Masters Athletes: The Second-Class Citizens of the CrossFit Community

Mike Casavant never would have guessed that answering one simple question on a Facebook forum would lead to 400 clients clambering his way for help with their fitness. But that's exactly what happened to the owner of  Iron Force Athletics in Massachusetts.

Two years ago, Casavant stumbled across a CrossFit masters athlete Facebook page. He posted a reply to an athlete, who was looking for tips to solve his hip impingement problems during deadlifts.

Before Casavant knew it, more and more athletes started firing him questions—often age-related training queries.

“I had been working with a number of older athletes and had learned a lot, so I just started answering people’s questions,” said Casavant. At the time, it seemed to him masters athletes were being overlooked in the CrossFit community. Their specific needs just weren’t being met, he said.

“There was really nothing for these people…it was such an overlooked market.” Casavant said. “They need coaching more than anyone, but there was nothing really focused on them.”

So he decided to take on the market himself.  And today, his masters business is booming: Casavant works with 400 masters athletes—most of the virtually—from all around the world. 

2013 CrossFit Games champion—53-year-old Colleen Fahey—is one of Casavant's athletes benefiting from his specific approach tailored to athletes of her demographic

Three ways Masters have different needs:

Casavant believes masters athletes need to be treated slightly differently than young fire breathers in their 20s. Three specific areas he focuses on to cater to the 40 to 60-plus demographic are as follows:

RECOVERY

No matter how fit your are, when you get older you do have to be more careful with your body, Casavant said. This is especially true when it comes to recovery.

“At 45, you’re not bouncing back the same as you were at 22,” he said.

This means his program takes rest protocols into consideration more carefully than a program he might write for a 22 year-old in his prime.

VOLUME

Similar to recovery, the body doesn’t want to do Outlaw-style volume at 50, Casavant said.

“Before they came to me, a lot of (my athletes) were previously doing programs like Outlaw. Outlaw is a great program, but it’s often too much volume for an older athlete. It isn’t designed for them. Many of them were burnt out or injured. And when they train with us, they find themselves moving better and getting through the days better,” he said.

INTENSITY

Casavant believes older athletes should avoid truly maxing out on their lifts as much as possible.

“If we run a strength cycle, we really don’t break 80 percent much after the age of 40. Recovery takes too long. And it’s so much harder on the body. There’s no reason for them to test their one rep max other than maybe once a year,” Casavant said. This once a year is often during a competition.

“I stand very firmly on this,” he added. “I want them to be doing this for the rest of their lives. And in order to do that, we’ve had to make a couple sacrifices. Lifting loads that don’t tax them and put them out for a week is one of them.”

Casavant's  program currently serves more than 400 athletes worldwide

INJURY PREVENTION

53-year-old Colleen Fahey, the 2013 CrossFit Games champion who trains at CrossFit Blackbox in Tallahassee, Florida, explained one of the biggest challenges for a woman her age is remaining injury-free.

“I’ve had a few back tweaks and the usual shoulder and elbow tendonitis from overuse. I’ve been careful to try to maintain progress without injury,” said Fahey, who has competed at the CrossFit Games the past three years. “I think most masters struggle with mobility and keeping healthy."

Fahey has been working with Casavant for the last five months and trusts his approach to keep her healthy.

 Staying injury-free helped Fahey win the recent Wodapalooza event in Miami

50-year-old Scott Graham, who trains at Butcher's Lab, Copenhagen, Denmark said he has been healthier than ever since following Casavant's program.

“I have had my healthiest year since joining up with Mike. Both the constant focus on technique, and a lot of mobility and gymnastics stuff have kept me healthy and allowed me to really improve the way I move,” Graham said.

For Casavant, two of the keys to keeping his athletes injury-free are mobility and patience. This is where Gerilyn Burnett comes in. She’s the gymnastics and mobility specialist on Casavant’s team. She preaches patience and a systematized way to learning movements, Casavant explained.

“Some of the athletes have been a bit skeptical of my program at first because it doesn’t seem like a straight CrossFit program,” he said. This is partly because instead of just hitting WODs all the time, Burnett focuses heavily on specific mobility and range of motion aspects of training. And she has a very strict approach to teaching athletes new movements. 

For example, there are very specific prerequisites she makes them have before they’re allowed to try a muscle-up, Casavant explained.

“If you don’t have x, y and z, how are you going to be able to do a muscle-up?" Casavant explained of Burnett’s approach. “She has really helped people slow their minds down and has forced them to be more patient.”

Program Logistics

Pretty much all of Casavant's 400 athletes today are between the ages of 35 and 61—with the great majority being well into their 40s—each of whom pays $37 a month. He has so much work he can’t do it all himself, so he gets help from an expert Olympic weightlifting coach, as well as Burnett, to help him design the programs.

He offers three streams of programming: the Basic program, the Competitors program, an a new program called 'Injection.'

“The new program (Injection) is for masters athletes who are short on time. They have a life, kids, and maybe a business, so spending two and a half hours a day at the gym isn’t possible for them,” he said. “So this program is pretty all encompassing, and it gets them in and out within an hour.”

On top of receiving a training program, Casavant’s athletes also receive access to video tutorials. And possibly the biggest draw is access of the private Facebook Group. This is where the magic happens, Casavant explained.

For Graham, 50, the Facebook group has been invaluable. 

“My schedule is such that I often train alone…(so) sharing the victories and struggles with the Iron Force crew on Facebook is a lot of fun, and gives me a great experience of community,” Graham said.

Not only is the online group a place athletes share experiences with each other, it’s also a place they can ask questions and get solutions from the coaches and other athletes. And it’s also a place they can just come together and share a laugh with people who share a common bond.

“The athletes on the Facebook group have a great sense of humor…you’re just as likely to see some killer dance moves as you are a big lift,” he laughed.

Training masters athletes has been as rewarding for Casavant as for his athletes, he said.

“I (used to train) college athletes and high school athletes, and often they were so unfocused. Their goals are all over the place, and it was often like pulling teeth to get people to what you asked,” he said. “With masters athletes..., most of them are more settled down with their lives, they have real life responsibilities, and so this becomes a big part of their lives to keep them going. They’re so passionate about it and just want to get better....You give them anything and they’ll do it.”

He added: "And they’re so entertaining. The 50-plus crowd is doing absolutely insane things. I hope to God one day when I’m 50 years old, I can still do this stuff.”
Graham isn't your everyday 50-year-old man. He can bust out handstand push-ups like he's in his prime!















Emily Beers
Emily Beers

Author

Emily is a CrossFit coach, athlete and writer. Before her CrossFit endeavours, she played NCAA and CIS basketball and then turned her attention to rowing while completing her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario. As a CrossFit athlete, Emily has competed at three CrossFit Games - with her CrossFit Vancouver team in 2010 and 2011, and as an individual in 2014. She has been a regular contributor to the CrossFit Journal since 2011, and freelance writes and blogs for various companies.



3 Responses

Lincoln Pearle
Lincoln Pearle

March 13, 2016

You will be introduced to the other athletes around the world that have been running our programs and are just as eager as you to continue evolving and reaching your goals

Sue Percy
Sue Percy

February 19, 2016

Great article. I am a 53 year old coach at Crossfit Wirral UK and find more and more members are masters and require that extra approach to their training. It helps that I am older as it sites that we care and condsideration we can all keep training.

Victor McQuaide
Victor McQuaide

February 18, 2016

Great read. Mike is my friend and he is a beast. So happy for him with his well deserved success. Write on Mike and Emily

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