This is an installment of Good Fit, a column about exercise.
I took my first CrossFit Kids class when I was 10 years old, the summer between fifth and sixth grade. I remember a circuit that involved situps and running around cones, facilitated in the parking lot outside the CrossFit “box” my mom went to. I was immediately hooked. In part, I’m sure, because it was fun—the instructors were kind and encouraging, the other kids nice. But more fundamentally, because of what I hoped it would do: make me thin.
CrossFit itself is famously controversial, even when it’s just adults in question. Its critics argue that the workouts, which encourage participants to complete complex weightlifting movements as quickly as possible, are injury minefields. Die-hards say that this caricatures CrossFit, and that the mistakes of some coaches aren’t representative of the whole community.
At a more fundamental level, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman has described CrossFit as “a religion run by a biker gang”—and CrossFit the company historically appears to have incorporated the worst elements of both. Glassman stepped down as CEO and then sold CrossFit in 2020, following deeply racist comments about the murder of George Floyd, which themselves intersected with a corporate pandemic response defined by both dismissiveness and ignorance of science. (Glassman also faces allegations of workplace sexual harassment, which he denies but which were thoroughly reported by the New York Times.) Those crises set off a domino of CrossFit gyms’ disaffiliating from the brand—and the company, under new leadership and ownership, now faces the challenge of charting its future.
The controversy surrounding CrossFit’s exercise philosophy and the brand’s serious culture problems are even more pressing when you take into account the CrossFit Kids program, which has been a part of the company since 2006. The aim of the program is to provide “a physically and psychologically fun and safe space for kids to socialize while supporting a healthier lifestyle,” Nick Pappas, a CrossFit Kids seminar trainer (aka a trainer who trains trainers), said in an email. More than 3,500 CrossFit affiliates offered kids programs as of 2018, and that year there were 407 grade schools registered as affiliates, the company told me. Participants range in age from 3 to 18.
When I started CrossFit, the classmates who called me fat behind my back—and the adults who tried to subtly suggest various exercise routines to me—had already convinced me that I needed to lose weight. At CrossFit Kids, that was never explicitly the goal: The instructors talked about healthy lifestyle choices and the mental benefits of movement. But it was impossible to separate the kids’ classes I took from my underlying shame, vulnerability, and deeply rooted fatphobia. The atmosphere of the classes certainly did not dispel the idea that a central goal of exercise was to have a particular body shape: Adults at the gym discussed macros and the calories they were burning on the rowing machine, and swapped anecdotes about fellow gym-goers