Thursday, November 30th, 2017: How to Raise an Angry Gorilla

November 29, 2017

10 situps
10 pushups
10 pullups
10 lunges

“Let Freedom Ring”
24 OHS 95/65,
24 burpees over the rower,
Max Cal Row

Rest 4min

21 SDHP 115/80,
21 Burpees over the rower,
Max Cal Row

Rest 4min

18 Lunges 135/95,
18 burpees over the rower,
Max Cal Row

Rest 4min

15 Push Press 155/105,
15 burpees over the rower,
Max Cal Row

Rest 4min

12 deadlifts 185/125,
12 burpees over the rower,
Max Cal Row

L1: 65/35, 75/55, 95/65, 115/80, 135/95

L2: 75/55, 95/65, 115/80, 135/95, 155/105

** adjust weights accordingly if you cannot do either L1 or L2


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As new parents, we quickly discover that our little bundle of joy arrives with a big bundle of worries.

We might coo over our baby’s tiny fingers and toes, but we’re also wondering, “Is everything OK? Is my baby healthy? Happy? Is there some secret parenting trick I can use to make sure my baby never cries, never falls and eventually ends up at the right college?”

When my son was born, I asked our pediatrician that last question. It turns out there’s no cure-all for the worries we have as parents. Fortunately, we are in a great position to lead our kids toward healthier and happier lives, and one way we can do this is by helping them learn how to use their bodies.

Pediatricians call this ability “motor skills,” but CrossFit calls it “movement.” It’s the essence of what happens in every CrossFit workout. I’ve seen it transform the lives of members in my gym, just as it’s done for my wife and me. So I attended the CrossFit Specialty Course: Kids to learn how this methodology can benefit my son. He’s almost 2 now, and earlier this morning he demonstrated he’s perfectly capable of climbing onto a chair, then onto our kitchen table, then into my granola. Clearly, the kid’s got potential.

In fact, we can visualize our kids’ physical potential. The research that informs CrossFit Kids draws in part on the work of Yuri Verkhoshansky, who studies how coaches can maximize the physical potential of elite athletes. By adapting his basic approach and refocusing on children, we can show the extent to which any child reaches his or her potential.

First, we plot the physical potential of a child—what he or she has the capacity to do at a particular age. Then we plot the child’s actual abilities—what he or she really can do. It looks like the curves seen in Figure 1 (below).

ALT TEXTFigure 1: A child’s absolute potential compared to his or her actual physical ability. (Eric LeMay)

Take, for example, a baby’s first big movement: raising her head. At around 2 months of age, a baby on her stomach is usually capable of lifting her head. Parents can help their babies develop this ability by giving them the chance to play on their stomachs regularly throughout the day. It’s often called “belly play” or “tummy time.”

Although it looks simple, this movement lays the foundation for the child’s physical future. As the pediatric physical therapist Tara Losquadro Liddle warned, “For the sake of our babies’ well-being in adulthood—from their posture to their athleticism to preventing aches and pains—don’t take belly play for granted” (1).

Belly play lets a baby develop strength, balance, mobility and flexibility. When we give our babies tummy time, we help them realize their innate physical potential.

However, tummy time is also easy for parents to skip. We might overlook it as we struggle with the exhausting demands of taking care of a new baby. Or our baby might cry and fuss when laid on her belly, so we might decide it’s not worth putting her through the ordeal. Whatever the reason, if the baby doesn’t have the chance to develop a robust ability to lift her head, then a gap separates what she could do and what she can do. She hasn’t realized her physical potential. She doesn’t learn to do what her infant body is capable of doing.

This gap not only limits her as a baby but will also hamper her as she struggles to learn the more complex and demanding movements that build on raising her head. Sure, she’ll eventually lift her head one way or another, but this foundational movement will be weaker than it could have been, and she’ll suffer the effects of this limitation as she grows up.

ALT TEXTPlay is a critical part of development for children of all ages. (Tai Randall/CrossFit Journal)

Think, for example, about the little girls or boys who aren’t taught to throw a ball correctly and spend the rest of their lives throwing poorly. Or think about those of us who were raised to sit in chairs and find it hard to squat correctly. We might have developed our natural capacity to squat if we’d grown up in China, where squatting is a common movement and diseases related to hip mobility, such as osteoarthritis, are much rarer. These are gaps, and we can help our children avoid them.

For them and for us, the stakes are high. As Liddle explains, “Exercise establishes core physical strength and the biomechanical patterns that will last a lifetime—patterns that in a large part will determine how a child approaches and reacts to the world” (1).

And that, of course, is what we want for our children: a full and active physical life. Then there’s so much we don’t want for them: childhood obesity and diabetes, depression and anxiety, lethargy and laziness, and endless staring at screens—things that exercise can help minimize or prevent altogether.

So how does CrossFit Kids help us raise healthy children?

The course starts by answering that very question.

ALT TEXT“We’re in a position to shape lives.” —Kelly Brown (Ruby Wolff/CrossFit Journal)

The CrossFit Specialty Course: Kids

Kelly Brown, one of the trainers, is at the whiteboard. She’s a mother of two, and she operates CrossFit Agoge in Montrose, Colorado.

“We’re in a position to shape lives,” she says with catchy enthusiasm.

She’s giving us the whys behind the program: why it exists, why it’s important.

We learn how CrossFit Kids develops a child’s entire body: the muscular system for strength, the skeletal system for support, the vestibular system for balance, the proprioceptive system for spatial awareness, the nervous system for coordination, even the cognitive and emotional systems, which benefit from regular and vigorous exercise.

But Kelly is only getting started. It turns out that when we help kids learn how to move well, we can also help them with things linked to their physical well-being—how they eat, how they interact with their peers, even how they think of themselves.

“We’ve seen kids in the gym change their ideas about who they can be,” Kelly explains. “Sometimes that happens right in the middle of a workout.”

Yes, CrossFit Kids is about “laying foundational movement patterns,” but focusing on that goal accomplishes others. As the manual for the course puts it, CrossFit Kids is also about “providing children with a portion of their prescribed exercise for the week, improving muscular fitness, engineering endless opportunities for success, and discussing roles for food—all while keeping the class and its information fun and engaging” (2).

ALT TEXTKids don’t care about posterior chains and spinal erectors, but they know an angry gorilla when they see one. (Ruby Wolff/CrossFit Journal)

Through movement, we can help our kids grow into their best selves.

And we can accomplish all that by asking our kids to act like angry gorillas.

That’s right. Later in the course, we’re watching Jon Wilson, another staff trainer, work with a 6-year-old on the deadlift. Jon is demonstrating how we need to coach kids in a way that works for them and still produces safe, effective movement.

Jon can’t very well say to this eager kid, “Activate your posterior chain, keep your spine in a neutral position, hinge at the hip, and lift.”

Instead, he faces his young athlete.

“All right,” he says, “first squat like an angry gorilla!” The boy scrunches his face and squats.

“Great!” Jon says. “Now puff out your chest!” The boy raises his chest, and his spine straightens.

I watch this 6-year-old move into the correct position for a deadlift as a result of a few fun cues.

ALT TEXTJon Wilson helps a young one squat until her pockets are below her knees. (Tai Randall/CrossFit Journal)

Now, in a CrossFit Kids class, he wouldn’t lift anything heavier than a rubber ball. The aim here is to teach him how to position his body and move in the right pattern. In the future, he’ll know how to help dad carry the groceries or help mom move boxes in the basement. He’ll know these are situations for his angry gorilla.

That’s how CrossFit Kids does it—by giving children age-appropriate instruction.

“Make your elbows into lasers and shoot them across the room!”

Now you’re ready to squat with your arms in the front-rack position.

“Sink down so your pockets are below your knees!”

Now you’ve hit the proper depth on your squat.

“Stand up and push up the ceiling!”

Now you’re driving through a squat into a thruster.

Cues like these get our kids moving in ways that make them look more like trained athletes than gangly 6-year-olds.

These cues also teach our kids how to move as nature intended. Natural movements are at the core of CrossFit and CrossFit Kids. As humans, we’re designed to move in the patterns of the squat, the press, the deadlift. It’s how we’re meant to sit, lift something overhead or pick something up. The same goes with jumping, running, climbing and throwing. We’re meant to move in these patterns, and—through creative cues, suitable exercises and fun games—CrossFit Kids helps our children realize their physical natures.

So does it work? Do children who go through a CrossFit Kids program thrive? How, for example, do they perform once they join their peers from school on the court, field or track in an organized sport?

“They dominate,” Kelly smiles. “They can walk onto the volleyball court, see what’s going on, and say, ‘Oh, you want me to hit a ball in this way? I can hit a ball in this way.’”

She gives a small laugh: “Our local football coach tells me he can always spot which new players have been in our program.”

ALT TEXTElbows that shoot laser beams are also perfect for front squats. (Ruby Wolff/CrossFit Journal)

I want to stress that Kelly certainly doesn’t see doing well in sports or as the only or true measure of the effectiveness of CrossFit Kids. She’s giving one example. Throughout the course, we hear others. The trainers tell us stories of kids who build their physical prowess and emotional confidence, kids who eliminate junk food and eat right, kids who improve their attention and performance at school, kids who figure out how to skip or skate or be a member of a team. The benefits of CrossFit Kids are as varied as the kids who go through the program—and that’s the point: healthy bodies lead to better lives.

Toward the end of the course, I’m excited to head home and teach my son how to be an angry gorilla.

I turn to the guy sitting next to me and say, “How great there’s a generation of kids who’ll have CrossFit from the very start?”

“Yeah,” he says without a beat, “CrossFit’s gonna change the world!”


  1. Liddle TL. Why Motor Skills Matter: Improve Your Child’s Physical Development to Enhance Learning and Self-Esteem. McGraw-Hill: 43, xxi, 2003.
  2. CrossFit Training. CrossFit Specialty Course: Kids Training Guide: 5, 2016. Available here.
  3. Verkhoshansky YV. Supermethods of special physical preparation for high class athlete. Acta Academiae Olympiquae Estoniae 8: 2000. Available here.

All links accessed Nov. 16, 2017.