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Are preschoolers too young for CrossFit training? Supporters and critics weigh in

The new CrossFit Kids program for preschoolers, and those under 18 years old, may encourage physical exercise, but it may also create an unhealthy focus on physical appearance for children.

CrossFit is a worldwide strength and conditioning exercise program that has become increasingly popular since 2000. The program is used by not only professional athletes but many police academies, tactical operations teams and military special operations units.

The program's founders have now expanded its market to include potty-trained children between the ages of 3 to 5 years with a program designed for preschools.

The CrossFit Kids preschool program “focuses on the development of gross motor skills, vestibular development, and basic strength all in an unloaded and unweighted safe environment,” the company website states. “The classes are also designed to address the social markers of introducing a young child into a class situation. Our classes teach children to love fitness and movement, setting them up for success in life.”

Feedback from parents of CrossFit-enrolled children has been positive. Shane and Lee Ann Elison of Los Angeles, California, were quoted in Mother Nature Network saying that they have seen improvements in their 9-year-old son, Blair, whose “focus, attention, and confidence have skyrocketed as a result of CrossFit.”

Nefaws 9 reported that Shiri Reznik, whose children Ella and Adam enrolled in the CrossFit Kids course, said she initially thought CrossFit participants were “crazy,” but she saw that the children's classes were very different from the adult version.

Mary Pilon reported for The New York Times that “CrossFit instructors say they are aware of the skepticism that sometimes greets their preschool efforts, and they say it is a misunderstanding. They argue that their low-key preschool classes are more akin to the tumble sessions and in-school physical education programs of the past. The emphasis for 3- to 5-year-olds, they say, is on fun.”

Despite medical research and guidelines on strength training for children, the CrossFit Kids program has sparked concern among medical professionals and parents.

National Public Radio reported that Dr. Tim Hewett, director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at Children's Hospital Research Foundation, said there is no evidence that CrossFit is healthy for adults or small children.

“What (older) 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. 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,” Hewett said.

Hewett does not discourage a child from engaging in a healthy lifestyle, but suggests CrossFit Kids may not necessarily be the best outlet for children. “So, if your kid wants to do CrossFit and the class has good trainers, that's just fine,” he said. “But if your kid prefers doing cartwheels outside to lunges indoors, that's fine, too. The point is to make exercise fun and a part of everyday life early on.”

Others suggest there may be less noticeable repercussions than the risk of physical injuries to children using the training program.

Aubrey Rumore, a columnist for The State Press, worries about the psychological side effects of CrossFit Kids. “The problem is not that children are putting a focus on exercise,” she wrote. “The problem lies in the fact that intense immersion in physical training often correlates with an intense focus on one’s physical appearance, no matter what age.”

Rumore agress with critics who say the program could be too taxing on a child's body “but the long-term effects will be much more severe. Why can’t we just let kids be kids?”

Email: kclark@deseretnews.com