Bernie Petit

Breaking out the stability ball during a workout is something lots of adults dread. But for participants in the South Gaston YMCA Fit for Kids program, it means a chance to do sit-ups and jump-n-jacks on a big, colorful orb.

It’s the kind of thing you can’t wait to do when you’re young.

“This is keeping your abs nice and tight,” fitness instructor Jenny Byars told children she put through the paces at a recent workout. “And it’s fun, too.”

Two days a week, anywhere from 20 to 30 kids, ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old, participate in workouts while their parents hit the weights or the treadmill. Byars leads the youngsters in group exercises, mixing traditional movements with activities like kickboxing, step aerobics and stability ball work.

Poke your head in the group’s workout room Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and you’ll see kids working up a sweat by moving their wiggly arms, legs and bodies to house music beats. They may not get all the steps right, but they have a good time trying. And they learn a valuable lesson: fitness can be fun.

“They might complain a little here or there, but they always have a smile on their face,” Byars said.

These days, more parents worry about their kids playing unsupervised outside, meaning more kids spend their time indoors playing video games or watching television that outdoors riding their bikes. It’s easier for working parents to pick up fast food than it is to prepare a healthy home cooked meal.

All that, combined with less physical education time in school, makes it harder for kids to learn to be active, Byars said.

“We have to give them a new way of enjoying to be active,” she said. “You have to make it as much a part of life as eating and drinking.”

Part of that is understanding the payoff for kids is different than that of adults. That’s why Byars gives the kids 30 minutes of active play – organizing games of tag, dodge ball or relays – after the kids finish their exercises and run a lap or two.

“It’s something for them to work towards,” she said. “Right now, their reward isn’t going to be ‘I’m in better shape’ or ‘I look better.’ That’s going to be the reward as an adult.

“The reward for these kids is just being able to play.”

The Fit for Kids program takes place from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the South Gaston YMCA, 3210 Union Road, Gastonia. For more information, call 704-865-2193. The goal is to eventually extend the program to the Gaston County Family YMCA’s 20 afterschool care sites.

Healthy Living Indoor Triathlon

The Gaston County Family YMCA will host a “Healthy Living Indoor Triathlon” from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Central YMCA, 615 W. Franklin Ave., Gastonia. The race will include a 10 minute pool swim, 20 minutes of indoor cycling and a 15 minute treadmill run.

Heats will begin every 15 minutes and composite place finish equals total score (for example, 1st in swim, 5th in bike and 7th in run, or 1 plus 5 plus 7, equals 13 points). Lowest point total wins in each age group, which are 14-25 years old, 26-40 years old and 40 years old and older.

“This is something good for people who have never done a triathlon that wants to know what it would be like or for people who have done a triathlon and are looking for a way to train for another one,” said Jennifer Prendergast, membership director for the South Gaston YMCA. “It’s a great workout for a Saturday morning.”

Cost to participate is $35 and participants must register by ThursdayFeb. 10. Registration is available at any Gaston County YMCA or online at Call Prendergast at 704-865-2193 or e-mail for more information.