Fit After 40

There’s a new wave of high-level, inspiring CrossFit athletes, people who are ripping through heavy snatches and deadlifts and breezing through muscle-up workouts with ease. And they’re also old enough to be your dad. Or your mom (mine started CrossFit several months ago and is hooked.)

With CrossFit’s announcement that the 2017 CrossFit Games will include a new 35-39 year-old category, the Masters competition —that was once held in a parking lot—is generating serious buzz.

And it continues to defy the notion that your glory days as an athlete are behind you.

“This is a group of people that are balancing work and family and on top of that are balancing world-class fitness and are getting fitter every day,” said CrossFit New England’s Harry Palley, who runs the CompTrain Masters program with roughly 1500 worldwide members.

“They’re going to work with a full-time job and then ripping out 30 muscle-ups at 4:30 a.m., going to work, getting the kids, making dinner…That’s one of the things that impresses me the most. They are absolute badasses, but they aren’t full-time athletes, and it doesn’t matter. They’re setting a new standard.”

Brian Curley (left), 2010 CrossFit Games Masters Champ with Harry Palley (right). Palley runs the CompTrain Masters program at CrossFit New England

And taking center stage.

Gone are the days when 20 men and women stumbled into the inaugural CrossFit Games Masters division in 2010. Now, they’re in the main venue, getting television time and backpacks stuffed with gear. And often beating a good chunk of the younger athletes at their box.

“People are realizing based on what they see on TV, ‘I’ve got a whole new career in competitive athletics’. Or, ‘even if I wasn’t competitive in my early life- I can do things I never did before and achieve things I didn’t think I ever could,” said Pat McCarty, who competed as a Masters athlete in 2011, ’13 and ’14 and also programs for that demographic.

“I think that’s inspirational to anyone in the 40-60 age group that wants to do CrossFit and thinks they are too old. You realize you can achieve a lot of this success. Or just get really, really fit after 40. It’s not over.”

McCarty (right) competed as a Masters athlete in 2011, ’13 & ’14

It’s just the beginning. Masters-specific programming and coaching are continuing to pop up at numerous boxes, such as CrossFit Rebels and RackStar CrossFit, who both offer daily class WODs just for the older crowd.

Ready to get started, or take your training to the next level?

Four Things to Keep in Mind as a Masters Athlete

1. Recovery is king

Overtraining is a huge epidemic in CrossFit and something McCarty had to learn the hard way. Ironically enough, it was a chat with Ben Bergeron at the Games —combined with stalled progress— that prompted McCarty to dial back from double sessions and working out as much as possible.

Both Palley and McCarty advocate five single sessions that typically don’t last above 90 minutes with two full rest days. “More training isn’t better, better training is better. Every rep we do has a purpose,” Palley said.

“[Two-time Games champion] Katrin [Davidsdottir] you can almost throw anything at her and she recovers. When you age, you can’t just take on volume. It’s detrimental to Masters athletes. Reps that don’t have meaning behind them don’t get you any fitter. It can actually break you down.”

2. And mobility is queen

CompTrain Masters probably spends about 20 percent of their day on improving range of motion and McCarty will often program it into a workout, having athletes add mobility every few minutes in the middle of a 5k row.

“If you don’t program it most people aren’t going to do it. For masters it’s extra critical- they are coming in at a mobility deficit,” McCarty said. “Even advanced athletes that are Games-level have those same issues. You need to spend more time pre and post [workout] working on that full range of motion.”

It’s not just mobility of course. Warm-up, activation and stability also take on added importance for older athletes. For Palley’s athletes it’s always part 2 (following mobility) of training and accounts for another 20 percent of the workout.

The bottom line is simple: spending extra time preparing the body for training and not rushing can prevent injuries and help set up better, more efficient movement.

3. Conditioning should be a big part of your program

Especially if you want to compete, the history of the CrossFit Games for Masters athletes has been heavy on the metabolic conditioning. That’s why there’s almost always a conditioning piece in the CompTrain Masters program.

“Stamina training is the primary test in the Open,” Palley said. “Is it important to have a super big snatch or deadlift? Yes, it matters. But it’s not as impactful as conditioning.”

athlete daily- fit over 40

RackStar CrossFit’s Masters class.

4. No matter your age, goals are important

McCarty encourages his athletes who want to compete to try for the Masters Qualifier, which features the top 200 in each age group.

“It’s doable for a lot of people with the right kind of work if that’s your goal,” McCarty said. That’s what I’ll tell a lot of my clients and most of them have successfully hit that goal.”

Even if the Qualifier or the Games don’t interest you, just testing yourself annually with the Open—and placing higher every year—can be a great goal. Palley has lots of Masters athletes who want to just beat their friends.

To that end, CompTrain Masters is split into two categories: qualifier and open athletes. “One thing we are about is competition, but it’s not this pressure that it’s all or nothing,” Palley said of the Masters program. “It can be just to get better at CrossFit.”