It started with a pair of pants.
Ron Ortiz, at the time in his mid-40s, had always been an athlete. But somewhere after joining the fire department at age 34, having kids and letting life get in the way, he had started gaining weight. That steady weight gain led to blood pressure medication and, on that fateful day, a bigger pair of pants from the station supply guy.
Ortiz held the size 36 pants in his hands for a minute.
“I thought, ‘I’m giving up,’” Ortiz said. “At that point, I made a promise that I’m not going to let myself get like this.”
He handed the pants back and began a journey that has seen Ortiz become one of CrossFit’s most consistent —and impressive— masters male athletes. Now 52, Ortiz is a 7-time Games competitor, winning the Masters Men’s 45-49 division in 2013 and the 50-54 division in 2016.
He finished 4th in this year’s Masters Qualifier and has his sights set on finishing back on top at the 2018 CrossFit Games kicking off at the end of this month.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Ortiz said. “If you had told me at my age, I’d be considered a pro CrossFit athlete I’d be like ‘What?!’. It’s a neat road and I just want to help people and be a good example.”
To that end, Ortiz was kind enough to share his best tips and lessons learned from eight-plus years in CrossFit.
Slow down to move fast.
If you’re a Masters athlete (or any age really) just getting into CrossFit, it’s easy to feel like your way behind. But injury prevention and developing proper movement patterns will save headaches and missed time later on.
“I ruptured my bicep on my right side. I had a full SLAP tear on the right side. All of these things were issues I had going into [CrossFit],” Ortiz said. “When I started, I wanted to do a muscle-up and I did it. But it wasn’t the prettiest thing. And that’s where injuries started for me, not knowing enough about those things and jumping into it and just doing them.”
A lot of older athletes have to work extra hard on mobility, which is something Ortiz still places emphasis on.
“When it comes to the Olympic lifts, masters athletes, we know we can do that like everyone else. But are you doing it properly?,” he said. “You have to really teach them how to open up and use those muscle groups.”
Easy on the avocados.
“People will say, ‘Avocados are a healthy fat- I can eat as much as I want’. No, no, no your body is just going to store that [fat],” Ortiz said. “For people coming in [to CrossFit], Paleo is not terrible, as long as they’re active. If they’re not active, it’s not a good idea to eat all those fats. If they are sedentary and eat Paleo they might as well eat hamburgers from McDonald’s. They are not using food the way it needs to be used.”
Even if you’re not hoping to be a competitive athlete, Ortiz still believes the best mix involves more of a cross between zone and paleo, (i.e. more carbs.)
“With Paleo they encourage large amounts of fat which is a long burning energy source,” he said. “But, no matter what kind of athlete you are, you need a short energy source for around your workouts.”
Fueling can be (almost) a full-time job.
As he became more competitive, Ortiz reluctantly made the switch from strict Paleo to incorporating more carbs in a macro-based diet instead. Today, his daily intake is 270 grams of protein, 520g carbs and 123g fat.
“[GRID teammate] Christian Harris was key in getting me to eat more rice and potatoes,” said Ortiz, who was struggling with energy levels on strict Paleo. “He said, ‘If you don’t eat carbs, you can’t lift what you could be.’ And it was a big difference.”
Ortiz’s strength numbers skyrocketed and, now, he’s a big fan of sipping on a protein shake with carbs during his workouts, to give him an extra boost.
Ortiz has always tried to place emphasis on quality supplements, bringing his stash to the fire station to let his buddies try them out.
You have much more power than you think.
Also at the fire station? A lot of equipment so Ortiz can sneak in workouts even when his schedule gets hectic. As a result, his co-workers have slowly tried to adopt a more healthy approach.
Ortiz’s captain has lost 40 lb. and his buddy Ricky has stopped smoking and started getting on the treadmill.
“It’s kind of cool to see how getting healthy effects the people around us,” Ortiz said. “They’ve adjusted and gotten in better shape. It’s a gradual process.”
Intensity is king.
Ortiz has learned the hard way that working out harder isn’t always the answer.
“I had a [previous] coach who was kind of piling stuff on. It was ridiculous. And I was close to having some nasty injuries,” he admitted. “When I started working out smarter, I noticed how good I’d feel going into workout days. It’s really important to have quality workout time and not killing yourself to a point where you’re just trying to keep up with the younger guys.”
Now, Ortiz will use his recovery days just to get his blood going —typically as long cardio sessions — with no lifting or gymnastics work in sight.
The 52-year-old has also made sleep quality a big focus, taking supplements to help keep him asleep.
“Especially for masters athletes, the deeper you sleep, the more you hit REM, and this is where your body heals and grows is in REM,” said Ortiz. “It’s tough to go to bed at 10:30/11 [p.m.] and wake up at 7. And even if you get a lot of sleep, there’s a lot of disturbance at night. It’s almost alarming if you look at those programs that track sleep.”
Stop being afraid.
It is never too late to start CrossFit, lifting or eating healthy.
Ortiz, who didn’t pick it up until well into his 40s, was also hesitant to start competing and credits one of his friends with forcing him to even sign up when the new Games Masters competition formed.
“The cool thing about being a Masters athlete is we’re really strong in a few things, depending on what we were brought up doing in the gym,” he said.
“Maybe you did bench or squat or curls from high school on or you had a background in endurance. All those things we did normally are coming back into the realm of what we do. Sometimes we have that old man strength.”
All pictures courtesy of Ron Ortiz.