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How does Age affect improvement in CrossFit?

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Last year we released an article entitled How Long Does It Take To Improve In CrossFit? Using “Fitness Level“, our robust measure of an athlete’s physical capacity, we looked at improvement rates across all levels and abilities. We found that, on average, it takes about 5-6 months to improve your overall Fitness Level by 10 Levels (e.g. going from a level 60 to a level 70).

We then followed up that analysis with Working Out More: Is It Worth It? In it, we looked at the affect of the number of workout days per week on improvements to Fitness Levels. We discovered that working out 5 days per week produced a 27% faster improvement over working out 3 days per week.

In this article we’ll be throwing age into the mix. We’ll explore the relationship between an athlete’s Age and improvement time in CrossFit. How much of a difference is there in improvement times between a 25 year-old and a 45 year-old? This is an especially important question when considering the validity and necessity of age-divisions in competitions, such as the various Master’s Divisions at the CrossFit Games.

Fitness Level Overview

Findings

After analyzing the data, we found that there is a strong correlation between an athlete’s age and how long it took them to improve their BTWB Fitness Level by 10 levels. As an example, on average, it took 45 year old athletes nearly 2 months longer (32% longer) to improve from a level 60 to a level 70 when compared to their 25 year old counterparts.

On average it took 45 year old athletes nearly 2 months longer (32% longer) than their 25 year old counterparts to improve from a level 60 to a level 70.

The following charts show how much longer, on average, it took for athletes in different age groups to improve by 10 levels. This relationship holds true throughout each of the Fitness Level ranges. The charts cover levels 40-80.

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FL-Age-50-60

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fl-age-70-80

What It Means For You

This is bittersweet news for our older athletes. On the one hand, it’s tough coming to terms with the fact that the older you get, the harder you’re going to have to work to make (or maintain) your gains. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that it’s not just you who is losing a step to the young bucks of the world. It appears to be a physiological reality related to the aging process.

A 25 year old athlete working out 3 days per week improves at a similar rate to a 45 year old athlete working out 5 days per week.

On a related note, looking at our data, we’ve found that a 25 year old athlete working out 3 days per week improves at a similar rate to a 45 year old athlete working out 5 days per week. In other words, not all hope is lost. Hitting the gym a day or two more a week can counteract some of the effects of the aging process. Keep in mind, though, that recovery needs also increase with aging. Older athletes looking to limit losses need to closely monitor recovery in addition to maintaining a volume/intensity balance that allows him/her to stay healthy and fresh.

Age Is Only A Number

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Left To Right: Jim Duwve (55 years old/CrossFit Verve/Level 65), Holly Arrow (60 years old/Eugene CrossFit/Level 71)

It may take older athletes longer to improve, but that isn’t keeping them from defying the odds every single day. The CrossFit Games features 40+ year olds doing things most 20 year olds couldn’t ever imagine doing. Our very own Jim Duwve (55 years old), of CrossFit Verve, and Holly Arrow (60 years old), of Eugene CrossFit, are two examples of older athletes still going strong with no end in sight. Jim’s a Grizzly ( Fitness Level of 65); that means he’s more fit than 65% of the BTWB community. Holly is a Griffen (Fitness Level of 71). The average age of the BTWB community is 35 years old. Both Jim and Holly are well above the average age of our users, yet they remain more fit than two-thirds of them.

Below are BTWB athletes, of all ages, putting up impressive numbers. We anticipate each of them to easily surpass Ezekiel Emanuel’s 75 year old age limit for functional capacity.

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Left To Right (top): Russ Kerstetter (46 yrs old/Solution 1 CrossFit/Level 89), Julie Foucher (26 yrs old/HyperFit USA/Level 95), Dan Bailey (30 yrs old/Level 94), Jessica Fitsgibbons (40 yrs old/CrossFit CSA/Level 94)
Left To Right (bottom): Jennifer Courtney (39 yrs old/Level 90), Jeremy Kinnick (35 yrs old/CrossFit Kinnick/Level 94), Nick Robles (24 yrs old/CrossFit Kinnick/Leel 94), Merrill Mullis (42 yrs old/HyperFit USA/Level 95)

Concluding Thoughts

One of the best 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. We know of many athletes, because of CrossFit, who claim to be more fit at 50 then they were at 30. CrossFit isn’t just trying to extend life expectancy. It’s also trying to extend the number of functionally independent, enjoyable years. A grandma who can deadlift 150 pounds is not going to have issues getting out of bed, getting dressed, picking up grandkids, etc.

Imagine a 90 year old man who gets into a fight at a bar, knocks the guy out, gets on his Harley (with his young girlfriend on the back), and rides off into the sunset.

I once heard Coach Glassman (CrossFit’s Founder) tell a story about what a functionally competent life could look like in one’s later years. I’m paraphrasing here, but imagine a 90 year old man who gets into a fight at a bar, knocks the guy out, gets on his Harley (with his young girlfriend on the back), and rides off into the sunset. That sure sounds a lot better than a retirement home. Stay healthy and stay strong.

15 Comments

  1. We recently had to migrate everything over to a new server. We’re still in the process of updating everything back to normal. Sorry about that!

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  2. Yes, indeed, it takes longer. I’m 41 now and it’d be silly of me to compare myself with my boxmates with half of my age.
    Yet, I’m much fitter now than in my 30s, so I’m not complaining.
    Thanks for the info!

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  3. Jeremiah Hundley

    I’m 42. But I’m the top 5 in my gym. Checkout my Facebook @JeremiahHundley. Although age seems to slow people down I think that depends. I’ve been an athlete since I was 5. I still consistently get faster gains than people half my age and most of them all think I’m in my twenties. That being said, I find I have to watch my diet, know my limitations and compete with myself. It’s not unheard of for me to get the top times in my box even though. I don’t want this to sound like bragging. I work hard for it. I follow a strict vitamin rich diet and make sure to get my blood work 4 times a year. Why I’m responding is that I work in the entertainment field and am usually going against people half my age for parts but still landing jobs. The most important after 40 advice I can give is patience and consistency. And break as many bad habits as possible! Good luck!

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  4. Pingback: Knowledge is Power – MasteringTheBox

  5. Paul Grace

    I turn 65 in a couple of months and I still hit the gym 3 or 4 times a week. I used to use weights but now concentrate on calisthenics. I will try cross fit next year (slowly to start).
    Since Xmas 2015 I have lost 40 lbs and can do things that young guys can’t. For example, I do about 40 chin ups, 70 push ups, 60 dips and 60 squats each session. I also do planks and other bench and rope exercises.
    I gave up weights because of arthritis and I feel better now than in my 30’s.
    Age is no barrier…. doubt is!
    Stay fit guys and live well.

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  6. Christine Hunwardsen

    Paul, I’ll be 65 in September, and began CrossFit at 62. Most weeks I go five days, and it is truly the best part of my day! I PR’d my backsquat this week at 165, not too bad for an “old lady!” 😀🏋️‍♀️

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  7. Mark Franklin

    Inspiring, I’m from the UK and started CF in Sept ’16 and loving it; I’m 60 in May. The only danger is coping with the addiction!! 🙂

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  8. Pingback: Is there an Ideal BMI for Performance? | btwb press

  9. JOHN TIPTON

    I would like for all of my activities to count to get a clear picture. A large portion of my physical activity is missing since i am a competitive tennis player. I have tried adding and noticed that there is some other version that has tennis.

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  11. Pingback: Snatch vs Clean & Jerk Part 1: How Do You Stack Up? | btwb press

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