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Kid Fitness Camps Tracking Real Results

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2011 Tri-Masters Youth and Coaches
Chicago director Bernard Lyles (center of middle row)
IronMan World Champion, Wendy Ingraham is Pro on Staff (second from right on front row)
Photo courtesy Tri-Masters

Chicago parents concerned their kids are becoming couch potatoes have been turning to Bernard Lyles for a motivational alternative.  They’ve been signing up children as young as 6 years old for the summer fitness camps that also include young teens.  Experts in childhood obesity see that nearly half of inner city children in the South Chicago area struggle with weight-related issues.  So, it’s no surprise to camp directors when some participants don’t yet know how to swim or ride a bike.  They simply aren’t getting outside for old-fashioned play and individual sports.

Bernard Lyles, Tri-Masters Chicago
Photo Courtesy:  Tri-Masters

Lyles’ background as an award-winning triathlete lends itself well to his work directing Chicago’s chapter of Tri-Masters Youth Sports Initiative.  The basics of running, swimming and cycling create an attainable way for most kids to start getting in shape.  Lyles describes the seven-week camps his organization runs as great alternatives to working parents leaving children at home to watch television.  “Try to keep them busy, give them something constructive to do, introduce them to a brand new sport; and when they’re ready to go back to school, they’re in top condition.”

For the past few years, Lyles has teamed up with fellow triathlete Duston Morris to highlight the science of movement that’s sparking visible change in young lives.  Morris, PhD, MS, CTRS, ACE-CPT, USAT is an assistant professor of health science at the University of Central Arkansas.  In cooperation with Tri-Masters and the non-profit AliveWithMissionMe organization that has developed a fitness curriculum, Morris is tracking how Chicago’s fitness camps are getting results.

Morris stresses that he’s not looking at how well children learn the skills involved in a sport, although Lyles says those improvements are also visible.  The research is about markers of physical health, such as resting heart rate, body mass index and weight.   Morris is enthusiastic about the results, “We found that students who participated had significant improvement in those biological markers.”

Duston Morris, PhD
Photo Courtesy:  3SportFitness.com

The young athletes were asked to weigh in for the first day of camp and again at the end.  Of those who participated fully in the weigh-ins, Morris says 92% lost weight.  Over the seven-week period, they lost an average of 6.4 pounds per athlete, or around one pound per week.  Morris says, “It puts them right at that healthy weight loss range.”

Lyles says the kid-friendly nutrition talks teach kids the right way to fuel their bodies.  When they go home they ask parents for better food choices.  He points out that the competition has a positive spin, “All they’re doing is trying to compete against the next kid.  They’re losing pounds and they’re getting stronger.  You can see the muscle development.”

Morris plans to present his research for peer review at an academic conference next month.  He anticipates more collaborations with Tri-Masters or similar fitness programs, where he can replicate the results.  He asserts that the all-around fitness provided by running, swimming and cycling might also give kids an edge inside the classroom.  “We’re now looking to see if participation in such activities can stimulate academic performance.”

A key difference between these camps and many others is their emphasis on individual sports.  While team sports offer their own benefits, many don’t extend beyond the school years.  “How many 42-year-old women do you know who are still cheerleaders?” Morris asks, “Or guys that are football players?”  He encourages everyone to take up some kind of individual sport outside, even if it starts with a fall walk or playing games with your children.  He says we also don’t have to assume that a fitness program needs to be expensive or complicated.  “Simplicity is effectiveness,” stresses Morris.  Along with Lyles and many others encouraging young athletes, he hopes that a positive camp experience can be the beginning of fitness for a lifetime.

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