Comox Valley seniors flock to CrossFit

The program is for seniors, but they call them Legends.

In the small community of Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, one local gym has been encouraging  physical literacy development in an unusual way: getting the older generation involved in CrossFit. And now that the gym has a steady cohort of nearly 20 participants, many of them are developing skills they never thought possible.

“When we first started this program, many of them didn’t have great posture. The thought of push ups or pull ups was daunting, let alone picking up a barbell,” said Sharon van Heyningen of Stronghearts School of Movement.

“Now their life has become an open door.”

Currently van Heyningen works with seniors between the ages of 60 and 90, some of them recovering from injuries. One of the skills she taught was the Turkish get-up, holding a wine glass of water in one hand. Starting from laying on the ground, participants need to shift their weight and twist around until they rise to a full standing position.

“They looked at me like I was crazy. But we broke it down to each individual step, and pretty soon all of them could complete at least one without spilling any water.”

As a coach, one of the things she loves to see is the social aspect of the workout. Many of the exercises require two partners, which means they’re routinely interacting with their fellow participants. And once everything’s done, there’s plenty to gossip about over a hot meal.

“You should see their faces, how proud of themselves they are, how they want to go home and show their grandkids. The role of CrossFit is to get it out there, get people understanding it’s not a big scary thing, and that it’s about functional movement,” said van Heyningen.

Adam Morden, the owner of the gym, couldn’t be happier about this turn of events. Having owned gyms for over 20 years, he’s become increasingly interested in longevity and the concepts behind Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity. Watching the seniors of the Legends program flourish has been one of the most fulfilling experiences so far.

“We had people who were unable to get their shoes on without extreme effort, and now they’re doing incredible things like running up stairs and doing squats. It’s so cool to see.”

And though some wouldn’t typically associate CrossFit with seniors, he thinks it’s actually quite a good pairing.

“I think Crossfit is more helpful for seniors than college athletes, and I can say that because I was a college athlete. Physical literacy is the point of CrossFit, being good at everything and not specializing in one thing, and those skills all transfer to the rest of their lives.”

Engaging and supporting older adults’ mobility is an integral part of Sport for Life’s mission, and we have a number of exciting projects like this one occurring through our Physical Literacy for Communities program. You can also read more about how we encourage participants to be engaged long-term in our resources Active for Life: Durable by Design and Developing Physical Literacy: A New Normal for All Canadians

Sport for Life’s Sarah Blézy was amazed by the Legends program when she moved to the Comox Valley, and recognized it right away as a perfect example of the sort of physical literacy development being championed by our non-profit. She believes it’s the sort of endeavour that could be repeated elsewhere.

“Looking at  these Legends working out is so inspiring, because it really challenges our ideas of what seniors are capable of. Our community’s physical activity and sport programs should be reaching people of all ages and abilities, and that’s something Stronghearts does such an amazing job with.”