Yesterday, one of the 40 something guys at Crossfit Newton asked me about how I, as a 44 year old, approach Crossfit training and trying to stay competitive. I thought it was a great question and I have thought about it for a while. Below is my general approach. If you are 40 or older, consider commenting about your approach (if you know another 40 or older Crossfit athlete, send them a link and ask them to consider commenting). I don’t know enough “older” Crossfitters, but I would love the opportunity to share ideas and approaches and learn from people in similar situations. It would be refreshing to train together once in a while too.
1. Training Frequency. I don’t have a set plan for how many days on/off I train. Instead, I try to listen to my body and when I am feeling too sore or tired or wiped out from work/kids, I take a day off. I never train more than 3 days in a row and often find myself doing a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday schedule. If the weekend plans permit, I may do a light 5th day on Saturday or Sunday depending on whether I trained on Friday or not. Since I have been focused on Strength training lately, I do not find it beneficial to work back-to-back heavy days. I think it defeats the purpose. I am not a big fan of trying to get two workouts in on a day. Maybe I am too old for it, but in any event I didn’t see much benefit from the few times I have tried.
2. Recovery. My main source for recovery is sleep. When I was younger, I used to take pride in the fact that I could function on 3 or 4 hours sleep for extended periods of time. Now, that is not a possibility. I try to focus on 6 to 8 hours sleep in order to train at a level that is optimal for me. When this begins to slide, I actually see and feel physical changes in my body composition. I feel softer and weaker and my moods tend to get negative. The result is poor performance in the gym. It is amazing how quickly all of it changes once I get a good night’s sleep.
For me, muscle soreness is not the biggest thing that I have to recover from. At this point, heavy training plays havoc on my joints and tendons, particularly my shoulders. I refuse to limit the scope of exercises I do, so I snatch, overhead squat, do muscle ups, just about everything that torture the shoulders. I am always trying to battle with chronic pain of some sort (not injury). Sleep helps. Taking time off helps. I also take Fish Oil (one to two tablespoons a day) and see a chiropractor and/or get deep tissue massage once a week. I am very competitive by nature, but I am learning so much more about knowing how and when to push and not push myself. Mobility work alone and not just before or after a workout should be much more of a focus for me, but it gets pushed to the side all too often.
3. General Training Philosophy. I believe in periodization and I am using it to address one of my macro weaknesses right now, strength. I have been at it for almost 2 months and will continue until the end of this month. Then I will switch to more metabolic conditioning as I prepare for the Crossfit Open masters division. I believe in always working on skills training and try to stick them into almost every workout regardless of the focus of the day, usually in warm ups, but sometimes post-workout. I usually try to get some sprint work (running or rowing) in once a week. On these days, the sprint work is the only workout I will do for that day. I use one-on-one private sessions once or twice a week to try to focus on improving weaknesses.
4. Nutrition. I focus on a Paleo diet and try to stay away from dairy, grains and processed foods. It helps that my wife follows the same eating principles. Our kids hate the concept (we have to lie to them often and tell them the food is “non-Paleo”). I definitely need to follow a fairly strict diet to maintain high intensity workouts. I avoid alcohol for the most part. Consuming alcohol in any amounts and certainly more than one or two drinks can set my training back for two or more days. I can’t deal with that physically or mentally. Having said all that, I often need to hit the “reset” button and eat cheat meals and enjoy myself. Right now, I do not weigh and measure my food or follow any Zone prescriptions. If I want to lean out, I know exactly how to do it by following a Zone/Paleo model. I know the caloric intake levels that are just enough to sustain my training while leaning out. That type of eating is completely not appropriate for me during a strength period. Recently, I started using Progenix Recovery shakes after every workout and one Progenix More Muscle shake a day to try to gain more weight. I also take Fish Oil and a multi-vitamin everyday.
5. Crossfit Competitions/Perspective. I like the idea of participating in local competitions. They are extremely fun and I like meeting people in the Crossfit community, but I hate the fact that none of these competitions have masters divisions. I think someone should start hosting local masters competitions.
Like I said earlier, I am competitive by nature and find putting myself through training and tweaking nutrition, etc. to be fun. I want to see how I end up during the Crossfit Open in the Masters division, but I have a healthy perspective on where I think I will end up (at least for this year). In the end, I have to enjoy doing all of this, because I am really just doing it to improve myself and have fun. When I feel burnt out or unmotivated I have and will continue to take some time off or cut back significantly. I always come back ready and wanting more.
Finally, I am envious of the people in their 20s who seem to have endless energy and strength. Realistically though, I don’t think I could have done this when I was in my 20s. I did not have the level of commitment and dedication back then to pull off this type of training and nutritional commitment. I was much more interested in goofing off as much as I could. Now, I have the commitment and motivation to play around with Crossfit at a time when my performances will likely never matter, other than to me. I actually think this is one of the benefits of training when you are older…you have to be more focused and motivated…your time horizon is significantly shorter!!