A couple of weeks ago I bundled my normally naked feet into a pair of UGGs and set off to DC for a two-day CrossFit Kids Seminar. Arriving at CrossFit Petworth on a chilly Saturday morning, I was overjoyed to be greeted by two giant boxes of coffee – Dunkin Donuts wouldn’t be my usual go to for coffee but everything tastes better when it’s free hey!? Thanks CrossFit Petworth for getting the weekend off on the right foot!
Chatting briefly with my course companions it seemed that none of us knew exactly what was in store for us over the weekend so we were relieved when after a short introduction our instructor intuitively clarified, “Just so you all know, there will be no FRAN this weekend!!! AND there is also no test!” Coat hanger grins quickly spread across everyone’s faces in response to this news. Jon had successfully captured our attention and had become the most liked person in the room in a matter of seconds. What a cool dude! – you see the lasting effect that saying “no Fran” has on people!
So who exactly did we have instructing us for the weekend? Well CrossFit did not disappoint (does it ever?) to amass some of the most experienced child & adult educators & crossfitters out there. Starting with our introducer Dr Jon Gary, a biotechnology consultant from San Diego, experienced in molecular biology amongst other things and Head Trainer at LinderKids, a non-profit organization designed to bring fitness to foster children around the United States. Also instructing was Liz Kalush-DeGain, Head Trainer on the CrossFit Kids seminar staff, a teacher in Grand-Blanc Michigan & a coach & co-owner at Dignified CrossFit & 810 CrossFit. Next up was Jon Wilson, a PE teacher at Pickens High School in South Carolina and founder of Blue Flame CrossFit, a non-profit CrossFit affiliate at his high school. Last but certainly not least was Erik Laney, a PE teacher & coach at the high school & middle school in Murphy North Carolina, he is also a coach & co-owner of CrossFit Murphy.
Besides from the number of years accumulated within their professions & their notable professional accomplishments aside, these instructors also brought a wealth of experience as parents or care givers to children. They clearly came from a place of knowledge and experience, but also deep compassion and understanding. Even as a teacher or parent, trying to comprehend or imagine what is going on through the minds of children or teenagers is a seemingly impossible task. So what hope do you have if you’re neither?! Well as a coach, I know that as well as developing your eye for movement mechanics, the job also requires you to be part psychologist, still kids and teens are a whole other ball game compared to adults!
The CrossFit Kids seminar staff did an excellent job at reiterating and conveying the way in which teaching children is very different from teaching adults. They were assisted in their efforts by some impressive live demonstrations from children who had never even done CrossFit before! Seeing the language & methodology work right before your eyes was extremely impactful.
The age group you are coaching will therefore dictate the way in which you deliver and teach your skills & movements, but this doesn’t mean that CrossFit Kids is a scaled-down version of CrossFit. It teaches the same 10 foundational movements & follows the same prescription, it is 100% CrossFit, but geared and designed for a special population with specific developmental needs. Let’s take a closer look at the CrossFit Kids methodology.
The 3 Pillars of CrossFit Kids
Back in my day of physical education (only a short 15 years or so ago…) fitness was rarely fun. Running punishment laps around the hockey field for being late or for forgetting my track suit, my PE teachers seemed to delight in inflicting physical activity as punishment. Needless to say, as soon as I was allowed to I ditched several classes of PE for more ‘study’ time. The most ridiculous thing about this is that I loved sports & I am wildly competitive! It saddens me that my athletic ability was never encouraged or fully developed because my teachers failed to make exercise fun (that’s my excuse anyway!)
Sad as it may be, a failure to fulfil athletic potential is secondary to the more serious health related issues our children now face as a result of a more sedentary lifestyle, coupled with a lack of understanding for nutrition. Obesity & type 2 diabetes are phenomenons that were never seen before in childhood but are now becoming steadily more common with childhood obesity increasing by 35% in the U.S. in the past 10 years (1). This is not so surprising as the American Heart Association reports the average child spends 4-6 hours per day on the computer, watching tv or playing video games. It is more important than ever that we cultivate a positive attitude towards health, fitness & nutrition in our children if we want to see them continue with good exercise habits as they become adults, when they have the choice to exercise or not.
CrossFit therefore becomes a form of prevention against some of today’s biggest killers, like cardiovascular disease and other health risks associated with obesity and excess body fat. This is why ‘fun’ has to be the first pillar of CrossFit Kids. We ensure kids and teens have fun by cleverly disguising exercise in the games we play. Children form new friendships outside of school and develop their self-confidence as they get better at the movements performed. They enjoy coming to CrossFit and will often ask parents when they can come back for more.
2. Quality of Movement
Before any aspect of load is introduced, we make sure our kids are moving well. This is essential and is the premise for adopting safe functional movement. Functional movements are required throughout day to day life, so spending time developing motor and cognitive skills for these movements is hugely important for overall well-being throughout the course of your life. Elements of gymnastics, bodyweight exercises, weightlifting & throwing are combined so as to best incorporate all of the 10 general physical skills: cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, speed, power, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.
Movements such as gymnastics, focus on stimulating & developing the vestibular system, a pivotal mechanism in the body linked to balance, visual function, posture and muscular control (2). Studies have also shown that impact-loading and resistance training actively increases bone mineral density. Given that 50% of bone growth peaks before late adolescence, it is crucial for children to start early in developing strong, healthy bones. CrossFit Kids has identified the need for early intervention in the development of these two structures and programming focuses on appropriate movements such as box jumps, broad jumps, skipping, cartwheels, handstands and many more!
3. The Prescription
For those in the CrossFit community you will be familiar with its fitness prescription of “constantly varied functional movement executed at a high intensity”. High intensity should be considered in relation to the relative age group & movement consistency of any individual. In CrossFit our charter is mechanics, consistency and then intensity. Intensity can be achieved incrementally simply by increasing speed or volume. Once children are performing the movements consistently, load can be added and that load can be something as light as a water bottle or marker pen.
The constantly varied movements help to develop a well rounded athlete as children improve in a vast array of movements instead of specializing in any one area. If your child is involved in a sport, CrossFit could not only help them excel in their chosen sport by developing other essential physical skills but also by preventing sporting injuries. Plenty of scientific research supports strength & conditioning programs such as CrossFit as not only safe but also hugely beneficial for children in the prevention of injuries and sickness. The American College of Sports Medicine has even stated that 50% of preadolescent sport injuries could be prevented in large part by youth strength and conditioning programs (3).
Whilst that covers most of the methodology, I can’t sign off before identifying one other major benefit of a regular exercise program for kids. Many studies and research show that there is a positive correlation between physical fitness and scholastic performance, i.e. the more fit the child, the higher the test scores. These studies show further that exercise promotes the following brain changes: better attention span, improved abstract reasoning, improved memory and the ability to multi-task more effectively. Experts warn parents against solely relying on P.E. and team sports to fulfil their kids exercise needs. Children and teens should be taught the value of planned exercise sessions so that exercise habits are created and will continue to benefit them long after their interest in P.E. and team sports has waned (4).
In summary CrossFit Kids is a strength and conditioning program with many benefits aside from physical health and well-being. To reiterate, amongst other things it:
- improves overall fitness and athleticism
- prevents and reverses childhood obesity
- promotes a positive body image at a young age
- heightens awareness of nutrition
- teaches functional movements
- protects against injury
- improves brain function
- develops cognitive & motor skills
- promotes social skills & self esteem
With these benefits and more, CrossFit Kids is absolutely an activity every parent should consider introducing to their child. I certainly wish it had been around when I was at school. To close, I’ll leave you with these wise words from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
- Lisa Bakshi, “Will CrossFit Make American Kids Smarter?“, CFJ, 26 January 2009
- Cyndi Rodi, “Excerpts from Vestibular System: What is it? And why should we care?”“, CrossFit Kids Magazine, September – October 2009
- Cyndi Rodi, “Kids & Weightlifting: Dispelling the Myths“, CrossFit Kids Magazine, February 2008
- Cyndi Rodi, “Why Work Out? Exercise and The Brain Function“, CrossFit Kids Magazine, May 2006