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Crossfit and aging: The value is in the TRYING

Could Crossfitting be compared to the regenerative swimming pool in "Caccoon"?

Could Crossfitting be compared to the regenerative swimming pool in “Caccoon”?

On August 27 of last year, I wrote a satirical blog called “Top 12 Reasons Why This 47-year-old HATES Crossfit.”  It wasn’t any big statement, but just an attempt to crack up my wife, which is the goal of the majority of my writing.  As I’ve done over the past 18 months or so, I posted the blog to this site and the A Write Smart Facebook page.  It received good response from my friends and family and was shared a little.  A blog page called PaleoParents.com picked it up as well, and that generated some extra interest, around 600 page views on August 30, which was awesome.  It was fun and I quickly forgot about it and moved on with life.

Two weekends ago, while I was out coaching my son’s kindergarten basketball team, emails regarding that blog began popping up on my iPhone.  By the time we got back to the house that afternoon, I’d received probably 10 emails.

Something was going on.

I hadn’t even logged into my blog site in a couple of weeks, so I checked it out as soon as we walked into the house.  There had been a couple of hundred page views.  Someone, I surmised, had found the blog and posted on a Crossfit site.  By the end of the day, 345 people had read the blog.  I went to bed happy and with the assumption that the newfound interest was over.

Boy, was I wrong.

Over the past two weeks, that crazy thing has been viewed an incomprehensible 155,000 times plus change, and the count rises every hour.  In a single day, it was read almost 50,000 times. More than 200 people have taken the time to write comments on the page, and the blog has been shared tens of thousands of times through every major social media channel across the globe, including in countries I’ve never heard of.

It seems that I had quite accidentally thumped the reflexive knee of a usually less-vocal segment of the Crossfit demographic — the 40-Plus Somethings.  Although the blog has received plenty of positive response from the younger crowd, the majority of the comments have been from athletes in my age group and above.  For the past two weeks, the comment section of that blog has become a community gathering spot for older Crossfitters who feel free to express the good, bad, and ugly of their CF experiences while overwhelmingly proclaiming their love of the sport.

For example:

“At 69, I’m thrilled that what I can do bears a slight resemblance to what others are doing – I’ve only got six months under my belt, so it will get better.”  ~ Judy

“I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to you, Mark, and the other 40-and-over men and women who didn’t give up on fitness!  I’ll be 50 in June, and I hope to be in the best shape of my life!”  ~ Whitney

“This was sent to me by my daughter – a Crossfit younger aficionado – who has talked me into Crossfit.  At 64, I should know better.  The only thing I feel you may have left out in this blog is how inflexible & sloppy we “oldsters” look when trying to do a Turkish Getup or the 5th Burpee – and I thought pull ups were difficult. Thanks for writing what I have been feeling.  I also watch a lot of video trying to learn all these movements trying to become a “Supple Leopard.”  ~ Tom

And this response to Tom’s comment:

“Keep at it and you will become a ‘supple leopard’… and stronger and have fun, and all that Mark says as well.  I started at 58, and here I am still CFing at 63 and loving it. Never ever dreamed that as a 63-year-old woman, I could possibly be doing these things and enjoying it so much.”  ~Helen

This is just a tiny sampling of the comments, and they’ve had me thinking about the phenomenon of aging and how it relates to Crossfit.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really felt like a “grown up.”  The world still looks the same through my 47-year-old eyes as it did 25 years ago, when I was fresh out of college.  I’ve retained many of the same aspirations, I’m still moved by the same music, and I’m still turned on by good-looking women (especially the one who was crazy enough to say “I do” 16 years ago).  I still feel unsure of myself much of the time, I often find myself lost during discussions about the stock market and politics, and I still hide my face in a pillow when ET turns blue and almost dies.

I’m still in my 20s, right?  And then, I look in the mirror and realize that the guy I feel like isn’t that bald-headed guy staring back at me.

The term “mid-life crisis” used to be somewhat of a punch line to me, but now, I totally get it.  There’s just not a lot of joy in the transition between a young person and a not-so-young person.  When we hit our 40s, we start losing our moms and dads, we see friends’ seemingly tight marriages end in divorce, and popular culture leaves us in the dust.  The physical blemishes we always though were weird on our parents are starting to appear on us.  While it’s true that this is often the decade when we hit our career strides, it’s also a time when we feel we’ve passed the tipping point of life’s best days and it’s a downward spiral from here.

To put it bluntly, aging sucks.

And that, I think, is where Crossfit comes in.  This seemingly straightforward activity — just a trendy, flavor-of-the-month exercise program, mind you — appears to contain fountain of youth-type properties that I suspect were never dreamt of by Greg Glassman, Crossfit’s founder.  Many of those who commented on my blog identified themselves as 40- 50- and 60-year-olds who had never been athletic before.  (For me, high school basketball 30 years earlier was probably the last time I had run and jumped for any extended period of time prior to three years ago.)  With aging often comes a resignation that intense physical activity is a thing of the past or is reserved for those lucky few who have somehow avoided back pain or weight problems or joint issues or some other type of challenge.  After passing their 40s, many Americans just, well … give up.

You've probably already seen this, but it's funny anyway.

You’ve probably already seen this, but it’s funny anyway.

So is it only by participating in Crossfit that us Mid-Lifers can be snapped out of our doldrums?  Of course not.  There are probably lots of activities and pursuits that will suffice in that respect.  But there are very few  that contain the odd grocery list of ingredients — variety, intensity, and community, to name a few — that combined, create such devotion and affection in so many people.

But that’s the stuff you expect me to say.  Here’s what I really think:

Crossfit allows us old farts to feel bad-ass.

I’m not really joking, here.  First of all, we get to lift weights, and not by pulling down on the handle of some gleaming universal machine in an apartment complex fitness center or yanking a rubber band attached to a doorknob at the physical therapy office.  No, we get to throw around big, mean, industrial, unyielding, free weights, and even drop them on the floor with an awesome crash when we feel like it.  And that’s not all.  We get to chalk up, rip our hands, run around a busy parking lot in front of all kinds of startled people, fling ourselves down to a dirty black mat and back up again, lash ourselves with a whistling metal speed rope, bloody our shins against a 30-inch-tall box, high-five each other, fist-bump each other, give each other total shit, run outside and visit Pukey, run in the bathroom and pee during double-unders, call out scores, blurt out obscenities, and collapse in a sweaty, writhing heap at the end of it all.

And that’s all before breakfast.

These are things one would naturally associate with youth, yet here us oldsters are right in the middle of it.  I’ll let the Crossfit brochures cover the parts about all the benefits, functional movements, blah blah blah.  That stuff is great too, but it’s not why us parents and grandparents keep showing up day after day.

It’s because we’ve been reminded how to be young again.

Now, despite the bombastic comments I made in my last blog, “Top 9 Reasons Why I Should be the ‘Face of Crossfit’ Instead of Rich Froning,” I don’t expect to be competing in the Games anytime soon ever, nor even becoming all that good, or even “not shitty” at Crossfit, and that’s OK.  Just this morning at my box, a 44-year-old friend of mine and I were bemoaning the difficulties of learning proper snatch form with our decidedly limited flexibility.  Brian smiled and said, “Crossfit isn’t really something I do; it’s something I try.”

That, I believe, is where the real value is — in the trying.  I’ll close with Carmine’s comment…

“I am turning 66 next week and into year seven at Crossfit. I don’t keep up with everyone, but I’ve still never left a WOD and said I wished I didn’t go to class that day.  I figure if can do a third of what the twenty-year-olds are doing, then I am thrilled.”

P.S.  Hey, fellow Crossfitters:  If you enjoyed this story, consider subscribing to my blog (above right).  I’ve got a lot more Crossfit-related blogs on the sidelines, doing Sampson stretches, hip circles, and those God-forsaken Inchworms.  They’re about warm and ready to go.

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47 Responses to “Crossfit and aging: The value is in the TRYING”

  1. Kim says:

    Love love love your insights to exercise. I’m a crossfit dropout myself but you inspire me to go to the gym and give it a 110% try every day.

  2. Aven says:

    Love! Love! Love! Thanks for putting into words everything I think/love/hate about CrossFit. I’m a 46 y/o female, have asthma and bad back/shoulders/hips. I do what I can – each day is a crapshoot to figure out if my body will cooperate with the WOD. I belong to the best box (CrossFit Jackson) with the best coach owners (Jayson and Jennie). Burpees and thrusters make me weep. I will never be seen as competitive. Have yet to do anything Rx’d. But I show up. And. I. Love. It.

    • ML Day says:

      Thx for posting/sharing, Aven. We do belong to the BEST BOX. I am grateful to have older “peers” like you to grow and work with.

  3. Tammy brevell says:

    Love reading everything you write. I am a 46 year old who has done Crossfit for the past two years. Please continue your writings they make my day.

  4. Shannon says:

    I love your blog and your perspective on CF at our age. I’m a 48 year old woman and was never athletic when I was younger. I could relate with everything you wrote about and, as one of the oldest members of my box, feel even more connected to the CF community knowing there are other crossfitters out there like me. I’m going to keep going and giving it my all. Most importantly, I’ll continue to bring my determination and my sense of humor. 🙂

  5. Teresa says:

    I’m a 52 year old grandmother and I have been doing Crossfit for a year. Until I started Crossfit last year it had been 30 yrs since I had done any type of physical activity. Like others I don’t even come close to doing what the young crossfitters are doing, but they always make me feel good about my workouts.
    I found your blog when my box, Crossfit Gardendale, put up a link to your blog for 12 Reasons I Hate Crossfit. As I read I laughed so hard I was crying!!!! I could identify with you in so many ways. Please continue to share your Crossfit experiences. Your writing is wonderful.

  6. Stacey says:

    Love your comment ‘crossfit makes us feel bad ass’ it really does! My 9 yr old was proud of me the other night because I used ‘the heavy weights’ he told me. The truth is I didn’t have the heart to tell him I used the lighter bar and the heavier weights instead of the heavier bar and smaller weights! Lol so if my 9 year old thinks I’m ‘strong’ I’ll take it and crossfit on! S.M.P. A 42 yr old crossfitter

  7. amy volk says:

    I read your blog last week and cracked up! I am a 44 year old that started CF last year. So did my 47 year old friend, so we totally got everything you said. Several months ago we realized that the blogesphere is missing a CF/Paleo site for 40+ somethings just starting out in this crazy journey. It should launch in Feb. Thank you for confirming what we already thought…there’s a lot of “us” and our story is unique from the 20 somethings. Keep writing. And congrats on the success of that post.

  8. Helen says:

    it really just shows up the myth that ageing is a one way street to frailty and that one should go easy on yourself sit down and wait to die in a quiet and dignified manner.. instead of sweating, cussing, working out, getting stronger and deiscovering things aboutr yourself that you never expected to find. Another great benefit is that CF classes are not ageist so you all sweat together and talk together…regardless of age group.

  9. Ems says:

    I’m 40. I’ve been CrossFitting for 7 years and last year I did my first competition.its been a long time since I waited for a birthday to be old enough to do something! This year I will do more. I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been and I’m still seeing improvement. I’m not tracking myself against the 18 year olds because I don’t need to. It’s my journey. And I still love it. As well as all the awesome people I’ve met (of all ages) you’re right, trying is the key.

  10. Andi says:

    44 year old here… husband is 46. This is priceless. Love it.

  11. Demi white says:

    I’m 51 and a female and I beat almost everyone younger than me when it comes to cardio endurance. I’ve been in shape for 20 years and I don’t give up easily. That’s the other greatness of Crossfit

  12. Erica says:

    Next do we havea Cross Fit Masters convention? Big meet up where we do ‘ the girls’ for the simple pleasure of doing them as a community.

  13. martha says:

    I’m 50 and have been at cf for five years. Just been told I need spine surgery and I’m mourning the months I’ll be away from the box. CF keeps me feeling strong and happy and although I may be the most scaled gal there come summer, I’ll still be back!

  14. Brilliant Mark! As the “patron saint of CrossFit Newbies” it’s a wonder I haven’t run across your writing before. Thanks for the giggles and the knowing smiles you put on our faces this morning.

    –bingo

  15. Carol DeMinico says:

    CrossFit is for anyone and everyone. I wish more people our age would try it. It can be hard to not compare yourself to the “kids”, but they are right by my side encouraging me all the time. 54 years old, grandma of 8. My son and grandkids do CrossFit too!

  16. Todd Fletcher says:

    As for CrossFit being the Fountain of Youth, I couldn’t agree more. I do feel Badass throwing the plates up, and I’m still hitting PR’s. Not as fast as the youngsters, but still hitting them. And I’m competing. The open in Master’s last year and this year, and a local comp that our Box sponsored. 4 WODs in one day, and I survived them. So, I put that in the win column. I’m 56, just completed my first year in CrossFit, and I can’t wait to get into the box for the WOD. It brings me a great sense of accomplishment, and peace. Thanks for writing a wonderful blog for us Masters.

  17. Terry Gibbs says:

    When I was 16, the father of one of my school friends trained us in his backyard with an old rusty barbell that had lived in that backyard for 20+ years. We had to dig the plates out of the ground. After about 8 weeks he showed us what he could do and did a strict military press, heels together back rod straight with 140lbs. His name was John McCall he was 50 was 5 foot tall and weighed exactly 140lbs. He had not trained in almost 10 years

    That was 1970 !!!!

    Barbells have been around a long time,

    PS John had pressed 215 at 123lbs back in the late 50s so he thought 140 was no biggie.

  18. ian says:

    WOW, I am 48 been doing Crossfit for a year and a half. You have completely expressed why I do this 4-5 days a week at 6:00 am 🙂

  19. Renee Reed says:

    Your statement “Crossfit allows us old farts to feel bad-ass” nails it! I used to take feeling bad-ass for granted. Now I cherish and will do almost anything to keep that feeling alive!

  20. Tim Glennon says:

    As a novice Crossfit term at age 60 1/2, I can so relate, thanks for a great article

  21. Katie Clancy says:

    Nailed it! I’m in year two of my masters-level (I’m 44) CrossFit journey. And my feelings about it are [What you said. Everything.]. This past June I bought my 72-yo dad some CrossFit for Father’s Day, and he feels [What you said. Everything.]. Can’t wait to share your brilliance with him.
    You’ve done a great thing giving voice to this huge segment of the CF population. Thanks!

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Katie, I’m thrilled that you’ve got your 72-year-old dad Crossfitting. That’s incredible. And although I didn’t set out to give a voice to anyone other than myself, I have to admit that I’m REALLY, REALLY enjoying writing for you guys. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

  22. CDS says:

    I am 44 years old and started CF when I was 42. I am now a level 1 trainer and I am completely and totally addicted to CF. I am also proud to say that I kick those youngsters butt’s on a daily basis and I it makes me feel awesome!!

  23. Kekiko says:

    This resonates with me on so many levels…I’ll be 58 (female) in a couple of months…still can’t “DO” so much of Crossfit despite having been trying regularly for over two years…but I plan to keep it up…maybe someday I’ll actually graduate from trying to doing…but in the meantime, I’m having fun, in the best shape of my life, and making my kids proud. Thanks for making me feel part of yet another community (the old guys)within a community…your writing rocks!

  24. Kari says:

    Screw THAT! I’m 43 and just started and I plan on competing someday. WTH not? They have my age group and if they can do it so can I. I did my first triathlon when I was forty (ok ok 41 but whats a year) and will do my first ironman before I’m 50. Crossfit will get me there. I have no desire whatsoever to just be there. I understand giving it your very best. But if you really want it. Trust me you can kick ass on a vast majority of the 20 somethings. Bring it ON.

  25. Melissa Louraine says:

    I LOVE the statement – Crossfit allows us old farts to feel bad-ass.

    Totally true and I’m still grinning because I’m bad-ass! I’m only 47 also (still a kid) and when I tell people I do Crossfit it’s a definite push to my ego when they grimace at how hard it is and I’m doing it!!! Keep up the great articles!! You are hilarious!!

  26. Rae Parkhurst says:

    I am a 77 yr old female crossfit addict. I started only 4 years ago and it has changed my life. Now I am part owner with my family of our own box. I am worried about how I will get there when I can’t drive anymore. Rae

  27. Cathy says:

    “I don’t expect to be competing in the Games anytime soon [ever], nor even becoming all that good, or even “not shitty” at Crossfit, and that’s OK.” LOVE that line. It about sums me up. A 46 year old mother of 2, who no one would previously have mistaken for an athlete, I am almost always the slowest to finish anything ‘for time’ while lifting the lightest weight with the fewest reps in my box. And that’s OK. When it doesn’t feel OK, the journey it takes me on in getting to OK, gives me a good emotional/mental workout on top of the physical one. CrossFit keeps me humble and reminds me regularly of one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” On the days I CrossFit, that one thing is usually the WOD!

  28. hturner says:

    I just started my own blog because of Crossfit and turning 41. Old guys can do it too!!

  29. Robert Rowland says:

    Hello Mark. Just wanted to put a big thank you out there for your articles, these are a fantastic read for all and especially for us crossfitters who are adding the years up. Recently my local box, Crossfit Wangaratta which is located in Victoria, Australia has been doing a promotion for 40 to 50 year olds, and reading your blogs provides an inspiration for us all. The one thing that comes through in your articles and in all the comments is that crossfit makes you feel young again, it’s funny that working hard and pushing yourself would be adding years to your life rather than cutting it short, just love it and love our local box. As part of the local promotion some of us older guys wrote an article for our coaches, I have attached link to my article (Running Up Hill) if you are interested to have a read, not in the same league as your blogs Mark but I really enjoyed writing it. If you think it worth putting out there Mark for other to read then I will leave it to you, as I am sure you have greater reading audience available than most (certinly more than me Mark).

    All the best and thanks once again for your blogs.

    Rob

    http://www.crossfitwangaratta.com/#!Running-Up Hill/cp2q/562cb7b20cf2dee0be9810e9

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Rob, I was honored and humbled to read your comment this morning. I’m so glad you find my writing useful. In full disclosure, I must tell you that a combination of my wife undergoing shoulder surgery and us moving the family to a new area derailed my Crossfit journey about a year ago, so I feel somewhat inauthentic when people tell me I’ve inspired them, but it is true that I was a devoted Crossfitter for nearly five years. Hopefully, I can find a way to do it again at some point.

      So, when I click on your link, it only sends me to the homepage of your box, but not to a blog. Can you send it to me some other way?

      Thanks SO much for your kind words, Rob.

  30. lubycam says:

    Love your blog and needed to re read this post, been rough at the gym lately, I am basically dead last every wod, and it can be discouraging but I sitll love every second of it and for me its all about balance in life. I am never gonna win the crossfit games, I’m never gonna be “not shitty” but I am not gonna stop. I am also gonna keep enjoying IPA’s and cheeseburgers and I wouldn’t enjoy them if I hadn’t earned them in the gym. Life is balance and crossfit is an important part of my balance, your blog does a night job of helping me express that to others.

  31. Joan says:

    Thanks for being the voice of the Masters! I am always after those young coaches at the box to think more about the 4 over 50 masters there. We are the true bad asses and even Rich Froning will be a master level one day! Okay, bad example, but every year another group joins the masters level and begins to experience the slower recovery, pain in places that never hurt before, and all the other joys of maturing. Crossfit HQ please help us all by giving a bit of attention to this group.

  32. Ann Snow says:

    I have been doing Crossfit for one month now (Crossfit West Gosford, Australia) and I am a 58 yer old woman. Finding it very tough but I love it. Please Mark, continue to be the voice of the over 40’s…I love what you write and you are spot on!!!! Glad to know that there are people who feel the same way as I do. Keep up the great work, Ann

  33. Sheila Gaquin says:

    I’m 67 woman, and have done Cross Fit for 2 years. I’m usually the last to finish rounds for time at my box, , but I’m 20+ years older than mt box mates. I love everything about CF…well maybe “love” is too strong a word when it comes to burpees, but I try to never miss a session. I have but to look at my non-Cross Fit, age peers to know CF is like a fountain of youth. I plan to do CF until they tip me in my grave…but I think the master’s benchmarks need revising. 50 to 54, then 55 to 59, then 60+???? When I’m 80 I’ll have to compete against 60 year olds?? Hum.

  34. Krista Lee Evans says:

    As a 45 Cross fit gym owner I LOVE your perspective. I opened the gym because it works for everyone…even those of us that were always to self concious to work out in the global gym so ran…miles and miles and miles…all by ourselves. Thanks ….this is great!

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