Am I Too Old for CrossFit?


By now, you have probably come up with a picture in your mind of what CrossFit entails; grueling, tough workouts with blood, sweat, and sometimes tears. CrossFit may seem to be a young man’s sport, but you just can’t help to be slightly interested. While CrossFit seems to provide great results, you are probably wondering, “Am I too Old for CrossFit?”

Asking the question, “Am I too Old for CrossFit?” is like asking if you are too old to do heavy yard work or a home remodel. The definition of CrossFit is, constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement. So the question really is, “Am I too old for constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement?” Whether you workout or not, fitness capacity declines as you age, but it is possible to slow down this decline with the appropriate exercise prescription. So the simple answer is no, you are not too old for CrossFit, and it will actually provide more rewards than risks. In fact, In a recent study, age was not found to be a risk factor for CrossFit injuries. You may be concerned about starting CrossFit because it seems intense compared to weight lifting or other forms of exercise. But a good quality CrossFit box will have beginner training programs, frequently called on “On-ramp” or “On-boarding” classes to help teach you the basics and beginnings of CrossFit to ensure a smooth and safe transition into the normal class. While CrossFit may seem like it has the potential to wreak havoc on your middle aged body, when comparing injury rates to other forms of exercise, CrossFit has been found to not be as bad as people think. This study found that the injury rate associated with CrossFit was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities. And in this study, CrossFit had less injuries than competitive contact sports and similar injury rates as Olympic weight-lifting, power-lifting and gymnastics.

Well, that was probably not the information you were expecting to hear! CrossFit can negate our natural decline in fitness capacity AND it does not cause as many injuries as you would think!? But is there a point in which you can be too old for CrossFit?

Is there an age limit for CrossFit?

The best thing about CrossFit with a high quality gym and an educated coaching staff, is the fact that everything about CrossFit is modifiable and scalable to fit anyone’s needs. No matter how old or how young, there is a way to make CrossFit both safe and effective.

Check out Jacinto Bonilla, the oldest athlete to compete at the CrossFit Games. In 2012, at age 73, Bonilla took 17th in the 60+ Masters Division. In 2020, at the age of 80, he is still going strong in the CrossFit community as the owner of CrossFit 1939, named after the year he was born. Even more impressive, Bonilla only started CrossFit in 2006 when he was 67 years old.

As we age, there are things about our bodies we may need to monitor, but the same goes for any sport or hobby that we continue throughout our lives.

Unfortunately, as we age, we need to become more aware of age-related chronic diseases. These diseases, with age related risk factors, include mobility disabilities, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Luckily, there is a lot of good quality research demonstrating that exercise, including aerobic and resistance training, is a “potent and robust preventive strategy against a number of chronic diseases.”

Is CrossFit bad for your joints?

As previously mentioned, the injury rate for CrossFit is lower than anticipated. When it comes to joint health, CrossFit is only bad for your joints if you:

  • Don’t take time to establish technique and form prior to adding load.
  • Don’t work on mobility and accessory strengthening.
  • Don’t take rest days seriously.

It could be easy to assume that CrossFit is bad for your joints just by standing back and watching the CrossFit classes. But if you have the appropriate foundation, CrossFit can actually help your joints by increasing the strength around them, improving body awareness and therefore your body mechanics throughout all of your normal daily, functional activities, and improving your range of motion.

A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials, aka the best research you can perform, found that exercise is not harmful to individuals at risk of, or with established, knee arthritis. This review looked at the concentration of molecular biomarkers related to cartilage turnover and inflammation that is found with osteoarthritis progression, and found that exercise did not increase these biomarkers!

A little nerdy, but a very important piece of research.

Study after study continues to demonstrate that exercise is beneficial and in fact, crucial for people with joint pain and arthritis.

What are the most common CrossFit injuries?

There are 2 body parts that research (and here) seems to agree on, shoulders and the low back. Shoulders are most commonly injured during the gymnastic movements of and the low back most commonly injured during powerlifting.

CrossFit is made up of metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and powerlifting.

In order to prevent injuries to your shoulders and low back, or any body part, follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Find a reputable gym with knowledgeable coaches.
  • Work with a local Physical Therapist to perform a movement screen to assess areas of your body that may be lacking full mobility or strength.
    • If you are unable to then work with your coach to try to identify these areas.
  • Work on these areas of weakness and tightness, outside of the CrossFit class times (put the extra work in!).
  • Hang up your ego at the door!
    • And be smart enough to focus on form before loading your movements.
  • Follow one of the basic principles of CrossFit, core to extremities, meaning, if your core is not strong, neither are your arms or legs.
  • Lastly, engage in adequate warm ups, cool downs, and rest or active recovery days.

Related Questions

How to prepare for CrossFit? Having a solid baseline of fitness is not mandatory to begin CrossFit. In order to prepare for CrossFit, make sure you have no underlying medical conditions that may interfere. Otherwise, do some research to find a good gym and go for it!

How often should I do CrossFit? When first starting, aim for 2-3 days a week. You can eventually work up to 3 days on, one day off, or whatever best fits your schedule.

References

http://journal.crossfit.com/2010/12/glassmandefining.tpl
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6201188/#:~:text=Injury%20Rates,-The%20injury%20rate&text=Based%20on%20the%20assumed%20maximum%20number%20of%20workout%20hours%20per,0.78%3B%20males%3A%200.70)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28085123/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24276294/
https://wodfever.com/blogs/new-posts/the-oldest-crossfit-games-athlete-jacinto-bonilla#:~:text=CrossFit%20boxes%20around%20the%20world,compete%20in%20the%20CrossFit%20Games.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31244666/#:~:text=Accumulating%20evidence%20points%20to%20RET,countermeasure%20against%20declines%20in%20mobility.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30320965/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971#:~:text=Exercise%20helps%20ease%20arthritis%20pain%20and%20stiffness,-As%20you%20consider&text=It%20increases%20strength%20and%20flexibility,few%20laps%20might%20seem%20overwhelming.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4555591/
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5

Heath Barrow

Heath is a certified personal trainer, an ordained minister, and most importantly, a father. He loves reading and learning new things...and enjoys it when he's able to pass that along to others!  ~"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

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