CrossFit and The Aging Athlete
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.