Alert: Kickass aging in progress! Two inspiring fellow members of my CrossFit gym were the last ones standing in the Battle of the Kettlebells.
I love my workouts at CrossFit Northern Ice in Prince George, BC (their huge new space is pictured above). Note: That’s definitely not me on the right with the kettlebell – but I sure wish it was!
Anyway, this post lists 8 reasons you should consider adding CrossFit to your anti-aging arsenal.
What is CrossFit?
At a CrossFit gym (also called a”box”), the focus is on varied whole-body movements performed at high intensity, often using barbells, pullup bars, kettlebells, or dumbbells.
There are no weight machines. Each workout is different, so your body never knows what to “expect” and you never get stuck in a rut.
The atmosphere is supportive, and yet competitive (in the friendliest possible way – because most CrossFitters are competing against themselves).
Read more on the official CrossFit site.
8 reasons you should try CrossFit
(1) Muscle helps you age well, and CrossFit builds muscle
So much of what we think of as aging is really just accumulated damage from decades of sedentary living – programs that build muscle, like CrossFit, can help you reverse this.
- We lose muscle mass as we age
- The amount of lean muscle mass you have is one of the best predictors of health and longevity
- CrossFit is a very effective way to build muscle, and to just generally get in the best shape of your life: Want proof? Try a Google image search for”before and after CrossFit.”
(2) The random workouts are fun
Each day, there’s a different workout. Will you be doing squats today? Rowing? Working on pullups? Or all of the above?
You won’t know until the day of your workout — this keeps it fresh, interesting, and fun.
(3) CrossFit mimics ancient patterns of movement
In your quest to age well, exercise is one of your most powerful weapons. This article says it well (I added the bolding):
Physical exercise, long touted as merely a means to calorie disposal, turns out to have complex endocrine and metabolic effects on insulin signalling, stress response, sleep, mental health, and even neuronal function in the brain. What the science seems to say is that an ancestral way of life aligns the machinery of our metabolisms toward good health. Thus it appears that our bodies aren’t, after all, destined for chronic disease as they age – rather, it is the environment we’ve put them in that should bear the blame.
Basically, that hunter-gatherer body of yours “expects” you to follow ancestral patterns of movement:
- Occasional bursts of extreme effort (sprinting, climbing, etc.) when hunting prey or escaping from predators or enemies
- Lifting heavy stuff — infants, roots and plants you’d gathered, or meat from a kill.
- Lots of walking. One study put pedometers on hunter-gatherers (I wish they had photos!) and found they routinely walked 6 to 16 km per day (3.7 – 9 miles).
CrossFit won’t give you the hours of walking every day, but it’s got definitely the other 2 covered:
- Bursts of extreme effort? Check. The “workout of the day”(or WOD) part of each CrossFit class tends to be short and intense — for example, the WOD called “Cindy.*” Cindy will kick your butt: in 20 minutes, it requires you to do as many rounds as possible of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 squats.
- Lifting heavy stuff? Check. Each hour-long session starts with a strength component where you practice deadlifts, squats, and more. CrossFit will definitely make you good at lifting heavy stuff. It’s a great feeling to be able to easily lift my carry-on suitcase into a plane’s overhead compartment by myself, or to deadlift 24 cans of something at Costco.
So if you did CrossFit two or three times a week, mixed in with a bunch of low-level activity, like walking, slow running, gentle cross-country skiing, or biking, you’d be pretty close to replicating the activity patterns of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors — and well on your way to healthier aging.
(4) CrossFit will push you harder than you’d ever push yourself
If I work out alone at home, it’s too easy to stop whenever I start to feel tired or bored. It’s amazing how creative I am at coming up with clever rationales for quitting:
- It’s time to start making dinner!
- What if I get injured? I feel fine, but maybe I better stop just in case. Better safe than sorry!
- Whoops, just realized I forgot to write that important email!
- And so on…
But our ancient ancestors didn’t have a choice – run away from the charging lion, or be eaten? Chase down the injured antelope and bring it home for the tribe to share, or risk starvation? Sprint to grab that baby out of the path of the falling tree, or not?
As Mel Brooks famously said, fear was the main means of transportation in the Stone Age.
The above examples are close to what a tough Crossfit workout feels like. Being surrounded by others who are pushing themselves to their max is very motivating – it’s peer pressure at its best.
(5) Thanks to “scaling”, people of all abilities and fitness levels can work out together
In CrossFitSpeak, “scaling” means adjusting a workout to your own specific level of ability.
For example, I might do a workout using a 10-lb dumbbell, while the super-fit 30-something guy next to me can do the same workout and finish in about the same time, but using a 50-pounder.
The non-scaled workouts are called “Rx”, meaning “prescription”, or “prescribed.”
If you’re not up to doing the Rx version of a workout — maybe you’re a newbie, maybe you’re recuperating from an injury, or maybe your own personal body mechanics currently just plain force you to use a lower weight — a good CrossFit coach will guide you to a scaled version that’s right for you.
With scaling, everyone gets the best workout possible for them, and doing the workout together as a group builds community and provides support and encouragement.
I also really like the fact that men and women can work out together, something that scaling makes possible. CrossFit’s very egalitarian that way.
(6) CrossFit provides an insanely supportive atmosphere
During a recent workout, I was being timed and judged to get an official result in the CrossFit Open (see # 7, below). I swear my wonderful judge, Talya (a fellow Northern Ice member), said “Way to go, Anne!” or “You got this!” on every single one of the 217 burpees and lifts I did in the allotted 20 minutes.
Every. Single. One.
It made an enormous difference, and definitely helped me achieve a better result. Thanks, Talya!
People refer to CrossFit “tribes,” and it really does feel that way. If you’re the last one to finish, everyone will gather round and cheer you on, and everyone typically high-fives each other after a workout. Everyone knows each other’s name, and before and after workouts, people typically hang around and chat.
Last year, I tried a bootcamp (non-CrossFit) at another local gym. I tried to behave in my normal CrossFit-like manner, high-fiving people and encouraging them, but this was not the way of the bootcamp.
Basically people just showed up, did their workout, and left, without really talking to each other. I found this sad. Bye-bye, bootcamp.
(7) The CrossFit Open
The CrossFit open is a 5-week event during which CrossFitters from all over the world compete with each other. If you join a CrossFit gym, don’t worry that you’ll have to do the Open – it’s optional.
During the Open, CrossFit releases a new workout each Thursday, which athletes must complete by the following Monday. To ensure fairness, all workouts are either judged and witnessed, or videotaped.
Recreational CrossFitters like me use the Open as a way to rank themselves and track their own progress.
For competitive types, the Open is the first round on the journey to the worldwide CrossFit Games – the “Olympics” of CrossFit, which only the elite of the elite will quality for.
(8) CrossFit prepares you to succeed in other sports
Part of the motivation behind the invention of CrossFit was to prepare people to succeed in other sports. (The “Cross” in CrossFit comes from “cross-training”). The idea was if that CrossFit helped you become stronger and faster, that could only help you become a better skier, runner, soccer player, etc.
I’ve certainly found it to be true. A few months after starting CrossFit, I signed up for a 3k race. On zero training for running, I was surprised (and thrilled) to win my age group.
Likewise, my cross-country ski season this year got off to the strongest start ever, thanks to the conditioning and strength built by CrossFit.
So — what do you think? Are you ready to give CrossFit a try? Or maybe you’re already an avid CrossFitter! Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
*CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman named some workouts after women, in the same way that storms are sometimes named after women. His rationale was that these workouts are so demanding, they leave you feeling as though you’ve been hit by a hurricane. Wooo!