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Article posted: 6/15/2013 1:00 AM

Children starting to work with personal trainers

By Melynda Findlay

Brian Peters actually smiles when he talks about pushing hundreds of pounds across the floor using a heavy sled during his workouts.

"It's kind of horrible, but it's really effective," said Brian, who just finished his sophomore year at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights.

The heavy sled is just one aspect of the workouts that Brian, 16, and his brother, Nate, 12, of Roselle, do during their workouts with trainers at The Academy for Athletic Advancement in Schaumburg. The Academy offers both one-on-one and small-group training for athletes as young as 8 all the way up to professionals.

Brian and Nate, who just finished sixth grade at St. Walter School in Roselle, both play football and run track, and Nate also plays basketball. They started working with the Academy's trainers a little more than two years ago on the athletic skills they need to be successful in their sports, such as strength, agility and speed, and to learn about proper nutrition.

"They've worked on every aspect of both my sports," Brian said. "They've made me an all-around better athlete."

The Peters brothers aren't the only kids working out with trainers these days, experts say. They're part of a trend, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, the Boston-based trade association serving the health and fitness industry.

Nearly a million youngsters in the United States -- some as young as 6 -- are working out with trainers hired by their parents, according to figures from the association. Some, like Brian and Nate, are working with trainers to improve sports performance. Others are working with trainers to shape up and lose weight, the association said.

"We see a big mix of everybody," said Jason Domnanovich, director of sports performance at the Academy and one of the trainers who work with Brian and Nate. "Some are great athletes, and we work to maximize their potential. Some kids are timid, shy and maybe a little bit overweight, and their parents are looking for a boost for them. We give them a safe environment to learn."

Joshua Steckler, a personal trainer and owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg, said that while he currently doesn't have any children as clients, trainers there have seen a number of suburban kids -- ranging in age from 7 to 17 -- for weight loss in recent years.

"The kids we've worked with just aren't as active as they could be and spend a lot of time in front of the TV," Steckler said. "Pair that up with a poor understanding of nutrition, and it's no wonder why we are seeing such an increase in childhood obesity."

Whatever the child's reason for being there, working with a trainer also provides accountability, Domnanovich added.

Kids will work out on their own and decide, "OK, that's enough for today," when they get tired of the activity, he said. "But if somebody is pushing them, they're not going to quit."

Nate Peters agreed that having someone motivate him is one of the reasons he loves working with the Academy trainers.

"If I work out at home, I might get lazy and not do it," Nate said. "Here, they push me to be better. I'd rather come here and keep getting better."

If you're a parent considering hiring a trainer for a daughter or son -- whether to improve athletic performance or help them shape up -- both Steckler and Domnanovich said it's important to do your homework.

"You have to do research and find a place with a proven track record," Domnanovich said. "Find someone who's been there, and ask them questions."

Parents also need to get to know a little about the trainer, Steckler said.

"To work well with a child, the trainer needs to have patience, must be creative and should have an understanding of how kids are motivated," Steckler said. "Someone who has kids of their own or has experience working with kids would be a good starting point. Allow the child and the trainer to interact and see if there is a connection. Don't be afraid to ask questions about a trainer's experience and their game plan for getting results."

And speaking of results, parents also should be clear about what their expectations are when hiring a trainer.

"The key is understanding what the child is capable of, and what the child and the parents want to get out of the experience," Steckler said. "A good trainer can work with any age group and will understand how to get results accordingly."

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