Crossfit For All Ages

fit 55

Katie Rose Hejtmanek, PhD

Stay Strong, Mobile, and Able!

“It is a great feeling when you can apply what you do in the class to life. The other day I had to take a big package to the Upper East Side. Normally, I would have taken an Uber. But I thought, ‘We do carries [in class], why not try?’ So I carried that big package on the train. Saved myself 60 bucks.”

Mary, 62 year-old woman, is talking about a Fit 55+, a CrossFit class for older adults offered at CrossFit South Brooklyn. According to CrossFit South Brooklyn’s website, Fit 55+ is a “strength and conditioning class for older adults … who want to exercise in a fun, safe, and inclusive manner. Whether you’re a total newcomer to resistance training or more of a veteran, our classes will challenge you to become better.”

Fit 55+ is another way to for mature adults to maintain or increase their fitness levels.

 

CrossFit

CrossFit, or branded functional fitness, is very popular American fitness practice that focuses on varying functional movements in a high-intensity setting (for a full definition see here). HIIT challenges people to improve their fitness by building their strength and enhancing their conditioning during an hour-long class. Since 2001, men and women around the world, there are about 14,000 CrossFit affiliates worldwide, have been joining CrossFit gyms in an effort to get or stay healthy and fit.

Related Article: Exercise Now, Stay Fit Later

In addition to fitness, CrossFit is known for its focus on building a community within the gym. These gyms are places where people meet, socialize, build camaraderie, and support one another along the road to fitness. CrossFit claims that CrossFit gyms are about the community as well as fitness. And, as a cultural anthropologist studying branded functional fitness, I would say they deliver. In a master’s thesis, Harvard Divinity School students included CrossFit as one of ten places that “Millennials gather” instead of traditional religious institutions (for a New York Times write-up of the study see here). In other words, CrossFit is a fitness practice that seeks to build a community around strong bodies and fit selves, and for more than just Millennials.

 

Not Just Millennials

Part of CrossFit’s brand – the high intensity – can be intimidating for newcomers. I’ve regularly heard in my research that people were “intimidated at first” due to “the use of barbells” in workouts. In an effort to be more inclusive some gyms are trying to assuage fears and intimidation by offering a range of fitness classes and by focusing on the applicability of branded functional fitness to every level of fitness (note Mary’s discussion of “carries,” a skill trained in the classes that has direct translation to everyday carrying demands). For example, CrossFit South Brooklyn, a CrossFit affiliate in Gowanus Brooklyn and better known as CFSBK, isn’t just a CrossFit gym for Millennials.

CFSBK is adamant about wanting to be more inclusive of a wide-range of fitness enthusiast. It is at CFSBK where I observed Fit 55+. In addition to the Fit 55+, CFSBK offers Diapers and Dumbbells “a postpartum fitness class designed to help new mothers and their partners safely return to exercise, connect with other parents, and develop the strength they need to support their growing babies”, as well as CrossFit Kids and CrossFit Teens. CrossFit South Brooklyn is a place for families to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle together.

 

Fit 55+

One Wednesday, June morning, I observed a Fit 55+ Class for this story. I wanted to know what Fit 55+ was, why the gym offered it, and what participants had to say of their experience.

After a full warm-up to get the blood flowing and heart rate up, I watched five mature adults practice their deadlifts, a lift that requires one lift a barbell off of the ground to one’s hips and then lower it again. Deadlifts may sound intimidating but the movement is used when picking something, anything off of the floor. It requires a hinge of the hip, a slight bend in the knee, and a return to standing. However, put a barbell in the mix and sometimes that simple, everyday movement becomes intimidating. Not for these 5 individuals, three of whom claimed to never being athletic or fitness oriented before. They had been coming to Fit 55+ for months and were slowly adding weight to their barbells.  They were getting stronger.

After the strength portion of the class, the athletes did a “MetCon” or CrossFit speak for metabolic conditioning, the “cardio” portion of the class. For 12 minutes, participants did dumbbell thrusters, kettlebell swings, and box step ups for 40 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest. The skills required in this session are taught in the class and are similar to regular CrossFit classes. All 5 of the athletes glistened with sweat after the 12 minutes and reported that they felt great.

I sat down with Coach Brett Ferguson, one of two Fit 55+ coaches, after the class and asked him to tell me the history and reason for the class. He said that he was interested in working with mature adults at CrossFit South Brooklyn because when he worked at a CrossFit gym in Seattle he noticed older adults used the fitness practice to move better. There are really two paths as we age, he tells me, either get stronger or become frailer.

In our medical system, often cures for health woes include a pill. This is especially true as we age. However, everyone doesn’t want that solution. In Seattle, he found, that some older adult chose CrossFit rather than the pill and they loved it. When his co-coach, Christian Fox, approach him and the owner of CFSBK about a class specifically geared toward an older population, he was all for it.

Related Article: Quick Facts For A Healthier You

Coach Christian Fox proposed the idea of Fit 55+ to fit the needs of a few of his fixed-income personal training clients. These clients wanted to continue working out with supervision but couldn’t afford the one-on-one training. Also, a friend’s mom was looking for a class geared toward mature adults. One of the best aspects of CrossFit is that it is “scalable” to any fitness level, which means that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to participate. Fit 55+ is a way to decrease the intimidation factor of CrossFit and to focus specifically on the needs of older adults.

I began this piece with a quotation from Mary, a woman who has been attending Fit 55+ for a few months. She felt empowered by the class to carry a big package on the subway train, up and down the subway stairs, and all the way to the Upper West Side from her house in Brooklyn (a $60.00 taxi ride away). And she did it.  She, she told me, applies the functional movements she is learning in the class, such as carries, to her everyday life.

Suzanne, 70, and Alison, 56, two other Fit 55+ enthusiasts, echoed Mary’s appreciation of the applicability of class skills to everyday life. Alison, a nurse, said, “I still work and I had to get my strength up so I could make a living.” Susanne said she heard about the class through word of mouth and figured she would try it out. She told me she had never been into sports or athletics and this was all new to her. Coach Brett shares, “She couldn’t step up onto the box with her left leg a few months ago, now look at her, she is doing it in the workout!”

 

Part of the Community

On Memorial Day weekend every year, CrossFit affiliates all over the US and the world dedicate the day’s workout to an army veteran named Michael Murphy. The day’s workout is called “Murph” and is a mile run followed by 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, and 300 squats followed by another mile. Sound difficult? It is. In CrossFit fashion, you can scale the workout to your personal fitness level – run 400m, do ring rows instead of pull-ups, perform fewer push-ups, and so on.

fit55The options are endless. Together and in a variety of scaled forms, thousands of people do Murph every year as part of the national and international community of CrossFit. This year, three of the Fit 55+ regulars did Murph. They felt empowered by their training in Fit 55+ to participate in this very difficult workout with their fellow athletes at CFSBK. And then they celebrated Memorial Day with their new friends at the barbecue that followed.

In addition to special events, Fit 55+ members are an important part of the everyday community. The class itself takes place during a busy time – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 am –, right after Short Circuit at 10 and a CrossFit class at noon. Also at 11 is to Diapers and Dumbbells. While Fit 55+ is geared for mature adults looking for a less intense setting, many of CFSBK 55+ members attend and are welcome in all classes and specialty activities, such as power lifting. The idea is to provide a space and community that welcomes and encourages all levels of fitness and interest in CrossFit.

Fit 55+ provides space for older adults to work on their fitness and to be part of the larger CFSBK community. CrossFit isn’t just for Millennials; it’s for anyone interested in being fit and strong throughout the lifespan.

Why not give it a shot?


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