Should Women Be Starting Crossfit in Their 40s?

Photo Courtesy: Scott Webb

I’ve always thought that the expression ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is pure nonsense, but it definitely does become more difficult to master a new skill with the more years you have behind you. The peak of your physical ability does tend to be in your 20s.

Starting a new physical activity in your 40s, when you have no prior experience of it is a little bit tougher than doing it for most of your life. Unfortunately this applies more to women, who are at a bit of a biological disadvantage when it comes to physical stuff. It’s not impossible however.

One potentially good avenue for Women in their 40s is CrossFit. This is a versatile fitness regime that combines elements of cardio, weight training and gymnastics in order to ensure a full body workout that also covers conditioning.

Chronic CrossFit training can help you maintain your muscle strength and density as you get older and because it has that element of cardio, it can keep your heart healthy too. Due to the smaller size of a woman’s heart and the thinness of it’s walls, women are at a greater risk of heart attacks than men, so this is important.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of doing CrossFit:

Pros:

Variety

The vast majority of CrossFit workouts that you will find recommended to you online will put focus on a number of different muscle groups. You are never just training exclusively for your upper body or exclusively for your legs.

The goal is to put together a routine during which you will do a variety of different exercises, each of which will serve a different purpose. And it’s not just about building muscle either, it’s also good for cardio and conditioning.

So for example, take the CrossFit workout of the day (WOD) known as Helen. In this one, you start with a 400m sprint, which is a great cardio workout and will help build up your quads and calf muscles.

Then you move onto kettlebell swings to work on your back and shoulders and finally the pull-ups will be beneficial for your arms and your chest. It’s still a brief routine, but it covers an awful lot of ground. This is the goal of most CrossFit WODs. 

Efficiency

Here’s another thing that some people tend not to consider. When you are in your late teens and early 20s, there are fewer things cluttering up your mind that require your attention. Not always the case for those of us in your 40s.  

At this point you might be working full time, you might be a mother to young children and have a home that you need to take care of too. You may not have time to fit in an exercise regime that’s going to take upwards of an hour a day, four or five days a week.

With Crossfit, a lot of the specific workout routines are designed to be completed in 10 minutes or less. It’s a great way to get a varied, effective workout in without taking too much time out of your day.

Cons:

Risk of Injury

The risk of injury is of course present in all forms of exercise, but it’s perhaps more so in CrossFit due to the fact that the focus is on speed and intensity. When you are working out, you can lose track of focusing on your own safety .

Specifically in the case of CrossFit, you might have a bit of trouble finding a reputable coach and there has been some who have raised serious concerns about the rise of negligent CrossFit gyms.

This article from Livestrong goes into detail on the controversy that surrounds CrossFit and speaks to the growing problem of many gyms not offering adequate preparation to those who sign up to train.

To safely engage with a program such as this one, a lot of time needs to be spent practicing and perfecting your form and your technique, especially when you are a bit older. Oftentimes a CrossFit trainer will be more concerned with pushing you to your limits and ramping up the intensity.

You need to be careful about where you choose to train. There are CrossFit gyms everywhere, but there are not that many good ones. Make sure you do your research beforehand and find a gym and a trainer who has a reputation for focusing on safety.

And as well as that, I would suggest you pay close attention to your medicare. And this doesn’t just apply to Crossfit, it applies in the case of any exercise program you decide to undertake. Your medicare plan might not cover you in case of an accident while working out. 

And if that’s the case you should look for a medicare supplement which might fill in that particular gap. It might seem like an extra expense especially when injury is unlikely but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. 

Difficult to Personalize

It’s important for you to be able to personalize your workouts to suit your own specific needs, and that’s not the easiest thing to do with CrossFit, especially if you don’t have the right trainer like we discussed above.

In a lot of cases, you’ll just be recommended to do one of the many WODs that are associated with CrossFit such as the Helen WOD we mentioned earlier. These specific workouts might not be suited to you, and could potentially be dangerous if you lack flexibility or have a specific weakness that needs to be considered.

And these potential problems are all the more common the older you get. You also might have a personal progression plan that none of the WODs out there right now will help you achieve. There might be some that are right for you, but it depends on the person.

Ideally, you should be able to work with a trainer to craft your own personal WOD that works for you and will help you get to where you want to get and you can’t always get that out of CrossFit. Again, this one pretty much comes down to finding the right trainer too.

So How Should You Approach CrossFit?

If you’ve considered all of these pros and cons and decided that it is in fact the exercise regime for you, how should you go about taking it up? Well everybody is different but there are certainly some things that you should keep in mind.

First thing’s first, I’ve stressed the importance of this a couple of times already, and I’ll stress it again right now because it’s important. Find a good trainer and find a good gym. This doesn’t mean going out and joining the first CrossFit gym you find, do your research.

Find reviews, talk to others who have done it before and weed out the places that are not going to have your goals and your safety at heart. Once you’ve found yourself the right trainer, explain what you are trying to achieve to them and work together on a program that’s going to work for you.

I would also suggest you opt for shorter routines because despite the drive towards efficiency that CrossFit usually comes with, some people do still exercise for hours at a time. This is fine when you’re in your 20s, not so much when you’re in your 40s.

Recovery time is important. You need more time to let your muscles heal when you’re older so keep the workouts short and make sure that you spread them out a bit. Always have a day in between workouts.

It’s also important to maintain your flexibility because that can reduce your chance of injury too. The more leeway your muscles and bones have with movement, the less chance of you causing them damage. Women are naturally more flexible, but you should be sure to stretch anyway.

Find a good set of stretches, such as this one, and do them every single day. You need to pay attention to your diet. You should probably be past the days of regularly eating pizza a couple of times a week and gorging yourself on ice cream and chocolate.

Not only is that increasingly unhealthy the older you get, but it’s also a barrier to progression with any form of exercise. So instead, focus on nutrition and making clean, unprocessed foods the most prominent part of your diet. 

Finally, be persistent. It’s important to keep these sorts of ideas in your mind while you’re training, especially in the early days of your CrossFit commitment.

It’s going to be painful, it’s going to be exhausting and it’s going to be frustrating for a while too. But progression demands pain and sacrifice. Being as results-oriented and varied a regime as CrossFit is, it’s a good choice for most women to pick up in their 40s.