So I read this article: “What Crossfit Masters Wish Every Crossfit Trainer Knew.” If you’re inclined, you can read it here (http://wodmasters.com/crossfit-masters-athletes-wish-crossfit-trainers-know/) The crux of the article is to try and help resolve the following issue: “Many Masters Athletes have felt ignored or that our unique experiences, injuries and needs are misunderstood by crossfit trainers who have had little knowledge about working with our age group.”As a Master’s Athlete (age 47), a reasonably experienced (6+ years) Crossfitter, and an always developing (2+ years of experience) Trainer, this might be the first fitness article I’ve felt I have reasonable credibility to discuss. To be clear, what follows are my opinions based on experience. This is my perspective. This AIN’T Science! There are no links to peer-reviewed, scholarly papers here. Please just keep that in mind.Here’s my primary train of thoughtAre Master’s as a group truly unique that require specific attention? I’m not convinced.

I submit that INDIVIDUALS are unique and based on where they sit on the CF Wellness spectrum somewhere between sick and fit, as well as the NEEDS of our lives, then the DEGREE of intensity at which we train changes. And EVERY athlete regardless of age or ability needs to communicate and collaborate with their coaches.

Yes, we all scale/modify our workouts, but age is only one variable in the equation. Do coaches need to be aware of and sensitive to that variable? Absolutely. Yet it’s still just one of many of which trainers should be mindful.

Additionally, those of us who have stepped into the role of coach/trainer have embraced a leadership role and therefore the onus is on us to lead the conversation/collaboration and try to consider all the variables. But I’m still not sold that Master’s are inherently different than any other category of athlete.

The first part of the article where I get hung up is the “For Crossfit Trainers working with Masters Athletes: what you should know” section. It appears the author solicited community feedback and MUCH of it looks to be individuals projecting their unique needs across the group. That’s tough to do. Masters are generally accepted as 40+ years old (35+ if you adhere to the Crossfit Games rule book). That’s a pretty broad spectrum. It’s REAL tough to make generalizations.

Everything that troubles me with the article comes back to this statement: “We want to be treated like athletes, but there are some things that make us different than other athletes.” That impresses me as a “we want to have our cake and eat it too” sort of statement. My response as a trainer is, “We’re ALL different. That’s why everything scales and we customize each workout to the individual each day!” Please understand, I say that from the heart and with some experience. I work with a broad range of athletes, from kids 5 and up through to retired gym members as well adaptive athletes. I’m not being glib when I say, “We are all unique.”

I lead the First-Timers Workout at the box where I train. It’s the workout session where we explain the fundamentals of Crossfit to visitors who are thinking about becoming members but may have never experienced it.

As I’m prepping them for their first CrossFit workout, I explain to all of them that the keys to being successful are the ideas of degree vs need and prescribed vs scaled. I tell them, “we all have the same basic physical needs each day. We all have to get out of our beds and meet the physical demands our days place on us. What changes from individual to individual are the degrees the physical demands each person’s life impose upon them.

My 8yo daughter, me, my 70+ year old mother, and the elite athlete training for Regionals all have the same physical needs. When the sun rises, we all have to get up out of bed, fuel our bodies through out the day and meet the physical challenges ahead of us. What changes are the degree to which those physical demands challenge us. The key to ensuring that each of us gets the best workout possible safely taxing us to the best of our abilities maximizing our effort, but minimizing the risk of injury is through the concept of prescribed work vs scaled!”

Every workout every day, the coaches should be talking to all of their athletes, regardless of age/ability, and asking, “how are you doing? What’s working today? What aches today? How are you thinking about modifying the workout today?” In doing this, that coach is customizing the work of the day to help their athletes meet their goals.

As an athlete, my primary goal in Crossfit is to be able to keep up with my kids (in every sense of the expression). If I get running around the yard with them and they say, “Time Out, Dad. We need a break,” that’s it! Crossfit for the win! That goal defines the DEGREE of MY Need. It drives every training, nutrition and recovery decision I make. If I over train so that I’m unable to keep up with my kids, then I have to take time to re-evaluate things and adjust accordingly. Every person should be taking the time to do that. Figure out your goals, train, evaluate, adjust…repeat.

Now, the idea of ‘over training’ raises a couple of interesting aspects: rest and risk aversion. I would concede that these two concepts are frequent challenges within the Master’s bracket.

Rest:  “How many times a week should I WOD?” The answer is, “well, how do you feel?” Do you wince when you raise yourself up from your desk because you’ve done heavy squats 4 days running? You might need a rest. But again, you have to be honest with yourself and talk to your coach and balance your goals vs the feedback your body provides you as well as the demands the needs of your individual life place upon you. In broad strokes, is your workout interfering with your ability to get through the rest of your day? You may need to consider reducing your intensity and or increasing your rest and mobility work.

Risk aversion: This is another area where there may be a common trait/tendency in the Masters’ class of which coaches should be cognizant. Masters may be hyper-sensitive to the potential for injury. It seems like a reasonably fair statement to generalize and say Masters take longer to heal, if we get injured. So where younger athletes may be more inclined to step up to any physical challenge presented; a master may hesitate and spend more time mulling over the “actions have consequences” possibility.

My wife is a prime example. As she explained: “can I DO twenty inch box jumps? Sure? But if I miss one and wrench an ankle or split my shin, I’m out of the gym for weeks while I heal. Plus, it makes my life as a mother, wife, etc that much harder. I’m not going to risk that. So I either scale the box height, or do step ups. I understand it’s not exactly the same movement and I’m trading stimulus for safety. But that’s my choice.”

That’s a very fair risk/reward analysis and it’s worth coaches and athletes talking over…no matter the athlete’s age.

Some bullets in the original article talk about wanting more time for warm up, cool down and stretching because masters need more time with that. I can attest to needing more time than some of my younger peers. However, there’s an element of individual responsibility here and it’s two-fold.

One, if you’re an experienced crossfitter, then likely you know which joints/mucscles need extra TLC. So take care of yourself. Take the time to lube those spots up. For myself, I know that if I fail to foam roll the small muscles above and below the backs of my knees, then there will be no explosive squats/jumping movements. So I build 20 minutes into my morning to roll those areas out before I go out the door to train.

The second consideration in this, If you’re new to training, then you may not yet know your body’s patterns and tendencies. In that case, TALK TO YOUR COACH. Any competent coach should proactively be providing warm up/cool down guidance based on the work out of the day as well as their knowledge of the programming over time. If you’ve been doing huge numbers of pulls ups, that coach should be guiding you to roll your lats, stretch your shoulders, etc. If you have something else that’s sticky, ask your coach. They will be more than happy to provide suggestions of things you can do both in the box and probably at home.

So that’s my take. Master’s athletes aren’t particularly ‘special’ as a group. Every athlete is unique in their placement along the Crossfit Wellness continuum. That placement is a combination of:

• Their life experience

• Their fitness knowledge

• Their goals (both in fitness and life)

The role of the trainer is to take the time to evaluate each athlete and establish where the athlete sits on that continuum at that particular point in time. Then get to know the athlete’s goals, their needs and collaborate with that athlete to understand the degree to which they may need to scale their training (Down..or UP! As I like to point out to the First-timers, “anything I can make easier, I can make harder!”) on any given day, to provide them the most beneficial training experience over time.  How does a coach achieve that? Through two-way conversation between them and the athletes they train.

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