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Marge Garcia

McKenna Ellis is excited to start a CrossFit Kids class.

You hear about youth obesity, but here's a story about youth intensity

by Di Dinnis
March 13, 2013


Marge Garcia

McKenna Ellis shows off her gingerbread CrossFit box.

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CrossFit ChicagoHis goal is to let kids be kids - and have an alternative to gangs

Sample Workout

 Warm-Up/Skill –
Varsity, Junior Varsity and Novice:
3x or 5:00
10 walking lunges => bear crawl => 1 rope climb => basic dot drill x 10 => 3 broad jumps => 10 squats

Elementary and Preschool:
3x or 5:00
5 walking lunges => bear crawl => 1 beginner rope climb => basic dot drill x 10 => broad jump => 5 super-slow squats

10:00 AMRAP
5 deadlifts, 185#/125#
100-yard sprint

Junior Varsity:
10:00 AMRAP
5 deadlifts, 75#/55#
100-yard sprint

10:00 AMRAP
5 deadlifts, 55#/45#
100-yard sprint

7:00 AMRAP
5 deadlifts, unloaded-10#
60-yard run

5:00 AMRAP
5 deadlifts, unloaded
40-yard run

Cooldown/Skill –
Varsity, Junior Varsity and Novice:
3 x
5 skin-the-cats
25 sit-ups

Elementary and Preschool:
Skin-the-cat progressions (w/spotter)
McKenna Ellis is a competitive swimmer, has already completed three triathlons, is usually the winner at a last man standing burpee contest and has an 18-inch box jump. She is 8 years old. She goes to CrossFit Kids.

CrossFit is a workout phenomenon that has swept the nation over the last decade. It is a military style strength and condition regimen that combines weightlifting, gymnastics, sprinting, among other exercises. According to the CrossFit website, the workouts are “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.”

McKenna goes to CrossFit Kids classes at CrossFit Chicago. One to two days a week you can find her doing box jumps, deadlifts, squats and push-ups. Her mother, Marge Garcia, says it’s one of her favorite activities. Garcia, a Chicago police officer, attends adult CrossFit classes.

There are more than 5,500 CrossFit affiliated gyms worldwide. According to CrossFit Kids co-founder Jeff Martin, 600 of those have CrossFit Kids programs with 300 additional in the works.

Martin and his wife own a CrossFit gym in California. After looking at the physical education systems in schools, and realizing these programs were not keeping kids fit, they decided to do something about it. First they scaled down the adult workouts at their gym for teenagers, and within six months these teens began breaking records on their physical fitness tests at school.

In 2004, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman asked Martin and his wife Mikki to start CrossFit Kids.

Since then they have worked with schools. Currently, more than 1,000 teachers are implementing CrossFit in some way worldwide.

Martin says all types of kids can benefit from these workouts.

First, the child who is not fit has a chance to get fit. He also recognizes Type 2 diabetes as a problem among kids.

“Ten or fifteen years ago, we called type 2 diabetes, adult-onset diabetes and now kids are getting it now we're calling it type 2.“

He says unfit children need a way to be engaged and a fitness style that will fit for them. CrossFit Kids is good for that group.

“They can come in and be successful every time they walk through the door,” Martin said. “Any child can do a CrossFit Kids class.”

He also recognizes that this is beneficial for the child athlete. With kids going into competitive sports young, they have a risk of injury.

He says CrossFit will increase overall athleticism, strength and mobility, which will help them in their respective sports.

Eileen Craddock Richardson is McKenna’s CrossFit Kids coach at Crossfit Chicago. After years of fertility treatments she is not able to have any kids of her own. Although she would have loved to be a parent, she sees coaching as a way to fulfill that dream.

“Being a coach to these kids is one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences I have had,” Craddock Richardson said. “It is truly a gift to be a guiding force in a child’s life.”

She says physical exercise can lead to doing better in school.

“We know that studies have shown that the first 45 minutes after your child does any physical activity they have a better understanding of their homework, and that their study session comprehension is increased when homework is done immediately afterward,” she said. 

She says it helps kids focus better. Some of the students in her classes who previously had issues with focusing in school are now getting A’s and B’s.

“Teachers [are] asking their parents what they are doing differently for their children to cause such a remarkable transformation in their abilities both inside and outside the classroom,” Craddock Richardson said.

She says the kids in her program actually look forward to coming to class and get upset if they have to miss it. They also don’t want to leave when class is over.

“We have found that through team competition and an hour of physical activity in our CrossFit Kids program, a child can build confidence, stamina, coordination, self-sufficiency, an outgoing demeanor, mental fortitude, tolerance, strength, agility, new friendships and the ability to pull A's in school,” Craddock Richardson said.

Craddock Richardson said Rudy Tapalla, CrossFit Chicago’s owner, made the decision to start the CrossFit Kids program because he recognized that children are living sedentary lifestyles. She says a lot of schools in Illinois don’t have extensive or even present gym classes.

Tapalla and his wife have two kids and understand the importance of fitness in kids.

Both McKenna and her brother Quinn (4) have been going to classes with their mom for three years. She says it’s important for kids to get into sports young.

“With bullying in school, CrossFit and being athletic gives you that confidence that you’re not going to be pushed around,” Garcia said. “You’re not made an easy target to be part of that bullying.”
As a 12-year police officer in Chicago, she says many issues can be avoided by keeping children busy and active.
“It keeps them from hanging out at the corner, or hanging out with the wrong people, or getting into mischief because they’re bored,” she says.
According to Garcia, McKenna is never bored and she hopes that will continue on to her teenage years.

That has proven true for Martin, who has three boys, two of which have been doing CrossFit for nine years.

“Not many people realize what comes out of doing cross fit for so long,” Martin said.

A 250-pound back squat and a 59-inch standing box jump. That’s what comes out of it!

Martin said they also learn character-building traits like leadership, setting goals, self-discipline and the reward of hard work.

Class structure

Classes are different each day.

“In class my kids learn what a WOD is (Workout of the Day), we have instructional whiteboard time, do a warm up, learn a skill, perform a workout and play a game all in an hour’s time,” Craddock Richardson said

A typical class may include deadlifts, burpees, sprinting, sit-ups, power cleans, push-ups and/or squats. Of course, there are different classes for different age groups. A preschooler will never be doing a power clean, but will be running and doing squats with body weight. They will also be playing games.

Not all of these levels are offered at every gym, but classes range from preschool to high school.

“If you go to a CrossFit Kids class, the single most important thing you should see in class is that kids are having fun,” Martin said. “That it looks like play to them.”

He also says it’s important to keep kids safe.

“The [adult] CrossFit charter says we go for mechanics, consistency than intensity,” Martin said.

“With CrossFit Kids, we say mechanics, consistency, than and only than load intensity.”

The adult classes focus on getting a max number of rounds for time, or lifting a heavy amount of weight during the exercises. This is not the emphasis in the kid’s classes.

It’s more important to get the movement right than to have a high load and instructors only reward good mechanics.

“From the preschool class to the high school class the instructor is never emphasizing the clock or speed and they're always cueing mechanics and how to do something better.”

Garcia says she has no problems with the movements McKenna does in her class.

It’s mostly body weight and all the movements that adults would do with barbells are done with PVC pipes to gain proper technique.

Although, once they’ve master the technique coaches have no problem giving them a little weight. McKenna can deadlift a 10-pund dumbbell.

“The weights are minimal,” said Martin. “They use two, three, four, or maybe seven pound dumbbells. Those are really small weights especially when a kids is already picking up a 25-pound backpack and going to school.”

Martin says more reps done correctly are better for young kids.

Craddock Richardson says their main goal in teaching the CrossFit Kids classes is to get kids to move around and become familiar with the functional movements they teach in the classes. They are the building blocks for real life situations.

“The dead lift is an essential movement which directly translates to real life experiences because we can show these kids essentially how to pick up their loaded down backpacks correctly without compromising their backs and possibly getting injured,” she says.

She enjoys teaching the kids lessons that she believes will be beneficial for life.

“That movement is something that they will use for the rest of their lives as they age,” Craddock Richardson said. “Most back muscle strain in adults comes from improper movement and not protecting their backs as they lift a heavy or awkward object.”
Garcia says Craddock Richardson has a lot of rules in class to keep everyone safe, and the kids all listen to her because they enjoy her class so much.

A healthy amount of competition…and food

Each year CrossFit has a competition called the “CrossFit Games.” This is the seventh year they have hosted the competition and the open workouts just started last week. Last year more then 69,000 CrossFitters signed up to compete in the Open.

“The top athletes from the Open in each of the 17 regions around the world will qualify for the second stage of the competition — Regionals, a three-day, live competition,” according to the official CrossFit website.
The season culminates with around 100 athletes in the CrossFit Games.

Watching the CrossFit Games is a family event for Garcia and her children. Although there are no CrossFit Games for kids, they do have the Gauntlet Games. Teen’s ages 13 to 18 can compete. McKenna’s goal is to compete in the Gauntlet Games when she’s old enough.

A healthy lifestyle is not complete without good nutrition.

Many CrossFit Athletes follow a diet called “Paleo” or the “Caveman Diet.” The idea behind this is that human bodies have not adapted to eating foods that weren’t available 10,000 years ago. The diet contains no dairy, grains, sugars or processed foods, and is heavy on leans proteins and vegetables.

Although CrossFit Kids does not have an official diet, Martin recommends kids real whole foods, avoiding anything processed and sugars.

He says it’s up to the parents to feed their kids well because they’re doing the shopping.

Kids in Craddock Richardson’s class learn about healthy foods. She teaches her athletes about “real food” she says. She educates them on proteins, carbohydrates and good fats and even has them make a list of how much protein they eat at each meal.

“We discuss special occasion or ‘sometimes” foods,’” Craddock Richardson said. “Those include the dessert type foods that are loaded with sugars and also fried foods like those from fast food restaurants that they may have occasion to eat at say, a birthday party of a friend. We emphasize that those are to be eaten rarely and only for special occasions.  That way they are not wholly deprived of these things but they understand that they are to be consumed in very limited quantities.”

They also play games involving food and Craddock Richardson gives them a challenge every class to try a certain fruit or vegetable or something new. McKenna was so excited that she completed the challenge one week she asked Garcia to take a picture so she could show Craddock Richardson she completed the challenge.

Garcia is especially excited about this because, like most kids, McKenna does not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. She can’t believe that McKenna is eating fruits and vegetables just because her coach is challenging her to.

Garcia says it’s good for kids to start athletics young.

“It leads for a healthy life altogether if they start early,” she said. “I know children learn by example. They see me in there swimming and doing CrossFit. I’m also a triathlete.”

Garcia’s son Quinn is eager to get into CrossFit Kids. They’re waiting one more year until he’s five so he can join the six to 12-year-old class. He knows all the movements just from watching his mom and sister.

They’re a CrossFit family.
“For Christmas they all had to make gingerbread houses at school,” Garcia said. “Both of them made CrossFit gingerbread boxes.”