I am reading a very interesting book written by a Guardian sports journalist Anna Kessel called “Eat. Sweat. Play”. It talks about women sport and the role sport plays in women’s lives. I really recommend it if you share the view that our relationship with sport and exercise is all wrong. It talks about the obesity crisis among the adult population as a whole and it raises the fundamental issue of fitness and young kids, even pre-schoolers. It raises the topic of the general failure of PE programmes across the UK:
“Our school sport system doesn’t seem to be working for anyone right now, girls or boys. (…) From (…) young age we brand kids as sporty or not sporty. Fall into the wrong category and you are pesona non grata to the average PE teacher. This could not be allowed to happen in any other curriculum subject. A teacher is obliged to help you learn, help you improve, to give you advice, to tell you where you are going wrong. (…) if we can’t get PE right for young children, a captive audience obliged to take part, then how on earth can we expect to nail it for adults?”
I agree wholeheartedly with the above. Kids who want to do more but don’t have the opportunities at school or local fitness centres etc, are either left on a sofa with their iPad or if they are lucky, their parents step in. But this can be a dangerous territory. If you take your kids cycling, to the park, local swimming pool, Go Ape, kids’ parkour, gymnastics, street dancing or anything that is tailored to their age and where they spend their time having fun, getting sweaty and just moving around with structure, they will find something they love and make it part of their lives.
But what about when a parent brings a 12 or 13-year-old to a gym that does not run a kids’ programme of any sort?
Recently I attended an indoor cycling class where a father brought his 12 year-old daughter with him to participate. The instructor did not notice (?!) or decided to ignore the fact that the child should be set up properly and given guidelines and attention.
Last week, whilst doing my own thing on leg curl machine, I watched a guy, mid forties, using a chest press. He had way too much weight for his ability and his technique was appalling. His lower back was curved so much I could hear his disks screaming and the only place it was touching the supporting back rest was at head and bum – the rest was arched more than Robin Hood’s crossbow.
I tried to look away while mumbling: “it’s not your business, it’s not your business…” to myself. But then came the clincher: his son of around 13, who until now was watching his dad do this “amazing” workout, switched places with him and proceeded to do the same contortions to push excessive load.
Inside my head the following monologue was taking place:
“Sweet Jesus! There is a reason why there are no body pump classes for kids – you’re not supposed to do free weights until your body has fully developed. Do the monkey bars, planks or a push up! Go trampolining. Go play football! Where is gym staff to tell the father to go jump off a cliff or something? This is wrong on so many levels I can’t watch this! But I don’t work here, it’s not my place to approach him.”
Would you have said anything?
I want to give praise when it is due. Both fathers are a good example for their children by keeping fit on Sunday mornings. Both clearly find it important to spend time with their offspring.
It is crucial that kids keep moving. They do all the crazy running and pointless skipping from the moment they can walk and then this pure joy of movement, unless cultivated and encouraged, dies and gets replaced by the dreaded EXERCISE. For that reason I applaud both dads for helping their kids stay active; however, we must consider activities that are age appropriate.
It may just be luck that one of dads prefers indoor cycling which is safe at all ages (provided certain rules are still followed) while the other likes an activity, that has much more bearing on his son’s present and future serious injury risk.
It may be that the “weights father” doesn’t even realise he does it all wrong himself and passes on the bad habits to his son, so I don’t want to automatically condemn him.
Nevertheless, as a fitness professional (qualified PT) I struggle on ethical level in situation like this. Is it my place to speak out? Who am I to advise him, when I don’t work at the gym? Do I inform the gym staff? Does it make me a busybody?
I did act on one occasion. I told a PT standing by that someone had no idea how to use a machine and it was a total car crash, and that they needed help but all I got was: “yeah, some people have no idea”.
Does your studio have a policy on kids working out or joining a class? What are the restrictions: age or height or something else? If a parent brings a minor into the class, do they sign a waiver taking on the full responsibility for potential injury? Would you feel that as an instructor you can wash your hands off the child attending your class if they have a parent with them? Or would you ask them (both) to leave saying you do not have a relevant qualification to instruct a minor? Let me know your thoughts.