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:
Cardio Vascular and Respiratory Endurance in CrossFit Kids
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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). 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. 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. 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)
Combined strength and speed, acquired through repeated exposure to the lifts, is mandatory for successful 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. 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.
"You're only as good as your weakest link" (Glassman). 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 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.