I’m Training for a Different Games

Written by Coach Nick Irvin


Many of you may be aware that I started my CrossFit journey as an (extremely) overweight, middle-aged engineer in 2014.  I walked in to that first workout half skeptical, half scared of getting hurt, and fully knowing that something had to change.

A year earlier, my wife and I welcomed a new baby girl into our lives. As I held her one of those first nights in the hospital, I did the math – as I am prone to do – on how old I would need to be to hold her children. It didn’t add up. It wasn’t going to happen. I was struck. I spent a year wandering in the wilderness, making no progress, before that first workout.

The rest, as they say, is history. I’m a believer. I found motivation, a renewed belief in myself, and ultimately health. I’m proud to say that I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been and am still getting better. I’m 40 and it’s my best year yet.

All that said, the scientist in me wonders – is this sustainable?  Am I trading health late in life for “looking good naked” now? Will I meet those grandchildren?

If you know me, you know how I respond to these type of questions. I dig in – read papers, listen to podcasts, and ask the most obscure and specific questions imaginable to anyone who will listen.

That process led me to a TED talk by Dr. Peter Attia.  Best I can tell, Dr. Attia is a real life superhero.  Engineering at Stanford, medicine and surgical residency at Johns Hopkins, an incredible athlete in his own right (he’s swam from Catalina to Long Beach – ~25 miles – twice), and an avid self-experimenter.  His medical practice focuses on longevity and he caters to high profile clients in New York and San Diego.

I’m obsessed with this guy. I’ve basically consumed every bit of content he has to offer. The engineers in us see the world the same way – he just has all the medical background to boot.  When it comes to longevity, he uses a couple of great mental models to lay out a strategy.

The first is the idea of healthspan.  The basic gist here is that for most people, their quality of life peaks in middle age and begins a slow decline until you eventually become this shadow of yourself late in life. We all have people in our lives who exhibit this. None of us want to spend our retirement this way.

Alternatively, if we can figure out a way to do it right, we could all go out in a blaze of glory. Something like fall over on your 101st birthday after that last surf session, when the previous day you played 18 at Torrey Pines with the grandkids.

This idea of maximizing healthspan is coupled to a more imaginative thought experiment – Dr. Attia asks – “what if I were training today for the centenarian olympics (olympics only for those who are 100 or older)?”  Sounds silly, but follow me. The first question you have to ask is – what would that competition look like? What do I want to be able to do at 100? Self locomotion is a must. Get up after I fall down, for sure. Carry my groceries up a flight of stairs, yes!  You get the picture. It’s a fun list to think about, I encourage you to give it a try.

Now for the hard part. What should I be doing now to train for that future?  Dr. Attia is writing a book on this, but from what I can tell his prescription looks something like the following:

  1. Eat a diet that keeps blood glucose (and therefore insulin) low and with low variability.
  2. Train functional movements that preserve healthy joint function and promote an active lifestyle *read: get outside, do sports, play*
  3. When you train, prioritize resistance training (to maintain and build muscle mass and bone density) and HIIT (for metabolic conditioning).  Not to mention, the mental health benefits *read: hormonal* of these types of training are unparalleled.
  4. Prioritize recovery. Sleep is very important.  Rest days to let your body repair are a must.
  5. Be a part of a community that shares your lifestyle, goals, and dreams. Lean on them when life hits.

So if you are still reading at this point, let me first say thanks.  Second, does any of this sound familiar? Does this help?

I know – right!?!  This real life superhero Dr. to the elite is basically prescribing CrossFit as the tool to get you to the centenarian Olympics. Is it really that simple? One can never be sure, but I’ve got to tell you – I think it is.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Some of us have a tendency to get a little excited in the gym – like on deadlift day and you want to load all the colors or when you’re rowing and Jacki tells you to “bruise your sternum!”. The challenge is to, even in those moments, remember that the games we are training for won’t be here for another few decades. We’ve got plenty of time, and the worst thing that we can do is jeopardize that future by doing something silly *read: dangerous*. Coach Danny wrote a great blog on that last month. I’d encourage you to give it a look.

The great news is that we’re all really lucky. We’ve got a great coaching staff and member community with a ton of experience, knowledge, and passion for keeping us healthy. Lean on them. Learn from them.

I’ll see you in 2079.