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By Joan Verdon

RISMEDIA, Oct. 25, 2008-(MCT)-When Evan Carlson and Tom Ardese and their business partners opened their kid-oriented fitness club, Volt Fitness in Glen Rock, N.J., at the end of 2007, it looked like all the demographic numbers were on their side.
They’ve since learned that numbers don’t always tell you everything-you also have to factor in some intangibles.

The Volt owners started with a statistic-the growing numbers of out-of-shape youngsters in need of exercise programs-and added an emotional element-today’s families want to spend time together having fun-and combined the two to steer their business in a new direction.

The focus of the club has shifted to family fitness from kid-only fitness. The original kid orientation caused the Volt owners to create a “video circuit”-exercise stations linked to video games, and kid-friendly fitness machines such as a moving rock wall.

Now, with its family-friendly focus, the club is encouraging parents and children to work out together. Unlike most health clubs, which sell memberships by the year, families pay per-session, at rates ranging from $10 to $15, with discounts for advance purchases.

Just as family restaurants such as Applebee’s and California Pizza Kitchen have sprung up to cater to American families’ desire to spend quality time together, fitness, nutrition and exercise programs are starting to make healthy living a family activity.

The HealthBarn USA nutrition program at Abma’s Farm in Wyckoff, N.J., has a parent-child nutrition class on Saturdays, Gary Stevens TaeKwonDo in Glen Rock holds parent-child classes for toddlers, and Premier Fitness Center in Saddle Brook, N.J., is advertising family-fitness programs, to name a few examples.

“Time is such a commodity these days that it really helps the family if they can combine their workouts,” said Carlson, a fitness trainer who joined with Ardese, and partners Dr. Mark Wade and Joseph Rogovich to create Volt.

Volt’s owners discovered the demand for parent-child workouts almost by accident. Parents, watching their children do the video-game exercise circuit at Volt, asked “Is it really that hard?” The Volt trainers responded “Try it and see for yourself.”

The adults discovered the 10-station circuit, which can burn more than 1,000 calories an hour for an adult, really was a good workout. The Volt trainers also noticed that the kids were more motivated to perform when they were working out with their parents. “When they see their parents in there, having fun, and they’re loose and relaxed, it sets a great example for the kids,” said Carlson.

And it lets them share common fitness goals, Ardese said. “When a parent goes on a rock wall, they want to talk about it all day long.”

Gregg and Lisa Swensen of Franklin Lakes, N.J., are two parents who took the trainers’ suggestion to try the kid circuit and liked it. Now the Swensens and their 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, participate in a weekly family exercise session. “The nice thing about it is, the whole family participates and everyone can go at their own level, which is nice,” said Gregg Swensen. “The trainers will tailor the circuit for you. If my wife and I want to do more intense workouts, in between the stations they’ll have us do sit-ups and push-ups. So you get a great workout.”

Having the family exercise together, “it becomes more of a lifestyle change,” he said.
“I know the Volt idea was for kids to have fun and not realize they’re exercising, but I must be a kid myself because I love it,” said Lisa.

The Swensens and their daughter also participate in the Saturday morning nutrition classes offered by HealthBarn USA in Wyckoff.

In that program, children plant and harvest vegetables and learn how to prepare healthy meals, while parents attend nutrition and food preparation classes.

HealthBarn founder Stacey Antine said parent involvement is essential in any effort to promote health lifestyles for children. “If the child learns all this great information and the parent doesn’t get the education, it can’t go home,” Antine said. “The kids,” she said, “think it’s exciting because their parents are doing it,” too.

Carlson and Ardese said getting parents involved with kids has helped double the number of client appointments to 200 a week and growing. Parents, they said, now are coming in for additional workouts while their kids are in school. And families are exercising with other families. “It becomes like a domino effect,” Carlson said.

© 2008, North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.