CrossFit Kids 101
Written by Cyndi Rodi
Copyright CrossFit Kids 2007, 2008
Use by Permission only- See below
Cardio Vascular and Respiratory Endurance in CrossFit Kids
CrossFit recognizes ten general physical skills that can collectively be used to assess the functionality of any fitness regimen. These ten general physical skills, as enumerated by Jim Cawley of Dynamax and adapted by CrossFit, incorporate every aspect of athletic activity, as well as each of the human energy pathways. A comprehensive fitness program addresses each of these and can be deemed successful only to the degree which if offers improvement, while individuals are considered fit in equal measure to their competency in each of these skills. Coach Greg Glassman, the creator of CrossFit, gives us the bottom line regarding the ten general physical skills, “Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, power, speed, flexibility, agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination: you’re only as good as your weakest link.” Coach recognized early on that the conventional definition of fitness was severely lacking. After much observation and shock at how specialized athletes are held up as prime examples of fitness, a more comprehensive approach seemed necessary.
In real life (e.g. nature, sport and work) the demand for the elements of physical fitness are never separated. "Segmented training leads to segmented capacity."
Therefore a functional fitness program, one which prepares the individual for the rigors of daily life, must collectively enhance each of these areas of fitness. CrossFit was his answer to that dilemma. The first two of the ten general physical skills, cardiovascular/respiratory endurance and stamina, determine the body’s ability to gather, process, deliver, store and utilize oxygen. “When cardiovascular endurance is enhanced, the athlete is more efficient in using these energy systems and an avenue for recovery [is provided]” (Sefcik). Measurable changes in the body’s ability to successfully perform these processes are achieved through consistent training that incorporates a wide variety of high intensity workouts. This goes beyond the obvious exercise choices like running and rowing. Repetitive, physically taxing movements performed at a rapid pace create the metabolic reactions necessary to markedly improve these systems. Increased cardiovascular/respiratory endurance and stamina manifest themselves in the ability to maintain elevated levels of activity for increasingly longer periods of time, as well as a more rapid return to pre-exercise breathing and heart rates following exertion.
The CrossFit Kids program uses the template of randomized, functional exercises, performed at high intensity. Adjustments are made to accommodate the specific needs and requirements of children and teens. Workouts consist of exercises containing elements drawn from the above enumerated physical skills, while special attention is paid to utilizing progressions for difficult or compound movements, and progressive loading dictated by size, age and consistancy in form.
Using the above template, CrossFit Kids often perform workouts with a time component, moving quickly from one exercise to the next, thereby creating the intensity necessary to achieve these goals. Highly vigorous exercises like box jumps, tuck jumps, jump rope, sprints, etc. create aerobic and metabolic changes which increase cardiovascular/respiratory endurance and stamina. This positively impacts the body’s capacity for exercise and lays the foundation for the remaining general physical skills.
Coordination in CrossFit Kids
Coordination, agility, balance and accuracy are four general physical skills that are improved through practice which results in changes in the nervous system. The benefit of training in these areas is an increased ability to control one's body. Muscle memory, achieved through repetition of movement, is a predominate feature of this type of training, as the demands for increased neuromuscular control contribute to positive adaptations. "Quite simply, the more you stimulate your nervous system, the better your brain is able to communicate with your musculoskeletal system" (Gaines) providing for marked improvements in each of these areas. There is no age at which these skills are superfluous. CrossFit Kids seeks to develop body control early in life, thereby preparing our children for the challenges they will face in sport, play and (eventually) work.
The first of these, coordination, refers to "the ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement" (Glassman). The practical applications of this are infinite. From the cradle to the grave, daily life is filled with tasks that require the consolidation of a series of physical movements into a singular action. We often speak in terms of our children being "gifted" with coordination (or not). In spite of popular opinion, we have found coordination can be trained into an individual.
We take every opportunity to improve coordination levels and increase confidence in even our most awkward children. The gains we have seen made by our CrossFit Kids are phenomenal. Repetition is our greatest ally in enhancing coordination. For example, a lift move, performed in X-number of reps for X-number of sets, naturally begins to develop a competence for that move. Regular practice at handstands trains the body to recognize and apply the force and muscle activation required to invert oneself and remain in place. The same can be said for an unlimited number of physical demands that become easier to perform with repetition. The body's capacity to adopt most any movement as "second nature" inherently increases coordination.
One invaluable tool in the quest for improved coordination is gymnastics training. Here we encounter any number of movements that test an individual's capacity to "multi-task" on a physical level. Take, for example, the push up. At once, a child is required to properly place and balance on the hands, tighten the abdominal muscles, avoid a sag or lift of the rear-end in order to maintain a solid plank position, bend at the elbows, lower the body, avoid falling to the floor, and then fluidly push back into the upward position. One push up, multiple considerations, and an eventual marked increase in coordination. These most basic movements go a long way toward improvement and create a learning base for the more complex gymnastics skills that require and develop increasingly greater levels of coordination.
Coordination 101 for Kids
Coordination refers to your ability to use your body in several ways at once. A good example of coordination can be found on the swings at your school's playground.
Imagine yourself seated in the swing. Now think about what you must do in order to make the swing move. You begin by leaning your chest forward. At the same time, bend your legs back and pump your arms. Immediately begin your backward movement. Lean back in the swing, throw your legs out in front of you and pull the chains back with both hands. Now, lean forward again, bend your legs back, pump your arms. And so on you go until you've gained enough back and forth momentum to get that "flying" feeling that makes you love to swing.
Remember how long it took you to be able to perform all those movements together? The day when you finally didn't have to ask your mom or dad to push you on the swing? That day happened because, after a great deal of practice, you were finally able to move your body in several ways at once. In other words, your coordination improved.
Cool & Coordinated– Digimon’s Gallantmon
Flexibility in CrossFit Kids
Flexibility is “the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint” (Glassman). It is achieved through training that, once again, results in “measurable” changes in the body. To improve flexibility means to “increase range of motion, as well as increasing bone, ligament and joint stability“ (Sefcik). Flexibility is an oft-overlooked aspect of physical fitness. However, a lack thereof can hinder performance in every other general physical skill. CrossFit stresses flexibility both in relation to multiple modalities and in terms of overall fitness.
A comprehensive CrossFit Kids program addresses flexibility training in each and every workout. In some cases the application will be a product of the movement, i.e. elbows up in a thruster or hips back in a squat. Other times we emphasize a specific area of flexibility, i.e. active stretching or various gymnastics movements.
Jump to Support on the rings, Tuck sits, L sits and progressions from parallettes, headstands, handstands, muscle ups, bear crawls, crab and seal walks are all incorporated to improve flexibility.
Flexibility, as much as any general physical skill, is an ongoing process rather than a static point of achievement. Consistent training offers marked improvement that is continuously countered by aging joints. We are helping our kids embark on a path that will allow them to bend and stretch beyond the years of those “freakishly” flexible (watch the contortions your kids achieve while watching TV) joints of childhood.
Flexibility 101 for Kids
Flexibility is an important part of CrossFit workouts. Flexibility refers to your body's ability to effectively bend and move without injury. The best way to keep your body flexible is to use it. Some of our favorite CrossFit exercises that help keep the body flexible are: work on the rings, headstands and handstands, and animal movements. Here's a workout that can help you gain more flexibility.
Bear Crawl 50 M
5 Skin the Cats
20 Squats ( Scale as necessary)
If you've already done your workout, how about playing a game with friends? Animal races are a great way to improve flexibility while having a lot of fun. Everyone line up, side-by-side. The first player in line calls out an animal and demonstrates how to move like one. After everyone has figured out how to move like that animal, the first player yells, "On your mark. Get set. Go." Everyone takes off in a mad dash to be the first one to the finish line. If you stop acting like the animal, you are disqualified. Now it's time for the 2nd player in line to choose an animal, and so on. Keep track of who wins the most races. If you just don't feel like racing, or your friends are busy, spend some time working on headstands and frogstands. This is a great way to work on flexibility while improving your balance.
Famously Flexible : Pokemon Character “Infernape”
Strength in CrossFit Kids
Strength is another general physical skill that results in "measurable changes" in the body that are brought about by training. Strength can be defined as "the ability of a muscular unit or combo of muscular units to apply force" (Glassman). Strength does not take into account the speed at which a task is performed. It is "a measure of the ability of an individual to move a weight irrespective of the time it takes to move it" (Rippetoe/Kilgore). Gains in strength indicate the body has increased its ability to apply force.
CrossFit Kids participate in training that provides a means to foster these adaptations. The lift movements such as shoulder presses, deadlifts and thrusters frequently make their way into workouts. Medicine balls and D-balls are thrown and pushed in exercises such as wall ball, slam ball and throws for height and distance. Benchmark workouts like "Lil' Diane" utilize a couplet of deadlifts and handstand pushups in which increasing weights and decreasing times are indicators of gains in strength. These movements build strength by exposing the body to stressors that enhance its capacity to handle such loads. Mindful of the need to maintain attention and focus with children, we incorporate fun, game-like elements while maintaining the stimulus. Additionally, the need to make careful use of progressive loading according to skill and capacity when working with children is of primary concern.
The importance of strength training cannot be overestimated, as it is foundational to the development of all the biomotor skills. Strength training not only increases the ability to apply force, a pivotal aspect of power, it improves endurance by prolonging the amount of time it takes for muscles to fatigue. These neuromuscular changes effect every aspect of life from the way one looks and feels to fitness training and involvement in specialized sports. ( Rippetoe/Kilgore) For the young athlete focused on strength gains, optimal Sports Conditioning can be best accomplished through a carefully crafted CrossFit program.
Agility in CrossFit Kids
Agility refers to the "ability to quickly transition from one movement pattern to another" (Glassman). This is what we often recognize in athletes as quickness and ease of movement. For example, a soccer player dribbling the ball down the field must utilize his body to carry out multiple movements and directional changes at a moment's notice. An accomplished soccer player is nimble, displaying the ability to quickly and precisely change the body's direction. We might say "he can turn on a dime." Agility, like the other general physical skills, does not stand alone. It requires "balance, coordination, reflexes, speed and strength" (wikipedia) and is improved through consistent practice that brings about changes to the nervous system. Agility training has at its core those movements which require the individual to repeatedly practice and improve the ability to effectively change velocity and direction.
Displays of agility are not isolated to the sporting field. For most of us the need to "transition" is more necessary to daily life. Dodging a moving object such as a teenager on a skateboard, spying and avoiding a stray glob of chewed gum on the ground, and running through a crowded airport all require agility.
CrossFit kids become more agile by practicing movements that force repeated changes in direction and fast reaction times. The most obvious of these is the use of an agility ladder. Hopping forward on one foot or two between rungs and high-stepping or side-stepping down the ladder all improve agility. Hopscotch is a great way to challenge the agility of a child. Obstacle courses that require directional changes and weaving in-and-out are effective training tools. Olympic lifts highlight agility by improving one's ability to shift seamlessly from one movement pattern to another. For example, the snatch requires the athlete to begin with an upward jump then immediately reverse directions to drop under the bar. Additionally, at Brand X we utilize some of our martial arts drills for the purpose of improving agility.
Here are a few games we use to improve agility.
Shuttle Run Set up the drill by placing markers (i.e., draw lines, place cones, mark with tape) at increasing distances from a finish line, approximately 5 yards apart. Line the kids up side-by-side at the finish line. When you say "go," the kids sprint to the first marker, touch the ground, explosively turn around and sprint back to the finish line. Immediately, they explosively turn and sprint to the second marker, touch the ground, turn around and sprint back to the finish line. This continues until they have traveled back and forth between all the markers. We usually have the kids hit 3 or 4 target points. It is important that transitions from forward to back are made quickly. The faster the kids are changing directions, the better. You can even turn this into a race, but pay close attention. Some kids will have an inclination to skip bending down and touching the target point in the interest of winning the race. A reminder that it is mandatory to touch the marker line may be helpful.
Snake Drill Line the kids up side-by-side, spacing them a sufficient distance apart that they will be able to run between one another. On "go," the first person at the left of the line turns and begins to run in an "S" pattern (like a slalom) between the other kids until she reaches the end of the line. Quickly shift all the kids to the left, being careful to maintain the space between them. (This may require a few practice runs to allow the kids to figure out how far to shift each time.) The person who is now at the beginning of the line begins to "snake" through the line. Once she reaches the end, the entire line shifts left again. Continue until everyone has snaked through the line.
Variation: Use a medicine ball to increase the difficulty of the drill. Have the kids hold a medicine ball as they snake through the line. In this drill, each child travels to the end of the line and back. He passes the ball to the next person in line, then runs back to the end of the line as the entire group does the shift to the left. Then the next child in line begins to snake down the line and back. Continue until everyone has snaked back and forth through the line.
Agility 101 for Kids
Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candlestick.
You've likely heard this rhyme dozens of times. What you probably didn't realize is that it is describing agility. To be agile means to be able to make fast and accurate changes in direction. If Jack is nimble, it means he can move "quickly and lightly." Have you ever played tag during recess? You used agility to dart back and forth, quickly moving one way and then the other in order to avoid being caught. Tennis, soccer and football are all examples of sports that have high demands for agility. In each, a player is required to move left, right, forward and backward without prior notice. As the ball is volleyed or passed, or a fellow player tries to tackle you or steal the ball, you have to react and move in many directions with lightning speed.
Agility is also required in daily life. Imagine walking across a field with your friends. You're laughing and talking. Suddenly, you notice a huge hole in the ground right in front of you. You quickly sidestep the hole and, without thinking any more about it, you continue the conversation with your friends. You quickly moved your entire body in a different direction in order to avoid stepping in the hole. That is a display of agility.
Agile Alien “ XLR8 “ ( from Ben 10 )
Balance in CrossFit Kids
Balance is another of the general physical skills developed through practice which leads to changes in the nervous system. Balance describes the "ability to control the placement of the body's center of gravity in relation to its support" (Glassman). Balance is a physiological mechanism that is regulated by the vestibular system within the ear. Anyone who has had an inner ear infection can attest to the necessity of balance. Navigating life with a compromised equilibrium is an uncomfortable and, even, dangerous endeavor. There is no movement without balance, other than that which leads to a face firmly planted on the floor. This is even more pronounced when we begin to add the complex movements of exercise and sport to our routines. By improving balance in the most strenuous of situations, we render the average movement as safe as sedentary.
CrossFit Kids workouts address the development of balance in a number of ways. One primary contribution is the CrossFit commitment to midline stabilization. This is in contrast to the faddish isolation "core" work being promoted in gyms and magazines across America. Midline stabilization refers to the ability of the torso to function from a position of stability and strength without compromising correct posture, form or function which requires the collective and cooperative functioning of the entire torso including, but not limited to, the abdominals. "The key to midline stabilization is understanding how to use your muscles and connective tissue to hold your spine, hips and head inline irrespective of your body orientation, standing, squatting, pulling or pushing" (Okumu). Midline stabilization is paramount to achieving stability and fluidity in movement and an increased ability to maintain good posture. This is a necessity in daily life and of immeasurable value in the face of increased physical challenges. Balance is also improved through an emphasis on appropriate form which creates the need for kids to properly place their bodies in order to achieve the best movement. In a nutshell, if a child does not have a good center of gravity, form will inevitably break down as the child loses balance. We often see this as rocking to and fro, traveling hands attempting to regain center, and heels leaving the ground. Since all movement requires balance, every aspect of a CrossFit workout addresses this issue. Squats, box jumps, wall ball, D-ball, broad jumps, running-the need for balance in each of these is readily apparent. Unique activities that have allowed our kids to practice and improve balance include walking across a low beam, work on the climbing wall and even slacklining.
Balance training, like coordination, frequently relies on gymnastics movements. Once again drawing on the pushup example, a child who lacks balance will struggle with the plank position. He may drop to the knees or move the butt up or down in an attempt to achieve the center of gravity necessary to remain on his hands and toes. Additionally, we may see the same child fall to the floor at the bottom position, not from a lack of strength, but due to the inability to maintain balance. A similar example would be the handstand pushup. From its inception (placement of the hands on the ground) to its apex (a successful return to the top position), handstand pushups require constant monitoring and appropriate adjustments regarding one's position in space.
Olympic and power lifts rely heavily on balance while, at the same time, facilitating substantial gains in its acquisition. While a failed lift may occur for a myriad of reasons, lack of balance is always a primary suspect. Stepping forward or back, shifting the center of mass by leaning or arching, and bar drift are examples of ways in which a lifter may compensate for lack of balance. Form and midline stabilization are paramount in lifting, not only in order to successfully complete the lift but as a necessity to safety. citations: Coach Greg Glassman, Franklin Okumu (CrossFit Oakland)
Balance 101 for Kids
Your sense of balance refers to your ability to maintain your position in space. Balance is what allowed you to take your first step without falling when you were a toddler. It is what helps you run across the room or jump over a rock and land on your feet. Without balance, you would be in constant danger of tipping over, falling down and/or face-planting. Balance is controlled by your inner ear, which explains why you sometimes feel dizzy and like you might fall over when you have a head cold. You can improve your balance with any number of CrossFit exercises. Some complex activities include one-legged squats and handstand pushups. Try standing on one foot for time. Make it harder by closing your eyes or tilting your head back. But it doesn't have to be that difficult. Even the most basic movements lead to gains in balance. Every time you complete a WOD, you can be sure you have used and improved your sense of balance.
Beautiful Balance - Spiderman
Speed in CrossFit Kids
Speed can be defined as the rate at which a person or object moves. It is the distance an object travels divided by the time it takes to travel that distance. As a function of the ten general physical skills, speed is "the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement" (Glassman). Conventional wisdom tells us that each of us is born with a genetic potential for speed. Natural ability for speed is governed by inherited muscular make up. To be a world class sprinter, one must be born a world class sprinter. However, this does not preclude the development of speed. Increases in speed are possible through neurological and muscular changes.
Each of us is born with a specific makeup of three types of skeletal muscle fiber. The percentage present of each type of fiber is as unique as the individual. Slow twitch fibers (Type I) utilize oxygen (aerobic) to produce energy and fuel activity. They fire slowly and, so, fatigue at a slower rate. This is useful for prolonged physical endeavors. In sport, a marathoner or a long distance swimmer would benefit from slow twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers are able to metabolize anaerobically to create fuel, allow for short bursts of energy and fatigue more quickly. There are two types of fast twitch muscles. Type IIa muscle fibers, also known as intermediate fast-twitch fibers, use both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Type IIa muscle fibers are important, because they can take on the properties of both slow twitch and fast twitch fibers and therefore can accommodate a wide array of activities. Type IIb muscle fibers use anaerobic metabolism exclusively, have the highest rate of contraction and fatigue within a few seconds. Type IIb fast twitch muscle fibers are able to produce the most speed and are beneficial during such events as a sprint or a one-rep-max effort in weightlifting. The ability to produce a "speedy" movement is directly related to the number of fast twitch muscles in the skeletal system.
Numerous scientists have demonstrated that the phenotype of mammalian skeletal muscle can be altered. From rats to cats and ultimately humans, laboratories across the world have investigated and proven that muscle fiber types can be changed. This means the capacity for speed can be altered by increasing those muscle fiber types (fast twitch) that are responsible for high velocity movements, e.g. those that allow us to minimize time cycles. These changes are brought about through training and practice. Significantly, endurance training and high energy intermittent training have been shown to decrease Type IIb fibers.
We really didn't need a scientist to point this out. Look at a successful marathon runner and you'll likely see a gaunt individual, no body fat and very little muscle, not the picture of health. And intermittent training produces a host of problems, the least of which may be a lack of speed. "The cost of regular extended aerobic training is decreased speed, power, and strength" (Glassman). CrossFit avoids the pitfalls of a specialized program by constantly varying the stimuli, hitting every aspect of fitness, aerobic/anaerobic, fast twitch/slow twitch. You name it, it's there. Through consistent and diverse training, muscles can develop and change while adapting to handle the stress of exercise.
Speed offers an important illustration of CrossFit efficiency and efficacy in its correlation with the other general physical skills, an interdependence that cannot be ignored. Increased speed is only possible through adequate development of the other skills. At the same time, excellence in the other skills often depends upon increases in speed. Without proper neuromuscular development and sufficiently improved heart and lung capacities, speed cannot increase. By the same token, speed plays an integral role in almost every athletic endeavor. By training each of the general physical skills, we enhance our ability to perform in any given area.
One obvious example of this relationship is the short distance runner for whom speed is only part of the picture. If we look at studies of sprinters, we observe that their abilities to cross the finish line first are rooted not only in their God-given talents but in their abilities to successfully master and maintain proper technique. This becomes important when, after a few seconds of maximum output, the sprinter begins to experience symptoms of fatigue. Then the runner must rely on neuromuscular coordination, the ability to process oxygen and the strength to continue to push screaming muscles in order to shave off precious hundredths of a second. An accomplished sprinter will have trained all the general physical skills. "Sprinters have enormous physical potential due to their metabolic competency across anaerobic and aerobic pathways and because of the speed, power, and total conditioning that sprinting demands" (Glassman).
Olympic and power lifters further demonstrate the crossover of the general physical skills. Here again, we see that no one aspect of training will foster success. For many, weightlifting brings to mind images of muscle-bound men in singlets pushing up ridiculous amounts of weight. In reality, it is not solely the size of the muscle that matters. It is the type of muscle available for use coupled with the athlete's ability to move the weight with speed. The capacity to lift weight is rooted in power, a combination of strength and speed. No lifter worth his salt will neglect speed training.
Rare is the activity in daily life or sport that requires we move in only one direction at a fixed rate of speed or interval of time. Gains in speed, or any health or fitness goal for that matter require a broad spectrum of applications. It is the interplay of the general physical skills that allows CrossFit to consistently pump out finely tuned, high performance professionals, homemakers and student athletes.
Speed 101 for Kids
Coach Glassman defines speed as "the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement." What does he mean? Speed is a measurement of the rate at which a person or object moves. In CrossFit, we are always trying to move faster. Run faster, throw the ball faster, move the weight faster. Speed is one of the factors that determine how quickly you will get your workouts done. It also gives you the ability to catch your brother when he's tagged you "it," throw the ball across home plate or play dodgeball.
Not all of us are born fast. Each individual has three types of muscle fibers that carry out different jobs in the body. Slow twitch fibers help you complete longer distance or longer timed events. Fast twitch fibers allow you to move faster but can only keep working for short periods of time. The more fast twitch muscle fibers you have, the faster you will be.
It doesn't seem fair that some people get to be fast, while others of us are not. But I have good news for you. It is possible to increase the number of fast twitch fibers in your body. While I cannot promise that you'll be winning ribbons in the hundred meter dash, I can guarantee that consistently completing CrossFit Kids workouts will help you develop speed. CrossFit workouts help your muscles develop and change and become better able to handle the stress of a workout.
Here is a workout that emphasizes speed. Notice that only one part of the drill involves running.
10 Power Cleans, 55#
10 Broad Jumps
100 M Hill Sprint
10 Power Cleans, 35-45#
10 Broad Jumps
100 M Hill Sprint
10 Power Cleans, 15-20#
10 Broad Jumps
100 M Hill Sprint
10 Power Cleans, 5-10#
10 Broad Jumps
100 M Hill Sprint
The things you do in daily life and sports require you to move in many directions, at many different speeds and at different intervals of time. CrossFit makes it easier for you to accomplish these things by conditioning your body and mind through constantly changing workouts that challenge you in every possible way. More speed, more strength, the ability to run a mile, all of these are within your reach if you continue to faithfully work to the best of your ability. Exercise is fun, and it can change every part of your life.
Super Speedy: The Flash and Speedy Gonzales
Power in CrossFit Kids
Power is one of two general physical skills that have equal requirements for both training and practice. Power is defined as "the ability of a muscular unit or combination of muscular units to apply maximum force in minimum time" (Glassman).
Power can be quantified using the equation:
force x distance
Work = Force X Distance. It is the inclusion of the metric "time" that give us power. A standard pull up and a kipping pull up involve the same amount of "work" however the kipping pull up takes less time, thus more power is produced. The smaller the unit of time (faster speeds), the greater the quotient. That is, "as time goes down, power goes up" (Glassman). We can then conclude that increased speed leads to greater power, regardless of the load. By the same token, increased force provides for a greater dividend and naturally to an increased quotient, which means that gains in strength (the ability to apply force) should lead to improvements in power. Still, the most effective function of power combines strength and speed. Practically speaking, "How much can you move, and how fast can you move it?" (Rippetoe & Kilgore)
Developing power requires the application of vertical and horizontal movements wherein each individual repetition will "overcome resistances by a high speed of contraction" (Sefcik). Some of the most effective tools in the development of power are Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch. Here we find that simply pulling the weight is not enough. Successful completion of these movements demands that strength be coupled with bar speed, allowing the individual to move under the bar rather than muscling the weight into position. Lack of speed causes the movement of the bar to stop short of overhead, leading to a failed lift. Likewise no amount of speed can compensate for an inability to handle heavy loads, e.g. if it's too heavy, moving it faster won't likely get the bar overhead. Combined strength and speed, acquired through repeated exposure to the lifts, is mandatory for successful Olympic lifting. This is far more effective than the standard gym routine, say a bicep curl, because it increases the distance the weight is moved, the speed at which it is moved and how much weight can be moved.
Functional movements (pretty much everything we do in CrossFit Kids) are unique in their ability to express power, from box jumps, in which body weight is being explosively moved, to thrusters which become laborious, nigh impossible, without sufficient bar speed. As noted above, compare standard and kipping pull ups. If an individual completes a set of standard pull ups followed by the same number of kipping pull ups, the load and distance moved would be identical. However, kipping pull ups generate more power due to the amount of time it takes to complete them (remember "as time goes down, power goes up"). This means the kipping pull ups place a greater physical demand on the individual and, as such, are more effective. Strength is important. Speed is essential. But power is the metric that we seek. We want our kids to move bigger loads, longer distances, FASTER! In the quest for fitness, power trumps.
Power for Kids
Power is a combination of how strong you are and how fast you can move. What that means is the more weight you move and the faster you move it, the more powerful you are. Each CrossFit workout you complete requires you to use power. Say the WOD calls for wall ball. In order to successfully complete the movement, you must push the ball upward with sufficient strength and speed to cause it move away from your body and toward the target. Otherwise, the ball will end up at your feet (or possibly in your face). What if the workout includes squats? Then you have to (1) move your body weight in a quick and controlled downward motion to below parallel and (2) bring it back to upright, with your hips fully extended. This movement would not be possible without the muscle strength and speed necessary to lower your body and get back up without falling.
Have you ever played basketball? What helped you get the ball through the hoop? Power. You threw the ball with sufficient strength and speed to get it to drop through the net. What about when you were on the swings and you realized the faster and harder you pumped your legs, the higher the swing would fly? The swing went higher, because you used more power.
Every day you use power to complete common tasks. When your mom asks for your help putting a box overhead, you use power to move the box onto the shelf. The difference between power and strength is that power is faster. You wouldn't slowly lift the box to the shelf using only your strength, because you would have to hold it longer and the box would start to feel really heavy. Instead, you would push the box up with as much force and as quickly as possible, hoisting it up there in a hurry so it wouldn't begin to feel too heavy and cause you to drop it. You may remember a time when you used this type of movement to get a toy into the top of your closet or on a shelf in the garage. You were using power.
Powerful Mighty Mouse and Adam Ant
Defining Functional Fitness
The majority of humans in developed countries do not physically operate at the level which we were intended. Created to be hunters and gatherers, we are now largely a population of chair-bound, sedentary individuals. Technology and modern conveniences have caused our activity levels to drop to alarmingly low levels, while our health has declined at a proportional rate. Though physically less taxing, the quality of our lives is suffering greatly. What can we do to counter the ill effects of our "cushy" lifestyles?
For most of us, a return to hunting and gathering is not an option. Not many people possess the land necessary to reap and harvest their own foods or raise their own poultry and cattle. Very few geographical locations continue to sustain wild herds that are ripe for the hunting. But let's face it. How many of us would really want to go back to the hunting and gathering stage? We are completely reliant on our modern system of shipping and shopping to meet our needs. Unfortunately, driving to the grocery store and pushing a cart down the aisle do not constitute exercise and, as such, will not improve our fitness levels or our lives in general.
The only way we can take back our health from this monster of degeneration is to plan and execute physically functional movements that will return us to our pre-modern society state of health. So how do we accomplish that? I'll give you a hint. Carrying the grocery bags to the car is a functional movement.
No, I'm not suggesting you spend hours-a-day schlepping around bags full of groceries. My point is, if we look closely, we will discover our daily lives still demand that we move and function in ways that are similar to those required of our hunting, gathering predecessors. The only way we will be able to successfully perform such movements past our childhood years is to train and strengthen our bodies in ways that mimic those early human activities and prepare us to effectively meet the challenges of daily life. Our goal, then, is functional fitness which means we must engage in functional exercise. So what is functional exercise?
Let us first determine what it is not. Unfortunately, the majority of the fitness community is gravely missing the mark with regard to functionality and is misleading the public into a black hole of wasted time and effort. Functional has become an overused term in the library of fitness literature and has been butchered by the commercial fitness industry. This term has been erroneously applied to any number of useless movements produced on grossly overpriced equipment and an unlimited supply of infomercial gizmos and gadgets. Add to this the propensity toward muscle-specific weight training, and we have a fitness culture of great looking but functionally useless machines and human specimens. The sad truth is the physical exertion required to complete a repetition of any one of these movements lacks any parallel to reality. If we can't make it analogous to daily life, common sense would tell us it is not functional exercise.
Functional exercise replicates functional movement, that is, those movements we use to get average things done in our daily lives. Standing from a seated position, placing things overhead, pulling ourselves up, throwing, running, picking things up-these are all functional movements. A functional fitness regimen, then, would be one that utilizes functional exercises to address and enhance our ability to successfully complete these types of everyday tasks. Functional exercise allows our bodies to perform the way in which they were engineered. Squats, push ups, pull ups, deadlifts, box jumps, broad jumps, running-these are but a few of the tools in the CrossFit arsenal. Pared down gyms equipped with boxes and weights, D-balls and medicine balls, ropes and monkey bars are the fertile grounds from which functional fitness is born.
Our goal at CrossFit Kids is to educate and enthuse children and teens about functional fitness. We believe these will be the foundational experiences our children require to embark on lifelong journeys of wellness which will enable them to effectively perform simple, yet necessary tasks well into their adult years. Our dream is to foster a generation of healthy, fit individuals who require limited assistance and enjoy freedom of movement and activity throughout their life spans. To that end, we design each of our workouts with the varied modalities that will increase fitness levels across a broad spectrum of performance and health considerations. Always functional, never boring, CrossFit Kids resolves the issues of our sedentary, noxious lifestyles. Working the body according to the way it was designed, we are training a generation to take responsibility for their health via the path of least resistance.
Defining Functional Fitness for Kids
As a CrossFit Kid, you've probably heard the term "functional fitness" a million times. Have you ever stopped to wonder what that means? Functional fitness uses movements that help your body function like it should, giving you the ability to get normal things done in your daily life.
Many years ago when men and women first began to inhabit Earth, they were equipped with certain physical abilities that allowed them to survive. These included the ability to run, jump, lift, throw, etc. Using these skills primitive man hunted, found and gathered plant foods, outran predators and moved from one location to the next, following herds and good weather. Life was hard, and pretty much the entire day was spent just trying to stay alive.
Life became a bit easier when individuals began to share the responsibilities of living as they settled into communities. Among these groups, each person had a job that kept the group functioning and thriving. Still, everyone worked hard and had to use the same physical strength and skills that kept their ancestors alive. As society became more organized, fewer people had to do work that was physically demanding. More people worked in factories, offices and stores. They used their wages (paycheck) to pay for those things, such as food and shelter that once required men and women to exercise their own physical skills.
Human Energy Systems: Metabolic Pathways, Part 1
Tuesdays are my weightlifting days. Each week Mikki and I get together and spot one another's lifts, check each other's form and offer encouragement. Last Tuesday, I felt tired and announced at the beginning of our workout, "I just don't have any energy." I couldn't have been more wrong.
We often refer to energy as something we either have or do not have. Truth be known, we always have energy in our bodies. It is not something we lose or gain on a particular day. It is the existence of energy that keeps our bodies alive. Without it, our cells would die.
To understand this, we must apply the Laws of Thermodynamics which are the laws that govern the transfer of energy. An overly simplistic view of these laws would go as follows:
The first law contains the Conservation of Energy principle which states that in a closed system, one that is basically isolated from interaction with the rest of the universe, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change in form. This means the energy our bodies utilize to achieve various survival and life tasks is not something we expend or consume. Energy dissipates, disbursing to other reactions within the same body where it is recycled. It is transferred, altered and reused over and over again via chemical reactions within our cells. Since utilizing energy within the body does not destroy it and the total energy within an organism (like me) remains constant over time, we might conclude that last Tuesday when I showed up for my lifting day, I certainly should have had energy. But how do we really know?
The second Law of Thermodynamics states that the transformation of energy inevitably involves increasing levels of disorder, a.k.a. entropy. If the body's energy systems reach equilibrium, i.e. complete order in which chemicals and reactions are in balance such that no other reactions can occur, those systems will die. We need our energy systems to remain unstable in order to continue to function. Controlled chaos is our friend. When discussing energy systems, we can conclude that as long as disorder prevails, chemical reactions are taking place within the cells and we can be certain that they will remain alive. In this context, an inactive cell is a dead cell, because it contains no energy. The fact that I was alive-able to stand, walk and talk to Mikki- confirms that, indeed, I did have energy last Tuesday. In fact, I had several forms of energy systems available to me for use, all of which are powered by a miraculous compound in the body called adenosine triphosphate, more commonly known as ATP. We will discuss ATP and its human systems, the metabolic pathways, over the next few months.
Energy Systems for Kids
Sometimes people feel tired. You have probably heard someone say, "I feel like I have no energy." But being tired is not the same thing as having no energy. Let me explain.
While energy is something that can be found in a lot of places throughout the universe, in the human body it is found within our many cells. You may have heard of cells. They are the basic units that make up any living thing, including humans. Our cells and our entire body need this energy to survive.
There are scientific laws that tell us this is true. Scientists have made many important discoveries through the years. There are certain scientific ideas that have been proven to be true so many times that we consider them to be fact. That means, for now, we believe we can count on them to always be true. This is the case with a set of "facts" called the Laws of Thermodynamics.
The Laws of Thermodynamics are very complicated, so it's not important that you understand everything about them. I certainly don't, but there are two things we need to be aware of. The first Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy is not something we get from eating or sleeping or drinking water, although these things certainly help our bodies. Energy is produced (made) and recycled (changed and reused) in the cells of our body. That means all the energy in our cells stays and works there until the cell is no longer living. It just takes a different form and is used for different purposes. The second law of Thermodynamics says that the best way to change and use energy is with disorder. This is a strange idea that means it is better for our cells to be messy than to be organized. Don't you wish your mom would say that about your bedroom? That may not seem like a terribly important fact; except that every movement we make, everything we need to live, is possible only because our bodies can change and reuse energy.
The bottom line: We all have energy within us. We just need to learn to use it properly. We'll talk about this over the next few months.
Thermodynamic Hero : The Human Torch
Human Energy Systems: The Metabolic Pathways, ATP part 2
Last month, we began a discussion of the human energy systems. We determined, through the Laws of Thermodynamics, that each of our bodies contains the energy needed to meet every demand and perform all functions necessary to survival and our daily lives. This energy is liberated through the chemical breakdown of a powerful metabolic compound called adenosine triphosphate. Adenosine triphosphate, more commonly referred to as ATP, is present in every cell of our bodies and is necessary for those cells to remain viable.
ATP has been called the "energy currency" of living organisms. It is the only compound that can transfer energy to maintain cellular activity. We often refer to food as our energy source and, in fact, our bodies could not function without it. However, the energy contained in the food we eat is not directly usable by our bodies. One popular analogy states that attempting to use this food as a direct energy source would be like trying to make a purchase in an American market using Japanese Yen. It's not going to happen. Given the proper exchange rate, however, one can obtain the necessary currency to make the desired purchase. It is similar with the foods we eat.
Carbohydrates, protein and fat contain calories, a measure of the heat contained within foods. This heat is transferred from the sun when plants convert sunlight into chemical energy through a process called photosynthesis. Animals consume the plants. Humans consume both the plants and animals which are broken down by the digestive system. One result of digestion is the separation of crucial compounds found in carbohydrates, protein and fats that can be absorbed or transported into the cells. Once delivered to the cells, they are utilized in the production of ATP.
As the name implies, ATP contains adenosine and a chain of three phosphate molecules. ATP is a highly unstable compound, which works to our advantage (remember last month's discussion of the need for disorder). Though we recognize that a comprehensive discussion of the energy-requiring and energy-releasing reactions surrounding ATP would include such topics as hydrolysis and ATP synthase, let's agree to keep it simple. That is, when energy demands are placed on the body, ATP releases one of its phosphate molecules. It is in this breaking down of the phosphate chain that energy is released. What remains is a free phosphate and ADP (adenosine diphosphate). As we will later see, ADP is also crucial to the body's energy supply.
The amount of ATP stored in the body is surprisingly limited when we consider that it is our only source of energy. Fortunately our bodies are able create, or metabolize, more ATP into being through the use of three biochemical processes known as the metabolic pathways. Each of these pathways is able to supply the body with ATP and, in fact, each contributes to energy production in most types of exercise. However, the pathways vary greatly in their rates of production and their total production capacity. Thus, each of the pathways is generally best suited for specific levels of activity. We will discuss these pathways and the utility of their output over the course of the next few months. In addition, we will delve into recent research regarding the role lactic acid plays in the production of
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for Kids
Last month we learned that the cells in our bodies have all the energy we need to survive and that disorder allows us to use that energy. This month, we need to figure out what this energy is inside our cells.
The energy inside our cells is stored in something called ATP. ATP is the only thing that can release energy within the body to help our cells to function.
We sometimes talk about food giving us energy. That isn't exactly accurate. The sun is the source of energy for our planet. Our bodies need a way to get the energy from the sun into our cells. Eating food helps us do that.
The whole process starts when plants absorb sunlight. I bet you've heard about photosynthesis in school, but do you know how important it is to humans? We could not live without it. Plants use photosynthesis to change sunlight into a chemical form of energy. When animals eat plants, their bodies have a way to move that energy into their cells. Humans eat plants and animals. When we digest the plants and animals, our bodies use special processes to move the energy in our food (that started in sunlight) into our cells. That energy is what is stored in ATP.
ATP doesn't do us much good, unless our bodies can figure out a way to get it to release some of that energy. Remember, it is the released energy that allows all of our cells to do the things they need to do. So our bodies come equipped with some pretty amazing processes that help ATP offer our cells the energy they require. This is where disorder comes into play. ATP is made up of some "stuff" that is very unstable. By unstable I mean it could fly off at any moment. As we said last month, that is a good thing because when the ATP molecule loses some of its "stuff," it releases the energy we've been needing.
Next month, we will begin to discuss something called metabolic pathways. It is the metabolic pathways that help ATP let go of the unstable molecules in order to release energy. Each of the metabolic pathways works in a unique way and helps us when we're doing certain types of activities. Wait until you see how busy all your cells are, all the time. Your body is an amazing thing.
Energy Hero : Static
Human Energy Systems: The Phosphagen System, Part 3
This month we continue our discussion of human energy systems. We have already determined that our bodies contain all the energy we need and that energy is what keeps our cells alive. This energy is recycled and reused by our bodies, and its availability is reliant on a chemical compound known as ATP.
The human experience is random and diverse. It is impossible to predict what any day, any moment may bring. The body's response to a given experience or challenge is based upon a complex network of thoughts and reasoning, autonomic systems, electrical impulses and chemical reactions. One of the most extraordinary of these human processes can be found in skeletal muscle tissue where ATP provides the energy without which movement would not be possible.
ATP within muscle cells is continuously broken down and resynthesized to be used as a source of energy for muscle contractions. This is achieved through a variety of chemical reactions which power ATP production. Previously it was believed there were three such ATP-producing processes, commonly referred to as the Metabolic Pathways. Recently, there has been some discussion in the scientific community of up to six or more metabolic pathways. For our purposes, we will focus on the three universally recognized metabolic pathways and the new information about the role of lactic acid in ATP production.
The amount of ATP present in skeletal muscle is sufficient to power only a few seconds of rapid contraction. After that, additional ATP must be synthesized in order for the muscle to continue to contract at the desired pace. The fastest way to replenish ATP for muscle contraction is through the metabolic pathway called the phosphagen system, or the ATP-PC(r) system. The phosphagen system is said to be anaerobic because it doesn't rely on the presence of oxygen to function. This system utilizes an energy rich molecule called creatine phosphate, or phosphocreatine, which is unique to muscle fibers.
The phosphagen system is dependent on a "coupled reaction," in which energy given off from one reaction is used to generate another. Phosphocreatine is formed when ATP releases one of its phosphate groups which becomes joined to creatine. At the same time, energy is released and an ADP molecule (so named because it has one less phosphate than ATP) is formed. This newly generated phosphocreatine can then immediately donate one of its high-energy phosphate groups back to ADP, thereby forming a new ATP molecule. The catalyst, e.g. the chemical that powers this reaction, is creatine kinase (CK) which is typically in plentiful supply within muscle fibers. The resulting ATP can then be used to render more energy. What this means to muscle fibers is the reaction offers a quick return on ATP. This is important since muscle tissue can be subject to extremely high energy demands.
The down side to this process can be found in exactly what gives it value. The fast resynthesis of ATP is entirely dependent upon more ATP to provide the energy to power the chemical reaction. Basically, you need ATP to make ATP. Unfortunately, after only a few seconds, the plentiful creatine supplies become depleted, thereby eliminating the possibility of making more ATP through this pathway. The phosphagen system can only sustain these chemical reactions for a matter of 5-15 seconds, depending on which scientist you're quoting. Thus, it is most useful for high output, short duration activities. Quick bursts of intense activity like those required for sprinting, a single "down" in football, pole vaulting, and power lifting are perfectly suited to the phosphagen system. More practically, you would utilize the phosphagen system to jump out of the way of a moving car. A period of recovery is required in order for phosphocreatine stores to be replenished. This points to the necessity for rest periods between lifts, heats, downs or jumps in order to maximize potential. Fortunately in the meantime, we have a second metabolic pathway to meet our energy needs.
The Phosphagen System for Kids
As you go through your day, your body has different needs that are determined by what's going on around you. There are many systems in your body that help you move and respond in ways that are appropriate to the situation. One thing that is extremely important is what goes on in your muscles. The energy found in your muscle tissue is what helps the muscles contract and allow you move. This month we will begin discussing how that energy is used and reused in your muscles through something called the metabolic pathways.
The first pathway we will discuss is called the phosphagen system. This system is able to provide a lot of energy in a short period of time. The phosphagen system actually uses the energy it creates to make more energy. Remember our discussion of ATP? When it loses some of its "stuff," energy is released. In the phosphagen system, the stuff that is left over is quickly joined to another molecule to make more ATP.
But there is a limit to how long this system can keep working. Your muscles quickly run out of the type of molecule needed to make ATP. This means the phosphagen system can only provide energy for your muscles for about 5-15 seconds.
The type of activities that can really use the phosphagen system are those that require a high level of output for a short period of time. Some examples of this type of activity would include sprinting across the soccer field, chasing and tackling the quarterback, completing a long jump or high jump, or jumping out of the way of a moving car. If it requires a lot of effort but only last for a few seconds, you can count on your phosphagen system to get you through. After that, you need other systems to pick up where this one leaves off.
Energy Hero: Pikachu
Human Energy Systems: The Glycolitic Pathway, Part 4
Last month we investigated the phosphagen System, also known as the ATP-PC(r) system. As previously discussed, our muscles require ATP in order to contract and facilitate movement. We discovered the phosphagen system is the fastest avenue for ATP production within muscle cells and is, thereby, well suited for activities that require short, intense bursts of movement. After about 8-10 seconds, the phosphagen system becomes depleted and our muscles must rely on a second metabolic system known as the glycolytic pathway.
Glycolysis takes a bit more time to kick into gear than the phosphagen system, somewhere in the range of 8-10 seconds. Isn't that convenient? Just as the phosphagen system begins to fail, the glycolytic pathway revs up. The practical reason for this delay is the glycolytic pathway requires the breakdown of stored glucose to produce ATP. In fact, the term glycolysis is derived from the Greek words for "sweet" (glyco) and "breaking down" or "loosening" (lysis). This metabolic pathway is best utilized during activities that last from a few seconds to a few minutes (three to five, depending on which expert you are quoting). A middle distance run, like a 400m or 800m event, would take advantage of this window of opportunity. In the context of a CrossFit workout, the glycolytic pathway is of great importance due to the high intensity levels that are often maintained for several minutes at a time. As one muscle group fatigues, we move to the next exercise and begin to tax the glycolytic pathway of another muscle group. It's a pretty nifty physiological mechanism for a CrossFitter. To understand glycolysis, we must begin at the universal energy source.
Recalling our previous discussion, life on Earth is dependent upon chemical reactions that allow organisms to harness energy from the sun. In humans, these reactions occur when we eat and digest food. Glucose is derived from the carbohydrates we consume. This would explain why carbohydrate consumption is an important and highly discussed topic by Coach Glassman and in the greater CrossFit community. (Most recently, refer to video article by Nicole Carroll in the CrossFit Journal and on crossfit.com) What happens to glucose during digestion is dependent upon the body's concurrent ATP requirements. Glucose that is not immediately needed for ATP production is "taken up" by the muscle cells and liver where it is converted into glycogen, a polysaccharide created by the bonding of many glucose molecules. Once the liver and muscle stores are full, the liver converts the remaining glucose into triglycerides for storage in adipose tissue, e.g. connective tissue that is composed of fat cells. As the body's demands for ATP increase, the glycogen and triglycerides can be converted back into glucose and broken down to produce ATP.
Glycolysis is a complex process whereby glucose is broken down through a series of enzymatic reactions. This series of reactions both utilize and produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The coenzyme NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) also plays a key role. This process occurs in the sarcoplasm of muscle cells, which is essentially the entire inner portion of the cell (intracellular fluid and organelles) minus the nucleus. The net yield of glycolysis is:
a. Two molecules of ATP which become immediately available as a source of energy for muscle cells.
b. Two molecules of NADH. The fate of NADH is determined by the presence or absence of oxygen. In an anaerobic environment (no oxygen), NADH is converted back to its original form NAD+ as it converts pyruvate into lactate. This NAD+ can then be used to power more glycolysis. In an aerobic environment (oxygen present), the NADH is used to help power the electron transport chain (to be discussed in a future issue).
c. Two molecules of pyruvate which can take one of two paths. In the presence of oxygen, pyruvate is converted to acetyl coenzyme which begins its journey along the citric acid cycle, also known as the Kreb's cycle. There, it is ultimately used to produce more ATP (to be discussed in a future issue). In the absence of oxygen, pyruvate is converted into lactic acid and, then, lactate. Lactate has also been found to play a role in the body's ability to utilize energy (to be discussed in a future issue).
Why should we care about all these acronyms and biological terms? Because not only does glycolysis produce ATP, each of its other byproducts enhance the body's ability to produce more ATP. Without glycolysis, we could not meet the demands of daily life, and aerobic respiration which produces large numbers of ATP molecules would not be possible. We will discuss that in a later issue.
Glycolysis, like the phosphagen system, has the unfortunate drawback of being a short term solution for ATP production requirements. During glycolysis, a condition called acidosis occurs that causes muscle fatigue and can eventually halt muscle function. This was once believed to be caused by an over production and accumulation of lactate in the muscle cells that occurs when oxygen is not available to allow pyruvate to enter the citric acid cycle. In recent years, scientists have offered compelling evidence that the production of lactate may actually slow these effects and hydrogen ions or, more recently hypothesized, excess protons from glycolytic ATP production are the cause of muscular failure. While the debate continues over the actual cause of muscle fatigue and