New fitness center targets teens with games
Walk through the malls and high school halls in America, and you'll quickly notice that kids in the US could use a few good workouts. A new fitness center opening this Saturday hopes to lure kids in with a combination of a "fitness arcade," traditional workout equipment, free WiFi, a study center, and a cafe.
Located in Mountain View, CA, Overtime Fitness restricts its membership to teens aged 13 through 18. "It's a first-of-its-kind fitness center because it's focused solely on teens," founder and president Patrick Ferrell told Ars Technica. "Getting kids interested in fitness has some interesting challenges which we've managed to overcome by having the right combination of electronics, fitness equipment, and a place to socialize."
For a $109 initiation fee—of which $20 goes to the athletic booster club at the member's school—and $59 per month, teens get full access to the facilities of Overtime Fitness after an orientation session. The membership includes a free session with a personal trainer along with access to the full workout area, a study center with PCs and free WiFi, and a cafe serving healthy fare. Overtime Fitness' overall price is competitive with other fitness centers in the area, most of which range between $30 and $80 per month. Exercising via gaming
When asked whether incorporating gaming into a workout routine was sending mixed messages to adolescents whose free time is often consumed by video games, instant messaging, and TV watching, Ferrell said that the approach Overtime Fitness is taking was necessary. "In some ways, we're waving the white flag," he admitted. "But if we went the opposite way, they would be far less likely to jump in."
Kim Neale-May, vice president of program development at Overtime Fitness, said that they knew it would be challenging to get the kids interested. "We knew we needed to make it really interactive," she told Ars. "In order to get them into working out, we introduced fun, interactive fitness equipment."
In addition to the standard array of cardio equipment and weights, Overtime Fitness has several gaming-oriented machines. Perhaps most familiar is In The Groove 2, a Dance Dance Revolution knockoff. The center features a few In The Groove 2 arcade machines, along with a few Cybex Trazers. The Trazer is a "virtual reality" fitness machine that "puts you in the game," as Neale-May describes it. The kids put on an infrared belt which then maps their movements to the action onscreen. They play games that involve lunging, jumping, and other vigorous movements, which show up on the monitor as the user reacts to virtual dodgeballs and other stimuli. "We had kids try out the Trazer. They'd have a blast and come out completely drenched in sweat after ten minutes," said Ferrell.
Club members will also be able to get their Xbox on via the Kilowatt Sport. Created by Powergrid Fitness, the Kilowatt Sport acts as a video game controller for your console or PC. It has a heavy-duty base to withstand abuse, cushioned back-rest to lean against, and a resistance rod with the controller at the top. The Kilowatt measures how much force the player is exerting against it and two microprocessors inside to translate that info for the Xbox or whatever console you've got it hooked to. So if you're playing Madden '06 and want to run a fullback dive, you're going to have to lean hard against the resistance rod to break through the defensive line. It's designed to give you a great core workout. Overtime Fitness has two Xboxes so members can work up something more than a virtual sweat while engaging in a Halo deathmatch.
So far, the reaction to the gaming machines has been great, according to Ferrell. "The kids will bounce back and forth between the serious workout equipment and the fun stuff," he explained. "But every kid we've had come through the center has been overwhelmingly excited." The future of exercise?
Is this the future of fitness centers? Will Stair Masters, Nautilus weight machines, and treadmills be replaced with DDR machines, networked exercise bikes, and virtual reality exercise equipment? Maybe not. "It was interesting to track the kids' behavior," said Ferrell. "The younger teens—especially the 13- and 14-year-old boys—spent about 70 percent of their time on the electronic machines and the remaining time on the traditional fitness equipment. For the 17- and 18-year-olds, it was the other way around. The girls were less interested in the gaming-oriented stuff, gravitating instead towards the cardio equipment."
That said, Ferrell believes that without the nod to gaming, Overtime Fitness would never work. "You know, you can enjoy this stuff and still get a workout. But if we took it out and just had the music and machines, it would never fly because kids are just to married to technology and interactivity."