Four months shy of my 40th birthday, plagued with burnout and an overuse injury while training for my tenth marathon, I signed up for a free trial at the nearby CrossFit gym. I wanted to build strength and create more balance by adding some cross-training to my regime.
Starting anything later in life is challenging and this is especially true of beginning CrossFit at almost 40 years old. The learning curve feels quite a bit steeper when your hair has started to turn silver and your knees creak every time you squat. Regardless, the value I’ve gotten out of every single WOD has been well worth the effort. Here are a few personal insights from starting CrossFit later in life.
Have Some Humble Pie
“Did you add more weight?” The question cut through the conversation I was having with the two other gals I’d partnered up with.
“Yes.” I sheepishly replied, uncertain if this was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Why? You didn’t master the movement.”
“Oh.” Bad thing. My lip formed into a pout as I removed the two five pound plates I’d added to the bar.
Every single time I walk into the gym, I feel humbled. I thought I had done a decent job at keeping myself in shape. And to some extent, I have. But none of that matters. At least not anymore.
I’ll admit that watching the other students adding thick plates to their bar made me a bit envious and slightly ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to squat something heavier than the empty bar.
Trustingly, I returned to the empty bar. I measured my grip like I’d been shown, curled my fingers around the rough metal, and swooped down under the bar until it was resting on my upper back before straightening my legs to lift it up off the rack.
I adjusted the placement of my feet, pressed my seat back, and began lowering into a squat. Then, driving down through my feet while trying to make sure my knees were not collapsing toward each other, I straighten my legs back to standing.
“Good!” She repeated as I stepped forward to rerack the bar.
I’ll admit that watching the other students adding thick plates to their bar made me a bit envious and slightly ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to squat something heavier than the empty bar. However, I realized later that this exercise had nothing to do with my age or lack of strength. Learning to perform movements properly and safely, under the guidance of someone who cares about my wellbeing and success, is imperative as a master athlete.
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
The expression “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is essentially an idiom used to illustrate the theory that you can’t make people change their behavior or that it is difficult to teach older people to do things they haven’t done before.
With a few months of CrossFit under my belt, I’ve come to believe that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. The key, however, is patience and persistence, on behalf of both student and coach.
I can’t tell you how many times my coaches have had to explain a movement or skill to me. Sometimes after the fourth – or fifteenth explanation – something clicks and there is a glimmer of improvement. Other times, I continue chipping away while trying to not let my mounting frustration show as they throw out verbal cues and reminders.
“Tuck your chin.” I hear from somewhere beyond my periphery for the third time in as many minutes. “Keep your gaze forward.”
When I first began, I had a laundry list of skills I wanted to master; none of which I could do. But now? I’m starting to get the hang of a few of them. I can string together a small set of double-unders, monkey up the rope, and kip my way through a couple of toes-to-bar.
“Move your knees back and explosively open your hips.” This prompt is frequently on repeat.
“That’s better!” I hear and feel relieved. So, this old dog can learn new tricks!
Being a Beginner is Awesome
Being a beginner was awesome at first. Everything was new and any semblance of a skill or progress was a total win. One hundred unbroken single-unders? Woo-hoo! Burning 12 calories on the Assault Bike without getting nauseous. Hooray! Being told to add more weight to the bar? Total badass!
After about six weeks though, I was no longer the newbie and my progress – as I perceived it – had stalled. The problem, I realized, was that I was no longer considered myself to be a beginner so the expectations I placed on myself were higher than realistic. (“I should be able to do a pull-up by now.” “I should be able to clean more than 55 pounds.” “I should… I should… I should…”) I decided then and there to resign myself to being a beginner; vowing to approach each class, skill, movement, etc., with the mindset that there was something new to learn.
“Your hips need to be behind the bar when your toes touch… bring your feet down fast!”
I drop from the bar and dust my palms with more chalk before I reset. Standing slightly behind the bar, I mimic the hollow position with my arms stretched overhead. I jump, grasping the bar as I swing forward and back, hollow again as I raise my feet to touch the bar.
After about six weeks though, I was no longer the newbie and my progress – as I perceived it – had stalled. The problem, I realized, was that I was no longer considered myself to be a beginner so the expectations I placed on myself were higher than realistic.
My legs float down, not fast enough to find the cadence I need to repeat the movement. I drop from the bar and apologize for failing. Again.
“Don’t be sorry. You’ll get it.”
Being willing to experience CrossFit as a novice each and every time I step foot into my box has not only impacted my attitude but ensures that I’m learning to move efficiently, builds my confidence, and has taught me to trust the processes regardless of however slow progress seems.
My CrossFit journey has been an incredible experience threaded with valuable lessons in addition to more defined biceps. Being a beginner, at whatever stage you are at in life, takes humility, patience, persistence, and heaps of trust. Afterall, the number of trips we’ve taken around the sun shouldn’t define what we are capable of.