In the May/June 2023 issue, we spoke with Ben Engelbrecht, a personal trainer at the Northeast YMCA — a branch of the YMCA of Greater Louisville — about youth fitness.
Tell me about the YMCA’s Youth Fitness Fundamentals program.
Youth Fitness Fundamentals (YFF) is a free fitness training and orientation offered to kids ages 10 to 13. YFF is scheduled for one to two evenings per week. The training incorporates a one-hour educational computer module kids must complete before a 45 to 60-minute hands-on orientation and safety training.
What need is this program fulfilling in the Louisville community?
YFF is a great way to introduce kids and young teens to physical fitness in a safe way at a critical age. It provides the freedom to independently workout and learn about fitness while providing a safety net through the age-set guidelines. It also allows kids who are too old for in-house childcare to continue to learn and engage at the YMCA.
What changes to youth fitness interest and offerings have you observed over the last few years?
During the pandemic, we paused YFF for a time to keep everyone safe. Combining spikes in home fitness with some pandemic island fever means kids have been eager to get in the gym and exercise on their own. Parents are also very happy to see their kids actively engaged and healthy rather than sitting around at home. Since restarting YFF, the interest is much higher than before and has continued to be so.
What are some must-haves for running a successful youth fitness program?
Running youth fitness programs requires carefully, thought-out guidance to ensure kids can participate independently but with minimal risks of injury. YFF uses specially marked strength machines that indicate to children and parents it’s safe for them to use.
Relationship building and creativity are also vital for staff working with youth. Whether they are shy, spacy or enthusiastic, building a relationship will ensure the most thorough and effective engagement, and kids will be more likely to ask questions or show off in the future. If you start them early and show them it’s fun, you can keep them coming back for years.