Bill Grundler


Master Program or EASIER Program?


My brother, James, is a Games-level Masters Athlete in the 45-49 division.  He is strong, he is fast, and he is capable of doing some pretty incredible workouts and doing them well.  When I programmed for him and got him from the general crossfitter to qualifying to the Games in 2015, we had to build him to an elite capability.  But the way to do this was NOT by picking some general program out there and then just giving him a lighter version of it because is older.

Now I’m not saying that Masters Athletes should be doing Matt Fraser's workout program, even if they want to be a competitive Games level Masters.  But the program should be at a level that pushes those that would be in the Games.  For example, how many Masters Programs would program Clean and Jerks at 225# for men and 155# for women regularly?  Does that seem like too much?  What about a set that has Masters doing increasing weighted thrusters from 135-185# for men and 95-125# for women at
30-20-10-20-30reps?  Is the volume too high?  In both instances, the answer could be yes and it could be no……solely depending on the athlete that is doing the program.  

For my brother, I knew that he could handle those weights and these rep sets just fine.  So then why would I make the C&J weight at 185# or decrease the reps or the weight for the thrusters just because he is older? I wouldn’t.  The only reason I should make the weight lighter is that I am wanting a particular response from the workout.  I want a higher intensity.  So I bring the weight down and then he can do more reps faster increasing that intensity.

I get so frustrated watching Master Athletes jumping to a program because it's popular but not understanding that it's really not designed for “them”.  The BEST way to get the programming for yourself would be to have a coach that sees you every day program for you.  They will know your strengths and weaknesses, they will know how you move, they will know your real limit to push to, they will see how you are recovering for the next day and how you feel, and they will be able to see if you are getting the right stimulus from each piece of the programmed workout.  But I get it, it's expensive.  

The next option would be to have a program designed for you.  Whether this means a truly designed program specific for you remotely or a templated program, it's important to understand what you are getting.  Just because a program has a bunch of stuff on it, does NOT mean it's a better program.  Just because it’s the same thing this big name or that big name are doing doesn’t mean its better.  Just because it takes you over two hours to do it doesn't mean its better.  

It all comes down to the stimulus intended, the REASON for the workout.  The reason is NEVER “because its hard”, or “because I saw [insert badass crossfitter name] do it on Instagram.  There should be a reason AND the programmer should be able to design it so that they know ALMOST EXACTLY how long particular event should take, or how many reps someone should be able to do or design it so that it can be known.  To do this, the program for Masters needs to be APPROPRIATE for the athlete.  There will be a massive amount of difference from athlete to athlete and the programming needs to be such that the top athletes, best athletes, strongest athletes, etc get the desired stimulus from the program that day, as well as all the levels of competitor below them.    

This isn’t as simple as dividing people into levels, or age groups.  You can't just make it lighter and think that it is now APPROPRIATE.  If I am strong enough or have the skills to do what a younger athlete can do, then why would I/should I do a scaled down weight or movement…just because I'm older?  If I can move it about the same number of times as someone younger, or do about the same number of reps as a younger athlete, then why change that?  If you do then I don't get the workout I should.  In fact, it makes me worse than what I was.  On the flip side, if I can't do the weight or the movement, THEN if I don't have an APPROPRIATE scale or modification, then again, I get some other workout.  and it might actually make me worse also.  If you are pigeonholed based on your “general age” rather than by your abilities then you won’t improve correctly.  

Next is that the program and the programmer have to understand that Masters don’t heal and recover the way younger athletes do.  This is tough to understand when you have no idea what it feels like to grind and then have to get up the next day hobbling around.  Again, the object to contend with this is NOT to make the workouts easier but to let them hit A good workout hard.... so that they can get the most out of it and then will be able to function the next day to hit another one hard.  

If we understand Crossfit, then we know that INTENSITY is the key to all the gains we want.  We dont have the ability to hit workout after workout after workout with the same intensity.  Sure we can do it, and we will even be “pushing hard” through it. But because we don’t have the same recovery of the young STARS, all that will do is grind us down.  It won’t prep us to PR and continue to get better.

"But what if I make it to the Games Bill???"  Well then yes, you will need to add the volume of multiple workouts in a day so that your body is used to that.  But for Masters, that literally is ONE competition in the entire season (not including the local comp types).  The OPEN, 1 event a week.  The ONLINE QUALIFIER, 1 event a day.  Then the GAMES has 2-3 a day.  If you are pushing hard on your workouts on the days you have them, at a competition pace (at least the ones that are programmed to be as such), then your body will be up for the challenge at a competition.  

At what intensity do you think you will hit multiple workouts in a day during regular training?  100%?  80%?  65%?  I can tell you its closer to the 65%.  Sure you are working hard but “hard” is a relative term.  And if you can’t put the right amount into it, then you can’t get the right results out.  And with our bodies being incredible compensating machines, after we train like this a bunch (if we aren’t broken from it) then we are training to work at THAT level of intensity.  No wonder everyone is so sore during the ONE event from the OPEN or after a local competition.  

Finally, Mobility.  YES, we should be doing it.  YES, it's important.  YES, we should understand what and why we are doing it.  But if you are picking a program because it has THAT or a dynamic workout………then you aren't being the older and wiser Masters Athlete.  I think its great that it's included and if you are a newer athlete to the game then its a bonus for sure.  But THAT does not make it a successful program.  

You need to learn about mobility and how to tend to the issues you have.  Have your coach or your trainer help you with mobility movements for YOUR issues.  Sure you can have movements that will pertain to the workout for the day but you need to work on YOUR issues first.  Go to youtube and see whats out there.  Try different things and see what works best.  Take mobility classes.  Read Mobility books.  I honestly feel this needs to be what you do for you.  If the program has movements for the day's workout, great!  But that shouldn’t make or break the program.

The BEST program is one that is tailored to YOU and APPROPRIATE to YOU. NOT to your age!


photo credit: the crossfit games