvitti. "While kids may have different preferences than adults, they want to be treated like young adults, and we need to consider this in design."
Youth fitness equipment manufacturers have developed several solutions to these issues.
If you can't beat 'em . . .Asking kids to forgo video games in favor of good, old-fashioned physical activity may feel like swimming upstream. Rather than fight technology's ever-increasing presence, some youth fitness equipment manufacturers have decided that it's easier to go with the flow. "The future is more interactive equipment," says Arney. "Like putting the child[ren] into a 'video game,' where the more activity they do, the further they move through the game." A number of products that indulge the preferences of techno-savvy youth are already on the market, including virtual reality products and those that emulate video gaming. Both kinds of products have a competitive aspect, which seems to be a main attraction. Whether children want to play against a friend or the computer, this new breed of youth fitness equipment will oblige.
Incredible shrinking equipmentYouth fitness equipment manufacturers do more than reduce the size of adult-sized equipment; they modify it to fit little limbs and cater to growing bodies. "[Children] have an immature skeleton, so the activities need to be appropriate," explains Arney. "Putting children on a small version of adult equipment could increase the risk of injuring the child, with them trying to lift too heavy a weight ([thanks to] peer pressure or a natural instinct to test themselves). Also, prying fingers can be easily pinched." Manufacturers recognize this, and design "children-sized equipment with either hydraulic resistance, which is very safe, or a plateloaded system with very small weight increments," Arney says.
Designing smaller versions of their parents' fitness equipment isn't the only approach to pique kids' interest. "Color is a key design element for children," says Salvitti. Manufacturers make their equipment bright and inviting by using bold, primary colors that seem more Sesame Street than sweat. Arney says the reason is simple: "Cool, hip design and fun colors" attract young exercisers.
It's in your handsNo matter how cleverly they disguise exercise as a game, or how engaging they make the color and design of their products, youth fitness equipment manufacturers can only do so much. The real power to change kids' lives and effect lifelong change remains in the hands of fitness professionals. "The equipment is just a toy to a child, and they will get bored with it," says Arney. "It's the instructor teaching the programs that keeps the kids motivated." To get the most out of any youth fitness equipment, design a high-quality program first, then select the equipment that fits it best. "Those clubs that are most successful at running children's programs offer … programs, not just equipment," Arney says. "Kids need to be motivated to exercise by continual stimulation, and this comes from the variety of programming."
After all, the rise in childhood obesity is daunting, but it benefits everyone to vanquish it. "If we are successful with the children," says Salvitti, "fitness will transcend a lifetime."
Cateye Fitness800 872-1105; www.gamebike.com
The Cateye GameBike Pro is a plug-and-play video game controller featuring a fitness computer that gives exercise results to combine gaming and cycling. Users control every movement on the screen with their own body: Handlebars control the steering, pedals control the speed, users control the strategy. They can play against the computer or connect additional GameBikes and compete against other exercisers. An automatic heart rate control program equalizes competition between users. The Cateye GameBike Pro works with any of the 50-plus speed-related games on the market, including car, off-road, speedboat and motorcycle racing games. It connects to Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) and other video game consoles, and users can play up to four GameBike Pros at once with PS2, using multi-tap. The GameBike Pro features multiple heart rate control programs and six other user programs. It comes in two sizes: large for users 61 to 79 inches tall, and small for users 47 to 65 inches tall. It is currently available only as an upright cycle, but recumbent models are on the way.
Cybex774 324-8000; www.cybexintl.com
The Cybex Trazer is a computer-based system that combines the training effectiveness of a flight simulator with the challenge of video games to create fun and functional fitness challenges, games, tests, drills and rehabilitation programs. Exercisers snap the Beacon around their waist to experience unconstrained free movement similar to real-life activities. The Trazer measures the key elements of agility, coordination and balance, reaction time, quickness, speed, movement power, and optimal center of gravity control for power and stability. It also estimates calories used and, if used while wearing a Polar or Polar-compatible heart rate monitor, measures average and peak beats per minutes. The video display pictured is not included; the Trazer works with computer-compatible monitors, projectors and televisions. A VGA connection is required.
International Youth Fitness843 761-5866; www.youthfit.com
International Youth Fitness (IYF) has developed and manufactured youth fitness equipment for youth of all ages, from toddlers to high schoolers, since 1999. It has developed more than 60 different fitness products for children, including Cardio Kids, Kids N Motion, Jacobs Climbing Walls and Big Kids. Cardio Kids, a line of ellipticals, stationary cycles, stair steppers, treadmills, rowers, moonwalkers and ski trainers, is split into three age groups: elementary, middle school and high school. Kids N Motion is a line of bodyweight strength-training equipment that consists of seven kid-sized pieces. Climbing walls are available with five different course and lesson plans.
Pro*Fit Enterprises Kid's PACE Express888 604-2244; www.kidspaceexpress.com
Pro*Fit Enterprises' Kid's PE (PACE Express) hydraulic circuit-training equipment includes 12 strength-training pieces. Kid's PE employs the principles of musical chairs with a variety of flexible, high-energy programs, all of which are NESTA-certified. Kid's PE is designed to be fun, non-intimidating, non-competitive, and used in structured, supervised formats. It uses safe hydraulic resistance, which accommodates the fitness level of each child.
Sportwall International800 695-5056; www.sportwall.com
Sportwall's XerGames is a suite of interactive products that are essentially computer games requiring physical activity to make them work. XerGames is a turnkey interactive solution for group fitness and individual training. Products include Sportwall Training Stations and Playgrounds, which cater to groups, require a space of at least 30 feet deep. Exer-Station by Powergrid and Dance Platforms by Cobalt Flux (using DDR technology by Konami) offer individual exercise experiences. Sportwall products and programs use computer game technology to develop physical and cognitive skills for kids of all ages. Sportwall's comprehensive package includes facility planning and installation, program design and onsite training, and turnkey marketing support.
Strive800 368-6448; www.strivefit.com
Strive offers a complete line of Smart Circuits, specifically engineered for the average child to help develop solid workout habits at a young age. A complete workout can be achieved for boys and girls of all fitness levels by shifting the adjustable, variable resistance cam between settings 1, 2 and 3. Traditional resistance-training equipment essentially focuses only at the center of the range of motion. With Smart Circuits, users have the ability to selectively alter the resistance patterns of the exercise movement. With any given exercise, maximum resistance can be placed at any region of the movement. Safety panels to enhance injury prevention are standard with each of the 14 pieces of Strive children's equipment.
Youth Fitness Solutions254 295-4140; www.youthfitnesssolutions.com
Youth Fitness Solutions offers KidzPower, a youth strength circuit for six- to 12-year-olds. Non-adjusting hydraulic cylinders provide self-accommodating resistance. Individual pieces are color-coded for easy recognition. Each piece includes rollers for easy movement and/or storage. An instructional DVD and programming manual, which provides instructions on implementing a profitable program, are also included. Also offered are commercial-grade DDR Groove Pads for five- to 18-year-olds. Kevlar and polypropylene materials provide durability, and a two-pad configuration allows head-to-head competition. A set of six practice pads allows for larger group participation.