Why playing childhood games is the latest fitness trend for adults

Adults are increasingly bringing childhood games into their fitness routines 

Violet O'Gorman
Friday 04 May 2018 12:33 BST

Whether it’s hitting the gym, joining a zumba class, or going jogging, we all know the importance of staying active. However, a lot of traditional ways to keep fit can seem a bit of a chore and just a bit boring - especially if you’re always doing them on your own.

But there’s a growing number of people realising this needn’t be the case.

In a bid to change the way we exercise, more and more adults are exercising by going back to their childhood. Playground-inspired activities such as hula-hooping classes, disco yoga and sober daytime raves are becoming popular options for adults hoping to achieve their fitness goals – and have fun doing so.

Players get fit whilst having fun. (Rabble)

The trend goes beyond fitness, too. It has infiltrated the social scene; with escape rooms and ball-pit cocktail bars, like Shoreditch-based Ballie Ballerson, cropping up in big cities.

This ‘throwback’ trend is at the very core of one particular fitness organisation: Rabble, where grown-ups get fit by playing games they might know from childhood or young adult films.

Their 500+ games include playground classics like British Bulldog, Capture the Flag and Dodgeball, alongside more unusual games like Quid-pitch, Tribes and Superheroes. Rabble offers public sessions, and private events, like parties at 14 locations across the UK and in Australia and the US too.

Founder and ex-professional triathlete Charlotte Roach launched Rabble after recovering from a near-fatal cycling accident. She found it sad that “people don’t enjoy their exercise regime [and] consider exercise as a chore”.

Because HIIT (high interval intensity training) exercises are hidden within the rules, participants burn up to 1,000 calories, and cover up to 8k in a game without realising. The games cover different fitness skills, including speed, co-ordination, and endurance.

Eager to experience a childhood throwback myself, I joined in a session in Regent’s Park, which had the intriguing title of ‘Hunger Games’.

Upon arrival, I nervously joined a circle of adults in coloured bibs for a warm-up ball game which helped everyone get to know each other and relax.

We played games from British Bulldog, to Netball, and eventually ‘Hunger Games’. Each game was exactly how you’d remember it in school; the coloured team bibs, the cones, and the sponge balls - but with a few additional exercises built-in. During netball, for example, we had to do star jumps each time we threw the ball.

These types of exercises appeared in every game – whether it was star jumps, press-ups or V-sits – meaning no one was ever left standing still.

Up next was Hunger Games: the main attraction. Working in teams, everyone had to protect a base whilst also ‘stealing’ cones from other bases.

In the first round, I was terrible. But when I eventually managed to ‘steal’ my first cone from another base, it felt great! Each round, new Hunger Games-inspired elements were introduced, like poison gas, projectiles and even immunity cloaks.

Rabble's aim is to put fun back into fitness (Rabble)

The social side of Rabble is a massive part of its success. Players go the pub for a drink afterwards and attend numerous socials and annual trips. During the measly hour that I spent with the team, the sense of community was clear, as team encouragement was shouted throughout the games.

Giulia Pieri, from Italy, has been going to Rabble three times a week for nearly a year.

She explained: “Since I’m not from London, I was looking for ways to get fit and meet new people. I started searching online and I found a list of various sports.”

“[Rabble] really caught my attention because I saw that you could have fun while getting fit. As soon as I tried it, I immediately thought ‘This is my sport’ - and I’ve never stopped!”

Martha Lee, an International Development Consultant, 27, has lived in London for a year and joined Rabble in March. When I told her I was exhausted after the session, she immediately laughed and replied: “I was the same when I first started. After my first session, I couldn’t walk for two days!”

She continues: “I was using the gym before which was really boring – what I really love here is the team aspect. Because it is a team sport, you push yourself much harder than when you are on your own. But because it’s not an organised sport and it changes every week, there’s no pressure to come every week - no one is relying on you.”

“So if you’re a young professional with a crazy job, it’s so much easier to be part of this, and commit, than, for instance, a hockey or netball team, where you’ve got to be there every week.”

Meghan Joyce, who works as a Director of Client Experience at a software company, instructs one session per week, whilst attending a further three. She loves the game so much that she introduced it to her friends in the US.

And according to Joyce, a lot of hard work goes in behind the scenes to make Rabble as fun as but effective as possible.

Roach invented hundreds of games by thinking about transforming ideas from movies or popular culture into workouts. Each game has a set of clearly written rules, and instructors are trained extensively.

The team at Rabble had fun playing childhood games (Violet O'Gorman)

Joyce thinks that Rabble’s popularity is down to it being a welcome change for most adults.

She said: “It’s a change–up. It’s nice to get outside in London, and just be in the fresh air – there are so many reasons to do it, you have people who have massive communities but they still come to this, just because it’s fresh, it’s outside –  in the grass, getting muddy.

“You kind of go back to your childhood.”

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