CrossFit and The Aging Athlete

6 Comments
Kettlebells_for_a_workout

Image: Wikimedia

Guest post written by: Judah Boulet

 

In a prior post, I discussed strength and conditioning considerations in the aging athlete. CrossFit is the greatest growing strength and conditioning program. If you are like me, and enjoy CrossFit workouts, enjoy the camaraderie and community of a gym atmosphere, how can you make “CrossFit” fit into a more sustainable training regimen as you get older? One thing I have learned, and I think it applies to a more widespread population of athletes than just myself, is that I do not think the model of going hard after it every day is sustainable for years and years as one ages. It potentially leaves you open to injury if one is not careful, and will not bring optimal health or longevity in a fitness program. While these factors can benefit any everyday, non competitive CrossFit athlete, they are even more necessary in the older population.

For optimal health, longevity, and continued progress, a lot depends on the CrossFit gym you go to. Especially for an athlete over 35, looking to focus on the factors described previously. Attending a CrossFit box that has a dedicated and periodized strength program built into their programming/classes would be best. A gym that also has a progressive system for each of the lifts or movements would be beneficial to a newer CrossFit athlete as well. Can’t perform a goblet squat? Well you shouldn’t be back squatting just yet. Taking the time to find a qualified coach who knows and understands these distinctions is important to your longevity in a program.

Another consideration is on the Olympic lifts, and the volume and intensity of these movements being performed. Don’t have full mobility? The focus should be on the power varieties of the movements from the hang or even hang power pulls. Research has shown the benefit of power generation (which is the goal for those performing the Olympic lifts, who are not competing and incorporating them into their regimen) of just doing hang power clean pulls is greater than a full movement.

There also needs to be a focus on mobility and movement correction integrated in the program. If the daily program does not include mobility work, it is necessary to work this into your time at the box. Another consideration is the incorporation of movement corrective exercises. While these could be part of the gyms warm up, if they are not done in class, they should be done at some point a few days a week. Examples of such movements that we incorporate at my gym are single leg deadlifts, KB windmills, turkish get ups, etc.

If you look at a weekly schedule which I would consider ideal for any individual over 35 doing CrossFit, it would include two recovery days built in. This leaves them with 5 days of training/exercise. How the rest days fit into your schedule ideally would be based on how you are feeling or your HRV score. However, that may not be feasible, so if a training day falls on a day your body is “beat up”, recognizing this and slowing down on the gas pedal should be precedent on that day.

Of the 5 training days, one day should be not necessarily at the gym, and should be focused on building aerobic capacity via low impact aerobic work done at a moderate to easy pace, such as swimming, bike riding or walking (with a weight vest) ~45-60 minutes.   The other four days each should have some strength work or gymnastic skill work, followed by metabolic conditioning. Of the four “WOD” days, depending on your HRV score or how beat up you are feeling, choose ONE day to push it hard. That one day know you will leave yourself as a puddle on the floor. On the other three days, go through the workout at 80-90%. You will still get a tremendous training effect, but lessen the burnout on your body. Another thing one can do to meet some of the key aspects an older athlete should focus on, mentioned in a previous article, is to find places where they can substitute speed of movement for building strength in that movement. Here are some ideas for this in a metcon to promote longevity in your workout program

  • to go slightly heavier on a movement (depending on rep range of course and your baseline strength) knowing this will force you to go slower through the workout.
  • focus on a strict movement versus kipping the movement- you will not get through the work as fast, however, there are more chances in a week to get a hypertrophy/strength stimulus instead of the ballistic torturing of the ligaments of a joint. An example of such would be substituting dead hang pullups vs kipping pullups.

CrossFit is the most effective strength and conditioning program I have come across. While CrossFit HQ has one base definition of what it is, there are many gyms out there which put their own spin and programming on it to achieve the same concept. From my personal experience, and personal desires, I want to continue doing CrossFit for as long as I can, continue making gains in strength and fitness, and optimizing my health. By adapting the program slightly to focus on some of the needs of an aging athlete as described, I feel that any athletes longevity in the program will be increased, and the gains made by that athlete enhanced.

 

 

 

Judah Boulet, CSCS, C-ISSN is Owner and Head Coach at No Risk CrossFit/Northern RI Strength and Conditioning, as well as owner of Boulet Health and Performance.  He holds a MS in Pharmacology and Toxicology and spends his days as a High School Science Teacher, evenings as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and moonlights as a college Nutrition Instructor.

 

Leave A Comment

Comments

Comment using Facebook

Comment using RobbWolf.com

  1. Wade
    August 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks Judah! Both this and your previous post were very well written and so timely for me as my wife and I were just discussing the longevity/sustainability of the standard crossfit model (all out all the time). Thanks for the great ideas.

    2 questions:
    Can you explain “HRV score”?

    Where would you suggest looking for more information on periodized strength programs such as the Cube Method or Ashman strength?

  2. CatInTheHat
    August 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Judah, I have been Googling for recommendations regarding aging and sustaining Crossfit regimen for over a year and there is absolutely nothing out there. Your recommendations are along the lines of what I have decided to do. I am 48. I quit Crossfit a little over a year ago. I was only attending 1-2 times a week for nearly the last year. I was injured from a bad bailout and had poor mobility with right shoulder. I make up my own WODs at home and have lots of equipment. I work out 3 times per week in HIIT fashion (one day I integrate lift heavy) and I like body weight options. And I walk and or hike one more day per week. Sound like Mark Sisson? I miss the competition aspect of the box. I never got into the social aspect because I am raising 2 children who participate in 5 sports and have no time for BBQs and other gatherings. It is expensive and overrated insofar as the need for the box. Once you figure it out, it is possible to maintain (maybe harder to gain) strength. I also did not like how my body changed and truly do not want to maintain ALL of the muscle that I have. I am very muscle-y for a woman of my age and it felt like my fat (22%) was right on top of my muscle. As I got stronger, my shape got bulkier. Even my jewelry laid differently around my new shrug muscles in my neck. My trainer was very skilled and I learned a ton about proper form and nutrition and mobility. For that I am forever grateful, and it was the primary reason I joined. I did gain weight and build muscle and actually had stats to prove it. Now, I need to do yoga or pilates and cope with cortisol and other hormonal swings due to onset of menopause. I hope to age gracefully and with strength, mobility, and general health in tact. I have a better toolbox now.

  3. Judah Boulet
    August 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Wade,
    Thanks for reading.
    To answer your questions,
    1.) HRV score is your heart rate variability score. This is easy to track you need a HR monitor, one which does blue tooth to your phone. You also need a smartphone app. ithlete is the less expensive. Joel Jamison has bioforce hrv. it is a premium though. which is better? I always go with more affordable options when I can. Basically it isa way to monitor whole body stress response. If you are in the red, its a lay off the throttle kind of day.

    2.) Ashman strength and cube are two powerlifting oriented programs. Cube is a 3 day per week, ashman is a 4 day. Ashman is $20 Cube is a bit more expensive. There is a lot of self tailoring in both, if you are not comfortable doing this than you may need someone to giude you. Either of these if done as a full program is not something you should do along with “crossfit”. YOu can do some short metcons with them but once again, all depends on your own knowledge and experience in modifying and tweaking programs to for your own purposes.

    Any further questions feel free to email me @ judah@noriskcrossfit.com

  4. Mike
    September 1, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Hi Judah,

    Thanks for the article and, information on HRV, I will find out what mine is. Me and my partner (54 & 52) have been doing CrossFit since January and we re clearly the older ones in our box. I have made great progress in in strength, diet and weigh lost. I truly enjoy the workouts and do it 4 to 5 time per week. My box gives me a lot of support and my age does not come up, I generally workout with people that are 25-35.

    I hope to do this for life, but I am being realistic? Is there a blog or website that I can tap into that talks about athlete’s over 50 and what you should be watching out for?

    Thank you,
    Mike

Leave a Reply