Is CrossFit safe for children?

Click to play video: 'Family Matters: Is CrossFit safe for children?'
Family Matters: Is CrossFit safe for children?
WATCH: CrossFit for kids is growing across Canada, with some gyms offering programs for children as young as three years old. But with a reputation for intensity and even injury — is it safe? Laurel Gregory explains – Jan 28, 2020

At 11 years old, Carys Llewellyn can deadlift 100 lbs.

“I’m able to say to people that I’m really strong and I’m proud of it.”

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The athlete didn’t get there overnight; She’s been working on her fitness and technique since her parents started bringing her to CrossFit seven years ago.

“It just kind of seemed to make sense,” mom Tara Llewellyn said.

“Neither of the kids really showed a lot of interest in a lot of group sports but we still wanted to keep them active.

“We loved CrossFit so we really thought it would be a good fit for the kids — just to move.”

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Carys trains at FirePower Kids, a Milton, Ont. CrossFit gym boasting a membership of 200 children. The kids’ program began several years ago when five or six members’ children started working out with the guidance of a coach. As interest grew, the gym evolved to include numerous age group programs with more than 20 kids per class.

“One of the best things we’ve seen is the community it builds and the confidence it gives them,” coach Jodi Nieuwendyk said.

“We’re teaching them to do these functional movements that they’re going to do day-to-day anyway. So running, jumping, squatting, hanging from a bar: things you’re going to see them doing at recess and gym class, playing with their friends. We’re teaching them how to do it safely and how to move well.”

Click to play video: '11-year-old Alberta powerlifter sets world record'
11-year-old Alberta powerlifter sets world record

CrossFit has exploded over the last five years in Canada, with many venues now offering children’s programs for kids aged as young as three years old.

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“I think it’s great. It’s a very healthful… way for kids to stay active, ” Dr. Marni Wesner, a sport and exercise medicine consultant at Edmonton’s Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic.

Wesner says CrossFit can broaden the scope of activity for children because it includes aerobic activity, stretching and resistance. But she adds a caution: since children are not fully grown, their bones, muscles and joints are different than adults and therefore cannot withstand the same volume, resistance or intensity.

“The way their muscles attach to the bone is different, their physiology of muscle strength is different, their cardiovascular system and their cardiovascular endurance is different so we need to train them a little differently.”

Wesner says while adults can lift heavier weights to exhaustion, a five year old can’t do that safely.

READ MORE: Working out ’til you’re sick? Doctors warn of rhabdo, a deadly condition linked to over exercising

At FirePower kids, children train holding things like PVC pipe to get the motions down and do exercises with their own body weight as resistance. They progress — eventually — to lifting two-pound dumbbells.

“We really take the time to have them master their movements; to learn to move well and to move well consistently,” Nieuwendyk says. “That’s when we start to see them being able to add some weight if it’s appropriate and again that comes after mastery.”

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CrossFit hasn’t just taught Carys how to deadlift; there have been other positive spinoffs. She has built friendships, self esteem and a confidence that has translated to other parts of her life.

“It’s just fun to workout,” mom Tara says. “Just by moving your body and just learning new things that you didn’t realize you were capable of at any age is fun… They are exercising but they don’t even know it, which I think is really fun.”

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