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Training Silvers by Joey Powell - CrossFit Journal

Training Silvers

By Joey Powell

In Coaching, Special Populations

May 28, 2010

PDF Article

Senior athletes require a special approach, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t CrossFit. Joey Powell offers tips on how to help your senior athletes achieve health and fitness.

Working with seniors has taught me a lot, but most of all it’s taught me that we must embrace the lessons they can share first and then patiently return the favor.

After working with many “silvers,” I think it’s productive to view the senior athlete as you would a classic or antique car. The vehicle may have set speed records in its day, and it may indeed still be able to burn up the track, but that does not mean it should. A 1950s Corvette might hit 150 mph down I-17, but at the first time that driver pulls over he should be arrested, and perhaps beaten, for abuse of a classic. Classics are meant for cruising.

With that, it is important to note that “intensity,” as we commonly experience it with CrossFit, is not to be strived for when training silvers. Rather the trainer must be very thorough on the diagnostics before allowing anyone to put the “pedal to the metal.” If the traditional means of recognizing intensity (sweat, heavy breathing or writhing on the floor) do not appear, we should then not go hunting for them.

So let’s apply some of the same logic for the care and restoration of a classic car to training a “silver CrossFitter.” Just like finding a neglected classic car cached in a barn, working with a senior takes time, careful preparation and dedication. Put in the effort, and you’ll be rewarded with a classic that runs like new—and sometimes better.

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16 Comments on “Training Silvers”


wrote …

Excellent article. So much of what we have previously considered to be an inevitable loss of function due to aging is actually disuse. From a scientific perspective it will be fascinating to watch crossfit firebreathers as they transition through the decades and into "silver" territory.


wrote …

This was a fantastic article. The video linked at the end showing "silvers" working out was just as inspirational to me as watching a spealler fran.


wrote …

Great article. Glad to see the inclusion about ROM issues. At a cert that I attended in FT Worth (2 years ago?), one of the HQ trainers tried to "force" a silver into locking his elbows out in an overhead snatch position. It wasn't going to happen. In visiting with this silver, he had competed for years in Masters comps in WLing and his elbows had taken such a beating, short of surgical intervention he was physically unable to achieve complete lockout. HQ trainer still insisted that he needed to work on getting those elbows locked out! WTF, listen to the client, understand their age and go forward on a plan. Don't mean to be an asshole and pick on a newbie HQ trainer, but it is what it is.


wrote …

Not to diminish the many good points in this article, but as a 60 year old man (am I considered a "Senior" ?), I caution against stereotyping. I have benefited from and have appreciated not being treated with "kid gloves". No trainer at Crossfit Oahu has ever suggested that I attempt less or take it easy because of my age. I have always been active and in good shape, but at 60, I realized my goal to be in the best shape of my life. Because of the Crossfit culture and encouragement, I am doing things (HSPU's, Muscle ups, freestanding handstands, etc) today that I did not believe I was capable of pre Crossfit. I have more goals to conquer, most important is to get stronger and complete the CFO RX checklist. It may take me a bit longer, but with good coaching, progression methods and continued encouragement and support, I plan on enjoying the journey and cherishing each small progression. Thanks for recognizing all age groups, fitness becomes even more important as we get older. Aloha


wrote …

I agree with Mark Lasko, this is a good article which contains many excellent points. However, as a 67 year old crossfitter, I do find the tone to be a little condescending. Trying to figure out what to call those of us over 50 has always been an issue, but “silvers” sounds like a primatologist talking about chimpanzees and apes.

One of the great things about CrossFit is that anyone can participate. It may take some of us well beyond our prime to admit we are no longer are able to function at the levels we enjoyed in our youth, but scaling makes it possible to stay active. The CFJ has published several good articles about age and how it affects training and I hope this trend continues. Joey Powell’s is one of the best because it discusses specifics that trainers and participants need to consider. Believe it, or not, it is difficult for someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s to truly understand how the body changes over the years.

Another good source of information for anyone interested is “Younger Next Year written by Chris Crowley and Henry Long.


wrote …

I agree with Mark and Dan -- there are many excellent points and advice in this article. But they were gentler than me. In fact, I found the article stunningly condescending and stereotypical. I'm hoping that Joey's comments and advice are specifically intended for a "special population" of older, de-conditioned adults who are new to structured physical activity; and maybe he just wasn't clear on that. Because the picture painted here in this article is not the world I know. I'd like to present some comments so that less-experienced CF trainers don't assume this article is typical of all older adults and make blanket, incorrect judgments. Because if I went to a CF box, and the trainer talked to me as presented in this article, I'd laugh -- and leave. And, I don't ever want to see someone not achieve what they want to do, solely because someone else sets false preconceptions because of a date on a birth certificate.

1) The generations that you're naming "silvers" grew up being active. I'm almost 54. I come from a background where physical activity, fitness, and sports were a normal part of daily life. We played outdoors, we climbed trees, we rode our bikes everywhere, we camped and hiked and were outdoors as much as possible. We didn't need a gym to get fit because we were active outdoors all the time. (We didn't need to "train" for functional fitness, we were functionally fit.)

That's in stark contrast to later generations where phys ed is no longer in schools; kids, teens, and adults spend hours in front of the TV and computer. My guess is that people over 40 are likely to come from a much stronger active background than someone in their 20s; at least in my world that is the case. We likely have a far greater knowledge of athletics, strength training, and conditioning than our younger CF friends -- because we have 50, 60, 70 years of doing it. And whatever injuries and aches and pains we bring with us to a gym -- well, we're used to getting hurt and getting back in the game; we know our bodies; and we know how to deal with those things. In fact, if we're walking into a CF gym, it's because we don't let let stuff stop us.

2) The comments addressing physical limitations and health conditions could apply to anyone. Elbows not locking out overhead because of physical limitations is not age-specific. Nor is concern over knee pain, or existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes, digestive issues, high blood pressure, etc. The author gives valuable advice regarding those, but it is stereotypical to paint them as a condition of the aging process.

3) Many behaviors are incorrectly attributed to the aging process-- it applies to all ages. I've taught movement to children from ages 3 on up to adults. Fixation with the ground (watching your feet), distraction by movement in peripheral vision, reacting to loud crashes and actions, uncomfortableness with "chaos" in a gym or studio, etc. - that applies to everyone as they're acclimating to a new physical environment.

4) Some quotes from the article that I find mind-boggling:
"With that, it is important to note that “intensity,” as we commonly experience it with CrossFit, is not to be strived for when training silvers."

"silvers do not only require scaling. Silvers need different programming—vastly different, at first—that allows them to safely handle the chaotic nature of more advanced WODs and the CrossFit gym environment later on."

And just to let you know - Yes, I can get up from the floor and back down without drama (???). (Ok, I admit, by day 63 of the burpee challenge I was whining a little bit, is that what you mean by drama?) Not only can I walk through a hopscotch (wow!) - I can beat my nieces. And yes, I can jumprope.

Yes, getting down to the lower cupboards is important - because I'm re-building them. Maybe like you said, the 115-pound power clean isn't important -- because this year my goal is a 95# clean and jerk. (In fact, instead of knee-jerk reacting to this article, I should be downstairs training.)

For a good laugh and some rolley-eye expressions, I'd love to show this article to my friends, and fellow athletes at the gym:
-- a 60+ couple climbing all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado (I think they've nailed balance, agility, climbing over small obstacles, and many other limitations you mentioned)
-- a 50+ woman who backpacks all over the U.S. -- solo
-- my almost-60 year old buddy who continues to own the local title for mountain biking up a particularly nasty, steep 1000m singletrack. No one can beat him.
-- a 40-50 year old man at the gym Thursday who not only was jumproping, but teaching others to do DUs - and I should mention: Single-leg DUs.
-- a 60+ man doing a circuit from Men's Health who was doing burpees as fast as any I've seen in CF
-- my 50-60 year old buddies who race off-road ultra-marathons
oh, I could on and on and name literally dozens of examples ...

Maybe I'm singularly fortunate to have been surrounded by fit, active people all my life. But this is my world.

... Just another view than what was presented in the article. :)


Joseph Powell wrote …

Ladies and Gentleman, please understand, the article was not written about you. Close observation of the posture problems in the photos should make this clear. Your activity level is higher and/or age is outside the scope of this article. The offense you are taking about my tone makes me giggle as a former Infantry Officer and Special Operator, since being soft in tone has NEVER something I have been accused of.

This article is an introduction for trainers to the world of an older population that is not currently ( nor have they been in years, if ever) athletically active. Often, as you can see in the accompanying video, with moderate to advanced pathological issues.

I firmly stand by my article and will state unequivocally that not to pay such diligence boarders on woefully negligent, if it does not take a running jump into criminal.

Hip replacements, knee replacements, osteoarthritis, cancer, amputees etc are found here. War wounds are found here. Auto accidents are found here. Work place trauma is found here. Angioplasties are found here. Strokes are found here. These people can not even complete the 9 foundational movements with pvc due to ROM and/or health issues generally. The intensity will work itself out over the weeks and months after the movements do.

I don't think I have ever heard or seen someone criticized for being careful and conservative with their client's well being. CrossFit community is amazing indeed.


wrote …

Great article Joe.


wrote …

I appreciated the article. While I certainly understand the sentiment of the people who criticized it earlier in the board also keep in mind where the author is coming from. He is the owner of an affiliate. Maybe he was generalizing a bit too much, but at the same time as a box owner you also will have liability in the back of your head at all times.

Speaking from a personal perspective this article actually described by grandparents to a T. They are 92, 86, and 84 respectively and they have all of the issues described within the article and I would certainly hope that the CrossFit trainer they went to had read this article to keep his perspective sharp on this specific demographic.


wrote …

Ugh... I couldn't get past page two. SILVERS?????


wrote …

Great article Joe, don't concern yourself with the whiners and/or braggarts. Of course there are anecdotal examples of older athletes who can perform at a higher then normal level. We've all seen above average individuals in our daily training. Knowing that some people can outperform doesn't excuse a trainer for not taking into consideration all factors when training an athlete, including age and injury. You have nothing to apologize for and your concern for the more experienced athlete is commendable.


wrote …

This is a great article, thanks Joey.


Matthew Crabtree wrote …

Great article. Of course it doesn't apply to everyone, but it does apply to many.


wrote …

Third read just as good as the first!


wrote …

"If your Nerve deny you, go above your Nerve."
Emily Dickinson


It is a pitty that this great article has had no follow up as a topic. Maybe I missed it, but I can not find it as a topic.

CrossFit understands that kids must be approached in a different way. This article makes it clear that also older people must train and be approached in a different way.

I started CrossFit at the age of 56. During my life, I was not sporty but on the other hand, I was never affraid of being active. The training was very heavy and at one time I had even rhabdo (no pain no gain, I thought).
After a year I participated the qualifiers for the Lowlands Throwdown (The Netherlands). There are only two categories of athletes, elite and masters (from 40 and up). You can imagine that I was crushed by all those athletes of 40, 41, 42 and 45. I ended as number 45 of 64 male master participants.

I kept on training and many young athletes admired my courage and persistence. I began training three to four times a week. The rest of the week, I stumbled around with stiff leggs, burning knees and shoulders and I became very very tired.
While others, much younger, made great progress, I noticed that I was wearing out my body. I pushed (the pedal to the metal) an old car, build in 1956.

It is hard to find and/or invent an training for older athletes. The solution is not just "scaling" as I experience. The approach and variety must be different. I have only the CF L 1 certificate, what is far not enough to invent a program. But indeed it helped me to understand CrossFit and the movements.

There are many many older people sitting at home in an arm chair, waiting for something to happen. The quality of their lives will improve energetically, when they will attend a solid training, based on the functional movements. CrossFit is a good training, but it must tuned to older people, like it is done for children.

And yes, older peolple can be part of the CrossFit community. Maybe they do not talk as much about shoes, clothing and sweet potatoe/egg muffins, but their motivation is inspiring and their experience with live, can be a source of knowledge.

I hope that CrossFit will encourage people to invent trainingprograms for older (55+) athletes.

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