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Key Principles for Coaching Master Athletes





Once we have classified the masters athlete according to goals, age, fitness and injury state, we can use the Masters Quadrant as an assessment tool to identify the coaching priorities and risk factors for the archetype that defines the athlete. The four variables in the Masters Quadrant give us 16 permutations— i.e., 16 different archetypes that have different coaching needs. Understanding the archetype allows the trainer to adapt the program to the specific athlete without relying on just age as the guide. Two athletes of the same age are likely to have very different needs and limitations, and the Masters Quadrant allows the trainer to cater to that.


Masters Quadrant. (Refer our previous blog to learn more on how to assess the Masters Athlete)

We can view the 16 archetypes as four main groups: early performance, late performance, early wellness and late wellness. Within each group the specific variations are around fitness and injury state.




The priorities in the Masters Quadrant are based on the following key principles:

  • Resolving injury for an injured athlete, or maximizing functionality for a diseased athlete, takes highest priority over anything else. Performance goals should be put on hold until the athlete is uninjured. It should be obvious that competition places an injured athlete at considerable risk.


  • Late masters should have loads reduced and in some cases movements modified. The scaling used for 55+ Masters in the CrossFit Open is a good starting point.


  • A deconditioned masters athlete should be scaled much more conservatively and introduced to the program more gradually than a younger athlete who is similarly deconditioned.


  • Wellness athletes need a broad stimulus in order to achieve a broad fitness adaptation, bearing in mind that the goal is increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. It is a mistake to train a wellness athlete like a competitive athlete.


  • Programming for performance athletes should be biased toward the skills that are most commonly tested in competition—i.e. The stimulus needs to be narrower and targeted. If training for a specific event or sport, the program should be modified to cater to the specific known demands.


It is important to understand that archetypes are not rigid. Over time the athlete may change quadrants, and the trainer needs to adapt accordingly. Athletes will move from early to late age categories, goal orientation may change back and forth, injuries and illness can occur and also be resolved, and the athlete will move from unfit to fit with training. 


Also, a break in training can result in a fit athlete regressing to a deconditioned state. In this regard, the Masters Quadrant makes use of fuzzy logic—i.e., it is not a rigid model with set rules but rather a guide to point the trainer in the right direction when training a client for the first time or when progress stalls. Whenever there is a change in situational factors, the Masters Quadrant can be used to reassess where an athlete is and adjust the program accordingly. By making these reassessments and adjustments, the trainer is enabling the athlete to continue training regardless of changes that occurs with aging.


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