Five Keys to Introducing Teens to the Benefits — and Expectations — of Your Facility

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Embracing an active lifestyle from a young age can set the foundation for a lifetime of physical, mental and social wellbeing. The benefits of regular exercise for teens extend far beyond just physical health by encompassing mental resilience, social connections and the cultivation of healthy habits.

As a gym owner and consultant, I’ve witnessed firsthand how introducing teens to the gym environment can have a positive impact on their overall development. However, managing younger members in a gym setting comes with unique challenges. Striking a balance between fostering a positive experience for teens and ensuring harmony with other gym-goers is crucial. While challenging, a balance can be achieved with the right strategies.

Here are five key strategies I have recommended to gyms to effectively manage younger members based on my own experiences with youths as a gym owner and operator.

1.  Stick to an age requirement

Establishing a minimum age requirement for gym membership is the first step in creating a safe and success-conducive environment for teens. While it might be tempting to accommodate younger individuals eager to join, setting a minimum age ensures that members are developmentally ready for the gym environment.

The age requirement could vary depending on the type of facility, the equipment available and the nature of the fitness programs offered. For instance, community rec centers, YMCAs and JCCs often have an age limit as low as 12, since they are family-oriented facilities and their members expect a more inclusive environment. On the other hand, higher-end luxury facilities with a higher price point might set their minimum age for membership at 16 or even 18, attracting an older demographic seeking a more exclusive and mature atmosphere.

When determining your facility’s minimum age requirement, consider factors such as the facility’s mission, the goals of your fitness programming, and the overall atmosphere you want to create. Examine your model to ensure alignment with your target demographic and long-term objectives. Stick to these age restrictions consistently, as bending the rules can create complications and potential safety hazards.

2. Enforce strict behavior expectations

Once a minimum age requirement has been determined, it is imperative that clear behavioral expectations are established in order to create a positive and respectful gym atmosphere.

Teens should be made aware of the expected conduct, including using equipment responsibly, keeping noise levels down and respecting the personal space of others. Enforce these rules consistently, addressing any deviations promptly and firmly, yet diplomatically. (For a more detailed explanation of how to enforce gym etiquette policy, see my column from September 2023.) This ensures a harmonious coexistence among gym members while teaching teens the importance of discipline and accountability.

3.  Conduct a minor orientation

An orientation session for younger members can be immensely beneficial. This session should cover essential aspects such as proper equipment usage, safety guidelines and gym etiquette. Emphasize the importance of warming up, cooling down and using equipment correctly to prevent injuries. Additionally, educate them on respecting the overall gym space, as well as the space of fellow gym-goers. This orientation instills a sense of responsibility and ensures that teens feel confident navigating the gym environment. 

Qualified staff or personal trainers are excellent choices to conduct these orientation sessions. They possess the expertise to guide teens effectively and address any questions or concerns that may arise. It is crucial that the session conductor, the teen and the parent all actively participate and sign off on the information provided. This multi-signature approach adds a deeper level of seriousness and accountability, and teens should not be allowed to use the facility until this orientation session is completed and the necessary signatures are obtained.

This proactive approach ensures that all parties involved are well-informed and committed to maintaining a safe and positive gym experience for everyone.

4.  Consider limiting access

To mitigate potential disruptions and address safety concerns, consider restricting the hours younger members can independently access the gym. This may include peak-traffic periods such as the after-work rush, weekend mornings and late evenings.

Depending on your facility’s model, you may require teens to be accompanied by a parent or guardian during these peak times. This guarantees additional supervision and minimizes any inconvenience to other members who might prefer a quieter workout environment during these busy periods.

It is also worth considering limiting access to certain specialized areas, such as pools and gymnasiums. This can minimize the risk of accidents or injuries arising from unsupervised access to potentially challenging or specialized areas. Additionally, it prevents interference with specialized programs and activities tailored for those areas, allowing for a more structured and efficient use of facilities by all members.

At the same time, facilities featuring pools and gymnasiums might consider blocking out specific times for exclusive use by teens.

The particular facility type can be crucial in determining these parameters. Different facilities may have varying preferences based on their model and target demographic. Just as the facility’s model may influence the age limits set, it can also guide decisions about the most suitable times for teens to be present. This approach ensures that each facility can tailor its policies to provide the best possible experience for both youths and adults.

5.  Explore youth programming, designated areas

Recognizing the unique needs and preferences of younger members, consider implementing youth-focused programming or designating specific areas within the gym tailored to their interests. This could include age-appropriate classes, specialized equipment or other resources that align with your facility type and capabilities.

Creating an environment in which teens feel comfortable and engaged fosters a positive association with fitness, making it more likely for them to develop lasting healthy habits. By offering purposeful activities and spaces, you transform the idea of “hanging out at the gym” into meaningful attendance with a clear fitness-related purpose. This shift contributes to a more focused and productive experience for teen members and the entire gym community.

Successfully managing younger members in a gym requires a thoughtful and strategic approach that prioritizes their wellbeing while ensuring a harmonious coexistence with other gym-goers. Setting an age limit, establishing clear behavior expectations, conducting minor orientations, potentially limiting access, and exploring youth-specific programming or areas are the keys to achieving this delicate balance. Implementing these strategies enhances the overall gym experience for teens and also contributes positively to the facility by creating a diverse and inclusive community. In fostering a gym environment that caters to the unique needs of younger members, we contribute to their physical health, lay the groundwork for a future generation that values and prioritizes fitness, and potentially create a cohort of clients for life. 

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