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Special Classes and Programming Specific to Masters


A key question is whether masters should train in classes separate from younger adults. As we shared in our previous blog last week, there is a strong argument for a separate program for performance-focused masters and wellness-focused masters. However, is there a valid argument for having separate classes and programming for masters in general? Should we separate wellness-focused masters athletes and wellness-focused younger athletes?


Consider the advantages and disadvantages of separate masters classes and programming for wellness athletes.



  • Can promote a better social experience with a more relevant peer group
  • Allows the environment to be tailored for a masters group
  • Workouts can be programmed as prescribed (Rx’d) for masters.
  • The class structure and format can be adjusted to suit an older athlete.
  • Can remove a lot of anxiety about fitting in
  • Classes can move at a slower pace.
  • Can minimize overreaching from trying to match younger athletes



  • Can promote the view that masters are not normal
  • Makes it hard to create friendships across different ages
  • Can result in under-reaching due to a more relaxed group dynamic
  • Setting masters Rx’d standards can be a limiter
  • Separating younger athletes eliminates mentoring opportunities.
  • Creates a lot more work for the coach


Probably more important than class structure, though, is that trainers have specific skills for coaching masters and understand the challenges faced by masters athletes. The right trainer will make any class structure work.


Managing Risk Factors Associated With an Older Athlete


In addition to promoting a high-quality experience for the masters athlete, the implementation method should also be one that allows the trainer to effectively manage and mitigate risks. Deconditioned late masters in particular need to be more closely monitored in order for the trainer to recognize underlying medical conditions that can increase risk for that individual. This has an impact on the client to trainer ratio.


Key Information for the Trainer in Relation to Managing Risks:

  • Decreased mobility can expose the athlete to greater risk in certain movements (e.g., the snatch), so poor mobility should be a warning sign.
  • Rotator cuff injuries are very common and often idiopathic. Err on the side of less overhead volume.
  • Achilles injuries are very common and risk of injuries to the feet increase with age.
  • Generally, risk increases as health and fitness decrease. Training in itself is the best protection against risk factors, provided that it is implemented appropriately. The importance of ongoing exercise is universally supported in the research.
  • The risk factors are best managed by introducing load and volume more gradually than you might with a younger athlete, and by ensuring consistent and regular training (irregular training increases cardiac risk factors) and avoiding any contraindicated movements.
  • The mechanics-consistency-intensity charter is effective for managing risks, with the knowledge that intensity is more gradually applied than for a younger athlete.


Effective risk management involves matching the training environment to the risk profile of the athlete based on an assessment of the athlete’s injury state and fitness level. As illustrated in Figure below, for an athlete with injury and/or low levels of fitness, the most risk occurs with fast, loaded, dynamic movements, high mobility demands, unfamiliar patterns and the group environment. The least risk occurs with slow, unloaded and static movements, controlled range of motion, familiar patterns and one-on-one training. An injured and/or deconditioned athlete should be managed in a low-risk environment first, and as fitness improves and injury resolves, be gradually introduced to the higher risk environment.



Creating the Right Social Dynamic


The social dynamic is a key factor in keeping masters motivated and engaged. To the masters athlete, the social experience of training increases in importance with age, and there is a general shift away from an achievement focus to an enjoyment focus. Celebrating the success of the group becomes more important than celebrating individual success. 


Masters athletes often feel a need to contribute to the affiliate beyond just paying fees, and you should let them. It is important to promote social involvement, but to do that effectively, social events need to be masters-friendly—i.e., the venue and format should be suitable for an older adult.


Bias Practice Time


When faced with challenges and new skills, masters often need to practice in private, and the class schedule needs to allow for that. It is common for neurological skills to take a lot longer to develop, and providing private practice time can alleviate anxiety and stress.

Masters athletes may avoid skills that they are not good at, and the trainer may need to schedule practice of skills that are being avoided. Neurological skills can also be more perishable for older athletes, and lack of practice time can lead to loss of skill. This is more pronounced with masters than with younger athletes. Each class should involve a period of dedicated practice, and the trainer should actively encourage athletes to practice in their own time by assigning homework between classes.


Implementation Ideas


  • Create a masters group that comes together for weekly workouts and socializes afterwards.
  • Host masters-only competitions.
  • Have a separate masters record board or scoreboard.
  • Create a masters blog and provide training information relevant for an older adult.
  • Run masters-only classes.
  • Employ coaches who specialize in training masters and make them the go-to person for your masters clients.
  • Have a masters competition squad that regularly trains together to practice competition skills.
  • Run masters-friendly social events.
  • Create masters merchandise for your gym.
  • Run skills clinics specifically for masters.
  • Write up masters versions of the WOD with specific scaling similar to the Open.


There is no one correct way to train masters in a gym environment. The number of masters athletes and the skill of the trainer will probably be the most significant factors in determining how you implement a program in your affiliate. There are many ways to approach it, but making the program accessible is the primary factor for success. Our recommendation is that if you are new to the masters community, have separate classes and programming and then move toward a fully integrated model over time as experience, skill and the number of masters athletes within your gym increases. A fully integrated model is recommended where trainer and client confidence is highest. A fully separated model is recommended where trainer and client confidence is lowest. The best implementation is one that enables the optimal training environment for the athlete while allowing the trainer to identify and manage risks as they arise.


Reference – CrossFit Masters Training Guide