This was a tough week. I have been running a mile to warm up before my workouts and I’ve been so slow. Why am I slow? Is age catching up with me? I am turning 50 next month, after all. Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s downhill from here – my biggest fear – or maybe it’s something else and I’m just using my age as an excuse. My Coach, Erika, thought this would be a good opportunity for me to acknowledge this “decline” as a possibility – because it is not biologically possible to keep what you have forever. So I should be proud of my accomplishments and live in the moment – not looking at the next goal, for now, and become more comfortable with this biological reality.

In some ways it sounds like surrender. But it’s true! At 50, I don’t have the VO2 max (a measure of cardiovascular capacity and aerobic endurance) that I had when I was 30. But wait – neither does Roger Federer – and he’s arguably still the greatest tennis player of all time. Tom Brady – another athlete who is still the GOAT at age 41, could not possibly be running circles around his 25 year-old teammates. So, if they don’t have the same athletic capacity as they did 10 years ago, how can they still be on top?

Because “Fitness” is more than just a measure of “capacity”. The founding principles of Crossfit methodology have emerged from a debate about the definition of fitness. We have 3 energy systems (Figure 1) and 10 physical skills (Figure 2). Fitness, as defined by this methodology, is the ability to function well in all of these areas.

As we age, our bodies change and awaken us to other fitness domains that we may have never focused on before. For example, I have a lot more aches and stiffness these days compared to my younger self. So I started doing yoga. Through yoga, I not only improved my mobility dramatically, but I also gained greater body and mind control. Lizard Pose and headstands were not even on the radar 20 years ago – and neither were handstand push-ups. But they are accomplished skills for me now. Age 40 and a bodyweight 30 lbs heavier than I am today motivated me to raise the bar for my fitness- after residency, fellowship and childbearing took its toll on my health. Age 45 awakened me to Crossfit as I knew nature was going to bring a decline in muscle mass and bone density with menopause. So here I am, 1 month away from 50 with a cache of skills and capacities that I have accumulated over the last decade in more energy and skill domains than I have ever had! Maybe I don’t run as fast, but I am a much more well-rounded athlete than I was 10, even 20 years ago. The lesson here is listen to your body – embrace the changes – and let these changes awaken you to learning new skills and abilities that you have never explored before. Fitness is a journey that does not inevitably result in “decline” – if you can embrace the athlete that you are, accept the natural course of time, and truly listen to what your body tells you, the journey instead can take you on a detour into new, exciting and uncharted fitness territories; and what emerges is quite possibly the healthiest, fittest version of yourself that you have ever achieved!

Thank you, Coach Erika for your inspiration and your wisdom.

“Coach Erika” is Erika Snyder, CFL3 and Founder of ThoughtWOD specializing in fitness and mindset coaching.