Category Archives: Masters

Mastering Box Jumps: agility training will make you stronger.

Box Jumps and Injury

Master Athlete Amy Kramer (on the box jump).

Change (unfortunately, not for the better)in ability to see well, shift focus, and perceive depth can slow Masters Athletes performance. It can also increase risk of falls and injury. This may be most apparent as new CrossFit athletes first start with box jumps. Box jumps are notorious sources of embarrassment, excruciating shin pain and even sometimes worse.  You can Google “Box Jump and Injury” and get lots of hits, including some pretty horrible stuff on YouTube. For those unfamiliar with CrossFit, this involves jumping onto a surface 24″ (for men) or 20″ (for women) repeatedly for time. This can be plain intimidating when you are not used to it. It may take longer for a Master to figure out exactly where the surface is, and how much effort must be expended in the jump, than it would be for a younger athlete.

Box Jumps and Masters Athletes

 The Masters Athlete, especially if new to Box Jumps, may feel intimidated and uncomfortable. Glasses, especially with bifocal lenses, can make depth perception worse. They can also impair contrast sensitivity and ability to negotiate obstacles in general. This can increase risk of tripping over equipment or other athletes (Lord et al. 2010).  If you are having trouble with box jumps you might want to try it without your glasses and see if you feel more comfortable. From personal experience, box jumps get easier to do with practice. Right now the key thing to focus on is the jumping, landing and dismount. I’d focus on this before worrying about making box jumps a speed exercise.   Think of it as a balance and agility move, rather than an explosive force move.

Box Jumps and Balance Training

Here’s a little good news and something to work on. Balance training can improve the amount of force you can generate (Grenarcher et al. 2007). The Grenarcher study is very relevant to Masters, although it seems that balance training would help younger athletes too. The people involved in the study were divided into two groups. One of the groups spent 13 weeks doing balance exercise on wobble boards, sissles, soft mats, and uneven surfaces. The other group did not. At the end of 13 weeks the balance-trained group was stronger in terms of explosive force. Balance and agility training are worth the trouble.

Menant, J., St George, R., Fitzpatrick, R., & Lord, S. (2010). Impaired Depth Perception and Restricted Pitch Head Movement Increase Obstacle Contacts When Dual-Tasking in Older People The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 65A (7), 751-757 DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glq015  

Lord SR, Smith ST, & Menant JC (2010). Vision and falls in older people: risk factors and intervention strategies. Clinics in geriatric medicine, 26 (4), 569-81 PMID: 20934611  

Granacher U,Gruber M, Strass D, Gollhofer A. (2007). The impact of sensorimotor training in elderly men on maximal and explosive force production capacity DEUTSCHE ZEITSCHRIFT FUR SPORTMEDIZIN , 58 (12), 446-451

Masters Athletes respond to protein intake and resistance exercise as well as young athletes.

CrossFit Masters Athletes and Protein Intake

This is an interesting bit of research.  It was published a year ago but doesn’t seem to have been picked up by news sources.  Here it is: Masters muscles respond to protein intake and resistance exercise by making more muscle as well as young adults.  The study (Patton-Jones et al. 2011) looked at 7 young adults and 7 adults with an average age of 67.  They did multiple reps of knee extensions and ate a meal of lean ground beef.  Its a small number of people, which limits its power, but its hard to recruit people for this kind of thing.  And . . . it required a muscle biopsy.  That might have hurt.  The authors didn’t mention if it did or not.  Thank you study people for doing this for us.

Crossfit Master Amy Kramer of Crossfit Seven,
 Competes in a Reebok CrossFit Fundraiser
at Luke’s Locker, Fort Worth, TX.

Do Masters Athletes need more protein?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t important differences between people in their 60s and people in their 20s.  See this earlier post.  What the research tells us though is that the rate at which muscle proteins are synthesized following protein intake and resistance training does not appear to change with age.  At least not through our 60s.  The results are important because we all want to stay strong, and most of us would like to get stronger.  That, along with a desire for fun and camaraderie is why we do Crossfit.

Protein Intake and Sarcopenia

It seems like there are a lot of messages out there telling us we won’t be able to.  Stuff it.  Another reason why these results are important is because people tend to lose muscle mass as they age.  This is what sarcopenia is.  It can be a real problem for the elderly, and can severely limit their ability to get around and take care of the business of life.  The question of how much of sarcopenia is inevitable, and how much is due to inactivity hasn’t been completely answered.  But this study points to lack of resistance exercise as a possible major factor.

Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Mamerow MM, Wolfe RR, & Paddon-Jones D (2011). The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 15 (5), 376-81 PMID: 21528164

The CrossFit Games. The Masters: Ken Cutrer, headed to the Crossfit Games 2012

Ken Cutrer, Crossfit Master Athlete and prominent Fort Worth Attorney, is legend in South Central.  Cutrer, who is also known as “The Godfather,” started Crossfit with his law partner, MMA fighter Max Effort.   The two began working off the main site about eight years ago.  We spoke with Cutrer about training for the CrossFit Games.
Ken Cutrer at the Rower
When Cutrer first started Crossfit he would pick and choose WODS that were less likely to induce Effort’s more provocative antics.  But in 2007 he decided to follow the Main Site workouts and stuck with them, regardless of how demanding and grueling they were or how embarrassing Effort’s behavior became.  “That’s when I started to see big improvements.  In my athletic performance, I mean” says Cutrer. “Effort was definitely a distraction, but I was too exhausted to get upset about it.” It wasn’t long before his times became competitive with times other Crossfitters were posting online.   “We didn’t know how old people were back then.  I would wait for Chris Speeler to post and then see if I could beat him.”  
Ken Cutrer of CrossFit EST in Richland Hills, TX

Cutrer competed in the Crossfit games for the first time in 2008.
He has continued to follow main-site WODS, but also spends a lot of time honing skills, attending clinics and workshops, getting stronger and experimenting with different approaches to programming.   “In 2008 I focused on Olympic lifting following Greg Evertt and have done CrossFit Football since 2009.  I learned a lot from that.”  Cutrer follows a Paleo-type diet that he describes as heavy on olive oil and rum.  While this may sound unorthodox, his performance gains have been unbelievable. He has made it to regionals every year since 2009 and placed 8thin the Games Masters Division in 2011.  
In addition to practicing law, Cutrer now runs his own box, CrossFit EST with his partner Chris Lofland. The two have coached one of Crossfit South Central’s most competitive female athletes, Candice Ruiz.   Ruiz hopes to be Masters Athlete someday, although frankly she really cannot imagine being that old.  Ruiz placed 17that the Games in 2010 and will be returning again this year.  
Cutrer recommends young athletes follow Rudy Neilson’s programming at Outlaw Crossfit and do two WODs a day leading up to the Games.  Cutrer also recommends lots of volume while keeping a close eye on rests and athlete fatigue.  “I think Xfitters are hard charging type A competitors.  There’s a different between can I or should I?” said Cutrer, eyeing Effort.  “What are you going to get out of it?  Come back another day.” 
As a Master, Cutrer acknowledges needing to back off some.  “It takes a little longer to recover” now that he’s 47, says Cutrer.  “If you’re injured or hurting, work on something else.  Rests are important.  It can be hard to get the message across.  A lot of endurance athletes have this problem.  They come in with the attitude that more is best and they need to change that.  There is a better way to train.  I’ve watched people who were marathoners dial back mileage and still go out and get a PR with nowhere near the wear and tear they would have had before.”   Cutrer advises Masters athletes, and in fact anyone headed to the Games, to remember how complex it is to organize and pull off an event like this, especially with the sport evolving and growing so rapidly.  “I heard some people were unhappy with having Masters out in a parking lot last year, but I wasn’t.  We (Masters) need to be our own separate thing.”   
Cutrer has been preparing for the games by following a 3 on 1 off, 2 on 1 off alternating workout schedule. Cutrer says that since both strength and speed are important in competition, he is devoting time to each.   Cutrer says he did not stress too much about his performance in the Open.  His goal was to make the top 20 to qualify for the Games, not necessarily place at the head of the Leaderboard.  “I was just interested in qualifying” says Cutrer “1st or 17th doesn’t matter at this stage”.   Cutrer is, in many ways, the ideal Crossfit Masters Athlete:  fast and strong with lots of experience and a defense attorney’s sweeping sense of strategy.   It will be a huge advantage to Cutrer to have seen it all before.  He knows the Game and what to expect.

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CrossFit Training for Masters: how to stay strong and healthy

 CrossFit Training For Masters Atheletes.

How to be your best.

Remember who you are now:

Crossfit Seven Master Athlete Mark P. Demos Pull-ups
More confident, smart and astute.   Less of an idiot.  Less impulsive.  Still, every now and then the cognitive and physical end up on different pages. You know that awkward feeling you get when you dive for a Frisbee, knowing exactly where your body should have been to gracefully capture it?  Don’t let that happen with a heavy weight. 
Reduce other sources of stress.
If you can.  Stress can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, which will depress levels of growth hormone, possibly slowing recovery.
 
Don’t overtrain.
This can be a hard thing not to do.  For a lot of us, the whole point of doing Crossfit is to push ourselves.  A lot of us also use Crossfit to unwind, enjoy time with people we like, and work out the day’s frustrations.  However, there seems to be a consensus that rest and recovery are extremely important.  A lot of masters athletes will be wondering what the ideal program would be; especially if they are headed for a competition.  That goes for young and junior athletes too, who tend to feel invincible and may have more of a problem letting up on intensity.  There is little research on how much training or how much rest are ideal for Masters.  Best advice to follow is listen to your body and see how you feel.  Most of us are much better at this than we were as novices.  If you are a novice, and over train, prepare to be injured, uncomfortable, and really tired.  And maybe irritable and not as fun to be around as you usually are.  Focus on building strength, flexibility and endurance rather than worrying about keeping pace or beating someone else.  One of the wonderful things about Crossfit is that Trainers and fellow Crossfitters will yell at you to PUSH!  Unless you are exceptionally hot, famous and outgoing, it’s unlikely that they will know your body as well as you do.  Or know much about Masters Athletes in general.
Don’t over rest.
Masters may need a smarter recovery strategy.  You need to longer to recover but can tolerate less inactivity than juniors.  There is also some evidence that long periods of rest (10 days) may cause masters athletes to lose some of the enhanced glucose control gained through training faster than younger athletes.  Use active recovery methods and vary your training.


Fell J, & Williams D (2008). The effect of aging on skeletal-muscle recovery from exercise: possible implications for aging athletes. Journal of aging and physical activity, 16 (1), 97-115 PMID: 18268815 ResearchBlogging.org

CrossFit Masters Training: Strength vs. Endurance and the Master Athlete.

CrossFit Masters Training

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes sometimes eat coconut oil

Masters Crossfit athletes face a problem of having to work harder to build speed and strength, and maintain it, than do more junior athletes.  There is unfortunately not a lot of research on Masters’ performance and most of what there is focused on endurance athletes like swimmers, runners and cyclists.  And little to go by when training as a Crossfit Master.  As Crossfit athletes we need everything: speed, endurance and strength.  As a general rule, all masters athletes can keep a competitive edge over peers by combining high-intensity aerobic and resistance training.  This is exactly what we are getting in varied strength and endurance programming.

Endurance athletes score high on cardiovascular markers with greater arterial flexibility, less thickening of arterial walls and better vascular endothelial performance (performance of the inner layers of blood vessels) than others.   Unfortunately they show little preservation of muscle mass over time. Those who are primarily into resistance training maintain muscle mass and function better than others, but do not do as well on cardiovascular tests as those who focus on endurance. The best strategy appears to be to keep up with both and both will be important for Crossfit performance.  That goes for juniors too.

Shibata, S., & Levine, B. (2012). Effect of exercise training on biologic vascular age in healthy seniors AJP: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 302 (6) DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.00511.2011

Reaburn, P., & Dascombe, B. (2008). Anaerobic performance in masters athletes European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 6 (1), 39-53 DOI: 10.1007/s11556-008-0041-6

Long-term exercise prevents muscle loss in Masters Athletes.

We all fear loss of strength and competence that might occur if we were to actually get older. We’ve probably all heard, and seen ourselves, that people lose muscle mass and bone with advancing age. Its depressing. While ignoring it and putting concerns aside works pretty well generally speaking, its nice when evidence supports our drive and desire to have a good time while staying strong. Exercise prevents much of the muscle loss seen in older people. A lot of the muscle loss observed in seniors may simply be due to chronic inactivity. Its difficult to separate inactivity from any inevitable loss of strength in research studies, since many people become inactive with age. The study referenced below used highly active athletes aged 40-81 and evaluated their health/activity, body composition, quadriceps peak torque, and made magnetic resonance images of bilateral quadriceps, Mid-thigh muscle area, quadriceps area, subcutaneous adipose tissue, and intramuscular adipose tissue. Mid-thigh muscle area and quadriceps peak torque did not decline with age. Specific strength did not decline with age either. Good news. And a little bad news. There are changes in performance with age. One important one appears to be slowed reaction time. This means slower running and slower lifts. It is quite possible that loss of speed is a major factor in the amount of weight you can lift. Hopefully as the Crossfit Games continue to evolve, we will see scaling for Masters in line with physiological factors.

graph from Korhonen et al. 2009. 

ResearchBlogging.org

KORHONEN, M., MERO, A., ALÉN, M., SIPILÄ, S., HÄKKINEN, K., LIIKAVAINIO, T., VIITASALO, J., HAVERINEN, M., & SUOMINEN, H. (2009). Biomechanical and Skeletal Muscle Determinants of Maximum Running Speed with Aging Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41 (4), 844-856 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181998366

Wroblewski, A., Amati, F., Smiley, M., Goodpaster, B., & Wright, V. (2011). Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 39 (3), 172-178 DOI: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933

Crossfit Review: Austin

Twisted A Fitness is a great place to drop-in for travelers headed to or thru Austin, TX.  They have a large, well-equipped box, climbing equipment, basketball hoops and are located right off I35S.  Crossfit Master Rodney Anderson offers a structured and very thorough warm-up, technical coaching and plenty of encouragement.  They are also open to out-of-towners who just want somewhere to lift. 
For anyone moving to Austin, Twisted A offers good community and an informal, laid-back atmosphere that is accepting of both beginners and long-term Crossfitters.  Good with kids.
Riley: photo credit Andrea Kirk

How does age influence performance in the Crossfit Games?

Sharp, experienced and stubborn as hell.

We’ve been struggling to write this without sounding overwhelmingly geeky and don’t think its working.  So, let’s just do this:

Partial data from the 2011 CrossFit Games (in this case,
women ages 40-44 who finished in the top 1000) affords an interesting outlook on performance by age.  Would that all data were available.  What is most obvious is that numbers of participants appears to decline with age.    There were a lot more 40 year olds in the top 1000 than there were women aged 41-44. This may reflect a number of different things.

  1. Fewer women participate in sports in general as they enter their 40s.
  2. There are fewer women participating in this sort of activity.  
  3. There may be more attrition due to injuries
  4. People mellow out in terms of giving that much of a $hit after age 40 about competing.  

It does look like the 40 year olds did better than the rest.  The top three 40 year old performers placed 23rd, 33rd and 82nd overall while the top three 41 year olds placed 463rd, 509th and 520th.  That is a huge drop.  Things were a little better for the top 42 year olds at 255th, 309th and 476th overall. 43 year olds gained a little more ground placing 220th, 230th and 438th and then the 44 year olds dumped it placing 387th, 710th and 963rd.  Studies of trained athletes by age show a modest decline in performance after age 40 followed by pretty good maintenance until age 70 when there is another larger drop.  Good news is that there’s no reason why we can’t continue to enjoy beating ourselves into the ground.  Give it some more thought at 70, and don’t take a drop in performance around that age personally.  Its not you. 

Crossfit and the Ketogenic Diet. And a little about Crossfit Vegetarians

Ketogenic diets have proven helpful to people with uncontrolled epilepsy and may be of benefit to epileptics in general, to victims of stroke and other forms of brain injury and possibly cancer. They come with other effects that may not be worth the discomfort or unintended risks to healthy people.

Ketogenic Diets for Healthy People

Some of the problems that may show up along with Ketogenic Diets are kidney stones and, in women and girls, amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is associated with bone loss, increasing risk of osteoporosis, and indicates problems in hormone balance. Supplementation with calcium may help with this, but then again, it might not. Physiology can be quite complex, and consumption does not necessarily indicate absorption is occurring. It is quite possible that something that causes hormonal imbalance in women may also cause hormonal imbalance in men. Playing with one’s physiology, when we don’t know the unintended outcomes of such play, may be inadvisable, especially long-term.

womens shirt crossfit or kettlebell shirt
Birth of Venus and her Kettlebells in Blue: Athletic shirt for crossfit women, kettlebell enthusiasts, and crossfit vegetarians

I have been a vegetarian for 30 years and an athlete all my life. I have excellent bone density, low blood pressure, low resting heart rate, low fasting blood sugar, excellent blood lipid profile and great strength to body weight ratio. I’m happy and healthy, even though I thoroughly understand I represent but a single data point. I do get a lot of advice from well-meaning crossfit friends that I need to eat meat and would be much healthier if I followed a ketogenic diet.  Vegetarians are often described by some Crossfit participants as weak and “skinny-fat”. I will leave it at this: The “optimal diet” for one person may not be the “optimal diet” for another, nor the optimal diet for all conditions. Humans are omnivores and physiologically polymorphic and adaptable. This has given us tremendous abilitity to survive in wildly different climes and environments, and has made us such a resilient species. It is also quite possible, that our individual resilience allows our bodies to adjust to dietary and environmental change.

The current state of research indicates no harm though, from short-term ketogenic diets. I have not found much in the way of research on the risks and benefits of long-term ketogenic diets in healthy adults. Anyone who wishes to add a citation, please feel free.

Kossoff, E., Zupec-Kania, B., & Rho, J. (2009). Ketogenic Diets: An Update for Child Neurologists Journal of Child Neurology, 24 (8), 979-988 DOI: 10.1177/0883073809337162

Bergqvist AG, Chee CM, Lutchka L, Rychik J, & Stallings VA (2003). Selenium deficiency associated with cardiomyopathy: a complication of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia, 44 (4), 618-20 PMID: 12681013

Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, & Wilson CJ (2009). Long-term effects of a very low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet on mood and cognitive function. Archives of internal medicine, 169 (20), 1873-80 PMID: 19901139

Anti-bacterial soap, male fertility and endocrine disruption

Triclosan is used in many personal care products as an anti-bacterial agent. You can find it in soaps, toothpaste etc. Triclosan has estrogenic properties  or estrogen boosting properties.  This means it can behave like natural estrogen in the body.  Or, it may increase the power of natural estrogen.  Estrogen, like other hormones, is a chemical messenger.  It passes through cell membranes, attaches to estrogen receptors and “tells” genes it is time to make some product or activate some process.  Adding estrogen-like chemicals can result in increased activity.   Too much estrogenic activity can increase risk of cancer in estrogen-sensitive tissues: Breasts, for example.  In men, too much estrogen can reduce fertility.  The role estrogen plays in men is still under investigation.  Here is a recent article from the NY Times on estrogen and aging in men that will help explain things.  In rats, triclosan has been found to cause abnormal testicular development and abnormal “other” male tissue.

WODMaster - Experienced as Hell T-Shirt
Join us.! Wear the shirt!

Other interesting findings about triclosan are:

  • People with high triclosan levels also have higher BMI on average
  • Are more likely to suffer from allergies, including food allergies

Paul et al. (Dec 2010) have demonstrated that triclosan alters thyroid hormone levels early in lactation. Thyroid hormones are especially important during fetal and infant development because they play crucial roles in brain development. Early thyroid hormone deficiency alters neurological function in animals, and in human, reduces IQ and increases ADHD-like behavior. There are many environmental contaminants that interfere with thyroid hormones including PCBs, PBDEs, perchlorate, and nitrate. It is difficult to study the impact of exposures to these chemicals in humans because its hard to know how much people are exposed to over time, and people are probably never exposed to just one agent at a time. Its important to consider additive (or synergistic or antagonistic) effects and not consider them individually. For now, its probably best for pregnant and lactating women to limit their exposure to triclosan.  Guys, you too.

Paul KB, Hedge JM, Devito MJ, & Crofton KM (2010). Developmental triclosan exposure decreases maternal and neonatal thyroxine in rats. Environmental toxicology and chemistry / SETAC, 29 (12), 2840-4 PMID: 20954233
Lankester J, Patel C, Cullen MR, Ley C, & Parsonnet J (2013). Urinary triclosan is associated with elevated body mass index in NHANES. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24278238
Stoker TE, Gibson EK, & Zorrilla LM (2010). Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology, 117 (1), 45-53 PMID: 20562219

Savage JH, Matsui EC, Wood RA, & Keet CA (2012). Urinary levels of triclosan and parabens are associated with aeroallergen and food sensitization. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 130 (2), 453-600000000 PMID: 22704536

Kumar V, Chakraborty A, Kural MR, & Roy P (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reproductive toxicology (Elmsford, N.Y.), 27 (2), 177-85 PMID: 19118620