KidFit starts ’em early

CrossFit for kids begins next week.

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KidFit class with teacher Sara Mass. — Courtesy CrossFit Martha's Viney

CrossFit is an international fitness regime that’s been on Martha’s Vineyard since 2012. I’ve been told it’s the place where adults go to discover they actually do enjoy physical activity. Individuals of all ages can join CrossFit, and through KidFit, athletes can start as early as 8 years old.

KidFit is a CrossFit program offered to children between ages 8 and 12. It started on-Island in 2015. The March session begins this Monday, March 11, and continues Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30 pm until Wednesday, April 10.

“It’s our belief that two days a week with a day in between is perfect for young athletes,” Sara Mass, owner and head coach of CrossFit M.V., said in an interview with The Times. “It gives them consistency, but is not overloading their bodies.”

CrossFit is a combination of cardiovascular training, weightlifting, and gymnastic movements, according to Mass. A typical KidFit workout includes skill training, where students learn a new technical skill, and time to practice with different variations scaled to each individual fitness ability. There are no fitness requirements, according to Mass.

“Students are given a journal to track their progress, and each class begins with a ‘code word’ or CrossFit vocabulary word, which students record in their journals,” Mass said. “It’s fun to look back and see your progress.”

Coaches introduce the workout of the day (WOD), and the group warms up with active games. Classes are capped at 12 students, and all athletes are grouped together, regardless of gender or fitness abilities.

“Because every CrossFit workout, including KidFit workouts, is fully scalable to an individual’s abilities, everyone here enjoys fitness at levels appropriate,” Mass said.

KidFit classes are coached by Mariah MacGregor, lead KidFit instructor, and Fern Campos, the bilingual certified instructor. All trainers are at least Level 1 CrossFit certified, and are qualified to coach all ages, according to Mass. MacGregor is also a full-time teacher at the Chilmark School. She has a master’s degree in education, and has been a certified horseback-riding instructor since she was a teenager.

“Kids have unique needs when it comes to training,” MacGregor said. “Their bodies are still growing, and they are learning about their unique coordination and muscle memory. In many ways, it is similar to beginning to train adults, although children are usually more willing to try new things.”

MacGregor commented on the emotional element of training kids. “KidFit organically encourages self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, good sportsmanship, and social skills through teamwork,” she said. “Of course, this also applies to training adults, but it’s more evident and crucial with young people.”

MacGregor said the best part about training kids is witnessing progress. “When they discover how awesome it is to be proud of what their bodies can do, all sorts of possibilities open up,” she said.

The hardest part, according to MacGregor, is making sure each athlete gets exactly what he or she needs. “That’s true of adult classes as well, but kids vary so much more between ages,” she said. “But figuring that out is part of the fun. Everyone is so different.”

The KidFit program integrates all the same equipment as adult CrossFit classes, including kettlebells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, climbing ropes, boxes, and more. Kids use light weights and rubber barbells for most exercises, according to Mass.

At the end of a session, Mass and MacGregor hand out a short quiz reviewing terms and asking for feedback.

“Besides the classic request for more games, students almost always say they wouldn’t change a thing,” Mass said. “We’ve also received great feedback from parents who are thrilled by what KidFit is doing for their children. The best feedback is seen with the repeat enrollment of many students.”

KitFit sessions tend to fill up quickly and have repeat students, according to Mass. Early enrollment is encouraged.

“We try to model a strong community of people that support each other,” Mass said. “One ‘rule’ of CrossFit is everyone cheers each other on until all athletes are done — learning that sometimes the hardest things are the most rewarding, and developing a pride in your ability to persist.”

CrossFit Martha’s Vineyard is hoping to expand its youth program to include teenage athletes — specifically a girls-only tween group.

“You immediately become part of an international community of like-minded people,” Mass said, “because CrossFit is worldwide; anyone who heads off-Island for school or international travel can walk into a CrossFit box [gym] and belong to a community that speaks a language of inclusiveness, strength of mind and body, and a commitment to health. It’s a great lesson for these kids to learn at such a young age.”

This March marks the fourth KidFit session of the school year, and Mass said they’re hoping to squeeze in one more before summer vacation.

CrossFit is located at 114 Cook Rd. in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 518-727-9827, or visit crossfitmarthasvineyard.com.