Many people believe CrossFit training to be too intense for seniors.
However, with a proper program that is designed for the right training level, CrossFit workouts can be a great option for seniors looking to get in shape.
In this article, we’ll go over the safety of CrossFit workouts, the benefits of CrossFit for seniors, and a few examples of beginner CrossFit workouts for seniors.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit workouts aim to build general fitness in a group environment. Instead of separating strength training from cardio, CrossFit workouts combine a large variety of forms of exercise into a single session.
These include functional strength exercises, cardio, calisthenics, and explosive weightlifting movements such as Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
CrossFit workouts became popular because they created a team environment, where people trained together as a group, and featured a variety of different exercises which focused on improving general health rather than only focusing on strength or building muscle.
The variety of exercises also allowed for each workout to be different, keeping participants from growing bored.
CrossFit combines functional free-weight exercises with cardio, and weightlifting (snatches, clean and jerks). Training sessions are usually performed as a group, where the group does a “workout of the day” or WOD.
WODs typically consist of a couple of exercises measured either by the number of repetitions, time, or distance. And trainees work to beat their previous performances.
Is CrossFit Safe for Seniors?
Lately, CrossFit has developed a bit of a negative reputation as people in the fitness industry have questioned its effectiveness and safety.
CrossFit at advanced levels can consist of some very technical exercises at high intensities. Exercises like the clean and jerk, snatches, and muscle ups are some common examples.
These exercises require a high degree of muscle coordination, flexibility, and balance. And if executed poorly, it could result in injury.
But don’t worry. These exercises are not required to enjoy the benefits of CrossFit training and would not be recommended to anybody unless they can be done with perfect technique and control.
As a senior just starting with CrossFit, you don’t need to be doing handstand pushups or throwing 300 lbs of weight overhead to be able to benefit from Crossfit workouts the same way everyone can.
Regardless of a person’s age, the same training style can be used to get great results in improving general fitness.
CrossFit is designed so that each workout can be scaled to match an individual’s abilities. So no matter what a person’s age, or fitness level, there are still training options that can be used to deliver a fantastic workout.
A snatch could be replaced by a deadlift, and a pull-up could be replaced by a row.
There are many WODs that are designed with seniors in mind and take into consideration mobility limitations related to age and other safety concerns. So contrary to popular belief, seniors can do CrossFit.
The only danger for seniors and anybody in general with training in CrossFit would be training with a coach who is inexperienced or unqualified.
Like with any training regime, if it is taught and used improperly, it will be ineffective and even dangerous for the participants. There are many areas a bad CrossFit coach could hurt the trainee.
From things like not being able to teach proper technique or not knowing what proper technique actually looks like. Or they could choose an exercise that is too difficult for a person’s mobility and or fitness level, which is especially dangerous with exercises like snatches or clean and jerks.
This is why for seniors, if you are looking for a CrossFit trainer, it is important to choose a coach who has the knowledge and experience to deal with older adults with varying medical backgrounds and mobility limitations.
Benefits of CrossFit Workouts
For seniors, there are many benefits to beginning a CrossFit training routine. One of the benefits of CrossFit workouts is having a community environment to train.
In group training settings, people can help motivate and encourage each other to push themselves to reach their goals. People within a community keep each other accountable, which can help people stick to a routine training program in the long run.
Regular exercise is important for longevity. Studies have found that people who engage in routine exercise have longer life expectancies.
And exercise such as strength training has been found to not only benefit seniors physically but can also improve cognitive function.
As people get older, their immune systems weaken, as well as their muscles.
An analysis published by the Exercise Immunology Review showed that performing regular bouts of moderate physical exercise is beneficial to the immune system and may benefit immune system function.
As we age and get older, our muscles weaken and lose strength. This loss in strength can make everyday activities, like walking in the park or doing yard work, a challenge. And increases the chance of falling and sustaining a serious injury.
Functional weight training exercises, like the ones used in CrossFit, train similar movements to the physical activities performed in everyday life. Training these movements stronger makes going through everyday life for seniors easier and safer.
Not only does the weight training make the muscles stronger, but it also strengthens the bones, making them denser and less likely to break in the event of a fall.
CrossFit training also incorporates cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise helps keep our hearts healthy and develops endurance to help us go through the day feeling fresh and energized.
Beginner CrossFit Workouts for Seniors
Here are five beginner CrossFit-style workouts that are suitable for seniors looking to get started with CrossFit training:
1. Bodyweight Squats/Cardio WOD
As many rounds in 15 minutes of:
- 15 bodyweight squats
- 300 m brisk walking or jogging
Benefits for seniors: bodyweight squats train the lower body muscles and mimic everyday movements like getting up off a couch. Training cardio improves the strength of the heart and lungs.
Potential scaling back option: if bodyweight squats are too difficult, you could squat down to a box or seat instead.
2. Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Walks/ Romanian Deadlifts WOD
4 rounds of:
- 15 m walk with single-arm dumbbell overhead (15 m each arm)
- 15 Romanian dumbbell deadlifts
Benefits for seniors: walking with a dumbbell weight overhead improves balance and stability while moving, as well as training the muscles in the upper body. Deadlifts train the legs, lower back, and grip strength.
Potential scaling back option: if holding a weight over your head is too difficult, you can do the walks with one hand overhead, without the use of the dumbbell. If dumbbell deadlifts are too difficult, they can be done with bodyweight instead.
4 rounds of:
- 15 bodyweight squats
- 15 Pushups (off a wall, elevated surface, or on your knees if necessary)
- 200 m on the rowing machine
Benefits for seniors: bodyweight squats train the lower body muscles and mimic everyday movements like getting up off a couch. Pushups strengthen the muscles in the upper body, especially the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
Potential scaling back option: if bodyweight squats are too difficult, you could squat down to a box or seat instead. Pushups can be done against a wall.
4. Step-ups/Deadlifts/Overhead Press/Rows WOD
4 rounds of:
- 10 step-ups
- 10 Romanian dumbbell deadlifts
- 10 standing dumbbell overhead press
- 10 ring rows
Benefits for seniors: step-ups improve balance and stability of the knee and hips. Deadlifts train the legs, lower back, and grip strength. Overhead press and ring rows develop upper body strength.
Potential scaling back option: step-up boxes can be lowered to the preferred height, or replaced with split squats.
Weights can be lowered for the deadlift or overhead press or can be done without weights. The height of the rings can be adjusted to lower the difficulty for ring rows, or alternatively, can be replaced by an inverted barbell row.
5. Lunges/Pushups/Cardio WOD
As many rounds in 15 minutes of:
- 15 lunges
- 15 pushups (off a wall, elevated surface, or on your knees if necessary)
- 200 m cardio
Benefits for seniors: lunges strengthen the legs and improve the balance and stability of the knee and hips. Pushups build strength in the upper body, especially in the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Training cardio improves the strength of the heart and lungs.
Potential scaling-back option: if lunges are too difficult, you could do split squats or step-ups instead. Pushups can be done off a wall or on your knees.
So you aren’t as young as you used to be. That doesn’t mean you have to slow down or allow yourself to be less active now.
You can absolutely do CrossFit as a senior, although it might take a few adjustments to make the training programs fit for you.
By scaling the exercises back to suit your abilities, even as a senior, you can get great results from training CrossFit workouts.
I am a strength and fitness coach with 5 years of experience working for gyms and working on my own as a mobile trainer. I have done weight training instruction both in group and one-on-one settings. Myself, I am interested in strength sports and have trained in powerlifting for 10 years and kickboxing and karate for nine years.