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Recently, a feature aired on National Public Radio (NPR) about CrossFit Kids questioning whether or not young athletes should take part in such a strenuous athletic program.
After listening to the feature, I thought to myself: Due to the high expectations of sports performance, I believe this is an important question to ask prior to your young athlete’s participation in a demanding athletic program.
CrossFit Kids is a branch of the adult strength and conditioning program, CrossFit, which strives for an elite level of fitness. It was traditionally used to train members of the Armed Forces as well as the police, martial artists and professional athletes. CrossFit is based on the concept of “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement” to allow an individual to perform multiple, diverse and randomized physical challenges through short sets of difficult tasks.
CrossFit has now become extremely popular among all ages, as it can be “scaled down” to fit the needs of each person depending on their physical condition and skill level. And since 2004, CrossFit Kids gyms have made their way across the U.S.
The kids program, however, is not an easier version of the adult program, but it is “geared towards specific developmental needs” of children. It also heavily incorporates the sports of Olympic weightlifting into the cross-training program, which is not always safe for young athletes.
As featured in our blog previously, weight training is not necessarily discouraged in young athletes. However, Olympic weightlifting is different from common weightlifting, as most young children do not have the strength or technique to perform Olympic weightlifting, namely power lifts or kettle bell exercises.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Committee on Sports and Fitness, recommends that children and teenagers avoid powerlifting, body building and maximal lifts until they reach skeletal and physical maturity, as safe technique is difficult to maintain with explosive power lifts. In addition, powerlifting places too much abrupt stress on young growing bodies.
However, we do recommend weight training, which is focused on safely learning and mastering proper technique. It is best accomplished with light weights at high repetitions, such as 8-14 repetitions per set, and being able to comfortably perform 2-3 sets. For example, a young athlete might do 3 sets of 10 repetitions. The goal is not to achieve muscle bulk, but to focus on fitness, strength, endurance and safe technique.
As an alternative to Olympic weightlifting, I would suggest that these criteria be applied to young athletes who wish to participate in CrossFit Kids. There is nothing wrong with children participating in CrossFit Kids as long as they are closely monitored during the drills and guided to appropriately modify the exercises based on their age, fitness and skill level.
Substitutions should also be made so that young athletes are able to properly perform the exercises. For example, your child may need to exercise with lighter weights and higher repetitions than may be assigned in CrossFit Kids “Workout of the Day.”
Most importantly, though, exercise in children should be motivating, fun and build skill. If a child does not enjoy CrossFit, they should be directed towards activities they do enjoy. They can get the same benefits from less structured physical activities, such as playing at the park, riding their bicycle or scooter (with a helmet of course!) or joining a sports team of their choice.
Check out more sports safety articles.
Written by the Sports Medicine team at Children's Colorado. To schedule an appointment, please call 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.