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The Cogni-Gym: From Whiteboard to Chalkboard? by Chris Cooper - CrossFit Journal

In Rest Day/Theory

November 08, 2010

PDF Article

Can workouts help produce smarter kids? Chris Cooper has a study lined up to answer that question.

Imagine a drug that would put you 33 percent ahead of your peers, nationwide, on standardized tests, a pill that would give you a full two months’ head start, every year, on every other student. It’s out there: it’s called Learning Readiness PE. Mostly, kids just call it exercise.

There’s a slowing process happening in our schools. While other countries surge ahead, kids in America just aren’t keeping up. In fact, according to the NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress study, high-school students haven’t improved their test scores since they started being tracked—in 1971. If this were any other epidemic, our response would be immediate and dramatic.

Swine flu? Buy duct tape and tarps! Avian flu? Wear breathing masks on the subways! Obesity? Uh … eat more grains? Failure to improve at maths and sciences … um. The collective shrug of the health bureaucracies is startling. That’s what prompted Paul Zientarski to try something different: exercise. But what he learned—and what we all learned—was a shock.

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19 Comments on “The Cogni-Gym: From Whiteboard to Chalkboard?”


wrote …

Awesome article. I hope that the results of this study can be as far reaching as the rest of the Crossfit methods. Of course, now I might have to start getting up earlier to get my kids activated before school.


wrote …

6%?! I've heard teachers say NCLB is the worst concept ever but I didn't know it had wiped out PE. Mens sana in corpore sano ring a bell? What is the matter with these people.

Hopefully these studies will wake some people up.

On the other hand, my granddaughter works out at my son's box, CrossFit Dominion, and that could give her an academic advantage.


wrote …

Thanks, guys. We're currently running two concurrent studies with two schools. Wish I could spill my guts on the results at the halfway point....


wrote …

Will there be a follow-up with the results of the study here in the Journal? If it is uncertain, can you tell me where I might inquire at a later date as to the results? I would think any Crossfitter who is a parent would be very interested in the results.


Ronny Varghese wrote …

I agree... there's a LOT of us who are concerned with the crap goin on in our schools - anyway to remedy this and help the situation out would be profound... especially to the Crossfitters who have kids, hoping the update will be posted on the Journal


wrote …

As CFers we're gonna have a responsibility to bring physical fitness to our own kids, the schools won't do it for us.

The interesting thing about this is that I've been living it for the past year. I've always been into fitness but when I found CF in Nov/2009 lots of things changed. Including how long I spend studying. The winter semester in university had me studying a lot less, remembering a lot more, and understanding a lot better. My overall GPA hasn't really gone up, but it probably would if I spent as much time in the books now as I did then. Especially this year I've noticed it as I'm in 4 heavy science classes with labs. At this point I'm so convinced by the benefits of working out in terms of being able to focus when I do study, overall understanding of new concepts, and just basic memorizing improvements that I don't ever miss a workout even if I know I need to do more studying for an exam.

Really looking forward to the results. I'd imagine it would be compounded a lot since kids are naturally like sponges who just suck everything up.


wrote …

Thanks for reading and commenting.

We will indeed be working with Chris Cooper on a follow-up article once the study is complete.

Stay tuned.

CrossFit Journal


wrote …

Thanks for the great article. Looking forward to the update.


Zach Even - Esh wrote …

Chris, hells yea bro, you're an ass kicker!!!

I was a PE teacher for 11 years, BUT, when I was in middle or high school my colleagues hated me for bringing in new things, the admin sucked crap and never supported jack s**t.

The athletic programs went to crap with the football team regularly going 0-10 or 3-7.

No one REALLY cared and I basically went nuts.

The admin always told us to be forward thinking, to experiment, to think outside the box.... I had an idea of using my gym as a work - study program where the kids would be bussed to my gym (3-5 minute bus ride) and we would train, learn about fitness, learn about the business and see how one could turn their passion into their career.

They turned it down and suggested I do a CEC course for coaches and teachers but I declined as I didn't wanna be around lazy asses who were taking my course to get their required continuing ed credits.

I am psyched for you, Chris, I woulda loved to work with you, I never woulda left teaching :)

I figured if the district wasn't gonna do REAL World Physical Education, I was going to do it myself!

Kick Ass and please do keep us all posted!!

Peace Bruddah!



wrote …

I think the idea of incorporating Crossfit into P.E. classes is great. However, I am skeptical about the idea of mixing physical and academic learning. It sounds more like another dreamy gimmick. The idea of the student-athlete is nothing new. Separate times for sports and studying works. If mixing them together worked, it would have become standard practice long ago. School reforms/experiments have been common in America since the 1960's, resulting in a lot of wasted tax money and little improvement. Part of the problem is the focus on the "at-risk" students. Resources shouldn't be focused on transforming sub-mediocre students with little drive for academic accomplishment, but instead should be directed on benefitting those students who are most likely to succeed, not fail. So, on the other hand, if the mixed physical/academic program did show substantial results for improving the best students--thus causing them to excel even more--then I'd be all for it.


Zach Even - Esh wrote …

@Mark Clark - That is how the admin works in most educational settings, ideas don't mean a whole lot to them, they want tests and case studies showing results, allowing them to have evidenced based reasoning behind putting money into a program or even simply changing a program.

Bottom line is we need PE to be more effective and NOT to be the same as it has been for decades: play basketball, soccer, run / walk the track, bla bla bla

We need some serious s**t going down and that means pushing the old timers to change, learn to use o lifts w/PVC pipes, get the climbing ropes back, the stall bars, have WODs and remove the 60 kids from a class.

Most schools have NO equipment and thus there are tons of lines and tons of down time during these "games". factor in changing before / after PE the 45 minute class is now 35 minutes, factor in minimal equipment and tons if waiting on line and you'll see somewhere around 6 minutes of "playing" time minus a typical, old school warm up of seated stretches and maybe 10 push ups.

We have BIG changes to be made.

Tanya Wagner is kickin some ass as a PE teacher in high school, would love to see more detail what she is doing.



wrote …

@Mark - I can certainly see from where you've developed this opinion. Far from being a 'dreamy gimmick,' however, there's solid science behind the idea of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor as a catalyst for long-term memory storage. Our bibliography is quite extensive and can be downloaded as part of our educational package at
Further, the notion that 'if it worked, it would already have been done' isn't valid. Are you arguing that anything that could enhance our function as a species has already been discovered, and is currently being implemented, or has already been discarded as invalid after systematic trial and measurement?
Most of the studies have been done with a broad spectrum of academic prowess (students weren't selected on anything other than schedule availability) and no one has suggested that the practice will work only on the students at the lower end of the academic spectrum. In fact, we use the phrase 'enrichment through exercise' because most kids signing up for group work trend toward the higher end. I'd like to make the point that academic achievement - like sport, art, or any other discipline - depends more on conscientious practice than some innate gift. Your "best students" tend to be the best students because they take advantage of extracurricular opportunities to learn...they're not born with an "A" already assigned them.


wrote …


Thank you for writing this article, and adding to the growing evidence/case studies presented through the CFJournal that exercise is beneficial to proper motor development and cognitive function in children and young adults (Bakshi 1/2009 & Rodi 4/2009). It seems so obvious to us, with all the published science, that physical fitness must play a prominent role in the education setting.

The bulk of the peer reviewed research directly relating exercise to cognitive abilities has primarily used monostructural work: treadmill, rowing, biking, and some 1, 3, and 5rep max work with certain lifts (mostly bench press). These exercise modalities are chosen for their uniformity in multiple settings and for the elimination of technique as a hurdle to completing the study. I look forward to seeing your results. Based on the studies that have shown BDNF release to be proportional to exercise intensity, I envision that the CFKids WODs posted everyday (and I'm sure the ones you program) will have a measurable effect. At BrandX the teens have been studying their worst subject for 15-20min post exercise (peak BDNF release) for 2 years, with improved grades as the result.

Good luck!

Jon Gary, Ph.D


Sean McCue wrote …

This looks like fantastic research. I can't wait to see the results and try to put this into practice at my school although as Zack mentioned it could be difficult with the administration.

While this is seem like a novel idea I believe it is just putting science to things from the past when PE meant physical education. I believe that we would see a correlation between the decline of PE in the United States and the decline in education. Anecdotal evidence shows that the strength of a schools PE program is a predictor of school performance. I have seen this play out over my 10 years as a PE teacher. The better the program, the better the overall results at a school and vice versa.


wrote …

@Jon - that's great! Have you been keeping any data?
We're invited to participate in research with a local Board of Ed involving the improvement of EQAO (standardized test) scores. So that *should* add some objective, measurable numbers to what we're doing.
Currently, our first round of research has focused on attendance in kids who struggle to stay in school, though their teachers have been keeping track of test scores also.
The studies you mentioned correlating intensity to BDNF secretion are also interesting to us (there has to be some sort of ceiling effect at SOME point,) and we'll be following along. Glad to hear from you.


wrote …

I'm going back to teaching next year after maternity leave and have been given the go ahead to 'trial' a crossfit-type training program on one class. If I can get the desired results then we will work to rolling it out further in the school. I think what Chris and his team are doing is fantastic.


wrote …

Thanks, Natalie! We've got three local high schools doing something similar; they were all set up with a good intramural program before, and that made it easier. This one (CASS) is doing 'fitness fridays,' where they do a CrossFit WOD in the gym. They're hosting an event for us in February, too.


wrote …

This is just one more reason that I love CrossFit and the impact it has had on my life and other lives. As a nation, our youth is struggling in both fitness and academic realms. What better way to have a powerful influence on both issues than throw crossfit into the mix and show kids the meaning of self-improvement physically and mentally. God bless you guys for doing this research. As a graduating student from the University of Nevada in Reno with a Public Health degree, I constantly try to find ways to influence peers by means of fitness. This is just a great opportunity to help our nation rise to its Potential!!

Great work!



wrote …

I'm scared of these future super-kids.
We're going to have to insist on 8 years of post-secondary for entry level jobs soon; in order to keep them out of the workforce until we retire.

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