At the gym this morning there was a personal trainer with a group of kids: a girl of about 14, a boy about 11 and another boy about 7. As I did my row cardio I was watching them “workout”. And it made me so sad. These are kids. Why are they at the gym instead of playing?

First let me get out of the way that I’m fairly certain the trainer was not properly trained in working with children since she had all three kids doing the same exercises with no modifications for the differences in their growing bodies and developmental stages. So that a big red flag for me. There was also a HUGE difference in understand and executing the “correct” form of the exercise between the 14 year old and 7 year old; he didn’t get it and wasn’t able to execute the exercises with proper form. But the bigger red flag was how unhappy he looked. He looked so bored. So did the 11 year old. They were following along and being respectful but you could tell they wanted to be anywhere else. And this made me so sad. By having these young kids lift kettlebells, do planks and do lateral lunges with a band this trainer was teaching them to hate fitness and that going to the gym sucks. This workout looked like a punishment instead of anything related to joy.

What broken my heart was that 50 feet away was an indoor turf area. These same kids could have been “getting their workout in” by playing football or soccer. And the only time I saw joy on the boys faces was when their trainer made them run sprints. They loved the running. They both were laughing during the running. But that was only 2 minutes of their “workout”. These kids were wired to play and were instead doing reps with resistance bands and weights. I don’t know the goal of the parent with the choice to have young kids workout with a trainer, but I do know that the kids would have burned more calories and wanted to stay longer if laughter and fun were part of the mix.

The whole point of Aerial Dance is to play. I don’t want someone to think of us as a gym. I want to be the place they come to play. Because play is fun. Play is a basic human need. I have always hated “working out”. When I phrase it like that, it is a chore I have to do and I don’t want to. To me, most of the people in the gym are there because it is something they have to cross off their to-do list or they are punishing themselves for something they ate or are about to eat. I don’t want to punish my body. I want to celebrate my body. And to me that means playing.

Have you ever noticed that when you play the time flies by? That when you’re laughing and enjoying what your body can do it is so much easier to do the activity for longer? I have no issues going on an hour bike ride in the woods but an hour spin class makes me want to fake a calf injury 1/2 way through. Why is that? Because we are wired to want to play. It is a primitive part of our brains and lots of good things (like endorphins) come through playing. It truly a part of us, play is a big human desire and motivator.

But there is another side of play that I think is so important: The idea that when you play there is no failure. Think back to when you were a kid and you played make believe, anything you thought of was ok. You said the elephant was pink and wearing a tutu with polka-dots. Ok! There were no wrong answers in play. There is true beauty in that. True self expression and learning results in that judgement free zone of play and somehow as adults we lost that ability to see failure as fun as we also lost the ability to play. Showing what my body can do, trying new things and not being afraid if I am not good at the new thing is really hard as an adult because I feel like I “should” be good immediately. But if I’m playing it’s ok to try and not be good. What matters is that I played. To me that is a successful relationship with myself and that is what we’ve tried to create at Aerial Dance. Play has a pivotal role in silencing the inner critic.

Instead of working out, play and see how much better you feel!!!!