Peewee perspiration

Um, why is there a 9-year-old on the elliptical next to me?

Last week, from the sweaty comfort of the StepMill at my gym, I watched Real Housewife Nene Leakes attempt to navigate a gravel parking lot in six-inch Louboutins. Halfway through her second glass of iced moscato, a membership representative marched a group of nine-to-11-year-olds over to the base of my machine, explaining how it works. Instantly, I felt myself grow self-conscious with these youngsters – many of them girls – staring at my backside. Not because I worried they were judging me, but because I’m not used to seeing kids in my gym unless they’re celebrating a birthday in the pool or running through the locker room, screaming like wild banshees for their mom to hurry up so they can get home in time to see Yo Gabba Gabba! For me, the cardio and weight rooms at my gym are adults-only areas: There’s no reason for little ones to be hanging around dumbbells or Stairmasters bikes when they could be outside playing or on a soccer or softball field somewhere.

But lately, everywhere I turn my head at my gym, there’s a kid working out. A sixth grade girl furiously pedaling on the recumbent bike; a Bieber-coiffed young lad shuffling along the treadmill; a young lady, not even 12, eeking out lunges and crunches with a personal trainer.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for kids getting exercise, especially considering that a third of American children are overweight or obese. (Is it any wonder, considering just last month, the House of Representatives blocked legislation that would have rendered school lunches healthier, introducing a spending bill that would count the two tablespoons of tomato paste used on an average slice of school pizza as a full serving of vegetables?) But there’s just something so soul-crushing about seeing a pre-pubescent girl on a cardio machine at the gym. It makes me want to run up and rip her off the treadmill and scream, “Not yet! There will be plenty of time for this when you’re older and have been conditioned by society to think you must spend an hour a day on this hamster wheel in order to burn off the calories in your lunchtime salad with grilled chicken, walnuts and Craisins, dressing on the side!”

Are their parents just bringing them in because it’s wintertime in Chicago and too chilly to run around the park? Or is this a new trend – baby gym rats? When I think of kids and physical activity, I envision youth sports leagues where competition and teamwork are the end goals and expending energy is just a happy, healthful side effect. Hitting the elliptical, on the other hand, absolutely screams “Must Burn Calories!” It’s not the healthiest mentality for adults, emotionally speaking, so I can only imagine how it wrecks a child’s mindset and warps their body image.

I asked Seattle-based ACE-certified personal trainer Kelly Turner, an editor and fitness expert for, for her take on peewee perspiration. “Physically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with it,” she said, noting that the NFL’s Fuel Up To Play 60 program recommends an hour of physical activity a day for youngsters. “Normally, that would be unstructured play or team sports, but with all the program and PE cutbacks, there are fewer options to get kids moving.” In that respect, Turner is a fan of parents purchasing gym memberships for their kids.

Mentally, it’s more of a slippery slope. On one hand, Turner said it’s incredibly beneficial for kids to see people of all shapes and sizes taking time to improve their health. “It helps them realize how valuable their bodies are and that ‘fit’ isn’t a pant size or a number on the scale.” That said, if a parent sends their kid to the gym with the sole intent of losing weight, it can wreck their fragile self esteem. The key: Emphasize exercise’s positive impact on everything from energy and health to mood and academic performance. “They can still learn about goal-setting and build a positive work ethic even though they’re not in the team sports setting,” Turner adds. “They’ll learn that if you put in time at the gym, you’ll see the results.” Solo sweat sessions seem too depressing? Many gyms offer group youth Zumba and yoga classes so kiddos can make friends and experience the team-building atmosphere they’re missing from an actual team.

Watching a tween cue up the elliptical for 30 minutes and tuning into Dora the Explorer on her headphones still depresses me, but at least now I can see the potential benefit. But if I start seeing ads for Bat Mitzvah Boot Camp in the ladies’ locker room, I’m gonna raise some serious hell.


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11 Responses to Peewee perspiration

  1. bdaiss says:

    My son is obsessed with my workout stuff. I finally bought a set of 1 lb weights so he could “work-out” with me. And when I wouldn’t let him on my treadmill he made his own out of a cushion and an end table. Also, it’s hard to resist when he’s so dang cute with his “I’m gonna extercize with Mama!” (Although, please, get out while I’m running. I can’t exactly watch Dexter with you in the same room. And without my Dexter, running is torture.)

    So, yeah, I have mixed feelings. He certainly isn’t a couch potato, in fact, he rarely stops moving. I want him to know exercise (in all forms) is important and should be enjoyable. But I’d much rather we be outdoors or playing games than running to nowhere on the treadmill. South Dakota winters do put a damper on the bike riding/trail enjoyment though. We took the kids ice skating for the first time yesterday. That went superbly so I’m hoping to go back again soon!

    All this to say, introducing kids to the concept of the gym isn’t a bad thing. Teaching them the right way to use the equipment is definitely a must if they’re curious. But if it becomes an obsession or their only form of activity, then We Have A Problem.

  2. I’m with you! Kids need to be healthy and active but the gym is a totally adult place. We exercise there because we work and have a family, we’re busy. A kid’s “job” is to run around and play with the neighbors or do sports, well besides school. If kids are too old to be in the kiddie babysitting area but not yet in high school, I don’t know where they should be, but I don’t think it’s the gym.

  3. Jill says:

    My daughter has a friend who just informed her that she is on a diet and has to work out every day. She’s 11. ELEVEN. Yeah, she probably weighs a little bit more than other girls in her grade but she’s certainly not fat. I told my daughter that no 11 year old girl should have to be on a diet, especially this particular 11 year old girl. It broke my heart to think that this little girl is going to suffer the same frustrations as I do at 40. Ugh.

    I don’t particularly see anything wrong with kids being in a fitness class as long as it’s geared toward having a fun time. But when the goal is purely weight loss, that just seems wrong to me.

  4. Jill, I was that girl when I was 11, too. And look what happened: Anorexia in college. I hope her friend’s parents are on the ball with this.

  5. Heather says:

    My boyfriend’s son was bummed the other day when I was done with my workout before he got home. He said he would have exercised with me. But, he’s not worried about weight; I think he just wants to be involved. In fact, he recently decided he wants to be a runner.

    All of this is on top of his 6-8 hours of running around in gym, sports and dance per week.

  6. Alyssa says:

    Seeing kids on a treadmill or elliptical is quite depressing. While I can understand (completely!) wanting to keep kids active AND warm, it would seem more productive (and healthier) to sign them up for activities geared specifically toward kids. Those Kids’ fitness classes are great. My friend used to teach a kids’ Pilates class, and they LOVED it. She made a game of it, rather than a strict workout. They got their exercise, had fun, and were tired by the time their parents picked them up. Everybody wins, lol!
    I’m also a fan of things like martial arts, dance, and rock climbing classes for kids. They’re more fun than an hour on the dreadmill!

  7. Mandy says:

    I don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with it. My gym has classes for kids every weekday after school so it’s overrun with kids.

    I got my first gym membership at 10 when a massive new gym opened up nearby and the entire family got into it. It was my only form of activity for a long time (since it’s not exactly safe to go for a run outside in South Africa). Didn’t damage my psyche at all.

    I think it all depends on the attitude. If it’s a case of ‘get thee to a gym and lose that baby fat’ then yes, it’s going to be damaging. If it’s more a case of ‘you want to be active with mom/dad’ then great. Whatever it takes and as long as it’s fun.

  8. Naomi/Dragonmamma says:

    Lighten up, folks.
    At our gym, kids age 8 to 12 are allowed to work out next to their parents during non-peak hours. I’ve never seen any of them spend more than 15 minutes in there, they’re just having fun doing what mom and dad are doing. Seems fair when you consider how many hours moms and dads spend watching their kids’ sporting events!

  9. I like how Alyssa put it: “Seeing kids on a treadmill or elliptical is quite depressing. While I can understand (completely!) wanting to keep kids active AND warm, it would seem more productive (and healthier) to sign them up for activities geared specifically toward kids.”

  10. Lucy Trim says:

    In order to provide good composure for my kids, I let them engage in dancing.
    Lucy Trim recently posted..Impotence and Natural Herbs that Help Men Improve Their Erection

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