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CrossFit Kids

Is the high-intensity exercise program too much for little bodies?

There’s a joke making the rounds that if you ask a CrossFit junkie any question under the sun, his answer will be the same.

Me: “What time do you have?” Him: “Time enough to do my CrossFit workout.”
Me: “Which way to you drive to work?” Him: “When I leave my CrossFit gym in the morning, I’m feeling so good that it doesn’t matter which route I take.”

You get the point.

The fitness craze is exploding around the country. You can’t swing a kettlebell without hitting a CrossFit gym in your neighborhood. Everyone knows somebody who’s an evangelist, and ESPN even televises the Reebok CrossFit Games.

So what is the fitness craze all about? In a nutshell, it’s a frenetic mosh pit of high-intensity interval training, Olympic-style lifts, gymnastics, calisthenics and plyometrics. Underline high intensity; this form of fitness is all about high intensity.

But for everyone preaching about the benefits, there’s someone cautioning against the practice as an injury waiting to happen. The subject of kids doing CrossFit is particularly polarizing, creating both positive and negative buzz. As gyms pop up around our city, specialized programs for kids have followed. Most of the exercises for kids focus on push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, along with some lifts that kids 12 and under typically do without weights. Kids as young as 5 years old are now participating.

Mitch Jensen, middle school football coach and athletic director at Forestwood Middle School in Flower Mound, transformed his traditional weight room into a CrossFit gym for his young athletes.

“The kids have really embraced [it]. They love it,” Jensen says. “But it’s crucial that we bring the kids along very slowly into the workout. We don’t even think about doing any weights until the kids learn the proper techniques first.” To teach proper technique, Jensen instructs kids to start with their body weight, and only their body weight, until proper form is mastered.

“The challenge with this age group is that a lot of these young guys are already very strong and want to push themselves. As a coach, it’s my job to make sure it’s done safely every time,” he asserts.

Dr. Donnie Dolce, a physician specializing in sports medicine at Baylor Scott & White in Fort Worth, says younger athletes can actually be in a better position to take on rigorous exercises than their older counterparts. “Weekend warriors aren’t used to such rigorous activity, and then they jump in and get hurt pretty quick,” he explains. “Young athletes are usually very active already, so the CrossFit workout for them — one that is geared toward a young athlete — isn’t as tough to adjust to.”

Of course, Dolce urges caution when putting any child into a rigorous workout regimen. “CrossFit is certainly popular right now, and people are seeing the positive benefits, but like anything else, too much of anything isn’t always a great thing. As kids grow, it’s crucial to be careful with how intense any workout is for them. I’m fine with CrossFit for kids, if it comes with the right guidelines and supervision.”

Rebecca Shields of Plano does CrossFit four times a week and is a self-professed addict. She’s taken her two daughters, ages 8 and 10, to kids’ programs and, as their instructor, isn’t worried about them getting hurt.

“Are there instructors out there who push too hard and act like they’re training Navy SEALS? Sure there are,” she admits. “I avoid those folks at all costs. I make sure my two girls are only using their body weight on squats, and we do the safest pushups and pullups possible. They enjoy the workout because it’s so varied and so fast. They like competing with one another to get better. Nothing wrong with that.”

One thing is clear: CrossFit is here to stay. So should kids dive in and start maxing out at every station? Of course not. But with supervision and a focus on proper technique, this new form of fitness can become another great way to get your kids off the couch and into a healthier lifestyle.

(Just encourage them not to talk about their workout all the time.)

This article was first published in the September 2015 issues of DallasChild, FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild.