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Why do we train? When people use the verb “to train” it’s usually with a purpose. There is an event, sport, or other endeavor that is driving their efforts. When people say they’re going “to workout” they usually don’t have such a purpose. They are usually looking for general fitness.

Of course, training for different sports will involve doing different things in the gym. That’s a no brainer. However, an athlete’s age is also going to have a big impact. I’m not talking about recovery periods, volume etc… I’m talking about training for durability.


Risk is a combination of probability and consequence. The risk of injury for an older athlete increases via both factors. The consequences of an injury at age 35 are very different than they were at age 20. Recovery that may have taken as little as 2 or 3 weeks can stretch to 6 months. Likewise the probability of injury to a body burdened by a couple extra decades of imbalances is notably higher. As a result, the purpose of training becomes mitigating these risks: making the athlete durable.


Durability is the combination of a lot of things.
A durable athlete has to be balanced. There can’t be physiological time-bombs ticking away inside an athlete’s body. For example, someone with powerful quads but a weak posterior chain is not going to stay healthy once the power requirement goes up. (power is the amount of work produced for a unit of time)
A durable athlete must have stable and mobile joints. An athlete can avoid a lot of problems by focusing on a stable lumbar spine and stable knees and shoulders. On the flip side, joints that tend towards stability, such as the hips and ankles, need to be restored to full ranges of motion.
A durable athlete is strong. Injuries happen when muscular fatigue sets in. A stronger athlete gets fatigued less quickly. This is even more important for older athletes because recovery times are longer, so getting less fatigued in the first place lets you get up and do it again the next day.

I learned these lessons the hard way after breaking my ankle and injuring my shoulder. It took nearly 5 months until I could really train again (broken left ankle, right shoulder in a sling at the same time). It will probably take a full two years until I have my pulling strength back to what it was. That is an eternity. The ankle injury was unavoidable unless I had chosen not to step onto the rugby pitch that day. However, I could have saved myself a lot of shoulder trouble by having a stronger more balanced musculature and a more stable joint.

This is one of the reasons that I actively discourage friends from jumping into Crossfit as it’s practiced at most affiliates. Durability isn’t a focus at all. Rather, the focus is on a narrow conception of gym-based fitness and a method of getting there that rarely includes any form of periodization or progression. A large number, if not the majority, of Crossfit clients are over 30 and would derive more benefit training for durability and correcting whatever imbalances they have accumulated.

Durability is also important for younger athletes. However, for older athletes it should be the primary purpose of their training. There is little doubt that if you tell most 35-40 year-olds to trade 100% performance with the near certainty of 1-2 years of rehab at some point in the next 10 years for 90% performance with the near certainty of being able to do their sport with no injury during the next 10 years, how do you think they would chose?


Improvement is one of the joys of any physical training. Physical changes in your body composition are great, but knowing that after weeks, months, or years of effort you can perform a specific physical challenge faster and stronger is particularly rewarding.

In my past experience as a rower, erg tests were simple. 6000m for time in the fall and 2000m for time in the spring. Now that I’m more interested in a general level of fitness, I’ve been thinking about benchmark workouts that I can compare my performance to over time.

I don’t think there is just one benchmark for all the different facets of fitness that I need.

For sheer simplicity 100 Curtis P’s @ 95# is hard to beat. It’s also a workout that I’m doing once every couple months anyway.

The timed part of “Religious Spanking” would make a great climbing test, especially if you up it to 70x Stepups rather than 50:
10 Rounds for time
50x Stepups to 20″ box with 35# backpack
5x Slasher to Halo (10x total) w/ 20kg KB
5x Pushups with Backpack

For ski season prep, 5x Leg Blaster for time is perfect

For strength and short work capacity, Rob Shaul’s military oriented “Operator Ugly” is unbeatable.

None of these tests use form-dependent exercises for a timed portion of any test. One of the issues I have with most people who do Crossfit is that their form falls apart for timed tests – which is almost every workout!. Although Operator Ugly tests things like front squats, it’s for reps, not for time. Operator Ugly does include max deadlifts in 60 seconds. However, they are “dead-stop” deadlifts. Second, they are deadlifts, which more than any lift demand you respect the form or else you get hurt.

July 2018
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