Kids’ fitness a healthy business

Children and teens have become a priority in the health club market, and Albuquerque health club owners are tapping into the trend.

Besides offering kids classes at adult gyms, a few local gyms and fitness instructors have set up programs to exclusively train kids and teens.

The greater Albuquerque metro area, for example, has five gyms that offer CrossFit Kids, a specialized training program started in 2006 geared to teach children 5 years of age and up healthy eating habits and safe exercise routines.

Cassie Mitchell, head instructor for the kid/teen classes at Duke City CrossFit, said it was only a matter of time before gyms created youth programs.

Miles Johnson, 9, does pushups next to Dr. Anti Nelly Soto-Hernandez as an example for the rest of the students at CrossFit Thunderhawk Kids in Rio Rancho. (Stephen Montoya/Albuquerque Journal)

“Four or five years ago, gym owners started to notice how many of their customers were bringing their kids to their workouts,” Mitchell said. “I think it was just a natural process that gyms started creating programs for those kids because they want to do what their parents are doing.”

Mitchell said that after many of the adult classes she used to instruct, she noticed the members’ kids mimicking the moves they were doing in class.

“So we started a class for them so they could do the same thing as mom and dad,” Mitchell said.

The classes Mitchell teaches now are split up between children 7 to 12 and teens that all do the same movements but with different skill levels.

“It really depends on a kid’s body since they are growing how and what we put them through,” she said. “We stress healthy eating habits and hope each kid can take what we teach them with them for life.”

Deidra Gallegos, Owner of The Little Gym in Albuquerque, said she has classes for children that range from four months old to 12 years old.

Daniel Masterson, 13, practices his weightlifting posture in a teen’s class at CrossFit Thunderhawk Kids in Rio Rancho. (Stephen Montoya/Albuquerque Journal)

“We specifically work on non-competitive gymnastics, and we are curriculum based, which means everything is recorded by a certified gymnast or has an early childhood education,” Gallegos said.

Parents who bring their children to the Little Gym stay and watch the classes through a window.

“Some classes require parent participation from ages 3 down, and then from 3 years of age and up the classes are independent,” Galleogs said.

The Little Gym has three main components, get the kids moving, the fundamentals of ABCs and a program called citizen kid that teaches them how to share.

The program costs $69 a month, regardless of age.

“It’s a social and emotional exercise as much as it is physical,” she said. “The younger you get a kid involved with healthy habits, the better their self esteem.”

Teaching healthy habits

Dr. Anti Nelly Soto-Hernandez, co-owner of the CrossFit Thunderhawk Kids and Teens in Rio Rancho, said besides the attraction of tapping into a market that was essentially overlooked for years, gym owners are realizing the importance of indoctrinating healthy habits in kids at a younger age.

As a family doctor, Soto-Hernandez said she has seen the affects of childhood obesity and was frustrated in her efforts to help children overcome it.

Dylan Messer, 9, waits his turn to climb a 10-foot rope wall at CrossFit Thunderhawk Kids in Rio Rancho.

“I see a child for maybe 40 minutes once a year, and I speak with their parents for 10 minutes about what they can do,” Soto-Hernandez said. “Another year goes by and again I get another 10 minutes to try and engage with a parent about a year’s worth of habits. It doesn’t work.”

Soto-Hernandez said she and he husband, Dr. Javier Hernandez, got the idea to create a gym for children when she began attending a CrossFit class for adults.

Soto-Hernandez said she looked into the CrossFit Kids division and asked the instructors at the CrossFit gym she was going to if she and her husband could use some space.

“They were onboard, and as soon as the adults found out what we were doing, we had 80 plus kids in attendance,” she said.

The program was so successful that Soto-Hernandez and her husband looked to expand to a bigger space. On Jan. 5, when she and her husband opened the doors to one of the metro area’s biggest gym for children in Rio Rancho.

At 6,600 square feet, Thunderhawk can host several fitness classes at once for various age groups.

Thunderhawk already has 54 members with more expected between lapses in school sports.

“I knew this could be my way of helping these kids on a long-term basis because I can see them three times a week for an hour,” she said. “Also I may have more time with their parents to try and offer them advice about healthy eating habits.”

Amber Maestas, Kids Club Lead at the Defined Fitness on Jaun Tabo, said besides providing free childcare for the gym’s members, the health club offers a place for kids to exercise on Saturdays.

“Honestly, the kids really encourage their parents to come to the gym more than the parents would like because they like to stay active,” Maestas said.

The club’s Juan Tabo location offers kids’ classes on yoga, circuit training and a speed course.

“Defined Fitness has been offering these types of programs since the (Juan Tabo) gym opened,” she said.

The cost rundown

Hernandez said it took a year of studying logistics to really give him and his wife a better understanding of how the business would work financially.

Chloe Masterson, 9, prepares to go under an obstacle at the Crossfit Thunderhawk Kids gym in Rio Rancho.

According to Hernandez, liability insurance wasn’t really a factor. But for any gym to carry the CrossFit label, the owners have to pay an annual fee of $3,000. On top of that, either the owners or the instructors have to take a certification class every four years. CrossFit has four certification levels, which cost $1,000 each.

To be a CrossFit Kids instructor it is another $1,000 on top of the original $1,000 for the level one certification. So all added up, for a gym to offer a CrossFit Kids program costs $5,000 in the first year, and that is with just one instructor. ThunderHawk has eight.

“This is something I would like to get straight: CrossFit doesn’t pay for any of the equipment or the building…anything,” Hernandez said. “Since their program is trademarked, many gyms pay for the name and get the certification, but everything else comes out of the owner’s pockets.”

Hernandez said he and his wife invested $30,000 to buy all of the equipment and rent a space.

“We aren’t in it for the money, but we also looked into how sustainable this business would be, and with our current clientele, we are already turning a profit,” Hernandez said.

A ThunderHawk membership cost $45 a month.

In general, CrossFit Kids programs range from $45 to $80 a month per child.

Tory Boucher, owner of CrossFit Petroglyph, said it was hard for her to turn a profit when she began her CrossFit Kids program several years ago.

“Many parents are willing to pay for skates and football pads, but when it comes to their children’s health, they pull back on the wallet,” Boucher said. “I find that we have to compete with the school’s sports programs and those have always been a success.”

Boucher still offers a teen CrossFit class, but she said she had to drop the kids class because it wasn’t economically viable.

“There is no money in it unless someone can run it as a separate affiliate,” Boucher said. “Or else it turns out to be like a P.E.(Physical Education) class instead of what it’s meant to be, a healthy life lesson.”

Boucher said it takes an instructor that is dedicated to teaching a quality curriculum to run a successful kids program from a business angle, which she said “takes time to build.”

One way gyms that offer kids programs could supplement their income is by offering time to sports teams that need to stay active during their off seasons, she said.

“I am all for teaching our kids healthy habits from an early age, but I am also a business owner and have to be realistic about what makes money and what doesn’t,” Boucher said.

A modern way of staying active

Kristi Wilcox, trainer at Bear Canyon CrossFit, said in her five years as a trainer she has seen more and more kids join fitness programs.

“Little kids are sponges. They will do anything you ask of them and they look up to the older kids and they want to be able to do what they are doing,” Wilcox said. “I think this is why we see more kid friendly gym programs because they grow up so fast and still want to stay active.”

Wilcox said many kids today are sedentary because they are involved with their friends on social media and don’t go outside and play like kids did in the past.

“Most of the kids I’ve seen in the CrossFit program can be competitive. and that’s the time they set aside during the week to be active and push each other,” she said. “Otherwise they are in a classroom or on a social media device.”

Wilcox said there is financial investment required to offer kid-sized equipment so they can do the same workouts they see their parents doing.

“Yeah it was an extra cost, but if those kids are going to be there anyway they might as well be active,” she said.

The bottom line

Although many of these youth programs base their training off of CrossFit Kids guidelines, there is no agency that regulates what each gym actually teaches.

According to Boucher, CrossFit Kids pamphlets, available online, are merely suggestions and not hard fast rules for instructors to follow.

“The best anyone can get in the industry is a CrossFit Kids certification, that is the standard right now,” she said. “Beyond that, it is really up to gym how and what they teach. This is the area many parents need to look into before just dropping their kids off at any gym.”

By Stephen Montoya from Albuquerque Journal

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