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CrossFit And Age: It Is Never Too Late to Start

Roy Wooley first heard about CrossFit from his son, John Wooley, who had participated in the sport for nearly a decade. Halfway into his 70s, overweight, and having gone through a thyroid surgery, Roy found himself unable to do things he was used to doing.

“I have always been athletic: I played baseball in high school and college and I did not like feeling weak or unable to do the things I wanted to do,” Roy told BOXROX. “Once I made up my mind to [start] the fact that I am hard-headed and competitive kept me going.”

While CrossFit is mostly known for its intensity and forging athletes who perform superhuman feats at the top level of sport, the training can be adapted to suit the developmental needs and physiological differences of kids and master athletes alike.

STARTING CROSSFIT LATER IN LIFE

In CrossFit, master athletes are defined as any athlete who is aged 35 or older.

Aging has many effects in the human body. While passing years affect every person differently, generally, getting older (together with other lifestyle factors) comes with the following effects:

  • More susceptibility to illness
  • Reduced mobility, coordination, accuracy, agility and balance
  • Decrease in bone mineral density and muscle function (natural decrease in strength)
  • Reduced aerobic capacity and a decrease in maximal hear rate
  • Decreased capacity to recover
  • Reduced ability to learn neurological skills but increased problem-solving skills with greater life experience

Yet physical activity has been proven to have myriad benefits to control, slow down or minimise the effects of aging.

For Roy, starting CrossFit meant better mobility, stronger knees, vastly improved overall strength and sharp weight loss.

“At my age, the fact that I can put my socks on without grunting and pull my underwear on standing up (or taking them off if the occasion presents itself) are big pluses,” said Roy about what he likes about training.

“I am currently 76 years old and have been doing CrossFit since the last week of August 2019. Our gym closed for a few months during the pandemic, but I continued to work out at home with a trainer who emailed WODs. In January this year I tested positive for COVID-19. I was only sick for a short period of time, which I credit CrossFit as playing a role in my quick recovery. I am now back regaining my strength and stamina […] using the Assault Bike and the rowing machine.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Roy Wooley (@oleroy1105)

Roy is now averaging 100 to 130 calories on the Assault Bike and 2,500 to 3,000 meters on the rower each day. He’s able to finish this within 35 minutes and is now back doing some barbell work. In normal times he trains CrossFit four evenings a week and trains Beagles over the weekends, which involves a fair amount of walking.

Regardless of age, your fitness can be improved.

IS IT TOO LATE TO START CROSSFIT AT 40, 50, 60 OR 70?

It’s never too late to start CrossFit, no matter your age, current fitness level, previous or current injuries, or goals.

From the CrossFit Masters Training Guide:

“Our goal is to increase […] work capacity. The way we achieve that is by practicing constantly varied functional movements at high intensity. Applying this to an older client should be no problem because we use a principle of relative intensity where the stimulus is modified to match current levels of physical and psychological tolerance.

“This means that the CrossFit program is universally scalable, i.e., anyone can do it, and everyone should do it, especially your grandma.”

The benefits of CrossFit for master athletes

1.Good for your mind

“I would say you are never too old to start something new, and that includes CrossFit,” Helen Harding, two-time CrossFit Games Masters (40-44) winner, told BOXROX. “It’s actually healthy to challenge yourself, learn new skills and put yourself in an environment where you are a little uncomfortable to start off with.

“Obviously there is the exercise benefit for health, but there are many other things you get from CrossFit – which will be different for everyone – which you have no idea about until you take the plunge.

“For me, I was 38 when I started CrossFit and had no idea what was in store for me or how it would end up being one of the best decisions I made in my life. Initially, I just enjoyed simply learning something new – as an adult we don’t do this enough!

“Then I loved that I entered a competition and realised it was so great to do something you never thought you would do again [i.e., compete]. Then I loved that the mental challenges in training (and competition) actually carried over into life and made me a better person outside of CrossFit.”

crossfit games master champion helen hardingSource: FitAid

2.Good for your body 

Continued training can have many positive effects on master athlete’s health and wellness. Those who are able to combine continuous exercise with good nutrition and avoid risk factors (such as smoking), can delay and minimise the effects of ageing.

While we have to accept that some changes are inevitable, it is possible to elevate health markers to above average through an active lifestyle.

“According to the literature, compared to their non-training peers, masters athletes display increased testosterone, lower blood pressure, increased cardiovascular respiratory endurance (Hayes et al., 2013), increased strength, greater muscle mass, greater bone density (Powell, 2005), better mobility and balance, better spinal function (Wright, 2012) and better brain function (Zhao et al., 2016). Lifelong exercise may also be the key to reducing the risk of dementia (Brown et al., 2017).” – CrossFit Masters Training Guide

Combating the negative effects of inactivity combined with ageing should be priorities for all masters wishing to lead a healthier and happier life.

crossfit age groups 2021Source: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

CrossFit And Age – How to Coach Older Athletes

HOW TO START CROSSFIT AS A MASTERS ATHLETE

As you age, the focus of CrossFit training might shift from performance to longevity. While performance won’t be scrapped off the table completely, your training should allow you to perform for the longest period of time without injury or pain.

When you start CrossFit as a masters athlete, the program and coaches will account for the changes in your body specific to your age, as well as asses your needs, and whether you’re training for wellness or competition.

Tips from Roy Wooley:

No matter how out of shape you are, there will be a program or series of movements that will help you if you are willing to put in the work. In just two- or three-months’ time you will begin to see drastic improvement in strength, flexibility and an approach to life that is happier and more positive.

Just show up and DO IT. For the first month or two you will be so sore you may think someone beat you with a club. You may think you can’t even walk. It WILL get better. I didn’t say “EASIER” – I said, BETTER.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Roy Wooley (@oleroy1105)

The benefits of stating CrossFit as a masters athlete

“I met lifelong friends and for me it actually changed my career pathway,” said Helen. “My Kids have a healthy appreciation of health, fitness and body image (which I think CrossFit is very good for) and now as a family we do workouts with all four of us together!

“It just shows you never know where things will lead once you take the plunge into something new.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Helen Harding (@hchharding)

Interested in giving CrossFit a go? Find a gym near you

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