Ten years ago, some people may have laughed at the idea of tykes, kids and teens executing a WOD session. In 2014, that idea is no longer laughable — it’s reality. And you can thank Jeff and Mikki Martin, the founders of CrossFit Kids.
In 2004, Jeff and Mikki were having breakfast with Greg Glassman and several affiliate owners, when Glassman said: “Someone should do CrossFit Kids.” According to Jeff, Glassman looked at him and his wife, Mikki, and added: “You guys should do it.”
A couple months later, Jeff and Mikki posted their first CrossFit Kids workout online. Since then, CrossFit Kids has been “forging the future of fitness” for children in over 1,200 gyms worldwide.
To develop CrossFit workouts for kids, Jeff and Mikki adapted the CrossFit methodology to coincide with the different developmental stages of specific age groups — preschool, elementary, preteen and teen — taking into account the cognitive, motor and neurological realms of those age groups. “You can think of it like this — CrossFit is to CrossFit Kids as a doctor is to a pediatrician,” said Mikki.
According to Jeff, the program is based on safe functional movements, and adheres to the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The safety of kids participating in CrossFit Kids is of the upmost importance. “It is important to understand that the progressions we use are designed to work over years and have a step-wise increase in difficulty,” explained Jeff. “Our intention is to make children safer when they encounter these movements in their daily lives (lifting a backpack or puppy), or on the field of play when they have to run, cut, jump, etc.”
The CrossFit Kids program is broken down into four age groups, and each class is specifically altered to fit the needs of each group. For example, for the preschool group (ages 3 to 5), classes are composed of mainly supervised play that involves the development of fundamental and foundational movement skills. “All movements are done without weights,” said Jeff. “We recommend not loading preschool-age kids. Every class ends with a game.”
The elementary group, for kids ages 5 to 12, involves more traditional CrossFit movements, in addition to gymnastics-style resistance training. In addition, kids may work with light objects, such as a PVC Pipe or light dumbbells.
According to Jeff, the preteen group (ages 9 to 12) serves as a transition class for those that find the elementary class to be too rudimentary, but who aren’t yet ready for the teen class. Jeff explained that the class includes “basic work in gymnastics and the handling of external objects continues, but the instruction is now slightly more complex and includes the introduction of light training barbells. The game has been jettisoned in favor of skill work and skill-based ‘challenges.’”
For teens ages 12 to 18, the class can vary, depending on the capability of each student. “In general, proficiency in body weight and barbell movements continues and programming begins exploring higher volumes and intensities, culminating in adult-level workouts for the most experienced and technically sound athletes (the latter are most often kids who have been with the program for several years),” explained Jeff.
Children who participate in CrossFit Kids experience a host of fitness benefits. “We hear that their kids are stronger or the fastest on the team or coaches are asking what they are doing,” said Mikki. “Parents tell us that their child broke the school PE records.”
Although fitness is the main focus, Mikki explained that kids who participate in the program generally experience more than just physical benefits. “We hear about how their kids are excelling in school,” she said. “We have heard that a child has asked to quit other activities to make time for CrossFit. Our program gives parents and kids something in common to discuss and spend time together doing. This is especially significant during the teen years.”
Although Jeff and Mikki hope a love for CrossFit is fostered in the children that participate in their program, a love for fitness in general is more important. “Our goal is a lifelong love of fitness,” said Mikki. “Since we are starting at ground zero with kids, we have the opportunity to encourage this love by making fitness positive and fun. Fun changes over time, so we change the template accordingly.”