CrossFit for Physical Activity and Successful Aging (Part II)

By: Corinne Pettigrew, PhD, CFL-1

In the CrossFit community, older athletes are referred to as “Masters” and fall into two categories: early Masters (35-54y) and late Masters (55y+). These groups tend to differ in a number of arenas, including work status (working/retired) and family commitments, which place restrictions (or lack thereof) on available time and resources.1  


CrossFit athletes of all ages engage in constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. These functional movements are performed under the purview of mechanics, consistency, and intensity.2 But what does this mean for the Masters – or older adult – athlete? 


Older adults can reduce their risk of injury (e.g., falls) by learning how to correctly perform movements that have wide application to moving safely in everyday life (mechanics of functional movements): a squat can be used to lower oneself into a chair; a deadlift can be used to pick-up a grandchild; an overhead press can be used retrieve an item from a high shelf. Because CrossFit programming differs from day-to-day (constantly varied), skills and techniques are always being learned and refined – this provides athletes with continued learning and neurological challenge. Programming targets full-body strength, coordination, and accuracy. But importantly, athletes are taught to practice these movements with good mechanics (i.e., good form), so they can develop consistency, only then applying them at high relative intensity – meaning the intensity of the movement is specific to the individual performing it. Intensity will be different for athletes who are 22 vs. 42 vs. 68 years old. 


That’s not to say embarking on a new fitness or nutrition routine is easy – and being a Master – i.e., an older athlete – may come with additional challenges. For example, change can be hard. After decades of engaging in certain behaviors or with limited concern for nutrition, making changes takes motivation, time, and patience. In the physical fitness arena, older athletes often need to take extra precautions, and have additional considerations. They typically need more time to warm-up before starting a workout, and more time to learn new skills. They may be an increased risk of injury, or have a reduced ability to recover from an injury. But one of the things that makes CrossFit work in this respect is that it’s universally scalable: the movements done in CrossFit classes can be adapted to an individual’s fitness level (without losing the programming’s intended stimulus). Similarly, nutritional guidance can be adapted to an individual’s personal situation.


One size does not fit all and that is why the concept of CrossFit is applied in small group classes or personal training.


And importantly, every Masters athlete is going to be different – different goals, different levels of fitness (and fitness backgrounds), and different injury states. In Part I we used Joe B. as an example. This time, we focus on Ardy’s story. 


Ardy – the owner of PUSH511 and a long-time long distance runner – started CrossFit in her 40’s. The year before starting, she was diagnosed with L4/L5 spine degeneration that was causing nerve pinching. Although the area in time loosened up and the pain went away, long-distance running was no longer in her future. She started CrossFit to do something new, as a replacement for running – and now, approaching 60, having dialed in her nutrition by finding what foods work best for her, she is in the best shape of her life. 


From Ardy: “The best shape of my life is now, I have more muscle since I started CrossFit, which is so important to help your bones, especially with women. I am leaner and do not have big weight swings. My blood numbers are solid … I am probably not running as fast as I used to or lifting as much weight, but that is ok since I am still doing things that challenge me. Some days my body is achy and stiff, that’s what happens as you get older… You just need to take a little more time to warm up, cool down and an extra rest day.


As an older masters athlete, my goal is to be able to do any activity. Doing CrossFit on a regular basis gives me that confidence. If I want to go for a 5 mile trail run with friends, fine I can do that, if I want to go for a 30 to 50 mile bike ride with friends, fine I can do that. Hike Western National Parks in 90+ degrees, done that. Next year a week of cross country skiing, on it!


1 Masters Training Guide. (2019). CrossFit Training: Specialty Course – Masters. 

2 What is CrossFit?


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