Why Older Women Should Lift Weights

By Kendra Whittle
May 06 2024

Why Older Women Should Lift Weights

We’ve all heard that CrossFit is about community, and that everyone can do it. That’s evident when I walk into my gym. For instance, when I showed up for my noon class Tuesday (WOD was descending cals of rowing and ab mat sit ups – woof), I was surrounded by a rainbow of ages, genders and fitness levels, including my fellow 30-something “moms who WOD” (shout out!), our beloved Dan-O, who’s just about old enough to be my father, the 20-something high school swim coach, and our CrossFit instructor, who made me feel ancient by telling me he was “six years old in 2005, the last year the University of Illinois made it to the Elite Eight in March Madness” (I was in high school, Noah…thanks…).

My point is, the average CrossFit gym is diverse, and that can even be seen at the elite level. Consider Mary Schwing, who started placing at the CrossFit Games in 2012 in her 60s! There’s also the formidable Marcia Walker, who took a 10-year hiatus from competing, then came roaring back in 2021 at age 66 to place 7th overall in her division. Or look at Lauren Bruzzone, who in her 70s was an attorney, adjunct college professor, 6 a.m. CrossFit athlete and Internet superstar. Talk about #goals, right?!

I started CrossFit in 2016 having Hashimoto’s thyroiditis I wanted to be strong and keep moving knowing the effect of not moving or exercising can be a huge impact on my health in the future I love the CrossFit programs and what it did for me to push my self to the limits of yes you can and will at 51

Lourdes Giuffre

Despite the superstar athletes we see killing it on the competition floor or just in our community CrossFit gyms, women over the age of 50 still remain a smaller population of overall athletes. According to WODprep, only around 4.5% of CrossFit athletes nationwide were over the age of 55, and less than 2% were over 60. What gives? 

Well, for one, inactivity is often associated with age – and oftentimes motivation. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), just 1 in 5 adults get the recommended amount of physical activity they should. That statistic is even worse with older adults – with 17% of Americans over 50 logging at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, and a staggering 26% stating they don’t exercise at all. The top barrier was listed as willpower (48%), followed by being “too tired” (42%), “do not enjoy exercise” (40%) and “not having someone to exercise with” (20%).

Plus, no surprises here –  injuries, illnesses, and general aches and pains also are more common in older adults. For instance, the National Council on Aging reports older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease – with 95% of seniors reporting at least one chronic condition, and nearly 80% having two or more. The same study found that 1 in 4 seniors (over the age of 65) experiences a fall each year, and 3 million are treated in ERs nationwide for unintentional fall injuries. Finally, the NCOA also found that just ACUTE PAIN (think: the common aches and pains) is experienced by 73% of seniors.

That’s why nationwide recommendations indicate that older adults should do two types of physical activities each week to improve their health – aerobic and muscle-strengthening. The guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days per week. HELLO, CROSSFIT, AM I RIGHT?!

I turned 36 in March, and up until now my focus for working out and doing CrossFit has been to gain muscle mass and maintain great physical shape. But now that I eye the stunning realization that I’m closer to 40 than I am to 30, I really have started to look at my health journey long term. I’m already seeing peers of mine in their 30s and 40s start to bemoan their physical limitations due to inactivity or excessive weight gain. Absolutely no judgment on them or their health choices, but I don’t want that to be me. I want to be traveling, chasing grandchildren and doing CrossFit in my 50s, 60s and beyond. And I hope other women feel the same way.

So I/we (shoutout to our fabulous founder and senior fitness specialist, March) turned to “The Barbell Beauties” community to ask those 50+ to share their stories (and their flex photos. And let me tell you – DANG ladies). The overall questions – why do you lift weights? Why do you CrossFit? Here’s some of the reasons and some of the best responses.

Because It Can Help Improve Current Health Issues

The benefits of CrossFit for older athletes are boundless. It can help with improving overall strength and flexibility because so many of the exercises target different muscle groups and movement patterns – key for functional strength. CrossFit is great for compound moves (squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.), which move multiple muscles and joints and are therefore better for gains than isolation exercises.

CrossFit can additionally lead to better cardiovascular health (anyone who’s ever done a burpee should realize that!) and bone density – both that are so crucial for overall health and legacy all throughout life, but also for reducing risk for chronic illness.

That’s what our athletes are reporting too. Dot Heslop noted, “It’s been a 12 year journey from the physical and mental lows of menopausal weight gain, brain fog, joint and muscular pain, extreme tiredness and poor sleep. At nearly 66 I finally have some pull-ups, handstand skills, heavier weight and T2B.”

Alphina Kelley contributed, “I was NOT in a good health place at 55 years old. I had so many issues starting – high blood pressure, prediabetic, tired and achy all the time! So I decided to start making better choices to take my life back. I joined a gym and started a better eating plan. After a few falls backwards I finally got it. Consistency and determination to follow it through. I am so happy I did too; I’m in the last phase of my life journey and I’m healthier and stronger at 65 than I was in my 30s and nothing is gonna stop me now!”

Because You’re Thinking About Long Term Health and Wellness

I started Crossfit 3 1/2 years ago. I have CLL, and am caring for two elderly parents. I don’t want to be a burden to my kids, so I decided I need to do all I can do to stay healthy, mobile and self sufficient. My daughter introduced me to CrossFit, and after seeing her success, I was all in. My blood markers are better today than they were when I I was diagnosed, AND I made it to quarterfinals this year!

Kim Richner Molodec

With the risks of chronic illness, acute pain, and other serious health concerns that come with age, it’s only natural that many women turn from making their fitness goals about adding muscle and shedding pounds (though, for many, the gains continue!) and focus more on looking ahead to the later stages of life and staying active and well.

The reason so many movements are called “functional” is because they don’t involve putting your body through a bunch of unnecessary, uncomfortable contortions. They’re “functional” because they mimic good form for day-to-day activities. For instance – a simple air squat. It may look like a basic up-down movement, but doing it correctly can help support and protect your body from further injury – things like a deep bend in the knees (not in the back), pressing the knees out and keeping an upright chest can be deeply effective for tasks such as picking up bigger items (or, if you’re like me, the laundry basket) or even rising or lowering from a chair. Or, think about a deadlift. The hip hinge, slightly bended knees and strengthened core help prevent our backs from rounding or stressing when picking up full shopping bags or picking up a child (like a beloved grandchild!) off of the floor.

Additionally, strength training through these functional movements can increase muscular strength and slow disease-related loss of muscle strength, Mayo Clinic reports. It also encourages flexibility and balance, which can stabilize joints and potentially lower the risk of falls.

Lavin Marie-Thom Schwan said, “Why do I workout? To be the healthiest version of me, to prevent many of the disease processes that happen as we age. To be able to play, hang, keep up with my grandchildren, and be a good example to them. I hope that is part of the legacy that I will leave behind.”

Mary Hodson summed it up beautifully when she said, “I love looking and feeling strong, and I don’t want to be one of the older ladies that falls down and breaks a hip.”

As did Theresa ChiefEagle, “If I fall I want it to be like a burpee and celebrate with a clap when I get back up.”

Because You Will Build a Community

Have you ever heard that it’s hard to make friends as an adult? Loneliness and social isolation are no joke, especially in the senior population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that social isolation significantly increased the risk for premature death, rivaling deaths from smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. It was additionally associated with a 5-% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. That’s just a few examples of a long laundry list of negative impacts.

No two CrossFit classes are the same, but something you should find in classes all over the country is a variety of athletes. And not only that, but SUPPORTIVE athletes. That means everyone gets a high five or a fist bump after completing a beast of a workout. That means everyone’s wins are celebrated, whether that’s hitting a 300-lb deadlift or completing one strict pull up. Everyone is met where they are at, everyone is on the same team because everyone has had the shared experience of doing hard things together.

Just TRY feeling lonely after a CrossFit WOD! It won’t be easy!

Because It Helps Us Feel Good – Inside and Out

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

CrossFit fuels self confidence and accomplishment because in your day-to-day workouts, you’re only competing with yourself – pushing your own limits for speed, endurance and strength. Your gains are yours and yours alone. And there’s nothing like

When I put a barbell in my hands for the first time, I felt complete,” said 17-year coaching veteran Jennifer McCabe Rosell, who battled her entire life with feeling bad and embarrassed in her own skin.

I started lifting because I wanted to lose weight and be fit,” said Michelle Carlascio. “I found that in powerlifting and have found my thing. I am fortunate enough to compete with Team USA. I am 53 and not about to stop anytime soon!”

And, as Lee Clements said, “Main reason is because we want to!”

If You’re Just Getting Started…

Oh good, we’ve convinced you! If you’re willing to dip your toe into CrossFit at a Masters age, keep in mind a few extra tips to prevent injury or other setbacks.

  • Spend sufficient time warming up before hitting the barbell or getting into heavy cardio. Same with a proper cooldown. NO SKIPPING.
  • Remember that even though CrossFit is for everyone, not all movements have to be for everyone! Scale movements appropriately for your fitness level.
  • Follow a clean diet, and most importantly, drink enough water to stay hydrated (think 2 liters).
  • Get sufficient sleep at night.
  • If you’re in any pain, listen to your body and slow it down, modify or take a break.

You’ve got it, lady!

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