How To Get To The CrossFit® Games As A Masters Athlete

Reaching the CrossFit® Games as a master athlete requires more than just dedication; it demands a strategic and adaptive approach to training. Consistency is a hallmark of high-level athletes, but in the ever-changing world of CrossFit®, where standards and challenges shift annually, maintaining a clear focus is crucial.

Master athletes face unique challenges, including the need to balance training intensity with optimal recovery and integrate lifestyle factors into their regimen.

The journey to the Games is not just about hitting specific targets but about embracing a purpose-driven training process that prioritizes enjoyment, adaptability, and continual improvement in response to evolving demands.

In this article, we’ll delve into what you can do as a CrossFit® Master athlete and reach the ultimate heights of the CrossFit® Games.

How To Get To The CrossFit® Games As A Master Athlete

What’s the biggest difference between those who make it and those who don’t?

One key element that distinguishes elite athletes from the rest is consistency. Although it sounds simple, consistency is arguably one of the hardest qualities to maintain as life becomes more demanding as we get older.

Plus, let’s not forget that CrossFit® is constantly changes each year, so maintaining a steady and focused training regimen is paramount.

Therefore, this shifting landscape presents unique challenges, as the goals and standards can vary drastically from one year to the next.

For master athletes, this means that not only must you continually address your weaknesses, but you must also adapt your training purposefully to keep up with these changes.

Read more about how Patricia McGill reached the CrossFit® Games when she was over 60! Click here.

What does consistency look like?

In our sport, consistency means being able to show up to the gym and perform day in and day out with the correct intention for each session.

We must put in the effort daily. This doesn’t mean that every day you will be at your best, but you should be able to give everything you have to your session.

Equally important to this daily effort is managing soreness and small injuries before they become something that prevents you from consistently training.

Your nutrition and recovery methods need to be as consistent as your other training. We all have days when we don’t want to warm up properly or do the accessory work, but maintaining these routines is crucial for long-term success.For master athletes, recovery is a central priority.

Unlike athletes in their twenties, master athletes often cannot train with the same volume and intensity. Now, read that again. As you get older, the capacity to train at the same volume, just isn’t there and therefore optimizing recovery becomes essential.

The aim of any training program is to create a stimulus and then enhance the ability to recover from it, allowing for optimal adaptations. This involves varying training principles, including high, medium, and low-intensity and volume days, tailored to the individual athlete’s background and training age.

How do you adapt training for Masters athletes?

As we’ve mentioned previously, lifestyle factors play a significant role in their overall success. The journey to the CrossFit® Games for a master athlete involves enduring sacrifices and training with a larger purpose and genuine enjoyment, rather than merely aiming for a specific ranking. 

Each year, the qualification standards may shift—one year it might be the top 10, and the next, the top 40.

Additionally, the specific demands of the competition can change, such as the inclusion of handstand push-ups (HSPU) with risers one year and without the next. These variables necessitate a training approach that is both flexible and focused.

As athletes age, the emphasis may shift from building raw strength to developing aerobic capacity and maintaining movement efficiency.

For example, when we look at Open and Quarterfinal strength numbers we see that the average weight-lifting trends downward for every age group. If we’re specific, in the CrossFit® Open 2023 Thruster, here are the numbers:

35-39 max lift was 330lbs
40-44: 328lbs
45-49: 305lbs
50-54: 285lbs
60-64: 216lbs
65+: 202lbs

35-39: 222lbs
40-44: 210lbs
45-49: 199lbs
50-54: 192lbs
55-59: 161lbs
60-64; 185lbs
the next 6 were in the 140lbs, 65+: 137lbs,

So, as you can see, the need for strength development is still a high priority, but the strength numbers slowly decrease as well as the weight in test, which allows the athlete with the best aerobic capacity to excel more. 

Master athletes can continue to set personal records (PRs) even as they age by exploring and adapting their training regimens.

What worked to achieve a certain level of performance may not be sufficient to reach the next milestone. As athletes progress, their training needs to evolve. For master athletes, you will often see more bodybuilding and accessory movements incorporated into their training.

This approach helps keep them healthy and exposes them to new movements that develop supporting muscles, enhancing stability and improving strength across different ranges of motion. Additionally, we employ various tempo and isometric training methods to help athletes improve their strength.

Therefore, improving an athlete's position and movement efficiency is the best focus. While some strength gains are possible, particularly for new movements, maintaining strength and exposing the athlete to different stimuli can help them reach new heights.

Given the increasing competitiveness of each age group, top-level athletes must possess exceptional aerobic capacity and the ability to perform high-skill movements repeatedly.

For master athletes, we aim to provide more exposure to the sport by presenting movements in a format that allows them to perform each movement aerobically. We also develop high-skill movements by enhancing their body awareness and challenging them to learn new skills.

We achieve this by progressing from a solid foundation of basics to more advanced movements. For example, we might start with handstand holds, progress to shoulder taps, then to handstand walks around a box, until the athlete feels confident enough to attempt and successfully complete a full handstand walk.

How to balance “daily life” with a Masters athlete’s competitive goals?

Balancing time effectively is the difference between “Make It or Break It”, especially as many master athletes have commitments outside of training. Identifying and addressing weaknesses while maintaining strengths is key to maximizing each training session’s effectiveness.

For instance, if an athlete struggles with HSPU, the program should focus on improving overhead press strength and skill.

This balanced approach helps to enhance the athlete's overall performance. Regular testing and consistent improvement are vital, emphasizing the importance of individualized training plans that cater to each athlete's unique needs.

We can’t emphasis this enough for masters athletes, lifestyle factors, such as work schedules, must be integrated into the training plan.

For example, an athlete working night shifts may need lighter training days post-shift and an adaptable program that allows for adjustments based on daily performance and fatigue levels.

This really is dependent on the athlete, and what works best for them. Often, people fail when they try to follow someone else's routine and schedule because they think it’s the “correct” way to do it.

Part of the journey is finding out what’s best for the athlete to be optimally ready to train.

To Summarize

Achieving a spot at the CrossFit® Games as a master athlete is a testament to dedication, adaptability, and a well-rounded approach to training. It's about more than just maintaining consistency; it's about evolving with the sport's demands, focusing on recovery, and integrating essential lifestyle factors into your routine.

When designing a program for master athletes, the stimulus objective and the athlete's ability to recover and adapt are the central drivers behind the plan. Master athletes must embrace a purpose-driven training regimen that balances strength, skill, and aerobic capacity while adapting to annual changes in competition standards. 

By prioritizing recovery, refining techniques, and addressing weaknesses, master athletes can continue to excel and reach new heights.

Ultimately, the journey to the Games is about enjoying the process, making strategic sacrifices, and continually striving for improvement in every aspect of training and life.

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