Train yourself younger
How a 70-year-old can be fitter than a 30-year-old.
CrossFit is not just for young fit athletes
A common misconception is that CrossFit is only for young people, that once you hit 50 you should be looking at milder alternatives such as cycling or golf for your exercise regime.
This could not be more wrong. CrossFit in my mind being the optimal training method for building fitness is exactly what I would prescribe for anyone looking to improve their quality of life as they age.
The effect of ageing on fitness
It is no surprise that as we age if we continue the same activities, we will see a decline in our fitness levels. If you look at the world records for a range of sports from weightlifting, track and field and endurance sports you will see that the average decline in each of these is around 10% per decade from age 30 or 1% per year.
Consider the data
Before you get too disheartened, we need to consider some factors regarding this data. Firstly the participation numbers in all sports have a rapid decline from age 30, therefore the pool of athletes to choose from is far smaller especially as we get to 50+ categories. Also all age world record holders normally retire from the sport close to their peak. So the standard of athletes competing will be lower. It would be very unusual to see athletes such as Usain Bolt, Eddie Hall and other world class athletes continuing to compete later in life. Therefore we can determine that a portion of the decline will be down to the general standard of competition being lower.
Another factor would be the reduction in training volume. Aside from professional golf there are very few sports that you can make a career of in the Masters categories. We can conclude from this that most athletes competing are doing so on a lighter training schedule than that of a professional athlete. They will unlikely have the resources for their training, whether that is financial, equipment and facilities or coaching.
With all these factors we can take an assumption that the reduction in performance will be lesser than the world records suggest.
This level of decline is also vastly greater for elite athletes. They are relying on working at the pinnacle of human capabilities for their sport and therefore any biological effect caused by ageing with impact them the most. Also they are training at 100% capacity, working on their limit with training volume, recovery protocols, nutrition etc. This level of dedication cannot be sustained from several decades, there will inevitably be a drop off.
Let us break down the population into categories
· Elite – 99th Percentile (>10 Years training experience)
· Advanced athlete – 95th Percentile (>5 years training)
· Intermediate athlete – 85th Percentile (2-4 years training)
· Novice Athlete – 65th Percentile (1-2 Years training)
· Physically Active – 25th Percentile (Someone maintaining around 30 minutes of activity 3-5 times a week)
· Inactive - <25th Percentile (Minimal activity)
As we move down the various levels of athletes the slope of decline becomes shallower with the least fit seeing the shallowest decline in performance
We will therefore see the slowest decline in performance in those that are physically inactive. Purely because their start level is so low that there cannot decline much further. Keep in mind however my previous episode on the fitness – wellness – sickness continuum. Those who are the least conditioned are always teetering on the edge of sickness. Whether that is chronic disease, muscular skeletal problems or trauma caused by accidents. Each year this degradation in their fitness will bring their chances of one or all these issues arising.
We can jump up levels!
If all levels of athlete continue to train, eat, and live in the same way as they have previously, we will see decline in fitness across the board.
However if we make changes to our training, nutrition, and lifestyle we can jump up levels and get fitter as we age. IN my own experience I have seen athletes in their 70s and 80s see their strength levels more than double, their work capacity increase by a similar degree and their ability to move improve dramatically.
If we take the rule of thumb that it takes 10 years to reach your peak in any sport. Theoretically It would be possible for someone to implement the right training, lifestyle and nutrition that could take them from an inactive 70-year-old to an elite level 80-year-old athlete. This is an extreme example numerous factors could inhibit this. Someone going from completely inactive up until 70 would likely have health factors that would affect training and progress.
A more realistic scenario would be moving people up 2 to 3 levels to a fitter population group. With a well-coached training programme there is no reason why that person could not achieve remarkable results.
A simple check of the world records can show how it is completely possible to be fitter than a 30-year-old even at 80. The 1km Indoor Row record is 3:33. Get on a rower and hit that time to see how good that is! The squat world record for a 70+ athlete under 83kg is 190kg and deadlift is 260! 63-year-old CrossFit Games Masters champion Dave Hippensteel has completed the workout Fran in 3:37. Faster than all bar one of our athletes in the gym, he would destroy most advanced level CrossFitters going head-to-head. It is the same on the girls’ side too.
In conclusion top level athletes can slow their decline by continuing to train but many of us can make changes to reverse it, becoming fitter as we age. I for one am excited with my training, I know I still have a ton of improvements to come. Every day I am learning new things about myself and as I move towards my mid-forties, I consider my fittest days may still lie ahead.
How can we do it?
The specifics of how I will go into more in future episodes, but the simple answer is start CrossFit. We scale every single workout to fit every single athlete, matching the stimulus of each workout to provide the correct level of relative intensity.
My advice for older athletes is the same for everyone who starts with us. Leave your ego at the door, compete, and compare only with yourself and listen to your body when it tells you to go slow or rest.
Today could be the day you decide to take yourself off the downhill slope of decline and start levelling up your fitness.