There’s “baby & me” swimming, where the little one gets to paddle and kick while dad stands still and provides buoyancy. Soccer and softball usually mean kids running around and parents parked in the bleachers. On family bike rides, tiny legs tire much faster than mom’s. One look at even the most athletic clan’s choice of family activity usually leaves the kids sweaty and spent, while the grownups struggle to find time for exercise elsewhere.
As families try to fit more to-dos into fewer hours, getting everyone to exercise at the same time not only streamlines the afterschool and weekend schedule, it provides a healthy dose of family time, too. Here are five programs that combine fitness and fun for the whole family.
Joseph and Carrie D’Attilio have been training at the Orchard Park location of Master Chong’s World Class Tae Kwon Do for about a year with their sons Dan, 10, and Sam, 6. Sam had attended a birthday party at the studio last year, which offered attendees a discount if they signed up, so Sam and Dan began taking Tae Kwon Do.
“My husband and I would go watch,” says Carrie D’Atillio. “Then after a while, we said why not do it ourselves? It’s a good workout — lots of kicking and technique. I think we really support each other more now at home, too. We’re all on the same belt level so we can practice at home. We’d try family walks before and sat around while the kids did summer soccer, but this is really the first time we’re working out, learning, and advancing together.”
Michael Mertens, executive director of Master Chong’s, says that the family class offering has been part of the school’s curriculum since it opened 25 years ago. In family classes at each of the school’s five locations, the requirements to move through the belts are the same for adults and kids, who are welcome at age 6 and over. During class, adults will sometimes pair with other adults for specific drills, but everyone is still doing the same training — which provides a beneficial family dynamic at home, too.
“It’s a shared interest they can talk about around the dinner table with a shared vocabulary and shared challenges,” explains Martens. “The time they spend together is rewarding, and they can appreciate each other’s skills and abilities — maybe mom is super fast and the sister has a mean kick. There’s a lot of emphasis on respect and courtesy, which is especially nice with siblings (at least inside the classroom).”
Dance & drum
It’s fitting that The Village People came up with the song capable of getting anyone to flail their arms around along with the music — today’s YMCA Buffalo Niagara has become a place where families can move and groove together in a variety of dance and rhythm classes. There’s Family Hip Hop, a high-energy dance class set to language-appropriate current hits. Family Zumba infuses multicultural world beats into a dance-party workout, while Family Drums Alive is a Friday night full of heart-pumping drumstick thumping on big colorful exercise balls. Kids as young as 4 can join in the fun with the rest of their family at these affordable, flexible sessions.
Community Relations Manager Mary Ilarraza says programs and schedules vary at each of the YMCA’s six area locations, so she encourages family to check their local branch’s web page for specifics at YMCABN.org.
Swimming and cardio
The Jewish Community Center, with locations in Buffalo and Amherst open to all faiths, has open pool and fitness center times specifically set aside for families to exercise together. Laurie Greenspan, director of marketing, says that the JCC is a place where people of all ages can feel comfortable gathering to get in a workout.
“The values of sharing, togetherness, and community are important to us, and this is something you see in the family environment here — it doesn’t feel like a typical gym,” says Greenspan. “Physical fitness is a huge part of a healthy mind and body, and because we’re a community center, we knew it was important to have opportunities for families to work out together, especially in the winter.”
Greenspan says that family memberships are popular because they not only include access to the pool and fitness center, but all the other programs, services and family events held year round. This means that parents or grandparents can bring the kids for an afternoon, get in a good workout together, and probably enjoy another fun opportunity with the option of free childcare if someone’s not cooperating with the family fitness idea on a particular day.
At Yoga Parkside, family yoga classes shift the focus from hustle and bustle to centering and calming. Classic yoga postures for balance and stretching, breathing exercises, partner poses, and cooperative games fill the sunny studio on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m.; classes are donation-based with a suggested minimum of $5. Movements are geared toward ages 3 and up, but everyone is welcome regardless of age or family structure.
“The broadest definition of family is celebrated here,” says Megan Callahan, director of Yoga Parkside. “And even the babies can come and hang out; you’d be surprised how much they learn. We’ve had little kids who have been immersed since the baby sessions, watching and mimicking all along, so they can really participate and know what to do.”
Custom circuit training
Kris Hollie of Kris Hollie Fitness works with individual families in his Buffalo studio to craft a FitFam 40-minute Workout Plan, a circuit style workout with age- and skill-appropriate cardio and bodyweight components followed by a short nutrition segment at the end. Hollie says families usually opt for an 8-week program when the whole family is available, like during school breaks or on weekends, and then continue elements of the program at home. Even though it’s a small group setting, movements can be tailored to specific family members’ goals.
“We focus on things like getting one kid faster for football or helping another bring his weight down,” says Hollie. “Lots of movements are bodyweight and don’t require equipment, so the family can take movements home, do them a few times a week after school and really see changes. Kids can be as young as 4, but sessions work best with kids who are 7 to 12 years old; they’re pretty self-motivated at that age and can stay focused for 40 minutes, but aren’t too cool to work out with their parents yet.”
Story topics: Wellness