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Children's gym at YMCA

By Danielle Paine, Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Children ages seven to 11 have a new hi-tech gym of their own in the Scantic Valley YMCA.

With cardio equipment that powers video games, virtual-reality exercise and small machines, the new End Zone and Club House programs are where state-of-the-art-technology meets childhood fitness.

"We just found that there is really a need for that age group, especially now with their huge incidence of childhood obesity," explained Julie Costello, associate executive director of the YMCA branch. "We wanted to generate a life-long love of fitness but there isn't a lot of equipment that fits them, it's just too big."

Not only was making fitness a perfect fit for these smaller patrons important, a major concern was also making fitness fun. The End Zone, a former maintenance closet turned "kids gym," has been accomplishing this feat with flair ever since it opened in the beginning of May.

A row of miniature exercise bikes, called Cat Eye Gamebikes, face a wall of flat screen televisions which the rider uses to play Sony Playstation games through controllers mounted onto the bike's handlebars. But why exercise while playing video games? Because the games shut-off immediately after the rider stops pedaling.

Even more high tech is the Kinetic Eye Toy which uses a live-feed camera to display the child's image onto the television screen. That image becomes the main character for dozens of games that involve cardio, strength training, yoga and even meditation. Another machine, the Exerstation, works on a similar concept. The user leans back on a padded half-circle which transmits their movement into the game, controlling the character.

Costello said that this machine in particular focuses on building core muscles. The children who use it, however, are getting a better gaming experience than in an arcade, taking their minds off the often monotonous task of exercising.

"We are trying to teach kids that there are a lot of ways to be strong and fit," Costello said about the equipment.

Child members of the YMCA are supervised by a certified fitness instructor while in the End Zone, which can be used seven days per week, with a 45-minute time-slot reservation.

Also available in the new space is two small rowing machines, made entertaining by the user's motion causing water to swirl and splash around in a clear plastic tube attached to the front of each unit. Miniature weight benches, stability balls, barbells and free weights round out this fitness experience.

"They don't even realize they're working out because they are having so much fun," Costello said.

On the other side of the family fitness center lies the Club House, also a new addition for this age group. Essentially childcare for their member's children, the Club House offers children Dance Dance Revolution and the Jackie Chan fitness game, both programs which rely on moderate to intense physical movement to play video games.

In addition to their current children's fitness class offerings, including the kids power hour circuit training class, Costello said that the branch will be adding much more age-appropriate programming during the upcoming summer months.

"Our focus mainly here is families and we were just missing that piece," Costello said of the age niche now met with the End Zone and Club House programs. "This just gives them the opportunity to exercise in a fun and safe way."

The End Zone is currently open Monday through Friday, 3:30 - 7:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sundays noon - 4 p.m. A $20-per-month kids membership or $20-per-month add-on to a family membership is required to access the End Zone. The Club House is free to family members.