In Medical/Injuries, Special Populations

January 24, 2009

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Paul Manfre writes about what happened to his experience of aging when he started CrossFit.

Getting old sucks. I’m only 51, not ancient by any means, but I can see the future, and it ain’t pretty. I’m fatter than I used to be, less buffed than I used to be, even shorter than I used to be—all this, despite an active lifestyle that gives me the appearance of someone years younger than my peers. For years I’ve gone to the gym. I’ve been a runner forever; a while ago, I began doing triathlons. But things start happening that are out of your control. I went from running 10 miles a day, to running 200 yards and feeling like I couldn’t run anymore. At 30, I could run 10 miles without having run in months, but not now—my knee, my ankle, my this, my that, would hurt.

At 51 years old, with 195 pounds that I think is muscle, and in what I think is great shape except for a bad lower back and terrible shoulders, I walk into this CrossFit box. I’m this former warrior, with a never-quit attitude, ready to show this CrossFit trainer what I got. And I quickly find out that I GOT NOTHING!

Being crushed, I think, could cause many people to be embarrassed or intimidated or, worse, quit. But I sucked it up. I substituted scaled Workouts of the Day (WODs) for those I knew I could not do or would be terrible doing. I became a student again. For the next several weeks, as we went through foundations, I learned to do the movements more correctly.

And when I do, an amazing thing happens: I notice that I don’t limp any more when I get out of bed. My shoulder still hurts all the time but I have a much improved range of motion. I can actually get my arms above my head, something that a short time ago was impossible. I’m doing the WOD scaled, but I suddenly do one as RX’d, and I get better and better.

Plus, Manfre’s Dirty Dozen: Rules To Live By for 50+ CrossFitters

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30 Comments on “He’s 51—and Getting Younger”


Ned Ferguson wrote …

Loved the article. I can relate. I am 47 with a ruptured and two bulging lumbar discs. I hurt all the time. But I still manage to do Mr. Joshua rx'd and, like you, I am feeling better every day. Crossfit rocks. I never thought I would work out again. Now I go five days a week and take my 15 year old son with me each morning. I truly cherish the time we spend and the goals we acheive together.


wrote …

I'm 46 and the best strength of my life was 20 years ago. Back then I lifted to survive the high-g environment of the F-15. After that, I slowly dropped weight lifting and got back to biking. Even that over the years eventually dropped to zero. Earlier last year I got motivated. I was back to lifting and running but I really hurt. I couldn't sleep on my shoulders. My back hurt. I was miserable. About three months ago I was introduced to Crossfit. My shoulders feel better then they have in years. I'm lifting things over my head more than I ever have. I'm not benching as much I had in the past though I feel like I'm more fit than I had been in years. I attribute all this to the science of Crossfit.

Thanks for the article.


Russell Benedetto wrote …

Paul; Great article. I am 52, started crossfit with my younger brother on December 23, 2008 and have not missed a cycle... Your article is an inspiration to me as 50+ CrossFitter..... Thank you


wrote …

Hey Paul you are far from alone. I to am 51 and just started crossfit this past week. To say I was humbled is an understatment! I have lifted weights and tried to stay in shape as far back as I can remember, so to get my butt kicked as throughly as Crossfit did was very hard on me. I work out at Diablo crossfit so I get a lot of positive encouragment from the members. I know I will improve as my technique gets better and my lungs get stronger. I had to laugh at myself when I did my 1st 20" box jumps, I was thinking how something so natural to me when I was younger seemed so darn hard and scary to me now. I am so glad I have made the change to Crossfit. I have my goals in mind and for the moment its just learning the skills and pushing myself as hard as I can go.
Best Regards
Ron Lorensen.


Terry Dickman wrote …

I loved your article Paul. I am also 51. I was in the military and participated in competitive athletics in my younger years. I banged up my shoulders playing football, ice hockey and lifting. I had shoulder pain for years, mainly from my injuries. I finally had surgery on both shoulders a few years back. The surgeries really helped. I started Crossfitting two months ago. I joined a local affiliate Crossfit Excel in Escalon, CA one month ago, for me joining this affiliate has made all the difference in the world. My goal is typically to just do the WOD rx’d. It’s nice to know I am not the only one feeling like a cripple when I first get out of bed.
Thanks for the inspirational article I really enjoyed it.


wrote …

You say your son goes to ASU. As in, Appalachian State University? I go there and we have a good group of CFers here. I'm surprised I haven't run into him at the SRC.


wrote …

Thanks for all the positive remarks. It helps me too knowing I am not alone with my aches and pains.
My Son is a student at Arizona State University.


wrote …

Excellent article. I've read countless fitness biographies and this was one of the best. I haven't hit my 50's yet but when I do I'll re-read this article.


wrote …

Great article, I really enjoyed it. 51 is not old! (I'm pushing 61). I have two problems, a bum knee, and over-doing it when I go down to the shed. I can do a great deal more work when motivated by all the young guys but then takes me days to recover. I will take your message to heart: scale, scale, scale, and take the E out of ego. Great to hear that from a former SF guy. Thanks.


wrote …

The rules to live by apply to all of us, even if we are under 50. Thanks Paul. Great article!


Phillip Sarris wrote …

Great to hear there are other 50 year olds committed like I am to something so simple and fudamental, functional training. At 53 and training the crossfit method for three years, I have really developed body awareness. I understand my strengths and weaknesses and every day I am improving. It takes hard work and discipline but I wouldn't have it any other way. My friends think I'm a bit wacky and I try to get them to try out Crossfit and they won't. They are afraid to go where they've never been before! That's their loss.

I would like to share with all you young 50 something Crossfit maniacs. A few years ago I was having problems running. My knee cap (Patella) was bothering me on my left knee and the hamstring on my right leg would always seem to tighten up. I was attributing this to old age and running was no longer a way of training.What I found out was my SI joint was out of wack. Well a PT and Chiro gave me some stretches and eventually I was back to doing 100,400,800 meter intervals. I still had a problem with a my patella aching and the other knee was starting to ache. One day at Crossfit I was talking to my buddy Smitty and he recommended I roll out my IT (Ilio tibial) bands with 6" diameter foam roller.So I tried it, all of a sudden the knees felt fine. As simple as that. Upon further research, I wanted to know why this happens. With me my quads and gluteus medius muscles were always tight ( I believe from squats) which created a tremendous amount of pressure on the IT band which in turn pulled on the patella. So I went out and bought a 6" foam roller and dug out one of my sons old baseballs. Rolling on the baseball in the tight spots especially the Gluteus medius and using the foam roller over all has improved my range of motion/flexibility tremendously also alleviating any previous pain. I use these two items in the AM when I get up and PM before I retire to dream land. When I do this and warm up properly my work outs go much smoother I have more range of motion in the hips.

I hope this is helpful for some of you. Remember with Crossfit 50 is the new 30!


wrote …


Thanks for your article. I am glad to see the CFJ running more articles for those of us who are a bit more mature. Like you, I have always been active and tried to maintain a good level of fitness, though I never made it to your Special Forces heights. While I to have come to terms with the decline in my physical abilities, it really helps to read an article like yours that reaffirms that I am not alone in noticing the aches & pains.

When I read your article this morning I was trying to decide whether to work out or not. I am at a resort right now with the typical tiny, poorly designed weight & conditioning room and I was just going to forget about it. Now I will go. I started CF about a year ago and like you, even at 65 years, I feel better than I did when I was just using individual machines and other random exercises. I try to stick to the 3-1-3 WOD pattern and was glad to read all your comments on scaling which I usually have to do. BTW, if you haven’t read “Younger Next Year” by Crowley & Lodge, you might enjoy it.

Thanks also to those of you who wrote excellent comments about Paul’s article. I use the gym at the university from which I retired, but I went to the Athens Crossfit affiliate and took a month long course to learn the philosophy and proper use of free weights and other movements. I am a firm believer in CrossFit and hope to be active for years to come.



wrote …

Paul, I'm 53 and I started CrossFit in February of 2008. I spent 30 years active duty in the Army and I'm still an Army contractor with a very active job. Fortunately my job keeps me in contact with a bunch of young military crossfitters. I was frankly a little bored with the same old PT regimen and one of the guys convinced me to try CrossFit. I have also always been physically active but noticed many of the problems you discuss as I got older. One problem was a general weakness in my back; I noticed I would "grunt" when picking up objects that really weren't that heavy. Well, I have literally stepped back in time as to my overall level of fitness. I have zero back problems. Yes I'm scaling many of the weights but the intensity is there. I turned my garage into a gym and my wife said that CrossFit was crazy, but in July she decided that if you can't beat them, join them. She now is in the best shape she has been in since our son was born 18 years ago. (By the way, he's a Rat (freshman) at the Virginia Military Institute). Great article - glad to hear from all the "old guys"! Well, I just got back from a trip so I'm off to do Barbara - 3,2,1, Go!


wrote …

I did really enjoy writting this article but the best part has been the coments from all of you. Thank you all very much!


wrote …


Thank you so very much for the article, I am 51 years old, have two blown knees, status post two fused cervical discs about a year ago, and a blown L5-S1. Therefore, I appreciate your grit working through the pain, not just the physical and emotional, but the breaking down the psychological barriers to training. It brings to mind what Eastwood had to say in "Heartbreak Ridge" Adapt-Improvise-Overcome. And you sir, have done so.

I have just started Cross Fit and realized, to the crushing blow to my physical ego, that I can move the building, but I can not run around it without becoming breathless.

Yes, the younger muscle pumpers make fun of me, but they do not dare squat or dead lift with me.

I would ask how do you adapt to recovery, and maybe share some of those secrets on the CF blog.


wrote …

Paul, thanks for writing this article. Every thing you say about middle age is true. Even the shrinking part, I'm 58 and have lost about 1.25". lol. But Crossfit is the best for what ails us! I'm doing things I never dreamed of doing before stumbling on Crossfit in April, 2006. What is best is that I,m still posting PRs. The mental discipline exerted to get through the wods is also a valuable lesson. This summer my wife and I rode bicycles across the US. We rode fully loaded for camping and towed a trailer with our dog in it. This was pretty challenging. We might have been tempted to quit when pushing our bikes and the trailer up 14% grades in Utah, but we had already endured the likes of the Filthy Fifties and Murph. We knew we could do it.

Two thing to remember (when you can) as you age; 1. Use it or lose it. 2. Old guys rule (well.. we sometimes like to think we do).

Thanks again Paul for an excellent article,



wrote …

Paul - I'm 53 and CF'ing for about a year and a half. When I first tried it out, I thought I was back in grade school testing for the President's Council of Physical Fitness in my junior high gym. Burpees, squats, jump rope, step ups on chairs, push-ups, sit-ups. At first I thought, this is crazy. Then I noticed how much better I felt after every workout. The glow stays with you. I kept at it, and started to really work it. Then the weights were introduced, and now, I can't get enough of it, and I feel better than I did at 35 and a weekend jogger. I might be an inch or so shorter than my so-called prime years, but I've gone from 6' and 184 and turning into a middle-aged crypt keeper to 175, toned all over, looking younger, and able to run faster and longer than I did at 35. Now my 21 and 17 year old boys are giving me a run for my money and I couldn't be happier. The best part - try doing this and NOT feeling better mentally. This is not only the physical fountain of youth, it is the best anti-depressant on the market. Everyone, from kids to oldsters should learn and incorporate interval training into their daily lives for functional and everyday well-being. Thanks for spreading the word, Paul.


wrote …

# 15 As for recovery I usually fake it..LOL Sometime I hurt so bad but it still feels good. I mean being sore after a great workout feels a lot better than when your hurt without a workout. What ususally works for me is just doing it. It is amazing when your legs hurt so bad that you can't even walk and the you get a WOD with ten thousand air squats. I find that by the time I do my warmup, which ALWAYS includes overhead squats with a light bar, my legs feel better. The other side of the coin don't be stupid if you are hurt take a day or two off. It is better to loose s day or two than a month or two due to injury. I hope that helps?


wrote …

What an inspiring article. I stumbled onto crossfit in October 2008. Do not have a history of working out with much consistency prior to that, and at 54 suffered all of your described aches and pains. Especially the shoulders. After nearly 2 years of extreme pain, lack of sleep and other symtoms, I decided I had to do something. The theme use it or lose it kept popping into mind.When faced with cortazone treatments and/or pain killers, I decided to try physical therapy and exercise. Joined a conventional gym, worked with a personal trainer and physical therapist for about 6 months. They really helped to get my shoulders active again. Then I discovered crossfit. In the 4 months, 3-4 days a week, I can say that relatively, I have never been in as good of shape that I currently am, and the 50+ aches and pains that most of the above posts refer to have mostly all turned into just sore muscles (good hurt). And I am most fortunate to work out with people in there late 20's to mid 30's. The energy is contagious. I am hooked not only on the WOD's, but the supportive friends that crossfit gyms are full of. Thanks for the article Paul. Check out our website at


wrote …

Maybe we should all get together and start an over 50 club? We can discuss our limitations and injuries and how to overcome them with Crossfit? Just a thought.


wrote …

That's really a good idea Paul.


replied to comment from Ronnie Lorensen

Ronnie LET's do it! Where do you think we should post it?


replied to comment from Paul Manfre

Paul and Ronnie, I am 51 and I am all in on this.....just let me know what's up and I will assist in anyway that I can.



wrote …

Right on! I am 57, almost 58. Same story as the others. After a year of CF I feel better than I ever have. I actually took the Level 1 cert last year and am serving as a trainer at our affiliate.


replied to comment from Ned Ferguson

Right On!! I am 47 years old and I have been doing Crossfit for 2 years now. It's a love hate relationship.LOL I keep coming back for more and more, I think everyday after work, OMG i wonder what the WOD of the day is and how bad is it going to be, and when I get there and finish the WOD, I know why I keep coming back. It's the feeling that Crossfit gives you of well being and your body feels AWESOME afterward and the results are fantastic! I am currently overseas now for OEF/OIF and I am teaching people what other muscle groups they have in their body that they never knew where there. They love the Crossfit workout! We are limited to equipment but we modify and get it done. I recommend Crossfit to everyone!! No matter how old you are YOU CAN do it! By saying that you can you have already opened up your mind to the game. Good for you for sticking with it!! GET SOME!!! Karla


wrote …

I joined the journal just now so I could comment. I'm 52 and although I have 20+ years of skydiving behind me, I have never been truly physically fit. Running was something I did when I was younger just to catch a bus.

I am a new CF enthusiast of just over a month. I manage to schedule 3 workouts a week into a schedule that includes full time work and single parenting. I am still (and probably will always be) the slowest participant but the personal satisfaction I get from completing a workout is priceless.

I started out not being able to run 100m without stopping for breath. Now I can make 200m. I still dislike running because it is so challenging for me but I am seeing improvement and that is very encouraging. Last workout I just kept telling myself - this is my choice, I choose this. Finishing was a major accomplishment.

I would like to participate in a 50+ group. The other members at my CrossFit gym (Crossfit Marysville Wa)are fabulous in their support and encouragement but are many, many years younger than me. I appreciate hearing about the aches and pains and knowing I'm not alone :)

Thanks Paul for writing your article!


if its a fifty + club, count me in

Im 49 and in denial. Have decided on 10 free standing handstand push ups for My 50th party piece in November


Julianne Taylor wrote …

I'm 50. I have never been an athlete and only a sporadic gym goer.
In May 2009 I tried out CrossFit to see what my nutrition clients were doing (I'm a Zone diet Instructor and Nutritionist) Best and most fun (and often most grueling) exercise I've ever done.
I've got fitter and stronger, and love every session. Amazing to me as I've never really loved exercise before, I'm more of your bookworm, stay indoors type.

I also follow the Paleo diet (with a Zonish balance) strictly as I have auto-immune and menstrual issues - which have completely resolved. So now I'm in the best health of my life, and I can stay at my leanest fairly easily.

I was recently cover girl in a the Magazine section of a National Newspaper, when they did a feature on diets.

Here's a link to a copy of the article if you want to check it out:



wrote …

Paul - terrific article. It resonated with me on so many levels. I am 53 (ok, 54 next month) and have been a life-long badminton and squash player. Those are 2 demanding sports (particularly anaerobically) and they have kept me in shape and given me confidence about my fitness. But when I began my CrossFit Foundation classes 4 months ago, I was humbled! Like you, I am "golfing the back nine" and I am not as strong and certainly not as flexible as I once was. But I am now very close to the best shape of my entire life, and I mean that in a broad sense. No I am not playing squash at the level I did 20 years ago, but I can see my overall fitness improving rapidly and I do believe that within a few months I will be setting all sorts of PR's because I am trying so many new things. Your article inspired me; particularly when you talked about yourself as being your competition. Well done. Your dirty dozen points for 50+ CrossFitters were particularly on point.


wrote …

I'm 51 and starting CrossFit 1 year ago. I was always in shape but CrossFit has made me so much stronger. I've gained 12 pounds of muscle, am still lean but have dense muscle tone. I just started RXing 2-3 and sometimes 4 WODs a week now. I can finally do pull ups and am actually thinking about going for the Masters in 2013. I love CrossFit and all it represents. I love the community, It just does not get better than this!

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