Programming for Masters

programming for masters

Our programming has always been masters-friendly. We’re solid believers in challenging athletes of all ages, but we’re also a couple of 60-somethings who are learning from experience exactly how age affects performance.

That means my husband and I limit ourselves to three to four CrossFit workouts per week, a schedule we strongly recommend for most of our masters. Our active outdoor community is a perfect place to bike, hike, ski, hunt, fish and simply enjoy our fitness.

The reality for many masters, however, is that most are already juggling career and family obligations with their fitness schedules. The “three days on, one day off” training schedule CrossFit preaches may be ideal for younger athletes and competitors, but it’s often a track that leads to burnout or injury for the older athlete.

If you don’t believe it, check the common threads that run through Facebook posts on the CrossFit Masters and CrossFit Master 60-plus pages. There, a dismaying number of athletes crowd-source advice for injuries and mobility issues. Others seek tips to keep up with the young bucks, or rationalize feeling less-than because they can’t RX every — or any — workout.

The programming at many CrossFit Boxes fails to recognize recovery time increases for aging joints, muscles and tendons as we travel through masters territory. Overtraining issues like adrenal and neurological fatigue are more likely to occur when recovery needs are not addressed.

A Decline in Performance

As much as CrossFitters would like to believe otherwise, even the fittest athletes face a decline in performance as they age. Studies of top athletes — in any sport, including CrossFit — find by the time an athlete reaches 50 years old, his/her performance has declined to about 70 percent of that of a peak condition 26-year old. And after 70, the decline gets steeper.

Most of us, however, are not top athletes and fewer still will become competitive athletes. No matter what age, though, most people can continue to get stronger and resist the impacts of aging with CrossFit training, as long as they don’t get hurt or disillusioned. It’s in our best interests as Affiliate owners to make sure they don’t. We can do that by setting effective parameters for our communities in our programming, prescribing challenging tasks in appropriate doses.

One of the most poignant moments at this year’s CrossFit Games was watching the frustration on the faces the women in the 60-plus division during their second workout, which began with a handstand walk. For four minutes,15 of the 20 competitors floundered helplessly, unable to complete any portion of the first 40-foot walk. Instead of pride in their abilities, these exceptional athletes were publicly humiliated on a world-wide stage. Master Men 60-plus fared slightly better, with seven finishing at least one of the two 40-foot walks.

Can a 60-plus athlete learn to handstand walk? Probably, but why? What functional use outweighs the time and risks involved? We prefer to emphasize skills and competencies that increase strength and mobility, and have high value for our members as they age. We may program handstand walks because it shows up in the CrossFit Open and Games, but we offer realistic alternatives that reinforce our master athletes’ sense of competency and athleticism, rather than leaving them feeling defeated.

Workout Standards at CrossCut CrossFit

For every workout, we post at least four sets of standards, with scaling options for each:

  • RX, for elite athletes under 55
  • MRX, for elite athletes 55-plus
  • SMRX, for elite athletes 65-plus
  • TRX, for elite athletes under 18

We use these standards to maximize but also to limit performance as our athletes age. When our athletes use weights and movements appropriately chosen for their age, they push themselves harder and accomplish difficult goals that leave them feeling good about themselves. We find age-appropriate standards enhance competition and appreciation among all the age groups in our community.

We also offer alternatives that allow athletes with limitations to RX a workout by substituting other movements as long as they meet the intended stimulus for the workout. Some strategies include using comparative values for rowing, biking or skiing; doubling singles for double-unders or doubling ring rows for pull ups.

Our scaling is based on the weight, movement and rep patterns of past Opens and other competitions. Programs such as CompTrain and SugarWOD routinely provide these options, too.

After years of escalating attention to the amazing athletes at the CrossFit Games, Greg Glassman is steering CrossFit’s emphasis back to health and fitness. It’s a good time to evaluate whether the programming for your community reflects that emphasis.

Darlene Prois, 67, has co-owned CrossCut CrossFit with her husband Dave, 63, since 2012. She moved to the resort community of Hayward, Wisconsin, after a 30-year career as a Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer, reporter and editor. Her inner-athlete was dormant before meeting Dave, a former detective sergeant and training supervisor, in 2002. Their short courtship included 400-mile bike trips, inline skate racing and wilderness camping. The couple started a kettlebell club for fun in 2008, which eventually morphed into their current business. Contact Darlene on Facebook @CrossCutCrossFit or by email at