California Gym for Teens Mixes Exercise with Xbox

Teens spend a lot of time playing video games, but that doesn't have to mean they're not getting enough exercise. A recently opened gym in Mountain View, Cali., is open only to teens and combines traditional gym equipment such as punching bags with electronic gaming activities, like virtual boxing, and body-controlled Xbox games.

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With fad diets coming and going and obesity on everyone's mind, a new teen-only gym in Mountain View, California - that's Silicon Valley - is luring kids with a new twist on traditional gyms: video games. Cyrus Farivar reports.

CYRUS FARIVAR: It's a quiet weekday evening at OverTime Fitness. This workout facility that opened in late September isn't like other national chains. OverTime Fitness is only for teens age 13 to 18. It stands apart from rival gyms in another way, too. Along with traditional stationary bikes, free weights and elliptical machines, OverTime Fitness has video games. But instead of classic button-pushing versions, these games have a physical component to them. Thirteen-year-old Blake Bowers(ph) is showing off his skills on one called MoCap Boxing.

(Soundbite of video game)

Mr. BLAKE BOWERS (Member, OverTime Fitness): There's sensors above, so when you punch things, that the computer can see it. And it simulates a punch.

FARIVAR: And what does it feel like to shadow-box a virtual opponent?

Mr. BOWERS: It's like a rush hit, so you knock them out really fast. You punch them like 20 times. I just killed him.

FARIVAR: In addition to MoCap Boxing, OverTime Fitness has other physically oriented games: a fitness computer game knows as the CYBEX Trazer and a popular dancing game called In The Groove 2, a competitor to its better-known rival, Dance Dance Revolution.

(Soundbite of music)

FARIVAR: The gym also has a device known as the Kilowatt SPORT, a pole-mounted controller for the XBOX video game system. The player has to lean into the pole and controller, side-to-side and back-to-front, in order for on-screen characters to move. This incorporates motion into what would ordinarily be a stationary game.

This tech-themed arena, inside a regular gym, is the brain-child of Patrick Farrell, the founder of GamePro Publishing and the popular E3 electronics show in Los Angeles. He's also been a long-time youth sports coach. Farrell used the video games as bait, a way to get some kids in the door.

Mr. PATRICK FARRELL (Founder, OverTime Fitness): This generation is just so visual and technologically stimulated. That provides a break. It breaks up the monotony of exercise. So those aspects bring a fun factor that enhances it for a teen.

FARIVAR: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 17 percent of American children and adolescents are overweight. Susan Zieff is an associate professor of kinesiology at San Francisco State University. She says any way to get kids more fit is a positive thing.

Professor SUSAN ZIEFF (San Francisco State University): And if this is going to work for some percentage of the population, then sort of from a very basic standpoint, we could say okay, that's encouraging kids to be physically active. They're enjoying it, they're interested in doing it. Those are the main motivating factors for children, adolescents and adults. If it's not fun, we don't do it.

FARIVAR: For all the benefits that may come with trying to get kids to be more active, Zieff explains that a gym that includes equipment and personal training, usually more suited to adults, may not always be appropriate for teenagers.

Ms. ZIEFF: Kids don't have to play traditional sports, they don't have to do traditional weight-lifting. There are dozens and dozens of interesting activities. We all need to find what works for us, what's interesting, what's enjoyable, what's challenging: dance, exercise, martial arts, sports, cycling, mountain climbing. There's just so many activities.

(Soundbite of music)

FARIVAR: Back at OverTime Fitness, the video games area is small compared to the rest of the gym that contains traditional equipment. Mere yards away from a boxing-simulation videogame, teens can practice with a real punching bag. Others work with balance balls or scamper up a rock-climbing wall. OverTime Fitness also has a study room, with computers connected to the Internet, where teens can finish their homework before they begin a workout. CEO Patrick Farrell has painstakingly tried to create an environment where kids can be comfortable while they work out. Fifteen-year-old Los Altos High School sophomore Tioni Coleman(ph) says that before becoming a member here, she had felt intimidated going to the Gold's Gym across the street.

Ms. TIONI COLEMAN (Member, OverTime Fitness): I was going to Gold's, but I didn't go there a lot because I hated going to the gym every day. My mom would get mad at me sometimes because I wouldn't go with her, but I come here every day because it's funner and better, and I have more stuff to do.

FARIVAR: Patrick Farrell plans to add a healthy food and juice bar inside the gym; also spinning, Pilates and yoga classes. Assuming that he's able to draw more than the 50 kids he's already signed up, he'd like to expand to other suburban cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar in San Francisco.

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