Even wearing just a pair of orange shorts and orange sneakers, Josh Levy was dripping sweat through his dirty blond curls as he struggled to do another rep. “Go, Josh!” cheered his fans, who angled their cellphones to capture the moment on camera. After his coach squirted her water bottle over his head, Josh somehow found the strength to crank out a few more power snatches — a complex weightlifting exercise you don’t normally expect from a 7-year-old.
But with a light PVC pipe in his hands and a smile on his face, Josh was able to complete a brutal circuit workout, along with nearly 500 athletes who converged near the Mall this month for CrossFit for Hope. The event, a benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, was the debut of an annual fundraiser started by CrossFit, the popular strength and conditioning program that combines weightlifting, gymnastics, running and calisthenics.
Writes for the MisFits column.
(Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - CrossFit classes are offered to children as young as 6 years old at CrossFit in Alexandria. Before beginning the exercise the children have to run outside the fitness center to warm up.
(Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Candace Hill shows Max Lane, 9, left, how to properly pull the kettle bell during CrossFit class.
It also promotes the idea that people of any age, sex and shape are capable of these kinds of movements as long as they’re appropriately modified. And that’s how Josh — who at 69 pounds weighed less than the barbells most of the adults at the event were hoisting — can be just as much a CrossFitter as his mom, Megan Columbus, 44.
Last fall, Columbus enrolled her son in CrossFit Kids classes at Rockville’s CrossFit Done Right. Owner Justin Bacon introduced the youth program in early 2011 to combat the notion that exercise isn’t enjoyable. “In a lot of sports, it’s a punishment to do push-ups,” Bacon says. “But if they’re having a push-up competition, kids think it’s fun.”
Thousands of children around the globe are now part of the CrossFit Kids program, which was established in 2004, almost by accident. “I couldn’t find any adults to do it,” says Jeff Martin. So he and his wife, Mikki, began teaching children in Ramona, Calif., and soon CrossFit founder Greg Glassman asked them to formally create CrossFit Kids.
The couple’s martial arts background shaped how they approached bringing these exercises to a kid level. “You want to do something well before you do it fast. You break things down and then link them together,” Martin explains. It helps that children don’t have the bad habits adults can build up, so they’re often faster learners.
Bears vs. crabs
A recent session for ages 5 to 8 at CrossFit Old Town in Alexandria started with a quick warm-up that involved drawing a stick figure. To earn a new body part, the kids had to do a couple of reps of an exercise: squats for the head, high knees for the body, sprints for the legs, etc.
Next they focused in-depth on how to do thrusters. Holding a barbell — or in this case, a PVC pipe or a light bar with two big circles stuck on the ends (called “Fred Flintstones”) — you squat and then lift up, using the power of your whole body to get the weight into the air. They also did a similar lesson on pull-ups. At that age, that mostly means holding on to a bar a few inches above their heads, jumping and trying to keep their chin up for a few seconds.