Benefits of Gym Membership
If your teenager is on the couch again watching a Friends rerun for the zillionth time, consider getting him or her a gym membership. It's not too early!
Working out at home is fine, but "working out in the gym gives [teenagers] the benefit of working with the [experts] to teach them correct form and alignment, as well as how to modify certain exercises based on their own bodies," says Leigh Crews, spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). At this age, bodies are changing rapidly, and without having a professional assist a few times, it's hard to know if you're doing an exercise properly, she says.
Other benefits to the gym are structure and guidance, which are important for teenagers, says Kathy Martin, national fitness director for Slim and Tone, LLC. There are also fewer distractions.
"When you actually have to make an effort to get somewhere and set aside a certain amount of time while you are there, i.e. for a class, then you are more likely to follow through," says Holly Little, director of Balanced Energy Fitness and a group/personal trainer who has worked with youth fitness programs. "When you have the ability to stop and answer the phone or the television or homework is two feet away from you, the odds are a lot lower that you will stay committed to working out."
Exercising at a gym teaches teens responsibility, good habits, and about their bodies, Little says. It builds their confidence and self-esteem and gives them a reason to carry these good habits into other areas of their lives. They'll make friends, be less likely to abuse their bodies with unhealthy substances and fill idle time. "They'll also be exposed to others of all ages that care about their health and know more about fitness," Little says.
What should parents look for in a gym? Flexibility in membership is key. Many clubs offer a special teen or student rate, making a gym membership more affordable, says Crews. "Be careful not to get locked in a long-term membership, as teens' schedules and interests fluctuate and some periods may be more difficult for a teen to visit the gym than others," she says.
A wide variety of programming is also important for this age group. Begin by finding the types of classes that your teen is interested in. Try to find a gym with multiple classes and a rate structure that encourages different classes, like cross-training. "Teens might get bored or burned out if they are taking the same class over and over again, so variety would be an important factor," says Little. "If you make the gym and the concept of exercise fun and ever-changing, then your teen is more likely to stay involved and motivated."
To make sure you like the facility, Crews recommends visiting the gym when your teen is likely to go. Note the atmosphere. "For example, if it's a gym full of competitive body builders and you have a teenaged boy, you might not want him exposed to the 'steroid scene,'" she says. Martins adds that the atmosphere should be positive, where people are coached, not criticized.
Kali Fisher has been working out in a gym for a year. Her mom, Kristy, picked out Slim and Tone in their state of Arizona because she and her daughters were looking for a positive environment for all of them where they could spend time together while doing something productive. They're on an unlimited month-to-month plan, "which is great for us teenagers because if we know that we won't make it in much a certain month, we're not paying for gym time that gets wasted," says Fisher.
Fisher really loves the small, positive environment that her gym provides. "I like the quaint feeling of it," she says, "and I don't think I'd be comfortable in a larger gym environment where there are more people to scrutinize me. I [work out in a gym] to stay fit and healthy."
Ultimately, having your child join a gym sets them on a healthy path. "It is a great concept to begin your child's good habit of working out on a regular basis and making it part of their everyday life," says Little. "They will thank you for it later in life."