old deadliftOne of the great aspects of CrossFit is that it is accessible to people of any age. A big part of CrossFit’s mission is to help people maintain functional capacity well into their later years of life. There’s many athletes, who state that because of CrossFit, they’re more fit at 50 years young then they were at 25. CrossFit’s goal is more than just to prolong life expectancy and be super, crazy fit. It’s also trying to enhance and increase the number of physically independent, pleasurable years. An elderly grandma who can deadlift 150 pounds is not going to have issues getting out of bed, getting dressed, picking up grandkids, etc.

Some of the major differences between Masters and the open division is, as we could’ve guessed, the level of overall experience. Sure, there are some Masters athletes that have been crossfitting or Olympic lifting for years, maybe even decades, but this is not true for all Masters. It appears that currently, many in the CrossFit Masters division get a late start or started, took a break, and then returned, because they are busy with careers, home, and child rearing, so they can’t give their full time and attention to much else. 

Then we have 50+ who are no longer as involved with day-to-day parenting. Many realize that they need to go to the gym and the knowledge that they are staying in shape, while their same-age friends are deteriorating physically, becomes the new way to fill their days.

Then we have those who are 65+ who are retiring and grand parenting, resulting in once again having family responsibilities. It appears though, that women, are informed about the dangers of osteoporosis and how engaging in resistance exercise can reduce these dangers. This more than anything, has prompted the rush to gyms by older women who in their youth would never seriously consider weight training as an activity.

So we wanted to hear from a couple of our own Masters athletes about the difference between competing either in Teen or RX/Open level of CrossFit versus Masters. In order to do so, we asked a couple of our badass Masters level athletes to find out!

 Please tell us a little about yourself:

  • Name:  Liza Nelson (LN)
  • Tom Mohr, in CrossFit, people know me as “Tommy M” (T.M.)
  • # of months/years at Crossfit Carbon:

LN: Since it opened…4-5 years.  Proud to be one of Carbon’s founding members. 🙂

T.M.: 3+ years at Carbon; 6+ in CrossFit

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WODHopper Masters Team (left-right Kiko, Liza, Lesly, Dave)

Do you have a background in sports or athletics?  If yes, what sport(s) and for how long?

LN: Yes. In middle school through college I was a competitive volleyball player.  I participated in travel teams initially and at that time played Junior Olympics for Northside VBC.   In HS I competed all 4 years on our varsity team at Good Counsel HS in Chicago.

At Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) I was on both the swimming and girls’ volleyball team.

T.M.: Not particularly. Like any boy growing up I played soccer, basketball in the local little leagues but my primary sport was golf. I started at age 5 and played competitively in local area events and then traveled and played a national circuit as a junior during both the winter and summer. I also played in college as well.

  • Before crossfit, did you do anything else to work out or get fit?

LN: Yes.  I trained for triathlons, essentially either swimming, biking or running.

T.M.: I became interested in fitness at age 22 and it wasn’t until then that I first stepped foot in any gym. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that I both wanted and enjoyed it. What drew me into an early form of “competitive fitness” (if I may) was at age 29 I entered into the EAS “Body-for-LIFE” challenge. I did a total of 4 challenges and was, what I believed, in great shape at that point in my life.

  • What brought you to crossfit & what keeps you doing it?

LN: About 5 years ago, I got my ass handed to me during a Crossfit workout…. a ladder of deadlifts @ 95#, pull ups and overhead squats with a 20 # bar.  (Courtesy of our own Jay Miles).  After it was all done, I was laying on the ground gasping for air and I totally loved it.   I guess because it was so different from what I normally did.  The very next day I went out and signed up for a membership at the closest Crossfit gym and the rest is history!

There are so many things that keep me doing CrossFit.  I absolutely love the community, especially at Carbon.  The coaches and athletes are like a second family and I’ve made some special friendships.

T.M.: The high point of fitness for me was during the BFL challenges. Later, I burned out because the lack of variety started to really grind. In 2006 I stepped away from fitness, gym and nutrition for nearly a year because I was no longer motivated or inspired. In April of 2007 I knew it was time to get back to the gym because during the past year I literally ruined myself. I felt and looked awful. As odd as that sounds, I chose that path because that was the only way that I would be completely ready to re-commit. I started working out with some friends from work at the company gym and was immediately enjoying myself. However, I wanted to do everything I could to keep history from repeating itself so I kept pushing for more challenge and a lot more variety. This is when I “accidentally” found CrossFit which ultimately led me to my love for Olympic weightlifting. Since then, I haven’t looked back. Best of all, I can honestly say, I haven’t come close to burning out like I did previously.

  • How do you respond to those who say, “I need to get in shape… but I’m too old to do all that. I can’t move like I used to (or like you)!
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Liza (LN) at Crossfit Freedom Fitoberfest

LN: First I tell them if you put in the work and effort during your Crossfit workouts, it will yield results. Crossfit workouts are scaleable and you don’t have to do everything prescribed.  There is always a modification to a movement if you can’t do it.  Once you start CrossFit a good coach will provide substitutions to exercises that will help you get that movement eventually.

T.M.: People that know me, know I’m direct. I say that because that statement warrants a direct response. I’d say two things: 1) “Stop making excuses!”  2) “If you’re still making excuses, you’re not fully ready and committed to properly developing your health & body. To be successful you have to truly want to do it. Period. Until then you’re wasting yours (and potentially others’) time.”

Conversely, if someone were committed, coming to the gym and trying their guts out and they said “I am still struggling to move better” then my response would be far more nurturing. I’d first compliment them on their commitment. Next, I’d share with them how it’s a personal journey with a path that is 100% dictated by them and their personal efforts. Finally, I’d end with an open offer to make time for them to help, provide advice, or assure them that they too could move the way they ultimately want to move.

  • Has crossfit helped as you’ve gotten…more experienced in your age 😉 ? If yes, how?

LN: CrossFit makes me a better person no doubt!   Both physically and mentally.   5 years ago, I would have never thought I could lift and move like I do now.   I’m stronger at 45 than I was at 25.  I always say I wish I had come across CrossFit in my 20s!!

Making progress as a CrossFit athlete, whether it’s increasing strength or endurance requires a lot of dedication and hard work.  You get out what you put in.  You only cheat yourself if you half-ass your workout and I can see how that has crossed over to my everyday life.  Whether it be at work or with family, I try to give 100% effort in everything I do.

T.M.: 100% without question, both CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting have helped tremendously. When I was in my early and mid-30’s I believed I was in great shape. I stepped into that CrossFit box at age 38 and realized I had a good fitness “foundation” but there was still long roads to travel. 2 years into CrossFit, I woke up on my 40th birthday and was in considerably better health. My inner health was significantly better as verified by my physician, my strength was drastically increased and I was physically capable and actually doing so much more. Additionally, I radically improved my overall mobility, which prior too I had no clue about, which has led me to both greater efficiency and physical safety while training. Now, it hasn’t come without a price. I say that because I’ve learned some hard lessons due to lack of discipline, ego, and overall foolish masochism. The lessons came in the form of injury and let me tell you what you already know – injury is 0% fun and 100% aggravation and remorse.

  • What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed in working out at your age now (or Masters), versus when you were younger? (This can be physically, mentally, emotionally, time management, life events, career, family, etc.)

LN: Well, the obvious is that you have to work out smarter.  You can’t work out 7 days a week and expect to sustain a high level of performance day in and day out.  Taking a day or two off or substituting a skill / mobility day for a workout will help keep your body healthy and keep you in the gym. I have always made my health and wellbeing a priority, but now that I’m older it’s not all about what it does for me.   I work out and eat healthy to set an example for my family.

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Tom aka Tommy Mo

T.M.: It’s a good question, an important question. You mention a lot of areas that are very pertinent, so I’ll narrow it to two specific areas: 1) Inside the gym, 2) Outside the gym.

Inside the gym, my approach now is very different now than what it was 7 years ago. I look back to when I started and I see all of the mistakes I made. It was a very reckless approach that led to many setbacks. I’ve learned from my past and it’s drastically changed my approach I use today. Keeping it high level, here’s some principles I use: 1) I focus a lot of attention on mobility and proper warm-up prior to any workout. 2) I use my own approach and design. It’s not perfect and I do blend feedback from others into my approach, but the bottom line is I build it, I design it and most importantly, I flat out own it. 3) I focus on no more than 2 successive training days. 4) I follow a periodized approach as much as possible. 5) I won’t hesitate to alter my plan, pull back on the reigns or shut it down completely if something doesn’t feel right or pain surfaces. I won’t be a fool and “try to push through it.” The only lag area is my diet – it’s just flat out awful right now. I eat like a child and I’ve got to be much more disciplined.

Outside the gym it’s a balance of family and a demanding professional life. My family is everything to me and as my kids are getting older and into more activities, I try to be at as many of them as I can. Professionally, I work a demanding job, for a fast paced, type-A company in an industry that changes over night. Overall, I enjoy it but balancing the job and family puts a premium on time management. I do my best, roll with the punches and plan my schedule as best as I can.

  • What’s your advice for those that are in the CrossFit Masters category (40+), who are wanting/needing to jump start their health?

LN:

  • You aren’t too old to start Crossfit because I started Crossfit when I was 40 years old and 2 months after having my third child.
  • It’s going to suck and it will be hard!!
  • Eat healthy, it will boost your performance in the gym.
  • Ask for help of your coaches or fellow Crossfitter’s when it comes to movements.  Realize that they are there to help you get a good and SAFE workout.
  • Expect to see positive changes right away.  You will be stronger, eating healthier and overall a happier less stressful person.   Crossfit is the Fountain of Youth!!  

T.M.: Without hesitation, regardless of the caliber of athlete, I would share these four pieces of advice:  1) Set actionable and measurable goals, 2) Establish your training metrics (strength numbers, wod times, etc) and be sure you not only know them but exercise the discipline to follow them when you put in the work, 3) Have a clear plan that aligns with your goals, and 4) Make sure to always keep it fun. I believe as an athlete you always have to be calculating, but as a Masters athlete you have to calculate with an even greater level of precision. You calculate all of the variables that CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting deliver such as: Total load moved, workout load %’s, total working sets, total rounds, total reps, estimated rounds and reps, estimated time to completion, how you feel, what you did yesterday, etc. You need to pay attention to the variables and details because if you’re not careful it could negatively impact your progress, or even worse, sideline you. If you do this well, you’ll certainly see progress.

Thank you for your time! We love hearing from our athletes. You inspire us every single day! For more information on this topic check out.