Older Athletes- Use it or Lose it


Whether you just reached the Master’s category or you’ve been considered “seasoned” for a while now, it’s possible that you’ve experienced some shifts to your overall wellness and have had to make some changes to your approach to training and recovery as a result.

CrossFit measures health in a wellness continuum, from sickness to wellness to fitness. When you take a look at factors like blood pressure, body fat, muscle mass, flexibility and bone density you’ll find your level of wellness falling at a particular point on the continuum.  And while fitness does not always equal “healthy” (consider the marathon runner who has been on every fad diet in the book), fitness should be considered “super-wellness” instead.

CrossFit states that “done right, fitness provides a great margin of protection against the ravages of time and disease. Although we can’t stop getting older we can minimize the degree to which age-based changes limit our lives.” As Masters Athletes, this is particularly important. Those twenty-somethings still think they’re indestructible and that they’ll live forever. But those of us who have hit 35 (and beyond), are already feeling the wear of Father Time.

As we age, our bodies go through tremendous change on a multitude of fronts. How many commercials have you seen regarding magic pills that increase testosterone? How many of our older family and friends have “throw their back out” picking something up off the floor, or no longer have the mobility to allow them to easily tie their shoes? How many stories have you heard about the older person who loses their balance, falls and breaks a hip? How about the older person who comes down with pneumonia and winds up in the hospital? Poor eyesight and/or hearing? The need to find a bench and rest?… All of these things seem like “old people” problems, but are they really? Is it that these people have aged? Or is it that they’ve become sedentary? Perhaps a combination of both…

The phrase “use it or lose it” holds true for the aging population. “The degree to which these changes result in functional decline is more a result of life-style factors than age. It is most likely that the effects of aging are accelerated and amplified by poor lifestyle and/or inactivity. Individuals that have remained active, have good nutrition and avoid known risk factors (like smoking and alcohol) delay and minimize the effects of aging.” If we reflect on CrossFit’s definition of health (work capacity across broad time and modal domains measured throughout life), we would understand that the functional training we do raises the bar on what we consider healthy, allows us to genuinely pursue “super-wellness” and provides the “fountain of youth” effect. Masters athletes have a youthfulness about them that does not match their age. They have increased testosterone levels, lower blood pressure, greater muscle mass, increased endurance, increased strength and bone density, better mobility and balance.

Believing that a decline in ability is inevitable as we age is detrimental to one’s wellness. We should all strive, and help others to believe that we should be as fit as possible at every stage of life. Greg Glassman believes “the needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind. One needs functional competence to stay out of the nursing home. The other one wants functional dominance to win medals.” So regardless of how long it’s been since you stepped foot in a gym, the sooner you return to training, the better chance you’ll have to regain capacity. Like that retirement nest egg you keep thinking about… the sooner you get going, the better off you’ll be down the road.

As we age, and continue to care for our wellness, we need to adapt our training and recovery to the changes. Be realistic- as with any athlete, know that scaling might be appropriate to work with your current range of motion, agility, endurance and/or strength. Work to eliminate weaknesses- continue with skill development, aim to have a broad, well-balanced skill set, and become technically sound. Don’t shy away from strength training, and don’t ignore the accessory work. Begin and/or maintain sensible nutrition! Eat for your active lifestyle and with your goals in mind. And pay homage to your recovery routine- cool down, roll-out, stretch, drink that protein, eat, hydrate and get good sleep. Do not negate all the hard work you do by ignoring your recovery.

“You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing”