Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
For the longest time, Melissa Irlandez's mantra was this: mind before body.
That meant sports were strictly for the summer months. Home was for decompressing, living in the imagination and homework.
Then last year, her son Michael, now 11, entered third grade at Westminster and was required to run a mile during his physical education class.
"When he ran, he just couldn't breathe," Irlandez recalled recently. "I was concerned he had developed exercise-induced asthma, so I took him to our allergist."
Michael, though, didn't have asthma, Dr. Stanley Fineman told his mom. He just needed conditioning.
And so to improve Michael's and his little sister Sophie's physical health, Irlandez decided to invest in a personal trainer, part of a growing trend among parents that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to increase through 2020.
The surge is being fueled, experts say, by efforts to combat obesity and encourage healthy habits at a time when physical education classes are decreasing and only half of children ages 11-16 are physically active during the week.
While the practice has been criticized by some, Toby Brooks, an assistant professor of athletic training at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center and director of research and Education for the International Youth Conditioning Association, said that in a world where physical education classes are going away, parents are making the right decision.
Brooks said, however, personal trainers should never be used as a way to give an edge to kids who aspire to become college or professional athletes.
The goal, he said, should be to improve a child's motor skills, speed, coordination and overall health.
Either way, Brooks said that one-on-one training for kids isn't necessarily the way to go.
"Not only is it more expensive, group training is often more motivating and fun," he said.
Still under proper supervision, the benefits of youth resistance training far out number any perceived risks, including injuries and stunted growth long thought to occur in young children who participate in the activity.
Not only are there no documented cases of serious injuries in children, Brooks said supervised resistance training helps develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, can improve a child's self-esteem and grades, and most importantly, promotes leading a healthy lifestyle at an early age.
Despite participating in school physical education classes three days, Michael and Sophie struggled because they didn't know the correct way to control their breathing or align their feet. The siblings started training last summer at Atlanta's Midtown Athletic Club at Windy Hill after Michael consistently finished last running the mile at school.
"I thank God the school had them do the mile run," Irlandez said. "If not, I would have never identified a problem."
Today, Michael and Sophie, 9, have become not only stronger, but more athletic, the siblings' trainers Josh Brantley and Shepard Stafford say.
Between the two of them, Brantley and Stafford have a dozen kids who come in for one-on-one training. And while the vast majority of those want to improve their game in soccer and volleyball, the rest just want to get healthier, they said. Nearly two dozen, Brantley said, come in for group training.
On a recent Friday, the Irlandez siblings worked on their form and core strength to increase endurance.
"In order to get faster, you have to get stronger," said Stafford.
If they meet their individual goals, they'll do something fun, maybe play a little basketball.
During his last hourlong session, which costs $60 per child, Michael ran the mile in 8 minutes, 37 seconds, down from 13 minutes. Sophie bested him at 8 minutes, 26 seconds, down from 16 minutes.
"She has turned the corner from me pushing her to her pushing herself," Stafford said. "They've literally transformed in front of our eyes."
According to Brooks, personal training for kids has become $4 billion industry and is growing.
"Since the mid-1990s, we've seen a number of franchises emerge that cater specifically to youth age 5 and up," he said.
In fact, he said, the IYCA was founded because of this continued growth and the need to give children quality developmentally appropriate experiences. Today, there are an estimate 8,000 IYCA members.
"We look at the big picture," Brooks said. "I'm not interested in where they will be competitively at age 10, but if they love physical activity."
Irlandez is more than pleased with the results Michael and Sophie have gotten so far.
"Within two sessions with Josh, Micheal was no longer short of breath and we've shaved off 11 minutes from his running time, which is amazing," Irlandez said. "They work out their entire bodies. They throw weight balls, hop on the exercise machines. We were doing twice a week; now we're down to once a week, but they're much, much stronger children."
Making the right call
When is a personal trainer right for your child?
* If your child doesn't like organized sports.
* If your child is self-conscious playing sports or trying new activities.
* If your child has some health issues and you prefer supervised exercise sessions.
* If your child expresses interest in personal training.
What kind of personal trainer is best for children?
* The trainer should have a degree and/or nationally recognized certification (NSCA, ACSM, etc.)
* The trainer should have experience training children, including a sense of humor and patience.
* The trainer should create training sessions around fun activities that aren't typical gym routines and include input from the child.
* The trainer should offer a balanced routine of strength, cardio and core exercise.
* The trainer should help the child find activities he enjoys and will do on his own.
* The trainer should have references from parents of other kid clients.
* Ask questions about the trainer's philosophy about working with kids and setting goals, and make sure you agree with the approach.
* Attend the first one or two sessions with your child and see if it meets your needs.
Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Obesity Association
At MyAJC.com/living, you'll find much more about efforts to curb childhood obesity, including a report on fitness programs in local schools.