When Ed Rapoza looks around his local box, CrossFit Pohaku in Kona, Hawaii, he sees younger athletes completing multiple WODs in a day. Ed approaches the sport differently. Following Invictus’s Masters Programming means he is training just once a day, but at 56 years of age, he sports a killer six pack and continues to see growth in all of his lifts and WODs. Suffice it to say, honoring his body and following programming that accounts for his age has allowed Ed to continue to thrive as an athlete.
Like Ed, Mary Graham, the 2015 USA Weightlifting Master’s National 63 kilogram, 45- 50 year old silver medalist, attributes much of her success to placing as much emphasis on recovery as she does her training. When she swam competitively in her 20s and played rugby in her 30s, she rarely thought about recovery other than to “eat a burger, drink a beer, and go to sleep.” But today, to stay healthy for her sport, Mary visits the Denver Sports Recovery Center once a week. She soaks in their contrast tubs in order to reduce inflammation and relax tight muscles, and spends time in compression boots to help speed recovery after tough workouts. When she can’t make it to the recovery center, she makes sure to add a lot of stretching and foam rolling into her training sessions, and uses a lacrosse ball to break up adhesions. Many women drop out of competition after age 50, but Mary, who wants to continue to see success in her sport, pays close attention to her recovery.
Good nutritional choices work wonders for Masters athletes as well. Ivette Goicouria, a classical ballerina for 22 years, has found success in Olympic Weightlifting at age 45. A flexible dieting coach, Ivettte knows that macronutrient timing is essential for building muscle and reducing post-workout inflammation. She explains that she “makes sure [to] eat a good meal with protein and carbs within two hours of training.” This focus on nutrition is paying off. Ivette can snatch 56 kilograms/123lbs and clean and jerk 73kilograms/160lbs as a 58 kg lifter and she hopes to one day qualify for the American Open.
Masters CrossFit athletes Vic (44) and Deb Myers (45), from Guerilla Fitness in Paramus, NJ, agree that it’s vital to pay close attention to what they put in their bodies. Supplements, they say, help them to utilize energy during workouts, get the best quality sleep possible, and protect their muscles, tendons, and joints. Vic takes amino acids and drinks coffee pre-work out which helps blunt muscle fatigue and aid his endurance during training. He adds glutamine and creatine to his protein shakes post workout to allow his body to build muscle, and he takes ZMA before bed for deeper sleep so that he wakes up feeling refreshed.
Deb, who boasts a deadlift of 320 lbs, also takes collagen and fish oil to keep her joints healthy. The result of this regimen?: Vic has finished top 250 worldwide in his age group for the CrossFit Open twice and Deb currently ranks among the top 200 of 45-49 year old women. If she continues on this trajectory through the rest of the open, she’ll receive an invite to the CrossFit Master’s Regionals online competition.
Jill Hall, 53, has had that honor twice. She explains that her competitive nature has not changed since her early twenties but now, older and wiser, she knows to rests when she needs to. Like Deb, she follows the traditional CrossFit prescription of three days on and one day off and has had great success with this model. Over the years she has learned to listen to her body which means she never leaves her box, CrossFit Redzone, without taking the time to stretch post workout, and she schedules a massage, acupuncture session, and chiropractic work as needed. This focus on recovery allows her to stay as competitive as ever.
Good coaches know that Masters athletes need to utilize recovery techniques, in addition to rest, to excel in sport and stay healthy. Sean Brown, head coach at HD Barbell Club in Atlanta, takes recovery into account when he programs for 35 year old* Olympic lifter Kristin Lander. He “programs mobility work and connectivity work to help with mobility and muscle activation issues. This has improved my lifting tremendously in the short time I’ve been with him,” explains Kristin, who has qualified for Masters Nationals, Masters Pan Ams, Masters World Championships, and Masters World Cup. But according to Kristin, staying healthy as a master’s athlete isn’t only about taking care of the body. Instead, she says, “Truly the biggest key to keeping your body healthy is keeping your mind healthy. If I feel stretched too thin, it always shows up in my training… Master’s athletes tend to have a lot more responsibility [than younger athletes] and balancing all that is key to athletic performance, and ultimately, the key to happiness.”
Heather Cameron, who at 50 years old can complete FRAN in 5:06, couldn’t agree more: She points out that, “as we get older, we have [many different pressures from] finances, work, marriages, family, health, aging parents, [ect]… I’ve had to recognize when I’ve ‘drained the pool’ [and] sometimes that means: Rest!” Rest seems to be working well for Heather. In 2013, she competed with CrossFit VicCity in Victoria, British Columbia as a part of their Regionals Team. To compete at that level as a then 47 year old athlete is phenomenal to say the least. Heather plans to one day be “that 90 year old bad ass repping out the deadlifts” and it’s clear she’s figured out how to defy aging while continuing to throw down with athletes half her age.
Clearly, these Masters athletes have knowledge worth passing on to the younger generation. They know that training hard is important, but recovery is just as essential to success. We train to compete, but we also train to feel good. Being competitive and feeling good both require proper recovery and it’s time to learn from our elders and mirror their practices so that we too can excel as they have.
*Though CrossFit considers athletes 40 and above to be Masters, this division starts at age 35 in Olympic Weightlifting.