Because we are focused on lifestyle over 50 this article will discuss CrossFit training for people over 50. But keep in mind as you read this that I am 63 and will be giving you my first-hand perspective about the safety of CrossFit workouts for anyone over 50, seniors included. CrossFit over 50 can be one of the best things you can do for your health. But there are some considerations you should make first.
Some Background on My CrossFit Training
I give you this background so you can compare your situation to mine as you read what I’m going to share about Crossfit over 50.
I recently started CrossFit training at a box (gym) in Indian Rocks Beach, FL called IRB CrossFit. Here’s why. My wife Shirley and I had done Crossfit training with a personal trainer 7 years ago when I was 56 and she was 46. I can emphatically say that after several months doing CrossFit, I hadn’t been in better shape in decades and hadn’t looked that fit perhaps ever. When we moved to Florida in 2014, we stopped.
I had major surgery 3 years ago in 2017 to remove a cancerous kidney. The battle back from that surgery has been difficult and it has nothing to do with only having one kidney. That surgery was radical in that they opened up my whole left side. As you can imagine, they cut through muscle and nerves to get the kidney out. I still feel muscle spasms, cramping, and pain sometimes just from laughing let alone working out.
Challenges with Losing Weight Motivated Me
Due to this surgery and my age I suspect, I have had trouble with my weight since. I ballooned up to 208 just a few months ago even though I’m on a very healthy pescatarian diet and work out at home 4-5 days a week. These workouts include some weight training, resistance bands, running, and walking. I consider my ideal weight to be about 185 so it was getting out of hand.
Over this time, I had considered going back to CrossFit many times. But the situation never presented itself until Shirley and I ran into a friend on the beach a few weeks ago. He looked great and had lost about 30 pounds. He is 58, a runner and a biker, and is constantly active. Even so, he too was battling a weight problem until he started CrossFit training about a year prior. He told me about the box he was working out at (IRB CrossFit) which was just around the corner from where we were standing.
My New Experience with Crossfit at 63
As of the date of this post I have been to 7 CrossFit workouts. That’s not a lot. But it does give me enough perspective, along with my previous CrossFit experience, to share some helpful tips if you’re are considering CrossFit over 50.
Go Get a Check-Up
You may envision CrossFit training as mostly weightlifting while incorporating other isolated movements and exercises. That’s partially true. But CrossFit is about completing WOD’s, workouts of the day. In a WOD you go from one exercise to another continually until you’ve completed the WOD. After a warmup which gets your heart rate up, you may go from a weighted bag carry for 800 meters, to intervals of deadlifts and burpees for the next 30 minutes. Your heart rate will be pushed to a very high level.
So, by all means, go to see your doctor and get a checkup. Let her/him know that you are considering CrossFit. Share any joint issues, breathing problems, bouts with dizziness, etc.
Learn Basic Crossfit Movements and Technique
CrossFit incorporates a lot of different types of training. Weight training with traditional barbells, kettlebells, and other types of weighted items, bodyweight training, pullups on bars and rings, box jumping, running, stationary biking, and so much more.
If you have never lifted weights seriously or haven’t in a long time, you need someone to teach you how to do it properly. Even if you plan on lifting light weights, which you should do, to begin with anyway, you need to be taught the proper technique. Using the proper technique will not only help you avoid injury, but it will help you do the exercise properly which is typically the easiest way to do it.
Make Sure the Instructors are Certified
The Instructor or Coach at IRB CrossFit, Melanie LeBlanc, carries 10 different certifications including Level 2 Trainer. During a class, she is continually helping participants with form, including me. As I mentioned, it’s been 7 years since I’ve done CrossFit. There is a lot of detail you forget in 7 years. If you have never done CrossFit, you may want to consider some private lessons with a trainer first to learn the basic techniques required for a safe and effective CrossFit workout. Some boxes have beginner classes to achieve that goal as well.
Keep the Ego in Check and Hold Off on Beast Mode
If you’re a former athlete or a present athlete in a different sport, you may want to attack CrossFit with a vengeance right out of the gate. Keep in mind that you’ll be taxing muscle groups in a different way and at a different capacity than perhaps anything you’ve ever done before. You also need the stamina to get through a 45 to 60-minute non-stop workout. Take it easy for a couple of weeks at a minimum.
In the classes I attend, I am typically, but not always, the oldest person there. If I didn’t have my head right going into this, I could be intimidated or embarrassed by the fact that 20 to 30-year old women are out lifting me. It’s not because I can’t lift more weight than they can on one shoulder press. Maybe I can. But we’re not doing one should press. We’re doing shoulder presses to failure, then moving on to something else immediately. Then coming back to more shoulder presses to failure, and on to something else again. The goal is to get through the entire workout. Not burn yourself out by lifting a lot of weight. No one will be impressed anyway.
Let me give you an example. The first part of a recent WOD was to carry a weight bag over your shoulders 800 meters, which is about 1/2 mile. A young woman in front of me grabbed a 50-pound bag. I took a 35-pound bag. This was the beginning of the workout and I didn't want to burn out in the first 10 minutes.
She took off with her 50-pound bag with a purpose. She was way out in front of me but I'm not competing with anyone but myself so I just put my head down and ran at the pace I thought was best for me. Not even halfway through the 800 meters, she was walking. I passed her and came back to the box second to last. Which was OK by me. But my guess is that she learned a valuable lesson.
Adjust Weight, Repetitions, and Movements to Suit Your Level
A typical WOD will give you specific exercises, prescribed weight amounts (Rx’s), and the number of repetitions. The reason why I can hang in a class with young women and men half my age is because I can adjust everything to my ability at my age and CrossFit level. Of course, my CrossFit level is just above beginner only because I’ve done it before. I simply know more of the movements than a typical beginner. And, because I’ve been working out at home my fitness level might be a bit above a beginner as well.
My coach will give me the weight level she thinks might be best for me for that workout or exercise. That’s perfect because I have no idea have much weight I should put on a 45-pound barbell to do 90 deadlifts in 6 intervals.
Here's another example. I have concluded that I have a problem doing burpees for 2 reasons. The first is that we usually do them after my heart rate is way, way up. Burpees will accelerate your heart rate like nothing else I can compare it to. My cardio is perhaps my weakest link.
And second, coming out of the burpee you need to pull your legs up underneath you in a fluid movement. Whether it be the additional bodyweight I’m carrying, the fitness level of the required muscles, or tight joints, that part of the burpee takes a lot out of me.
If we’re doing 10 of them that’s not too much of a problem. But we might do 31 of them continually at the end of a workout when I’m just about toast already. Or, we may do them in intervals throughout a workout. I have yet to complete the prescribed number of burpees in a workout. I need to build my endurance and stamina a lot. And, I and my Coach are OK with that for now.
Be Patient with the Results
You actually don’t have to be all that patient to feel results because you are most likely going to be sore. Which, of course, is a sign that you’re going in the right direction. But you also have to understand that your stamina, especially cardio capacity, may not improve dramatically right away.
Last Sunday, on a day off from CrossFit, I went for a short run. I typically run 2 to 3 miles. On this run, I initially didn’t experience any improvement in my cardio level. In other words, I couldn’t run any faster while keeping my breathing in check and steady. That is until I hit the ¾ mile mark. I experienced a glimpse of being able to pick up my pace while keeping my breathing at about the same level. Ok, so there’s a bit of success that will keep me excited about CrossFit.
A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations
In one of my favorite movies growing up, Magnum Force, which is the sequel to Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood delivered a classic line. “A man’s got to know his limitations”. When beginning CrossFit, there’s no more important statement for men and women that we all should remember. You’re not there to impress anyone. You’re not there to prove anything to anyone or yourself. You are there to get better. So, push yourself to your limit. But listen to your body. If you think you have reached your limit, or maybe going past it, take a breather. You’ll gradually see that your limit will increase.
Push Yourself to Your Limit, But Not Past It
CrossFit Over 50 – Is the Risk Worth It?
Is there a risk of injury when doing CrossFit over 50? Yes, some. There is some risk of injury when CrossFit training at any age. But injury will typically only occur if you try to do too much or perform exercises that you don’t know how to do properly. If you follow what I’ve shared above, and continually think about gradual improvement, your risk is minimal.