In Coaching, Kids, Videos

April 23, 2011

Video Article

“In these economic times when schools have it rough, when districts have it rough, then the first thing that gets cut is the very thing that could probably help the kids in school more than cutting it out, right?” says Dr. Jon Gary, a member of CrossFit Kids. “So P.E. gets eliminated from schools, and that is one aspect of how they can actually improve their performance in schools.”

Gary looked into exercise and learning and was disheartened to find so little exercise in schools. Then he found some success stories, one from a second-grade teacher in San Diego who uses CrossFit Kids. With 30 minutes a day—as opposed to her district’s requirement of 50 minutes every six weeks—her students greatly improved their proficiency in math and English.

Harnessing the brain after exercise has positive results. While exercise alone won’t make you smarter, Gary says it improves “the processing power of your brain.” In the studies on brain function after exercise, executive function, creativity and memory all improve.

CrossFit Kids HQ at CrossFit Brand X in Ramona, Calif., builds study time into their teen classes. Says Gary: “What we want to do is have them study their worst subject—something that they don’t particularly like—and this is a time of attention, a time of maximal uptake ... that is where I think we’re going to see the benefits across lots of domains in the classroom rather than on the exercise field.”

12min 0sec

Additional reading: How to Build a Better Neural Highway by Cyndi Rodi, published April 2, 2009.

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14 Comments on “CrossFit Kids: Practical Application”


wrote …

As someone who is studying Exercise Physiology currently I am always intrigued by things like this being spoken on. While it is no secret within the field that exercise can improve cognitive it is a secret within schools. In school I one day of PE K-3, 2 days 4-5, then 5 days a week 6-12. Saddening to see that schools are cutting this and thinking they're doing their students a favor. To be frank here, I don't care how good Johnny is at math, or how well Susie can read. If they can't walk up a flight of stairs, or keep up with the class in physical activity, then what's the point of them being kids at all?


replied to comment from Greg Cox



wrote …

Getting kids to exercise is great and important. Getting kids to study is great and important. Getting kids to study their worst subject is amazing.

But I think you are making some huge assumptions with the "science" of your claims.

These things begin with definitions. Please define "the processing power of your brain". More blood to the brain?! Really? This makes bold assumptions, like kids aren't getting enough blood to the brain. That getting more blood makes the brain work better? Does more blood really get to the brain, or does cardiac output increase? If yes, do more 'nutrients' get taken up - as in the brain of those lazy kids is working at under capacity? What about quiet, nerdy, not-at-all athletic kids who get 95%+ all throughout school - would they become smarter if they had a Fran Time?

And Brain Gym?!?! Are F'ing serious? This is like Taubes having a chapter about the mighty Celery Diet in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Honestly, it's embarrassing that slip made it into the video. ( wfs)

There are some large gaps going in the theory. Further, the parents' and teachers' roles are likely more significant. Again, it's not bad that kids are exercising, but claiming exercise does things that it likely doesn't is not helpful.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

Still not doing your homework eh Matt?

Definitions and criteria are covered earlier in the lecture series and are recorded in previous videos from this Cert.

Dr. Gary doesn't cover mechanisms in this video, does to some extent in the previous videos but most importantly says that we don't need to know the mechanism. That what's important is that exercise gets results. Some of the information comes from formal studies, some is from work that is largely anecdotal, but still, the kids that exercised did better in IQ and academic tests than the kids who didn't.
The gifted unathletic kids may well improve their scores if they exercised. You pose the question in a way that suggests they wouldn't but provide no data to back that while Jon provides a great deal to suggest they would.

You're still rude and I still find your comments offensive.
You'd be better served in your self appointed roles as CF Journal critic if you watched the videos with a more balanced view, rather than than looking for faults. In this case, up against a researcher with the experience of Dr. Gary you just come off looking opinionated and stupid.


wrote …

The processing power of the brain. Define it. It's like CF telling other programs they can't improve fitness without having a definition for it. You can't tell me you improved the processing power of the brain without a definition. Are we using IQ tests and classroom scores as a surrogate for it? Because those are hardly reliable.

Since you don't understand why "up against a researcher with the experience of Dr Gray" is a poor argument, maybe you should go back through the CFJ. I'll link you: You can just read the comments.

Results are important. I think I made it clear that I agree with that (if not, oh well). Sort of like, how I made it clear that mentioning Brain Gym is stupid. (It's so stupid I have to bring it up twice.)

You say "we don't need to know the mechanism", but that's exactly my point. These are bold claims that require large leaps of faith. Results in the classroom are extremely multi-factorial. Teachers, parents, nutrition, health, economic class and much more play a role. Maybe those ESL kids' parents got a job and were able to serve them breakfast before class, and that's why they got 100%. (Hmm... also slightly suspicious. A whole class getting perfect. Totally repeatable.) This isn't a workout determining fitness levels, it's far more complex.

If fitness inherently increases your 'brain power', why are so many pro athletes idiots? Ever met a smart fat guy? One of the smartest people ever has ALS. How many apples have to float to disprove gravity?

There are merits to kids exercising and teaching kids to use their brain. This just doesn't yet convince me that A causes B. I would wager that Jeff Glassman, Chief Scientist for Crossfit, isn't convinced either but I've never met him.


wrote …


Check out the book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John Ratey, MD. That might help to answer some of your questions with what they talked about here. It does a good job at explaining the underlying causes behind the academic data. The author presents some good information, some of which may be dense with information especially neurology, but they explain things well and it is an easy read.

I agree that in many of these "journal" articles take unfounded leaps with the information and make broad generalizations but there is some background to this topic even if they don't explain it well.


wrote …


Check out the book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John Ratey, MD. That might help to answer some of your questions with what they talked about here. It does a good job at explaining the underlying causes behind the academic data. The author presents some good information, some of which may be dense with information especially neurology, but they explain things well and it is an easy read.

I agree that in many of these "journal" articles take unfounded leaps with the information and make broad generalizations but there is some background to this topic even if they don't explain it well.


wrote …

Improved "Brain Processing Power" as defined in this very video:

1. Executive Function - Broadly, controlling many parts of your brain to a finer purpose and inhibition of reflex response in favor of more thoughtful responses.
2. Creativity - Thinking of novel solutions to problems.
3. Memory - Recollection of bare facts.

Harder to measure objectively than IQ? Yes. Should we not talk about this at all because of these difficulties? No.

Studies indicating the link between these improvements and physical activity were outlined in previous videos. Asking Dr. Gary to provide the theory on the mechanism behind this relation in this context is like refusing to listen to what Rippetoe is saying you need to do to improve your squat without him first teaching you the theory on the cellular level of strength adaptation. That topic is still worthy of discussion, but on a completely different scope and forum.

Metric is right. Matt S doesn't sound objective, he sounds biased and negative. The more I see his name popping up, the more I wish I wouldn't.


wrote …

thanks for the link. I did some reading (not the book, but his work). From Ratey's book, Spark:

“Exercise is the single most powerful tool to optimize your brain function.”

[Me: Hmmm sounds pretty definitive there. So much for good good whole wheat Shreddies.]

"In one such study at Colombia University, neurologist Scott Small put a group of volunteers on a 3 month exercise regimen and then took pictures of their brains. The capillary volume in the memory area of the hippocampus increased by 30%, a remarkable change."

[Another surrogate marker. I didn't find any proof that increased blood flow actually alters your brain or it's function, but pubmed is vast...]

"How much exercise should you get to benefit your brain?

The exercise needs to be aerobic and many of the most convincing studies use walking. Ratey suggests taking the first step and start by working up to 45 – 60 minutes per day at 55 to 65% of your maximum heart rate."

[Imagine if they replace that with Fran or Murph. MEGA BRAIN.]

In another paper by Ratey, he goes on to describe the association of exercise and "brain power". He measured this with kids getting better grades and workers being more productive, and later onset of dementia. In his conclusion, he happily mentioned that teaching exercise will help stem the obesity epidemic. My understanding of writing is that it's poor form to bring up new points in your conclusion, especially when they are unattached. As I said before, teaching kids fitness is good. It will also likely help the obesity epidemic. But maybe kids learn better because they have better and more involved parents and teachers. Maybe workers are more productive because their boss encourages independent activities and healthy living. Dr Sears argues that less inflammation (achieved with the Zone Diet) delays the onset of Alzheimer's dementia. Perhaps these people that turn to exercise for brain power benefits, also started Zoning, or improved their diet in another way. Another mystery confounder!

Matthew B,
That is a loose definition at best. I'd love to know how you measure creativity. Or how you "inhibit reflex responses". I know 'peer-review' gets shunned a lot around here, but science doesn't. Put your feelings aside.

If I didn't believe Rip, I'd question him too. Maybe over scotch.


wrote …

To get better definitions of those aspects of brain function and details on the measurement of such, I would suggest you ask Dr. Gary to cite the studies he's referencing.

Once again, I think you are expecting too much from a short seminar talk on the a Doctor's evidence based opinion on the neurological benefits of exercise in children.

It is hardly realistic to hold such a thing as this to as high standards as would be required in a peer reviewed science or medical journal. Or is that the goal? Should all CrossFit Journal articles be written in APA Style from now on?


replied to comment from Matt Solomon


You seem to very skeptical of this idea that exercise can actually improve neurological function? May I ask why? Does it have to do with the way it was represented in this video?

Yes, children may learn better because they have more involved parents. And workers may be more productive due to their bosses encouraging independent activities and such. However, I think you missed the point (mostly because it wasn't presented in the discussion). While these are true, the studies that are out there controlled for these variables. The researchers provided a control group to compare the results to, the teachers and bosses remained the same, and the parents remained the same throughout the study. That being said, were there possibly outliers.... probably (you'd have to look at the range and SDs), but exercise being the sole independent variable, there has been significant differences in grades, productivity, as well as neurological changes.

Could they have changed their diet during the study to result in the changes, that is possible but highly unlikely especially with the number of subjects tested they would have all had to change their diets to make the changes significant across groups.


wrote …


Yes, I am skeptical. I'm skeptical about it the same way I am skeptical that CCSVI does not cause MS. It's not that logical. It implies too much.

The obvious being that if exercise improves your 'brain power', lack of exercise is doing the opposite. And that countless people aren't getting enough. Why are there smart lazy people? How smart could some people get? Is there a limit? The increased blood flow doesn't mean much unless it's used for 'increasing brain cells'. Are they bigger? More numerous?

Trying to argue that they accounted for all the variables in the study is weak. It's a known problem with this type of research. Gary mentions the military as being a good place for trials, but even that comes with serious self-selection. Motivation and career goals are intrinsic to the person.

And Alzheimer's isn't caused by low flow to the brain. Something doesn't add up.


wrote …


I agree with you that there is more to this whole thing other than blood flow. Blood flow has really only associated with increased arousal, which has been shown to increase performance in academics endeavors, learning, memory, as well as sports performance. But this is not all that is involved. There must be other neurological changes that need to go on to improve learning right? Well there is some evidence that this actually does happen following exercise, above and beyond normal.

Exercise has been shown to increase neural density of the brain. A protein growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is present throughout the brain that builds and maintains cell circuitry. Its presence in the hippocampus, the learning and memory area of the brain, has made it a commonly looked at protein associated with increased function. BDNF has repeatedly been found to result in increased synaptic plasticity, but sprouting new neural branches as well as increasing neural signal strength. Overall, it improves function, encourages growth, and strengthens and protects nerves agains cell death. Researches have been looking at this factor as the link associated with the neural benefits associated with exercise. Researchers have indicated that exercise actually increases the concentration of BDNF in the brain and as a result increases neural density.

Below are some links to articles on the topic of exercise, the brain, and increased learning ability. Hope these help answer some of your questions and guide you to additional articles to help you answer the questions for yourself. Hope they help out.




wrote …

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