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How Long Can a Grinder Grind?


“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” — Joan Wallach Scott

I feel like most people can do anything they put their minds to — for a while. Sustaining effort and becoming a person who evolves lifestyle changes into habit is really a test of a person’s ability to physically transform.

I have experimented with a variety of exercise trends in my life, looking for something that I could grasp onto, hopefully for the long haul. Kickboxing videos, while difficult, became too easy for me to simply not press play on the DVD. Working out mornings with athletes was fine, but I found the pattern of bench, curls, leg day, etc., to be more of a chore than a lifestyle, and as athletes moved on and graduated, so did my routine of getting up and lifting with them. I did a couple of triathlons, but the amount of time required and the solidarity of the training was just not for me. With all these attempts and failures, you could understand why, when I began with CrossFit, my initial plan was to give it a shot for three months or so with no real plan beyond that.

So here I am, 3½ years and 700-plus WODs, competitions and races later, and I’m still going at it four to five days a week. I have never come remotely close to sticking with fitness training like I have with CrossFit. I’m confident in stating that you could probably combine the time I spent with all other of my ventures into healthy living and it wouldn’t add up to my CrossFit experience to date.

But despite all my time and successes with CrossFit, a few questions still haunt me. Am I in it for the long term and how long could that potentially last? Meaning, am I going to be 70 or 80 and still doing wall balls, swinging kettlebells, jumping ropes and boxes and doing Oly lifts?

I had a chance to talk with Six-time Games competitor and CrossFit icon Chris Spealler to gather his thoughts about the long-term prospects of CrossFit training both as an elite athlete and as a day-to-day Grinder. “We don’t know the lifespan of an elite competitor,” Spealler says. “I know myself and Matt Chan are taking it one day at a time right now as we are some of the older athletes in the field and will have to make some decisions in the coming months.”

He adds: “Both sides of the community (the elite and the everyday Grinders) have made leaps and bounds in their fitness. Those that are elite competitors have gotten ridiculously strong. It’s amazing what the athletes are doing these days.”

In terms of just the regular “non-Games or Regional” type of CrossFitter, i.e., a majority of us, Spealler too is interested in the strides and accomplishments he sees in his box and around the community. “As for the day-to-day grinders, we see the same thing on a smaller scale,” Spealler says. “We see people more fit and healthy than they ever have been before. This also depends on someone’s background. Arguably, I will not be more fit at 44 than I was at 34. I think any elite competitor is in this position. If we are truly pushing the limits of our human potential at a younger age we won’t be “more” fit in the future. But we will also be more fit than we ever could have been if we had not pushed ourselves to those limits. I absolutely love hearing the practical application of CrossFit, though, and how the overwhelming majority of people find themselves more fit at 45 than 35.”

I talked this idea over with my good friend Dr. Brian Moore, a doctor of Neuropathology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. He admits that he too has spent some time contemplating this idea. We both agree that CrossFit training and diet improvements are redefining what it means to be 40 or 50. No longer do we see people in the community and think that age determines what a person potentially can and cannot do.

Moore states: “The importance of adhering to a regular exercise program, as opposed to intermittent exercise, has been shown repeatedly to be of benefit in terms of cardiovascular, orthopedic and mental health.”

When I asked about his thoughts about the possibility of maintaining CrossFit training and lifestyle over the duration of one’s life, he provided evidence that it is in fact very possible. “Will CrossFit go the way of the step-aerobics I did in the 1980s and the kickboxing I did in the 1990s?” Moore asks. “Possibly, but CrossFit has several advantages over other fitness regimens that have come before it. Particularly, CrossFit addresses the other major factors that have been shown to contribute to sustained adherence to an exercise regimen: namely, reinforcement of one’s perceived capacity to improve, perceived health benefits and lack of barriers due to physical limitation. I doubt that Greg Glassman consciously built these features into CrossFit when he devised it.”

This makes total sense to me, and I have seen this kinds of impact already in my own life and training. I was 36 before I ever did a handstand or an unassisted pull-up. This past year, on my 39th birthday, I went shoulder-to-overhead with more than 200 pounds. I can’t speak for all Americans 40 and older, but I know that I’m actually stronger, more confident and more fit at 39 than I was at 29. Without knowing the exact statistics, I have to assume not all people are following this trend.

I know I go back because of the variety and the shared experience with the people at my box. When I trained for triathlons at the YMCA, rarely did anyone even look up from their computer as I slid my laminated ID card under the Plexiglas to check in. There were certainly no people there who ever cared if I came back or got anything accomplished while I was there. At my box, people get to know you, and you get to know them. Often, friendships are formed over WODs and battle stories about tough workouts and achievements. This is what everyone inside CrossFit understands and embraces about the specialness of the community. This is what outsiders don’t understand and try to ridicule and mock because they just can’t believe that it’s authentic.

So far, it has been one of the most rewarding activities I have ever participated in. If I were a betting man, I’d say that I’m in it for the “long haul”.

What do you think about the future of CrossFit both as a sport and the likelihood that you will maintain this over the coming years and decades? Share with me at jtolgrinder @ or on Facebook at JTol Grinder.

Stay on the Grind.

— Jamie Toland (JTol)