Your Kids Should be Doing CrossFit

Chances are, you’ve seen an adult CrossFit class: lots of sweaty people from all walks of life, at all levels of fitness, lifting barbells, jumping on boxes, and throwing giant balls up a wall. There’s jovial yelling, grunting galore, and at the end half the class is sitting down in a puddle of sweat. Don’t get me wrong, we who work this hard together love this kind of class, but most people wouldn’t think that this equals Fun.

So what does a CrossFit Kids class looks like? It looks Fun! And the reason it looks Fun is because it is Fun.

Contrary to the common belief, Kids are not just tiny versions of Adults. Their bodies are developing differently, and so they need a different kind of programming. Often, the focus of adult CrossFit programs is to get stronger, lift heavier, move faster, and become more explosive. In short, the prescription is for Performance. We spend time teaching the exercises and instilling safe movement patterns in our adults, but when it comes down to it, people want to go heavier and faster.

I know what you’re thinking: Kids with barbells? Are you crazy?!

The answer is no to both! We don’t bring a 7 year old into class and put a mini-barbell in their hands. Heck, we don’t even give them a plastic PVC pipe! The foundation of a great Kids program is not picking up a bar, loading weight, and going super intense. For Kids to succeed, they need to be Having Fun, they need to learn to Move Well, and they need to learn to Like Exercise. Once we get them loving what they do and doing it well, we can maybe think about giving them a little weight (but only if it makes it more fun).

Kids don’t need heavy weight to get stronger – they need practice!

Make it Fun

A Kids program typically has ages 5-12 either in the same class, or broken up into younger and older Kids groups. Either way, when was the last time you heard a child that age say, “hey mom, what I really want to do today is run 800 meters, do 50 box jumps, and then see how many Overhead Squats I can do in 5 minutes”? Yeah, I’ve never heard that either, and I’ve been doing this for a while.

Kids want to have fun, and CrossFit can easily be made fun by disguising the workouts as games, light-hearted competition, and group play. When the instructor starts talking in an energetic and exuberant voice that only kids would find awesome, asking the class to stand like “squatting gorillas”, and making weird faces to illustrate the point, we as adults think they’re either silly or nuts. That’s fine, but take note that the kids are now holding squat stances that look better than most adults, and you can see where the fun turns into the movements.

If you can make it fun, kids will knock out 50 burpees faster than most adults take to complain about it.

Teach Good Movement

When you’re a kid, you’ve learned how to move your body in the way it’s supposed to be moved. The down side is that as we age, we forget how to move well and learn how to sit, be sedentary, and move only what we need to move to get through our day. Think about it: when you’re 3-5 years old you’re running, jumping, squatting, and climbing like it’s your job (and it pretty much is). Toddlers move so much better than older kids who don’t exercise, because they older kids do something the toddlers don’t: sit down all day!

As they age and enter the school system, kids spend progressively more time sitting in class, in transportation, or at home than they do up and moving. With the brain developing at a breakneck pace, it has to learn a ton of new information and at the same time, get rid of information it doesn’t need. The brain being smart does what it always does: use it or lose it. When kids stop “needing” good movement patterns because they don’t need them for sitting and listening to lectures in class or playing video games at home, the brain simply forgets how to do them!

CrossFit Kids creates an environment where not only will the kids be encouraged to move, they’ll be taught how to Move Well. Since we’re catching them at at time when their brains are deciding what to keep and what to quell, we have the opportunity to give kids the thing that most of us lack as adults: the ability to run, jump, climb, and generally Move like Ninjas.

Promote Exercise for Life

So we’ve got the kids having fun. We’ve got them moving like little virtuosos. They know that fitness is good for them and their brains have engrained the ideals of good movement and good health into their brains as a baseline part of their thought process. How many kids who view fitness and movement as something they need starting at 3 years old, are going to go on to become obese? Not many. You see this all the time: the things that influence kids the most as they grow are the things they carry forward into their lives. If you were an active kid, chances are you’re an active adult. If you were a sedentary kid, chances are you continued being so as an adult.

It takes a monumental effort to change that kind of thing about yourself when you grow older. I can say this with certainty because I was one of those sedentary kids, and I wish every day that there was a CrossFit program mom could have put me in when I was 4-5 years old. Changing when I was in my 20’s was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If we, as a community, have the chance to make kids healthy before they realize how much they really want it, we will have set them up for a life of success before they even know it.

So Where’s the CrossFit?

CrossFit isn’t barbells and heavy weights, boxes and balls, kettlebells and resistance bands; those are just tools.

CrossFit is constantly varied, functional movement performed at appropriately high intensity.

We make up games and skills to show them the foundational moves in a thousand different ways (“constantly varied”), helping them learn to squat/jump/tumble/pick things up safely and without injury (“functional movement”), and we push them just a little harder than they would push themselves by creating an accepting competitive environment (appropriately high intensity).

And most importantly of all, CrossFit is malleable, able to be fit to any population, at any ability level, with appropriate restrictions and modifications so that everyone progresses safely and to their full ability.

What About Injuries?

Yep, I read your mind again! Let’s talk about the most common misconception regarding kids and training.

Growth Plate Injuries…are not a thing in what we do. Though you see it commonly cited as a problem, a recent study that looked at ER visits (and diagnoses) for kids between 1976 to 1990 showed a total of 6 growth plate injuries. Yes, 6! Not a single one happened in a training environment (i.e. the gym); all of them occurred in homes, all involved overhead pressing movements of unknown weights, and all of them were unsupervised kids.

Compared to Team Sports…gym-style training is safer. Injury is defined as, “things that stop the kid from playing/training and need recovery time from a few days to over a month.”

The average injury rate for kids playing traditional sports is 0.8 for every 100 hours spent training or playing. So, if a kid participates 2 hours per day, with weekends off, they would train 522 hours per year. Based on the average, every kid playing team sports will get injured 3-5 times per year.

The average injury rate for kids training in a gym for general fitness is 0.003 per 100 hours spent training. If we assume the same amount of training as the sports teams, that’s 0.016 per kid per year. Yep, less than 1 injury a year on average. You would have to have 100 kids training for 522 hours per year, to see one injury.

In recent years the injury rate in teams sports for kids has gone up 400%; that hasn’t happened in gym-training. I don’t know about you, but to me that is a huge difference.

Summary

Making fitness fun and helping kids learn good movement patterns and healthy habits is one way we can set them up to be successful in life. Adults who take their health seriously are more likely to have better jobs, seek self improvement, and maintain healthier family lives. Putting children into a CrossFit Kids program runs less risk of injury than traditional sports and provides essential life skills they can use forever.

And of course the most important thing to them: it’s just really, really fun.