Ten-year-olds doing kettlebell squats and Olympic-style lifts? Yes, CrossFit — the popular strength and conditioning program that combines varied, high-intensity and functional moves — has a new devoted audience: kids. There are more than 1,000 registered CrossFit Kids programs around the world, but is this really a safe form of exercise for children?
Absolutely, according to founder Jeff Martin, who launched CrossFit Kids in 2004 with his wife, Mikki. He says CrossFit Kids is not simply a scaled-down version of the adult program, but is a method of teaching CrossFit to kids between the ages of 3 and 18. “CrossFit Kids is about far more than just ‘weight lifting,’ ” Martin says. “The overarching goal of the program is to link fun to fitness so that the kids embrace a lifelong pursuit of fitness.”
The curriculum of each the program’s four classes — preschool, elementary, preteen and teen — is specifically designed for the physical, cognitive and social developmental needs of the kids in those age groups. Proper form and mechanics are taught before weights are introduced, and Martin says trainers can scale and individualize the day’s workout for each child in the class.
Danielle Lerner’s 6-year-old son, Andrew, recently started a CrossFit Kids program near their hometown of Scarsdale, New York. After his first class, Andrew showed his mom how to do a push-up and a burpee — and practiced them all week long. “Of course they weren't perfect, but I loved that he was making the effort and wanted to do more,” she says. “Andrew likes doing the routines alongside his new peers. He doesn't feel competitive, more like he's part of a new gym class.”
Experts say children benefit both physically and emotionally from strength training programs like CrossFit. “CrossFit geared specifically for children can be a way to get kids more active by having fun with exercise and can also lead to significant improvements in self-esteem, mental discipline and socialization,” says Dr. Elizabeth Davis, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida.
This may be one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its position statement on children and weight training, saying recent research suggests strength training programs for children over the age of 8 can be safe and effective. Still, some concerns remain.
“The biggest issue with strength training is the use of proper form and technique, and not all children will be able to achieve this at the age of 8,” says Dr. Tony Wanich, a sports medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He says it’s especially important that instructors monitor for fatigue, since a tired child is more likely to use improper form and put him- or herself at risk for injury.
Both experts suggest parents consult a pediatrician before enrolling their child in a strength training program like CrossFit Kids. They also recommend asking CrossFit instructors how classes are divided, what the trainer-to-student ratio is and whether each child is allowed to go at his or her own pace.
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