Athletic training gym for kids as young as age 7 expands in suburbs

Chirag and Shraddha Shah’s sons were 7 years old when they started playing tennis, but they easily grew tired after a few serves.

The Aurora parents weren’t necessarily interested in imparting the finer points of the game to their sons as much as helping them become better, stronger athletes.

Few private health clubs allow preteens in their weight rooms, let alone enroll in an instructor-based training class.

But the Shahs found an option — D1 Training Fox Valley in Aurora — and enrolled their boys in a group fitness class.

Now 13, one of the boys can serve 60 mph on the local Aurora Park District tennis courts.

He’s also a catcher in a Naperville baseball league, where opponents are wary of trying to steal second, his parents say.

“Being able to be a catcher for six innings in a squat position, you need a lot of strength. Being able to throw the ball from home plate to second base, it requires a lot of strength,” Chirag Shah said. “You can see the difference … now, the distance is the same, but he’s comfortably able to throw the ball. … That translates into his self confidence about how well he’s able to play the game, and that’s what matters.”

The positive results of improved strength and stamina in their own budding athletes is what motivated the Shahs to become franchisees in D1 Training, a sports training facility founded in Nashville in 2001 by former NFL player Will Bartholomew. The business began franchising in 2017 and has more than 100 locations nationwide, include four in the Chicago suburbs.

  Shraddha Shah, left, and Chirag Shah are the wife and husband franchisees behind D1 Training, a fitness facility in Arlington Heights that specializes in youth workout classes. Christopher Placek/

That includes the Shahs’ 4,000-square-foot gym that opened earlier this month at 71 W. Rand Road in Arlington Heights. It joins the locations managed by other franchisees in Aurora, Oswego and Bloomingdale. The Shahs say they plan to open another location in Schaumburg, and maybe Glenview or Evanston, based on how successful the Arlington Heights gym is.

Yes, D1 Training is open to all ages, but the business’ niche is youth-targeted “scholastic training.”

Group classes are broken down into four categories: Rookie, for ages 7-11, establishing the foundation for coordination and athleticism; Developmental, for ages 12-14, incorporating more athletic movements and some age-appropriate weightlifting; Prep, for ages 15-18, developing power, speed, strength and athleticism — comparable to a Division 1 collegiate program; and Adult, which weaves boot-camp-style classes with strength training, officials say.

  Kids ages 7-11 participate in a D1 Training group fitness class Tuesday evening in Arlington Heights. John Starks/

No matter the age group, every 54-minute class starts with a warm-up, followed by performance movements, strength, core and conditioning, and cool-down stretching.

That was on display Tuesday evening when instructor Bernard Payne led a Rookie class of about a dozen kids, who did 10- and 15-yard dashes on the gym’s artificial turf football field, stretching exercises and other calisthenics. Parents watched nearby from a “viewing bar,” though they’re not required to be there for the duration of the six-days-a-week class.

  Parents can watch the 54-minute youth fitness classes from the viewing bar at D1 Training in Arlington Heights. John Starks/

The Shahs — each with a master’s degree in computer science and experience working as technology consultants — emphasized the value of getting in-person feedback from coaches, as opposed to relying on workout tutorials online.

Chirag Shah said enrolling kids in training classes helps get them away from “the screen routine.”

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh you know what, I can do a YouTube video and do a workout,” he said. “The human feedback … no AI system in the world is able to tell you, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated.”

The gym will host an official grand opening event from 3 to 6 p.m. July 13 with a ribbon cutting, refreshments and vendors.

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