CrossFit has nearly become a household name in the last several years. Known for its intense, non-sense WOD (workout of the day), CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on constant variance. Participants rarely do the same thing twice in one week, opting for a 10K one day, 100 kettle bell swings the following day, and 40 power cleans the next.
Because of its intense nature, often involving serious weight lifting, many have wondered if it’s safe for children. According to Jeff Martin, co-founder of CrossFit Kids, it certainly is.
Martin and his wife, Mikki, founded their fitness center for children back in 2004. Their goal? To combine exercise and fun. Over the last several years, the concept has taken off and hundreds of CrossFit Kids classes now take place in cities around the U.S. and beyond.
CrossFit DoneRight, a similar company in Rockville, Maryland, is now one of many kid-focused CrossFit gyms, including dozens in the D.C. area alone. As reported by NPR, kids as young as 4 years old are now participating in CrossFit, which has left some concerned about how safe it really is.
Among the concerned is Dr. Tim Hewett, whose primary worry is potential injury if trainers aren’t teaching proper weight lifting techniques. Hewett speaks from a place of experience as both a former power lifter and director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at the University of Cincinnati.
“What kids are attempting to do is Olympic lifts like a snatch or a clean and jerk, and they don’t have the power to properly perform the exercise to bring it up to their shoulders and then bring it over their head,” he told NPR’s The Salt. “So they’re grabbing this thing at their waist and they’re trying to twist and turn their torso, which is putting their spine at significant risk with weights that are greater than they can handle.”
Instead of CrossFit, Hewett would contend kids should be doing kid-appropriate activities, like going on walks, going to the playground, or playing low-impact sports.
By individualizing the workouts based on level of maturity, he ensures each child is assigned age-appropriate activities to avoid injury. While he would admit the workouts are difficult, Bacon believes they’re different than adult-style CrossFit workouts and totally suitable for kids.
Stay-at-home mom and food blogger, Katie from Yes, I Want Cake, was attracted to Crossfit years ago because she saw how hard her husband worked at it and how impressive his results were. After trying it for herself the first time, she was hooked and loved the feeling of accomplishment that came with doing a really intense workout.
A loyal follower for years now, Katie doesn’t feel the workouts are inappropriate for kids. “I absolutely think it would be healthy for kids to start Crossfit. Obviously the emphasis would need to be on learning about exercise and having fun – not about how much weight they can lift,” she said. “To me, it’s the same thing as any organized sport that is offered to kids. Providing that the emphasis is on learning the building blocks of lifts, having fun, and being active, a Crossfit class for 4 year olds doesn’t seem any different to me than a gymnastics class, soccer team, or swim lessons for a 4 year old.”
Katie’s daughter, Adrienne, is now 1 and she hopes she’ll continue to grow curious about fitness and healthy living. “I would love my daughter to get involved at a young age! At 1 year old, she already plays with medicine balls, hangs on rings, and tries to do handstands,” she said. “Those are just skills she’s picked up from watching my husband and I.”
Though Diets in Review running expert Lacy Hansen isn’t a CrossFit buff, she has participated in several running events with her now 8-year-old son, Judah. He started running at age 3 when he and Lacy participated in their first race together. He wasn’t a big fan at first, so Lacy had to learn how to encourage rather than force him into it.
“I had to learn to stop pushing him. He would cry or just shut down when I would push him too hard,” she said. “He’d get mad and the whole experience was negative.” In those times, she feared the negativity he was beginning to associate with exercise would make him hate running forever.
But for parents who want their kids to grow up to be healthy and enjoy staying active, Lacy offers this advice: “I went about it the wrong way at first. I had to look at my own life and see that no one pushed me too hard to start running or get into a healthy lifestyle. I came to it on my own…I don’t feel obligated to anyone, I genuinely love it,” she said.
“I think with all things, parents have to set the example, be the influence, but ultimately let the baby bird fly and hope he (or she) chooses the right path.”
As for whether or not CrossFit is healthy for young kids, Lacy believes it can be healthy. “I think some kids really like that stuff. Though, I fear two things: One, they may be pushed by a super competitive-minded parent and will resent them and/or the activity in the future. And two: Too much exercise, like weight training, can be bad for a child’s body.”
So for parents who want to introduce their kids to exercise at a young age, go ahead. But be careful both in your approach and the activity you choose. Otherwise, it could end up having the opposite effect; or worse, it could result in injury.
Top two images via Central Oregon CrossFit and CrossfitKids