Can you start CrossFit at an older age?

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Can you start CrossFit at an older age? Yes, CrossFit is for everyone! CrossFit is Healthy Ageing. To stay healthy and fit you need to do some extra investments into your health, train smarter and eat healthy. 

In our a Can you make progress in CrossFit when you are over 30? we explained the importance of reframing your goals and personal records to keep training as you age. In this follow up article we discuss the extra investments you need to take to stay healthy and fit.  

Quality of life: your main priority

As your body ages and your life changes, so should your lifestyle, training and nutrition. You need to think about the quality of your life as your main priority. If you are an experienced athlete, that means you need to pay attention to more than just trying to keep up with the youngsters at the gym. If you are new to CrossFit, prioritizing the quality of life means it is never too late to start a healthier lifestyle. 

Good health requires more responsibility

Getting older means more responsibility for keeping your body in good health. More responsibility means more investment needed.

An older body gets to deal with pains and aches here and there. It cannot handle the same amount of stress as easy as a younger body. Building a stronger and fitter body requires more investment as you age. And recovery takes more time than it used to. In theory, an older body needs to train more to get the same results. In practice, that would be dumb because training more also increases the risk of injury and overtraining.  

The investment needs to be focused on staying healthy, strong, and injury-free, while having fun! This means training smarter and accepting the fact that sometimes you need to adjust your training regime. We cannot dowhat we did 20, 10, 5 or even one year ago. We cannot compare ourselves to youngsters at the gym, nor to the younger version of ourselves. Doing that will only leadto frustration and injury. 

On some days you will be able to do heavy back squats and on other days pains, aches and stiffness limit you and you need to do other exercises. You need to accept and embrace those bodily limitation and work withor around it instead of against it. You cannot let these bodily limitations also become mental limitations.  

The focus should be on the present and future, on what you can do right now, on how your body feels right now and on what you want to work on in the future. (High intensity sport requires high maintenance

Train to keep training

To be able to keep training, you need to reduce the risk of an injury. Most older bodies are familiar with injuries in the past. You need to keep those in mind. Previous injured body parts are weak spots that need to be handles with care. You need to build strength around an injured joint and pay extra attention to mobility and flexibility.

Also, be extra aware of the exercises that ‘caused’ the injury. Keep in mind: it is not the exercise itself that caused the injury, circumstances and bad technique are to blame. (CrossFit and injuries: the red flags)

On the one hand, you need to train smart by modifying your choice of exercises to how your body feels on a daily basis, by handling your weak spots with care and by focusing on good technique.  

On the other hand, you cannot let fear of what happened in the past or fear of pain or discomfort guide you. You need to learn to listen to your body and realize that as you age a little pain here and there or longer lasting nagging stuff is pretty normal, same as feeling stiff. The benefits of working out are far greater in terms of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing compared to not being active at all. 

Frequency, intensity, load and volume

In training, we can vary in frequency, intensity, load, and volume.

Think of frequency first. As you age, you need to be activein some form or shape during the day, every day of the week, to maintain your health. So besides going to the gym you need to walk around, take a bike ride, do some gardening, and avoid sitting down a lot. You also need to spend more time working on your mobility and flexibility: stretch at home. Also, give yourself some time to increase the frequency of your workouts. You might start with two gym days per week and after a few weeks increase to three or four times.

In CrossFit we have a strong focus on high intensity, the key to success. But keep in mind, this is relative intensity, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Interpersonal relative intensity means that for one person aback squat of 150kg can be of the same intensity as 100kg for another person, depending on someone’s strength. Intrapersonal relative intensity means that 80kg might feel doable for you on Monday, but undoable a week later.

As you age, you need to get more familiar with Perceived Rate of Exertion (how heavy or intense does it feel to you: judge by feel), instead of solely focusing on percentages of your previous personal records. You also need to listen to your body instead of let numbers be your only guide in a workout.

Furthermore, an older body is better off with sub- maximum heavy weights instead of maximum heavy weights and with sub maximum volume instead of maximum volume in a workout. This allows to keep the intensity high and the risk of injury lower. High intensity means more results.Therefor in CrossFit, we never scale on intensity!

For example: Do 5 sets of 8 reps bench press at a moderate weight instead of 5 sets of 3 reps bench press at a super heavy weight. Also a simple thing as mixing up a workout can sometimes be smart. For example the CrossFit workout Murph can be done in several variations. There is no need to perform those 100 pullups, 200 pushups and 300 air squats in that order. Doing 20 sets of 5-10-15 might be something your body can handle better. Doing it with a partner and dividing the work is also great.

A smarter training regime asks for more creativity in your training program and a coach who is willing to work with you to modify andscale frequency, intensity, load and volume if necessary. 

Two investments outside the gym

Spending a few hours per week at the gym is already a great investment. But all the stuff you do outside the gym is the real game changer in terms of improving your health and wellbeing. Besides staying active during the day, you need to invest in a solid nutritional foundation and in relaxation and sleep.

Solid nutritional foundation

An older body is cannot handle the same amount of nutritional stress as a younger body. Nutritional stress is the result of eating unhealthy food and overeating. An older body cannot handle nor does it need the same amount of food as a younger body. Your appetite does not necessarily reflect that. You also eat certain amounts because it has become a habit. Often we aren’t even aware of how we feel after eating.

Building a solid nutritional foundation means eating healthy foods, eating regularly and eating moderate amounts. This means:

-       Eat enough lean protein, at least 1,5-2 grams per kg bodyweight. Lean meat, fatty fish, plant-based protein. Mix it up. (Aminal or plant protein, which is best?)

-       Make sure half of your plate consists of veggies.

-       Minimize the intake of sugar (yes also the so-called natural sugar) and alcohol.

-       Eat until you are satisfied for 70%.  

Go to bed on time and at the same time

As you age, your sleeping pattern /rhythm and quality of sleep change. For one, it is harder to reach a deeper state of sleep and your rhythm is disturbed easier. When in fact, your body and brain need this deeper state of sleep and a steady rhythm to recover. Going to bed on time at the same time every day helps to make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep and it minimizes disturbances in your sleep rhythm. 


Can you start with CrossFit when you are in your 40’s, 50’s or even 70’s? Absolutely, because CrossFit is for everyone! You just need to take a few measures to stay healthy, fit and injury-free:

1.     Make the quality of your life your main priority (Is your goal your priority?)

2.     Have a positive mindset: focus on what you can do right now (Do you have the right mindset?)

3.     Train smarter. Handle weak spots with care. Focus on a proper technique

4.     Accept that a little pain, or longer lasting nagging stuff or feeling stiff is pretty normal

5.     Stay active during the day, every day

6.     Build a solid nutritional foundation

7.     Go to bed on time

Create your own health!©