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A swing toward families

Gyms are taking a fresh look at classes for kids and parents to encourage old and young to plan their exercise time together.

September 29, 2003|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

Today's families may eat together, watch movies together, or shop together, but they usually don't exercise together. When it comes to fitness, this is where worlds divide: Kids go off to gymnastics class, while Mom and Dad head to the gym.

The area has a lot of adult-only gyms, plus kid-oriented programs such as Gymboree. But YMCAs have typically been the only places where parents and children could exercise at the same time, with kids in one class and adults in another. That's beginning to change, as some large chain health clubs are offering a smattering of children's classes, and independent gyms are creating programs that appeal to parents and kids.

A new fitness studio in Hollywood called FocusFish is striving to be the new Y, with cutting-edge classes for adults such as aerial fitness, rock and roll ballet and capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts technique. And there are play-oriented classes for children that incorporate Pilates, yoga and mime. Saturday mornings, for instance, parents can attend Liquid Yoga (a flow-style class), while the little ones learn Pilates-esque moves in Have a Ball just a few feet away in another room. The studio also features nutrition classes for kids and private counseling for adults, massage and a full-service beauty salon.

"The Y was kind of an inspiration for this," said Paul Beauvais who, with wife Kristy Zornes Beauvais, opened FocusFish two months ago. "We wanted to bring a new approach to the same concept and have something for everyone in the family."

They thought the concept would suit the L.A. lifestyle, where school physical education classes are being cut, there are few safe places to play outdoors unsupervised, and busy parents are constantly running against the clock. They're learning this firsthand as the parents of 5-month-old daughter Gabrielle.

"Kids are not able to go out and play all day," said Paul, 41, who has worked in advertising, as well as film and television writing and production. He also designed the FocusFish space, which was an Ice Capades rehearsal rink in the 1970s and later a converted warehouse. The enormous area was divided into a large gymnasium with hardwood floors and high ceilings, a smaller studio, a massage room and an area with weights and a Gyrotonics machine. "That kind of lifestyle is less and less available, particularly to urban kids. We thought we could create a space that allows them to develop and explore their bodies in an enjoyable, fun way."

The idea for the studio jelled when Kristy, 33, a dance major at New York University who has taught aerobics at Crunch and fitness to students at L.A. private schools, directed children at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute's summer youth program. The couple wanted to be able to teach creative and scientific aspects of movement to kids while offering adults a chance to get out of their exercise ruts with innovative classes.

The idea of one-stop fitness appealed to Al Septien, who was taking the Have a Ball class with his 6-year-old son, Alec. The class uses inflated balls as props for Pilates and strength movements. Septien, an L.A. screenwriter, liked the idea that the whole family could participate in classes at the same time. "That's really appealing. I normally have to go to my gym at 6 a.m. I can't take [Alec] there, so I have to do it while my wife and he are asleep."

Stacey McKenzie and husband Bobby Bowman had just stepped out of Liquid Yoga in time to see their 3-year-old daughter Isabella finish her exercise class. "The classes seem a little deeper," said McKenzie, a former dancer and Pilates instructor. "They're not just focused on the aesthetic; it's about moving your body and being healthy. I like that especially for my daughter, as opposed to being in a ballet class and wearing tutus and looking pretty."

Also adjusting to the family fitness trend is the Hollywood YMCA, which revamped its children's program about a year and a half ago, building a studio and adding several classes, including cheerleading, hip-hop dance, judo and yoga.

"We saw that more families were moving into the Hollywood area, and we thought we'd better do something," said Mark Dengler, the Y branch's executive director. "Oftentimes the kids are off doing soccer, and we thought it would be great if everyone could be in the same place and feel comfortable."

The family workout is slowly attracting the attention of larger health club chains. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sports- club Assn., 6% of gyms have a separate children's section, while 23% offer some kind of children's programming, from ballet to yoga to team sports. That may grow, says association spokeswoman Brooke MacInnis, given that the under-18 crowd is the fastest-growing segment of membership.

"Increasingly, working out is becoming more important," MacInnis says. "And parents don't want their kids to suffer the health consequences of being overweight. Health clubs are very aware of trends."

Yet many health clubs lack the space to create separate areas for children's classes. The 24 Hour Fitness chain has child-care facilities in more than 90% of its gyms, where children are encouraged to move and play, but no formal classes. Kids as young as 12 can join the club, but must be under the supervision of their parents at all times until they turn 16.

"It's becoming so apparent that the atmosphere for kids needs improvement," FocusFish's Paul Beauvais says. "The trends are going in the wrong direction. More kids are becoming obese, and we wanted a chance to do something that would benefit them."


Times staff writer Jeannine Stein can be reached by e-mail at

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