making exercise more fun

What if everyone could get moving, feel good and have fun without setting foot in the gym or joining a sports team? The only requirement is some creativity—and maybe the occasional inflatable ball or pool noodle.

“We need to get off the brick and mortar of exercise because it’s not working,” says Ian Neumaier, athletic trainer and founder of Find Some Flow. Collaborating with organizations including City of Play and the Parkinson’s Foundation of Western PA, the nonprofit creates programs for children and adults of all athletic abilities that encourage healthy living. “A lot of people want to be active but say they can’t,” says Neumaier. “That’s simply not true.”

Last summer, Find Some Flow’s Flow gang showed up at Allegheny County’s Get Outside And Learn Day in North Park and Fittsburgh’s Pop-up Wellness Fair in Market Square with free pillows and foam pool noodles. The results? Friendly fights, sweaty brows and lots of laughter. In fact, ever since its debut at Food Revolution Day in May, Pool Noodle Pillow Fights have become a staple at Find Some Flow events.

“[At Food Revolution Day] we handed out pool noodles and pillows to younger kids. Soon older adults started getting involved in the pillow fights,” says Find Some Flow ambassador Trevor Nelson. Nelson, a former Mt. Lebanon High School hockey player, volunteered with the organization after taking ice hockey lessons from Neumaier. “It wasn’t just a certain age [participating]. It was more like people extending over the boundaries of what they think is acceptable or age-appropriate and having fun,” he says.flow

Neumaier, who attended Seton-LaSalle High School, started teaching martial arts and boxing at age 16 while working for former Pittsburgh Steeler Craig Wofley. His hobby soon developed into a passion for empowering people to live better. Realizing he needed help, Neumaier drew a map of friends he knew and began networking. He found an outpouring of support, leading to partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, Dynamic Paddlers, Food Revolution Pittsburgh, and others. “I started by asking questions and identifying this need to provide accessibility to programs for all kinds of people,” he says. “Now I’m in a position where I’m meeting new friends and learning from them.”

Saturday mornings Neumaier cheers on a handful of children as they chase each other around the South Hills Choi Kwang Do studio on Cedar Boulevard, at a Foundations of Athleticism class. While many kids are watching cartoons, these young competitors are playing a live-action version of Sonic the Hedgehog or helping each other collect plastic rings as “medicine” to combat players acting as “germs.” Instead of performing endless drills or scrimmaging, participants design unique games using tennis balls, tubing and anything else they can find.

“It’s great watching the kids grow over the months,” says Nelson, who volunteers at the classes. “Some have become group leaders. They’re not afraid to take risks anymore.

“The kids contribute to the programs more than I do. Every weekend is a different class,” says Neumaier. “These classes are providing them with the tools so that, when they go home, they can invite neighbors and friends to play outside, instead of coming over to play video games.”

But play isn’t only for kids. Neumaier also coaches NHL players, using similar techniques. “Structured play serves a role at all levels, and it works,” he says. “We need to shift our emphasis [of exercise] from one on strictly performance to one more focused on outcomes and feelings.”

For Neumaier, the ultimate goal of exercise isn’t weight loss or bench-pressing hundreds of pounds. It’s about improving your quality of life, whether being able to take business flights without back pain or chase your grandchildren around the yard. “You might take a second look if you saw adults playing tag, but I say, if you like it and it gets you active, then do it,” he says. “It’s just a matter of getting over social stigmas and creating comfortable environments where people feel welcome to interact.”