One-to-one fit­ness work­outs for kids? No longer the pre­serve of A-lis­ters, Dubai’s mid­dle-class fam­i­lies are do­ing it too, says Peta Bee

Friday - - Report -

Ja­cob Mell­man is grap­pling with the TRX Sus­pen­sion Train­ing de­vice that is hooked on to a tree. He’s al­ready done repet­i­tive tri­ceps pulls and chest press ex­er­cises for 90 sec­onds but Hi­lary Bur­bidge, his per­sonal trainer, is en­cour­ag­ing him to keep go­ing for 30 sec­onds longer. Next up, she says, are 50 squat jumps, then 40 sin­gle-leg squats each fol­lowed by a short re­cov­ery run. Ja­cob’s ar­du­ous ses­sion lasts just over an hour, dur­ing which time he packs in burpees, push-ups and killer bear crawls through the woods.

It’s an im­pres­sive work­out for a crisp Satur­day morn­ing when most of his friends are still in bed but all the more so when you con­sider that Ja­cob is only nine years old.

Hir­ing a per­sonal trainer for your chil­dren is no longer the pre­serve of the rich and fa­mous. In fact, the pri­mary-school set is among the most rapidly grow­ing sec­tors of the per­sonal train­ing mar­ket as par­ents try to coax their chil­dren away from the iPad or com­puter and into their run­ning shoes. If it seems there’s a de­gree of para­noia in­volved in the de­ci­sion to call in an ex­pert, it is eas­ily jus­ti­fied.

We hardly need re­mind­ing that to­day’s chil­dren are fat­ter and less fit than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Ex­perts sug­gest that five to 18-yearolds do at least an hour of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity a day, some of which should leave them breath­less and sweaty, and on three days a week it should in­clude mus­cle-strength­en­ing moves such as press-ups and bone strength­en­ing ac­tiv­i­ties such as run­ning.

Most fall woe­fully short, with UK sta­tis­tics sug­gest­ing that chil­dren are do­ing an aver­age of 24 min­utes of phys­i­cal move­ment there a day. In the UAE, just one in six chil­dren get 60 min­utes of ex­er­cise a day.

So it is that a grow­ing num­ber find them­selves un­der the guid­ance of the likes of Bur­bidge, who trains more than 30 chil­dren, most of whom are un­der 13. She says the de­mand for her ser­vices is fu­elled by “par­ents be­ing wor­ried their chil­dren aren’t do­ing enough and don’t get out­side very of­ten” and that there are wait­ing lists to

join her ranks of in­di­vid­ual ju­nior clients and to take part in her weekly hard­core group in Lon­don.

The pic­ture is pretty much the same al­most across the world. Ian Groves, the di­rec­tor of the UK Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Per­sonal Train­ers, says that per­sonal train­ers for ju­niors are in huge de­mand. “One trainer I know has clients who are three to five years old,” he says.

“Most par­ents are go­ing down the trainer route ei­ther be­cause they are con­cerned about some el­e­ment of their child’s body shape or they would like to give them the com­pet­i­tive edge in a par­tic­u­lar sport.”

The trend is vis­i­ble in the UAE as well, where par­ents are re­ly­ing on per­sonal train­ers for chil­dren who are not eat­ing well or ex­er­cis­ing daily.

For Juli­ette Mell­man-Jones, Ja­cob’s mother, the pull was that her chil­dren – Evie, 11, is also trained by Bur­bidge – would get reg­u­lar slots of ac­tiv­ity to boost their over­all fit­ness. Her work as a lawyer means she gets lit­tle time to ex­er­cise and al­though her hus­band “is big into fit­ness and does triathlons” in his spare time, they chose to hire an ex­pert who would make work­outs fun.

“They work on dif­fer­ent parts of their bod­ies with a lot of ex­er­cises

‘Chil­dren re­spond best to a broad range of ac­tiv­i­ties, much wider than any gym can of­fer’

and, al­though they are set goals, it’s non­com­pet­i­tive,” she says. “Ja­cob gets an­gry with him­self when he can’t do 10 push-ups but en­joys get­ting stronger. Evie doesn’t do a great deal of sport at school and just loves the work­outs be­ing out­doors.”

Train­ers, some of whom charge up to £60 (Dh360) an hour for their ju­nior ser­vices, say fit­ness-mad par­ents are be­hind the boom to get their chil­dren in shape. UK-based David Mar­shall, known as the Body­doc­tor, has a client list that in­cludes Kate Moss, Rachel Weisz and Sophie Dahl, but says that it is not just A-lis­ters who hire him to get young­sters into shape.

“A few of the kids I train have par­ents who are off the radar in terms of their high pro­file, but I’m also work­ing with kids who are at lo­cal pri­mary schools to teach them the ba­sics of fit­ness and move­ment,” he says. “Most of the PE ini­tia­tives at Bri­tish schools are rubbish and it’s un­der­stand­able that par­ents are start­ing to get wor­ried.”

Josh Salz­mann, who has trained An­gelina Jolie, Kenneth Branagh and Hugh Jack­man, says he has reg­u­lar clients who are not even of sec­ondary school age. “Some are sent by their par­ents be­cause they are over­weight and they dread com­ing at first,” he says. “But the thing with kids is to make it fun, to get them to en­joy work­ing out so that they want to do more.”

Chil­dren’s fit­ness is seen as a lu­cra­tive trend within the per­sonal train­ing in­dus­try. A re­port last year in the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fit­ness Jour­nal pre­dicted that it will be­come a ma­jor commercial fo­cus over the next 10 years. Mon­eyed par­ents are not just fork­ing out for train­ers but ex­pen­sive gym mem­ber­ships and block-book­ing fash­ion­able work­outs too.

In New York, the chic SoulCy­cle spin­ning stu­dio has a wait­ing list for the new SoulTeen classes that cater specif­i­cally to the 11 to 18 age group. Rich Up­per East­siders think noth­ing

of pay­ing $42 (Dh154) an hour for their daugh­ters – it’s mainly girls who flock to the ses­sions – to stay in shape.

Ju­nior cir­cuit-train­ing ses­sions are also boom­ing with the no­to­ri­ously tough CrossFit group of­fer­ing CrossFit Kids at venues around the UK. For adults, CrossFit in­volves such hor­rors as dead lifts and hand­stand push-ups per­formed to ex­haus­tion and al­though the chil­dren’s reg­i­men is scaled down, the ex­er­cises in­clude squats with ket­tle bells.

What do ex­perts make of the at­tempts to draw chil­dren into the adult world of work­ing out as a means to an end – that end be­ing weight loss? Such ap­proaches are un­doubt­edly gain­ing cre­dence, with en­dorse­ments from prom­i­nent or­gan­i­sa­tions; even the Amer­i­can Academy of Pae­di­atrics has switched its think­ing to say that strength and re­sis­tance-train­ing for chil­dren and ado­les­cents is fine pro­vided they have proper su­per­vi­sion.

Paul Gately, a pro­fes­sor of ex­er­cise and obe­sity at Leeds Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity, is less cer­tain. Par­ents should not be be­rated for do­ing what they think is best for their chil­dren, but he is doubt­ful about long-term ben­e­fits. What you get when you hire a chil­dren’s trainer, says Gately, is “a one-di­men­sional, highly mech­a­nis­tic way of tack­ling a prob­lem,” and it can back­fire. “What we know about chil­dren from re­search is that they re­spond best to a broad range of skills and ac­tiv­i­ties, much wider than any gym or per­sonal trainer can of­fer, and that they work bet­ter in groups than one-to-one.”

Bur­bidge says chil­dren re­spond best to her group boot­camps in which she gets them do­ing “hedge­hog crunches”, “the min­istry of funny walks” and “aero­plane races”.

“I teach them about how their bod­ies move and about the im­por­tance of be­ing fit. But they are never go­ing to get any­where un­less the un­der­ly­ing theme is fun.”

Hi­lary puts the young­sters through their paces

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