"Next is the crab run!"
Primary school children started running sideways like crabs while others skipped and lifted their legs up high as they ran.
Eleven kids, from the first three grades of primary school, were put through their paces under the eye of former Olympic marathoner Masanari Shintaku in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, last month.
The crab run was one of the races organised by Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium Smile Running Clinic to get children to exercise more.
With promotional slogans such as "Improve athleticism" and "Learn to run faster," such exercises for children have become increasingly popular. Being able to exercise in a different environment is said to be behind the boom in classes aimed at building up the physical strength and stamina of children.
"My daughter isn't good at running so I brought her here," a mother said, referring to running clinic's classes. "I hope she'll be able to run at school without feeling embarrassed."
The girl looks forward to the classes as she can now run faster and has built up her physical strength, her mother said.
Noting the recent decline in children's physical strength, Tokyo Sport Benefits Corp. started the clinic's classes in November 2013 to rectify this.
Classes are held once a week for 60 minutes, four times per month, for ¥5,000 (S$55). The classes also incorporate scientific methods, such as analysis of form and reflex training.
"The aim is to get more children to enjoy sports," Shintaku said. "We mostly see children who aren't very good at sports, or who like sports and want to run faster so they can participate in relays.
We see an increase in enrollment in spring and autumn for children preparing for sports festivals at their schools."
The market size of fitness clubs and sports classes in fiscal 2013 grew 1.3 per cent from the previous fiscal year to ¥638 billion, according to a survey conducted by Yano Research Institute.
The institute found that in addition to increased use by senior citizens, sports classes for children are steadily attracting participants.