Crossfitters of a certain age: How sustainable is Crossfit?

Posted: July 10, 2013 in Aging, Crossfit Injuries, Crossfit Lifestyle, Masters Competition
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So my buddy Pete – the youngest (48) member of CFCP’s Masters of the Universe Team – emailed me an article that posed the most important question for Crossfitters of a certain age:

How sustainable is Crossfit?

Three experts gave the same answer: Yes, Crossfit is sustainable. All three experts also followed their answer with “but…” and then went on to offer a litany of caveats that stand DarrenTwissell_Old man ring_th in the way of sustainability. Rest is the #1 recommendation of all three experts. Technique, mobility, diet, cross-training, massage, chiropractic adjustments also figured prominently in the sustainability quotient.

I am obsessed with the question of Crossfit sustainability. At age 54 – with two years of Crossfit under my belt -I have decided that when I can no longer do Crossfit I will officially be old or dead. People ask me why I don’t play golf, which is what a lot of 54-year-old women do in Palm Beach County – where we have more golf courses per capita than heaven.

I tell people, when I can no longer do Crossfit, I will golf. Of course, I will carry my own bag. None of that driving a little cart right up to the ball, stepping out of the cart, taking a swing or three and then getting back in the cart and driving right up to the ball and taking a few more swings. Is that exercise? What is that?

I have been doing high-intensity exercise for 47 of my 54 years. I started with competitive swimming. I was 7-years-old when my first coach, Mr. Siebold, asked me what stroke I wanted to learn first, I shot back: “Which one is the hardest?”

“Butterfly,” coach said.

“I want to do that one,” I said.

By age 10 I was the faster butterflyer around, had my name on the record board, a box full of medals and ribbons and trophies to prove it. I played tennis for fun. I skied on my high school ski team. My high school stopped giving my varsity letters because I had so many.

In 1977, the year I graduated from high school, Jim Fixx wrote  The Complete Book of Running and I was hooked. In 1981, the year I graduated from college, the movie Chariots of Fire came out and jacked me up on competitive running. I was like Forrest Gump’s big sister. I ran everywhere. When I worked in Detroit I ran by the Ren Cen, through Greektown and past the morgue at lunch.

When it was too cold to run, I ran up 20+ flights of stairs at lunch. I ran 5ks, 10ks, one half-marathon and three full marathons. Thousands and thousands of miles and no injuries. No plantar fasciitis. No torn meniscus. No shin splints. But like Forrest, I got bored one day and stopped.

Actually I got sucked into the black hole of triathlon. I still ran but now I was also in the water and on a bike. I did minis, Olympic-distances and one half-Ironman. Then I got divorced and as a single mom with a young daughter, I couldn’t keep up the training or risk being hit by a car.

So, I got certified as a Spinning instructor. Since the Spinning classes were at gyms, I started lifting weights. But the weight machines got boring. The boot-camps at the gym weren’t challenging enough and the music sucked. Then came Crossfit. Finally, something challenging and competitive without the goal of looking like Barbie. In fact, there were no mirrors in the box at all.

But for the first time in my life I had pain when I worked out. My right shoulder hurt when I did certain movements. I chalked it up to the countless laps in the pool.

Me, Jacques my chiropractor and the right shoulder he fixed.

Me, Jacques my chiropractor and the right shoulder he fixed.

It got worse and I finally went to my chiropractor, Jacques. After many months, stern talkings-to, painful stretching, stim and rest, the pain went away.

So, why haven’t I had any debilitating injuries? Why have I been able to sustain this level of exercise for four decades? Personally, I think DNA has a lot to do with it. My paternal grandfather was a lumberjack in northern Wisconsin in the 1920s. My mother’s side of the family were farmers. I’m here to tell you, throwing around bales of hay all day is just as hard as any WOD.

I also had good coaching – especially in the pool. Swimming is an amazing sport. It is non-contact, non-impact and focuses on mindfulness. I learned to focus on when and how to breath – how to get the last molecule of O2 out of every breath. I learned fluid dynamics and efficiency of movement. Because you are in silence during your training, you think a lot about what you are doing, how you are doing it and how it feels.

Swimming also taught me to stretch, warm up and cool down. There was no hopping out of the pool when practice was over. You had to cool down.

As the years passed and sports medicine evolved, I learned about nutrition, sleep, VO2 max, heart rate training and slow and fast twitch muscles. I read as much as I could about training, practiced what I had learned and incorporated what made sense. The rest I left behind.

Most important, I learned the difference between pain from something really wrong and pain from over-exertion. I could work through sore muscles but when I was really hurting, I stopped. Or at least took my training down a notch.

By the time I got to Crossfit, at age 52, I had 13 years of sobriety under my belt and had finally gotten treatment and therapy for my depression. I wanted to learn as much as I could about my alcoholism and depression/bipolar II and how my brain worked. One thing I learned – besides the fact that I had killed a lot of brain cells – was that I had spent most of my life using only a portion of my brain.

I started training the weak areas of my brain by doing more analytical exercises – data analysis, math and writing string-functions instead poetry. Likewise, I started using my non-dominant left hand as much as possible. I had relied on my right side for more than half a century. It was time to give it a break.

I learned to mouse with my left hand. Vacuum with my left hand. Rake with my left hand. Everything except brush my teeth with my left hand. I nearly poked my toothbrush through my cheek when I tried.

Working my left side has helped me with my hand-stand push-ups, pull-ups and any lift over my head.

I take a multi-vitamin, glucosamine, krill oil, probiotics and Greens+. I warm up and cool down. I stretch and stretch and stretch. I have an elevated desk at work that allows me to stand while I work, which has done wonders for keeping my hips stretched.

I eat well. I sleep a lot and I rest when my coach tells me to. At this age, I now realize that it is more important for me to be able to do Crossfit when I am 75 than it is to kick some kid’s ass tomorrow. Although, ass-kicking is still really fun – probably even more fun now than it was in my 30s.

And it’s probably going to be a blast when I’m 80 – which is why I have to put a limit on how much ass-kicking I do these days. Patience, grasshopper. Patience.

  1. Bar Science says:

    “Ass kicking is still really fun” LOL!

  2. jonggray says:

    It’s difficult to say how sustainable Crossfit is. The variance in programing from gym to gym is so great that it’s difficult to measure. I’m 35 years old. I’ve been doing Crossfit since 2005, and powerlifting on a Westside Barbell program for 2 years prior to that. In college I did that same body building split that everyone else did. I do not think that Crossfit is sustainable in most gym environments in part because of “one size fit’s no one” programing. Additionally, there are a number of exercises commonly performed in Crossfit that are more dangerous than they are beneficial in the long run. Ring dips, muscle-ups, pistols, and sumo deadlift high pulls aren’t worth the risk. Sumo deadlift high pulls are my favorite. How can you tell which of your clients has a Type I, II, III acromion?

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