By AMANDA VOGEL, M.A.
The other day when I picked up my daughter from kindergarten, I found her racing around the school playground with friends. When I caught up with her, she was out of breath and grinning from ear to ear. I was happy to see her exercising. But was it exercise to her? Not at all, it was just a fun game, the kind that fitness pros can easily translate to the world of adult fitness, too.
Why Games Work
It’s natural for kids to get exercise through fun activity-oriented games—organized ones like Duck Duck Goose or impromptu ones like tearing around a playground—but somewhere along the way, exercise for adults took a turn to the serious side. As a result, many adults are quick to describe the kind of gym-based exercise they do as, quite frankly, “no fun.”
Fortunately, fitness professionals know it doesn’t have to be that way. The trick is to plan workouts (and perhaps not even call them workouts?) that deliver the same variety and unpredictability that naturally unfolds in kids’ games, like tag.
When fitness clients hop on a treadmill for half an hour, they generally know what to expect from that exercise session—it’s predictable. Games, on the other hand, are a good way to take the monotony out of standard workouts, says Beth Middlekauff, a California-based personal trainer, boot-camp expert and owner of BethMidFitness.com.
In a class or boot camp where games are part of the experience, there is an element of newness. “Games offer a break from the typical structure and routine that is all too familiar in life and in fitness,” says Tim Haft, a fitness pro based in New York City and president of Punk Rope Inc, a fitness and instructor-training program described as a mash-up between boot camp and recess. Besides breaking away from the serious side of exercise, clients are able to focus on both teamwork and excelling at the game’s objective. This may be especially true if the game introduces an element of friendly competition.
“Some adults particularly enjoy trying to win as it gives them a specific objective to shoot for,” says Haft. And for those clients who couldn’t care less about winning? “Games also help ‘distract’ students from the discomfort that often accompanies intense exercise,” adds Haft.
Games Rev Up Client Effort
One major benefit of playing fitness games is that it motivates clients to ramp up their exercise efforts, either because they have a competitive streak or because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Most clients—whether they are competitive or not—are more likely to do their best when they know others are cheering them on as part of the game.
“I’ve had a number of students that go into ‘overdrive’ when a game is played. They thrive on competition and hate to lose,” says Haft. Competition aside, though, Haft says helping clients rev up intensity comes down to an important element of any good game: a clear goal. “In general, most students crank up the effort level a notch when there is a clear objective that can be quantified,” he says.
It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose ….
Haft, who’s been teaching games in his Punk Rope program since its inception in 2004, says the amount of effort clients put forth during “game time” hinges somewhat on their personalities. For example, some clients are motivated by the cooperative aspect of a game more than by the opportunity to compete. Managing the right balance of both helps create games that appeal to everyone.
Middlekauff makes sure she sets the tone for fair play in her boot camps. “When I coach, I like to recognize clients’ triumphs and milestones,” she says. “The campers become aware of that and tend to behave similarly. Everyone roots for everyone else!”
Another teaching tactic for fostering camaraderie is to break up competitive cliques before any one team has the chance to dominate every game. “When I see that the same teams and partners are being formed repeatedly, I make sure to mix it up, often before it happens,” says Middlekauff. Her solution: Assign teams versus asking clients to form their own.
Haft likes to provide a pre-game pep talk to get play moving in the right direction. “Before our relay races, for example, I tell students that the most important thing is that they cheer for their teammates. There’s no ‘us-against-them’ mentality,” he says. “This approach has worked beautifully and resulted in a very positive community spirit.”
It’s Game Time!
Bringing team spirit to your classes and boot camps in the form of fun games and playful activities can encourage clients to not only adhere to your program but to also work out more intensely than they might on their own. The benefit? Better overall results, for them and you. Here are four fun and easy games to get you started.
Amanda Vogel, MA, holds a master’s degree in human kinetics and is a certified fitness pro in Vancouver, B.C. In addition to being the co-author of Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution (Sterling, Jan. 2010), Amanda owns Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for the fitness industry. Her articles have appeared in Prevention, Shape, Health and SELF. You can reach her at www.ActiveVoice.ca, http://FitnessWriter.blogspot.com or www.twitter.com/amandavogel.
Article in its entirety at http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1077/let-the-games-begin-help-your-clients-get-fit-and/