As more of us get the post-Covid fitness bug, the emergence of family-friendly gyms and facilities is bringing parents and kids closer in health
The family that plays together stays together – so the saying goes.
But what of keeping fit? Or, more to the point, exercising in some sort of unison…kids and parents together. Gyms have rarely been ideal spots for the littlest people of the family to spend time.
In fact, many traditional gyms are off limits, with an age barrier to protect supervised younger users and equipment, especially when there are serious work-outs underway and free weights swinging.
That’s rendered family participation tricky. “The big concern is safety,” says Eduardo Ribeiro, General Manager of Team Nogueira Dubai martial arts and fitness academy.
“The gym environment, with a lot of dumbbell items, it’s a hazard for kids. And resistance exercise is prone to causing injuries because you’re lifting weights, basically, and if you don’t have the right posture, or if the weights are too much, you get injuries.
“You imagine now, kids seven or nine-years-old…they don’t have much awareness about their own strength.”
Getting to grips with changing times
However, like attitudes to diet and keeping in shape, things have been evolving. A new breed of family-friendly gyms and workout facilities are emerging around the world.
That includes the UAE where the likes of Eduardo has witnessed family fitness getting a grip. Quite literally, sometimes. The Brazilian was recruited last year when the Al Quoz facility, near Oasis
Mall, expanded with a large gym to accompany the grappling. And the family angle in mind.
With a background in gym management as well as understanding martial arts jiu-jitsu being huge in his home country the 44-year-old gets the fitness attributes of both disciplines. And trumpets the benefits both can have in encouraging family members to begin a fitness journey together.
“It’s not just about doing it at the same time, which is great for the sake ofconvenience,” says the former professional athlete and volleyball coach. “We have parents who do jiu-jitsu who initiate their kids in the same sport, which is a great bond for the family…they’re all doing jiu-jitsu.
“When they start to become teenagers, like 14/15, they’re gonna hit the gym together with the father and very soon they can be in the same adults class.”
Eduardo’s establishment was among the venues that anticipated this shift. Emirates Ju-Jitsu Centre, as it was, became part of a franchise created by retired martial arts “legends” the Nogueira twins, and underwent refurbishment last December.
It grew three times larger to accommodate gym facilities besides boxing, jiu- jitsu and muay thai – and is now the Middle East’s largest martial arts gym. That includes capacity for family fitness journeys to happen.
Eduardo says jiu-jitsu is proving most popular in the segment, often with mum and dad encouraging the kids to join them. Alongside judo, this is the most “family bonding” activity under his watch. Followed by the gym.
“Some people started to build gyms, which are kid friendly – the problem is, when you design a gym for kids, it is only for kids.
“The second step the industry took in that direction was, ‘okay, we’ll keep a place for your kids while you work out, so you come to the gym and there’ll be an area where kids can be playing with toys’, but we’re talking small kids only. What about five to 12-year-olds?” And beyond…
While opening up facilities to more age groups gets family members under the same roof, a dad and his eight-year-old son cannot lift equivalent weights. So one middle ground is finding a fitness activity for the children while the parents exercise.
“This is where the industry is going,” says Eduardo. “You bring your kids who can go to jiu-jitsu and you can hit the gym.”
This way, junior is on a gateway to fitness without necessarily making the association with exercise and physical discipline, until such time he or she can use the gym – or maybe graduates the martial arts scene.
“The main element of martial arts is to improve self-confidence. A lot of kids face challenges within the martial arts realm, under the guidance of a good coach, they start to understand they can stretch their limits.”
Shared goals, stronger bonds
Kids can start with jiu-jitsu at eight years old, while judo starts from four years at Team Nogueira Dubai. In the gym, a child aged 11/12 years to 14/15 must have a personal trainer with them, not just mum or dad.
“If they (the parent) want to leave the kid for an hour, it’s fine because they’re under adult supervision, or they can work out together,” says Eduardo, who cites many gym resistance exercises as a foundation for all sports, whether rugby, football, gymnastics, or judo.
However, parents working out with or near their children can bring benefits beyond the physical.
Eduardo says fitness pursuits are a potent way to improve communication between generations where opinions can divide.
“Imagine you’re talking about the gear or the martial arts world where you have the positions, the wins, the losses…you have a common subject, a common goal that is solid.
“So the bond is not just in terms of spending time together, it’s about talking the same language.” And sports – be it jiu-jitsu or body building – can lead a family’s recreational direction or even future professional aspirations.
Sometimes, says Eduardo, participation by a child can even lead to a non-sporty parent donning their kit – mums who were bringing kids to judo have ended up getting involved to the extent Team Nogueira Dubai created ladies-only classes. “And now some are trying to bring their husbands as well.”
A report into family gym trends by UK fitness solutions provider motive8 in August said “caring parents want to instill a love of fitness and health into their kids from an early age”.
While examining the rise of home workouts and equipment, not least during Covid, it confirmed that “children want to be like the grown-ups they live with, so when they see mum and dad working out and enjoying staying fit, it sends a powerful message that will likely stick for life.
That’s echoed by Eduardo, who witnesses how good fitness vibes among adults can pass onto kids.
“Imagine getting your family together, you are getting healthy habits, spending calories, healthy food…the whole package,” he says, highlighting how some teens are increasingly aware of the benefits.
“These new generations are much more conscious of technology and knowledge about fitness and what you can do to your body…that, basically, you can be whatever you want right now, with the right guidance.”
Which is what destinations like Team Nogueira Dubai are offering. “We have a dedicated functional area and classes, directed by a coach, then we have freelancers and personal trainers as well, and martial arts classes. “If you need guidance, we have people that will guide you on what to do inside the facility.”
New concepts, future customers
So, where does Eduardo see the fitness industry’s family orientation heading? “This will become bigger and bigger, where you have options in one place for everyone…this is the future,” he declares.
“People are realising once you have a real service, now there is a place where the kids can do an activity, if that activity really adds value to the life of the kids, then it becomes real business.
“I see new gyms coming with proper areas, not just a space they cut to generate more revenue. And what’s happening is that if you have a personal trainer with the kids, they can be in the gym as well where before it was not allowed”.
Let’s face it, you get the kids hooked on fitness now…they’re the customers of tomorrow.
“Almost all new brands and gyms coming to the UAE have family space and a kids concept. It becomes mandatory, because if you don’t…there is another place already doing it.”
With UAE initiatives such as Dubai Fitness Challenge inspiring the wider population to shape up or stay fit, a trickle of family exercise routines can swiftly become a flood and that leads to many more families leading healthier lifestyles in busier