Today’s kids stay in shape with CrossFit, trainers
BY DIANA NOVAK Staff Reporter October 23, 2013 6:38PM
Maya hustles through an obstacle course at CrossTown Fitness in Chicago on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media ATTN EDS: The adults here preferred to just give first names of gym participants.
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM
Park district soccer isn’t the only option to get your child active anymore. More and more parents are turning to specialized workouts and personal trainers to ensure children who aren’t interested in sports or have trouble maintaining a healthy weight get physical activity.
Windy City CrossFit (4043 N. Ravenswood) offers classes for kids as young as 4 in the high intensity strength training and conditioning that is popular with fit adults .
CrossFit is designed to give adults a broad fitness base no matter where they start. With the younger set, they’re encouraged to improve their personal best times in obstacle courses without competing with one another.
The 4- to 7-year-olds are mainly learning how to follow the leader and hold their bodies in safe positions for future training, according to Windy City CrossFit kids coach Megan Tormey.
The classes for 8- to 12-year-olds introduce some barbell and kettlebell movements using equipment no heavier than 15 pounds.
“The 4- to 7-year-olds are just using their body weight. We’ve done research [that shows] at this age, its more important for basic resistance,” Tormey said.
Parents who are CrossFit aficionados themselves have sought out the classes — which cost between $20 and $25 a visit — to either get their kids moving or prepared for competitive sports, according to Tormey.
Some parents, worried about their offspring’s weight, have turned to Tormey for personal training as well. She has a number of training clients under 13.
In August, CrossTown Fitness (1031 W. Madison), a West Loop high-intensity interval training gym, launched classes for 3- to 6-year-olds and 7- to 11-year-olds.
The 50- to 60-minute classes are half exercise, half classroom instruction on nutrition.
The exercises are the “same as adults, with different names,” said gym owner Charlie Graff. In a typical class, the kids will sequence through an obstacle course that has them going through tunnels and up and over boxes, according to Graff.
Like the adults, the kids are taught body-weight exercises such as pushups and situps, without using heavy weight, Graff said. “We are not dead-lifting.”
The nutrition classes are taught by a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, and focus on getting kids excited about healthy food made with fruit and vegetables.
Some of the participants are overweight children seeking an alternative to team sports, according to Graff. However, a larger percentage is prepping for their sports during the off-season.
CrossTown provides personal training for children 12 and under. It’s a group Graff expects to see grow as the weather continues to cool down.
The 60 minutes of physical activity per day recommended for children by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should include strength-training three days a week, according to the group’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, established in 2008.
Dr. Edward Laskowski, a sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, said strength training is a particularly useful tool in combating childhood obesity.
“[It] increases lean muscle mass, that helps burn calories, that leads to weight loss,” Laskowski said, adding improved bone density, body composition and self-esteem were all associated with some strength-training for children.
Laskowski does warn against heavy weightlifting or bodybuilding for children, which can affect a child’s bone and joint development, as can poor technique even with small weights.
“It’s a good thing as long as we are doing it correctly,” Laskowski said.
“You really want good supervision, the form and technique. Body weight is fine, tubing, free weights, machines.
“Anything that gets kids active.”