It’s been pretty cool to see how many small businesses have popped up that focus on the physical fitness and mental health of our youngest Chicagoans. Many are owned by fellow Chicago parents or neighbors with a passion for instilling a lifelong commitment to staying active in kids. We did a deep dive to find places that fit every kind of kid, with a broad range of athletic abilities, interests and ages. From indoor rock climbing to swim lessons and acrobatics to soccer, dig through our suggestions to find an exercise facility that caters to kids near you. And, after they nail the workout, treat them to a refuel from one of our favorite juice or smoothie bars.
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Redline Athletics Old Irving
Ed and Laura Hosty are fellow parents and lifelong athletes who saw a need for a youth training program in Chicago that focused on speed, agility and strength training with an emphasis on injury prevention. Their new 12,000-square-foot facility trains athletes to become more athletic, more comfortable moving their bodies and more resilient so they can achieve success on every field of play. Redline Athletics welcomes kids ages 8-18 across the spectrum of athleticism — all are welcome. They offer a free trial session to check out the space and determine if it’s a fit.
3800 N. Milwaukee Ave., Old Irving; Online: redlineathleticsoffers.com
On Your Mark
Owner and Nike Master Trainer Emily Hutchins started the Youth Development Program at On Your Mark based on the principles of making young athletes better—not only their athletic performance but by teaching them to be well-rounded humans. In order to support sustainable long-term development, kids work on physical and mental strength, mobility, stability, agility and speed. The one-hour sessions, held on Fridays at 4:30 p.m., are taught by certified personal trainer and IL Physical Education Association Teacher of the Year Pat Floyd. Pat is a pro at keeping things energetic and the kids engaged.
1011 W. Monroe, West Loop; Online: oymtraining.com
First Ascent Climbing & Fitness
Kids are natural-born climbers, unhindered by that little thing adults call “fear”. First Ascent fosters curiosity with 8-week classes that build confidence and encourage peer connection in a positive environment. Sign your kids up for a one-hour block of Kids Rock Blocks on Saturdays and Sundays and let expert youth instructors guide them to new heights. You can hang around to cheer them on or take the opportunity to run errands. They also offer day-off and summer camps and host birthday parties.
3516 N. Spaulding, Avondale & 4718 N. Broadway, Uptown; Online: faclimbing.com
Certified Personal Trainer and lifelong skateboarder Ben Karbin created SK8 Chicago to provide lessons to the next generation of boarders. Over the last 20 years mentoring young skaters, he’s honed his ability to make aspiring skaters feel comfortable and confident to learn new tricks and techniques. SK8 offers skate lessons, clinics and camps for all levels and also builds custom ramps. They have equipment available to rent if you don’t have your own and can offer advice if you’d like to make a purchase.
SK8 Chicago works with you to select a convenient location for lessons; Online: sk8chicago.com
This place will make your wall-climbing kids straight-up giddy. They offer several indoor rock climbing terrains to conquer and knowledgeable instructors are there every step of the way up, up, up. Two-hour Kids Academy (ages 5-12) and Teen Academy (ages 11 & up) programs are available after school and on weekends and full-day Adventure Days are a great way to spend school holidays and summer break. Climbers have a chance to sharpen their climbing skills, while also having a platform for peer socialization.
100 S. Morgan St., West Loop & 2121 N. Clybourn, Lincoln Park; Online: brooklynboulders.com
The Little Gym of Chicago
The Little Gym believes motor skill development that’s made fun leads to a lifetime of success. They work with kids ages 4 mos.-12 yrs. to build self-esteem while helping them reach their highest level of mental, physical and emotional growth. Classes included Parent/Child, Pre-K Gymnastics, Grade School Gymnastics, drop-in play and special events. They also offer regular Parent Survival Nights where the kids play for 2 1/2 hours while adults enjoy much-needed me-time.
3216 N. Lincoln, Lakeview; Online: thelittlegym.com
Inspired by the TV show American Ninja Warrior, Ultimate Ninjas allows kids to get their energy out on obstacle and agility courses. Built with all ages and skill levels in mind, you’ll find swinging ropes, monkey bars, climbing walls and more. Kids can schedule 55-minute classes that have them working on strength, endurance and confidence or book an open play session. Ultimate Ninjas also hosts day-off and summer camps and they’re a popular spot for birthday parties.
Note: Due to a fire in Feb. that destroyed two small businesses, the Albany Park location had to temporarily close. Please support their other locations while they rebuild.
Three locations in Naperville, Libertyville and Albany Park; Online: ultimateninjas.com
Brush Park Gymnasium
When owner Adrienne Farrel had her first baby in 2013, she felt there was a lack of workout facilities that effectively catered to families wanting to maintain a regular fitness routine. Having a Master’s in Exercise Physiology in her pocket and a new goal to provide options for Chicago families, she created a space where every family member can have access to high-quality health and wellness. And, she did it beautifully. The stunning facility has all the equipment needed for an effective adult workout, a kid’s playspace with a climbing wall, hanging pod chairs, and a magnetic wall and outdoor space for parents to sit, chat and enjoy coffee while the kids play.
4646 N. Rockwell St., Ravenswood; Online: brushparkgym.com
Windy City Ninjas
The obstacles at Windy City Ninjas challenge wanna-be American Ninja Warriors looking to tap their fierce inner Ninja. They have a mission of helping kids set goals and overcome, persevere and achieve what they never thought possible. They have structured, progressive 45-minute classes where kids can build on their development each week or kids can sign-up for a 90-minute open play session. Windy City Ninjas also hosts day-off and summer camps, as well as birthday parties.
2550 W. Bradley Pl., North Center & 684 W. Lake St., Elmhurst; Online: windycityninjas.com
Fit City Kids
Fit City Kids combines family, fun and physical education by providing structured classes and an open area for drop-in play that’s active and encourages good health and fitness habits. Class offerings include tumbling, fitness, basketball, sports sampler and soccer. They also offer personal training sessions and family boot camps.
2540 W. Lawrence Ave., Ravenswood; Online: fitcitykids.com
After training with an instructor, your little birds will enter a vertical wind tunnel and experience the freedom of flight. This might not seem like exercise, but kids need to engage their core, glute and spinal muscles to make it all happen. There’s also a decent amount of mind-body coordination that comes into play.
3 Chicago locations in Naperville, Rosemont and Lincoln Park; Online: iflyworld.com
From a kid getting their first introduction to soccer to the high school athlete wanting to fine-tune their skillset, TOCA Football’s technology-enabled training program develops well-rounded players through repetition and game-like simulations.
The offerings at TOCA Naperville don’t stop at soccer. Playing sports helps kids develop gross and fine motor skills, teaches them to work collaboratively and follow directions and builds transferable socialization skills. When taught correctly, a child’s overall development will be positively impacted. With those ideas in mind, Kids in Sports is a specialized program for ages 1-8 that instructs kids in baseball, basketball, flag football, floor hockey, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball.
1740 Quincy Ave. Naperville; Online: playersindoor.com
Hi-Five Sports is about so much more than winning or losing, it’s about teamwork, playing hard and fair, making new friends and learning the power of camaraderie. The staff is filled with experienced professionals who are ready to guide kids through a positive, self-esteem-building experience. Hi-Five’s Housecalls invites you to gather a group of 3-10 kids for personalized 1- to 2-hour programming at a location you select. You can schedule once a week, multiple times a week or a one-off playdate—like a birthday party. Best of all, they bring all the equipment needed for a full sports experience. They also host day-off and summer camps.
At a location of your choosing; Online: hifivesportsclubs.com
The Actor’s Gymnasium
The Actor’s Gymnasium is letting you in on a secret—the circus is more than elephants and clowns. It’s physical and mental fitness and learning to trust yourself. Their classes focused on juggling, stilts and ariel arts help instill confidence and a sense of pride that comes along with skill mastery.
927 Noyes St., Evanston; Online: actorsgymnasium.org
In a city where “cooler by the lake” is part of the daily forecast, getting the littlest citizens swimming is a must. Get your guppies going with classes catered to them—even babies barely sitting on their own can join in on the fun. These swim schools focus on everything from playful instruction to competitive training, all properly tailored to a child’s development.
Sign kids up for boxing and fitness classes to increase strength, stamina and build leadership skills. They’ll learn the fundamentals of a variety of martial arts, plus traditional boxing training. For kids ages 4-7, the Pee Wees program is focused on developing gross motor skills and teaching kids how to follow instructions with classes like Superhero Training, Ninja Warrior, Tumbling, Agility and more. POW! also hosts day-off and summer camps and birthday parties.
310 S. Racine, West Loop; Online: powgymchicago.com
Bubbles Academy is a great way for ages 0-6 to get their bodies moving with classes that incorporate yoga, music and movement classes for infants, crawlers and walkers and entry-level ballet. The Lincoln Park location includes an outdoor nature playground using materials that inspire play and connection with the natural world.
If you’d prefer to take in-home classes, their website has over 30 pre-recorded virtual classes.
2331 N. Elston, Lincoln. Park; Online: bubblesacademy.com
From crawling to the first handstand, My Gym caters to kids ages 4 mos.-8 yrs. with classes like Waddlers, Gymnastics, Terrific Tots, Ninja Training and more. For more than 35 years, they’ve been creating supportive environments for kids to develop self-esteem and confidence.
6 locations in Lincoln, River Forest, Skokie, Wheaton, Buffalo Grove and Aurora; Online: mygym.com
Chicago has a rich roller skating history rooted in the James Brown “JB” style, known for elaborate footwork. It’s also the birthplace of roller derby. While rinks are few and far between, you can still get your glide on at select retro-fun spots that have stood the test of time. Introduce your kids to this slick part of Chicago’s history and impress them with your 8-wheeled dance moves at these old-school-cool roller skating rinks.
— Maria Chambers