Mikki Martin – Co-Founder of CrossFit Kids and the Brand X Method™
In the course of developing CrossFit Kids, Jeff and I devised an ideal type for a kids trainer. In a nutshell, the perfect kids trainer was fun-loving, bubbly, and creative. Even though we’re no longer associated with CrossFit Kids, the heart of the program, the Brand X Method™, continues to thrive and the model Brand X Kids trainer remains basically unchanged. However, a sense of fun, an animated personality, and a creative streak must also be accompanied by an ever-growing understanding of age-appropriate training methods.
Creativity is a wonderful trait, but when it comes to the serious business of training children to move well, creativity for its own sake can mask a poorly designed class or curriculum. One component that suffers when creativity runs rampant in a vacuum is programming.
Programming is an art. Sure anyone can piece together a program, but to do it in a manner that not only makes sense but retains the attention of a broad age group and delivers consistent and lasting results takes experience, practice, and knowledge. For instance, the basic kids class format of the Brand X Method™ includes a warm-up, focus or skill work, a “Get Ready” segment to instill the habit of preparatory mobilization, a workout, and a game, all contained within 30 minutes. The number of elements in any given workout should not be overwhelming: 7-10 for kids classes, slightly more for preteen. Jumping and vestibular elements should be included. All programming should repeat focus movements within the workout or game. Repetition and novelty are key for retention. Experience working with children helps a trainer move kids seamlessly from one activity to the next.
Programming should be done for a period so that concepts and movements can be repeated over time. The same element should be introduced and used in a variety of ways. With adults, this might look like deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts, deadlifts with chains, deficit deadlifts… you get the picture. However, a trainer who uses variance without knowing how or why the stimulus has changed, just to have more variance, is doing his or her clients a disservice. In the same way, overusing creativity in kids programming just for the sake of being new or different misses the boat.
The following are some things to be aware of when programming for kids:
Making up cutesy names. This has its place, but clever names and labels cannot be privileged over the choice of movements. If an entire workout has been renamed to the extent that every movement has to be described anew, and even seasoned kids trainers have no idea what is being described, it becomes counterproductive. I imagine even Honey Boo Boo’s parents would eventually tire of this “creative” wordplay.
Unfocused and Deskilled Focus and Skill Work
Really? Is this a thing? Yep.
“Elbows” is not a description of focus work; elbows are body parts. Are we counting the wrinkles on our elbows? Are we attempting to stick them in our ears? At the very least, the programming should reflect exactly what is being focused on about the elbows in relation to a specific movement, and the movement should be identified.
Let’s relate this to actionable cueing. In the adult world, “elbows” would not be an actionable cue. Lifting your elbows, pointing your elbows, or even licking your elbows would be. If anything, a class plan should provide more detail than necessary.
If it looks like it was thrown together in three minutes, it probably was.
Running as a Necessary Cardio Element
There seem to be trainers who think that kids must run laps, much like a gym class taught by some jaded PE teacher. Burpees, broad jumps, jumping jacks, and box jumps all provide the additional elements of impact loading and coordination and should appear far more often in kids programming than high-volume (boring) running. Not only is jumping fundamental to physical literacy, but impact loading helps strengthen bone, and we want to take advantage of this developmental period to secure a benefit that can have a lifelong effect on a person’s health.
Using a certain weekday to always do the same thing can subtly work against the Brand X Method™ principle of novelty. Although repetition is important, keeping classes varied helps maintain children’s interest and encourages the expansion and deepening of the fun-fitness connection.
Chippers or Station-Based Workouts
In our experience, couplets and triplets are the most efficacious protocol and should be prevalent in any kids programming. Relying on the much simpler station-based, chipper-type workouts is understandable in school environments lacking enough trainers to have eyes on multiple complex, compound movements. However in the more common gym environment with 12-15 kids, an overreliance on this just seems like lazy programming. Chippers should not appear more than a few times a month.
We had a “random cue” day at Brand X a few years ago. People were cued to kip harder while running, push their knees out while climbing a rope and keep a neutral head position while chalking up. It was fun, but made the point that cues need to be both actionable and specific.
Before any cue joins the Brand X Method™ toolbox, it is carefully tested on hundreds of kids. Our cues work and are intentionally phrased for developmental and attentional reasons. Although I understand that some of these cues won’t sit well with all trainers, deviating from the language because of personal preference can diminish at best and derail at worst the teaching process.
There are a few “marketing-based” kids programs in the community that don’t seem to grasp the correct use of our cues and are even providing “training videos” that conflate some of them. This is simply irresponsible. It is critical that trainers know what the specific cue is, why it is phrased the way it is, and its intended effect.
Noun: The idea that fun for kids translates to acting like Pee-wee Herman and must include props, noise, or chants as often as possible.
Fun for kids is about novelty, play, experimentation, and curiosity, but just as importantly, kids need to trust their trainers. They look up to them and, in our experience, don’t want them acting like the kid they avoid on the playground. Kids want their trainers to be reliable fitness role models, with the ability to be fun and playful. Excessive and unproductive silliness as a proxy for well-directed efforts to create a fun environment for exercise can lead to distraction and the breaking of the fun-fitness link.
Fun Fitness for Kids Is Hard Work for Trainers
Make no mistake, the development of creative and engaging and effective kids programming day in and day out is demanding, even exhausting. It should be. No matter how creative the goofiness, simply serving up a dose of “fun” unbacked by productive programming intended to deliver age-appropriate physical literacy with long-term impact is counter to the Brand X Method™ mission of always doing what is best for kids.
Photo Credit: Danell Marks Photography