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Working out -- in 'TheirSpace'

Youth gyms cater to teenagers who want to get fit with others their own age.

April 28, 2008|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer
  • COMFORTABLE: Carly Wade likes it at Bogifit, where there are no older, ?intimidating? people, just peers at her skill level.
COMFORTABLE: Carly Wade likes it at Bogifit, where there are no older, ?intimidating?… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Carly WADE is slightly out of breath as she moves through the weight room of Bogifit Youth Conditioning Center, an Anaheim Hills gym geared to teenagers. The 15-year-old feels comfortable here, surrounded by people her age and by young trainers and instructors. "Being around older people is kind of intimidating, because they've been working out at a gym longer. Here, I'm working out with kids who are the same level, or higher or lower."

She adds, "Don't get me wrong: Normal gyms are good . . . . But as a kid, you want to be fit. And you don't really know how to be fit without trainers."

Conscious of their bodies and aware that pared-down PE classes don't always provide enough activity, some teenagers are looking for places -- other than the soccer or softball field -- to work out. Gyms are taking notice.

Many commercial gyms offer memberships to teens, and children ages 6 to 17 are the second-fastest growing demographic of health club members, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Assn. But the teens themselves aren't sure that's where they want to be.

Enter teen-centric gyms. Beginning to sprout on the nation's fitness landscape, they cater specifically to a younger crowd, offering more constant supervision, more video and game-related equipment and less of an age mix than traditional gyms.

Underground Fitness, for example, a youth gym in Scarsdale, N.Y., provides separate workout areas for ages 12 and under, and for 13- to 18-year-olds. The 5,000-square-foot facility offers personal training, exergaming, plus classes in spinning and boxing. Overtime Fitness in Mountain View, Calif., focuses on teens (only recently allowing adults) with weight training and cardio equipment, classes and exergaming.

Membership at such gyms is far from cheap. Some charge $100 a month, more than the $20 to $40 some big chains charge.


Parent-free area

O2 MAX Fitness is right in line with the trend of giving teens their own space to work out. Tucked away in the Santa Monica Studios complex, the funky loft space offers stationary bikes, treadmills, free weights, a cable machine -- and no parents in sight (unless they're picking up or dropping off). The gym, open about two months, specializes in one-on-one and small-group training, for ages 12 to about 20, and plans to add classes and programs such as yoga.

Mercedes Worman joined the gym after a stint at a Bally Total Fitness. The 15-year-old appreciates the informal, clubby feel of the youth-oriented studio, although Bally had its upside. "They had a lot of equipment there, and it was nice and open," she says. "But there were a lot of old people, and I like to be around people my age. It's a more comfortable environment [at O2 MAX], and I know most of the people there."

That desire to be around peers is only natural. "I think adolescents just want to stay with people their own age at this point in their lives," says Dr. Anthony Luke, director of UC San Francisco's Primary Care Sports Medicine. "But they are interested in learning about fitness. . . . Being supervised in some way and not being with adults makes sense."

Adolescents who received encouragement from their parents to work out -- and who had a friend to exercise with -- exercised significantly more than their counterparts who didn't have such two-pronged support, according to research published in the May issue of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

But working out isn't the same as hanging out. At O2 MAX, cellphones aren't allowed in the fitness area, and the upstairs lounge is off-limits until members have exercised.

Those rules are set and enforced by Karen Jashinsky, the gym's founder and chief executive. Also a personal trainer who works with adults and teens, she says fitness isn't a one-size-fits-all-ages endeavor.

"I wanted to create an open environment and establish a place of trust and communication and encourage them in whatever type of fitness they enjoy," Jashinsky says of her younger clientele. "You have to find the one thing they're willing to start with, and then they get comfortable and are willing to try other things. I wanted to create a space where they can all do different programs."

Patricia Rodriguez's 15-year-old son Diego works out here regularly, although he has PE classes at school and is in a soccer club.

"They get better attention [than at school] because somebody is telling them how to do things and checking their strengths and weaknesses. Also, at this age they don't have much to do after school, and this is very healthy. And they can meet friends here too."

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