Marion & Marco

The CrossFit Masters

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The CrossFit Masters


When I started with CrossFit there were two things that fascinated me a lot.
One was the extreme workouts that were calling for different attributes like strength, stamina, agility, power, speed etc
It almost seemed like the sport were able to produce superhumans that were capable of anything.
The other was that age didn't seem to matter.
At that time I just turned 40 and if I should follow the majority of people in my age I should have picked up golf, running or biking but absolutely not a sport like CrossFit.
So it really fascinated me to see people that were older than me and even in the same age as my parent doing things that even I couldn't do - it seemed like their bodies had forgotten to get old.
In this interview and three coming ones, I have gotten the chance to interview some of these extreme fit Master Athletes, actually the fittest on earth. All placed amongst top three in the 2017 CrossFit Games.
I have asked them about how and why they started CrossFit, how they train, how they eat and how they stay so extremely fit even though they are not in their 20's, 30's nor 40's any longer.

You find part 2 here.




​Marion Valkenburg
1. at CrossFit Games 2017 (50-54 division) 

Marion Valkenburg

Tell us about yourself:

I am Marion Valkenburg and I am 54 years old. I live in the Netherlands in a city called Vlaardingen, where I have my box CrossFit Vlaardingen. I have been to the CrossFit Games four times and last year I won it for the first time. I have competed in some local competitions too, but my main focus is always the CrossFit Games.

When did you start with CrossFit and why?

I started CrossFit in 2010 when we had no CrossFit equipment. We already had the same facility as we have now but it was more like a regular gym. We came across CrossFit by accident and since then never stopped doing it. It started with body pump bars and made slowly the transition to a CrossFit Affiliate.

How and to what extent were you physically active before CrossFit?

I train since I was a kid and never had a real break. Sometimes a bit lost but I kept doing something. When I was a kid I did gymnastics. After that when I was 17 I did bodybuilding, I did enjoy training for it but not the competition part. Then at the age of 26 somehow I was running on a track field and was spotted by someone who said I was pretty fast. So then I tried it and did sprinting for four years. After sprinting I didn’t have a goal and was just doing fitness until I found CrossFit!

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Don’t use the excuse “I am too old for…”. I hate that.



How often do you train?

I train a lot. Every day I have to do something. Most days I train two to three times a day. I don’t really track my training hours but I guess it is 20+ hours a week. This can be a CrossFit WOD, strength training, gymnastics training or just pure conditioning stuff.

Do you follow a specific programming?

No, not really. I train every day with my training buddy and we make the programming together. We are each other’s opposites with physical abilities so we call the each other out on what we need to work on. Sometimes we pick something from social media, CrossFit main site or make a workout on our own. I don’t take days off but I do plan an active recovery day sometimes, but we decide this by feel. I don’t recommend this for everybody but it works for me.

Is your training structured in a specific way?

That is hard to say with CrossFit. You have to do everything but you can also expect it at any time, so I don’t have a structure but I make sure I hit everything that is needed. Of course a bit more on the parts I am not good at. Sometimes after a workout, I think: Hm… That did not go how I hoped it would go. Then I plan a training soon with the element that did not go well in it.

As a Master Athlete, how do you train differently from younger athletes and why?

I personally don’t think I train that much different than younger athletes. But in general, you should try out where the line is, without hurting yourself of course. I remembered when I went from two sessions a day to three and I have never been so tired. We did it for two weeks straight and then my body was more okay with it. It depends on what and how much you do every session. What I do in three is not much more than two but I try to spread it out if possible.

Do you follow a specific diet?



No specific diet either. I have my standard meals that I eat almost every day and I love those meals. I only switch it up when I get tired of it. Nutrition is not that hard but people make it hard. Eating for CrossFit is so much easier than bodybuilding. What I do is make sure I get the protein I need, by guessing and experience, and then manage the carbs by feel. If I feel tired I eat a bit more. But it’s all pretty basic.

As a Master Athlete, do you think that nutrition is more important than it is for younger athletes?

I wouldn’t say more important, but it could have a bigger impact. A lot of people don’t eat healthily but when you are older it affects you more than when you are younger. In most cases.

Marion Valkenburg_1



What has CrossFit given you? In other words, how do you think your life would look like if you haven't started CrossFit - what would have been different?

I have no idea. It was getting hard business wise because a big fitness franchisor came to our city and people started going there just because it was really cheap. CrossFit came just at the right time and I think we were pretty lucky with that. It gave us an opportunity to be different and offer something they couldn’t.

What do you think is important for older athletes to focus on when doing CrossFit?

Don’t use the excuse “I am too old for…”. I hate that. That is not the reason why you can’t do something. You have to work for it but everything is possible. I hear this excuse a lot and it sort of pisses me off. No one likes getting old but doesn’t make yourself older than you already are. I have had a lot of injuries, like a hernia, knee replacement and two shoulder surgeries. I am now 54 and I am the fittest I have ever been!



And what should they absolutely not focus on?

Other athletes. You can watch them on social media and start thinking oh I need to do that too. But you need to stay with your own training. Sure you must keep an eye on the competition but don’t let it fool you. The same as for regular people in the box. Don’t watch how much other people put on the bar. Before the workout starts, think to yourself. Is it a better workout if I put on more weight? Most of the times the answer is no. Try to keep the intensity high.

Marion



For older athletes that are considering to take up CrossFit what is your advice to them and what can they expect if they start?

Go to a CrossFit Affiliate, start doing classes and talk to people. The first step is the hardest, but when you make the decision, make sure you spend at least one or two months in the box. When you start to know people from the box it will become so much fun.

For you as a CrossFit Master Athlete what is your plan and expectations for the future?

Keep doing what I love and that is training. Sure I like competing but the main reason why I compete is so I can push myself harder in training. My competition goal is to try and qualify for the Games because every year it gets harder. Give it the best I got and see where that will take me. Other than that maybe a couple team competitions on the side just for fun. I try to have as much fun with it as I can.

Watch Marion doing the the "Double under Snatch" Games 2017







Marco Casali
3. at CrossFit Games 2017 (50-54 division)


Marco Casali

Tell us about yourself:

Hey! I am Marco Casali. I am almost 52 years old and I'm a CrossFit Master Athlete. I'm also a father to three children, and I live in Santiago - Chile. Actually, I have four kids because my little dog I also see as one of my kids.
When I was younger I used to do traditional fitness and multiple-sport activities then 30 years ago I started with Yoga.
I started Yoga due to back pain but I found something much bigger as it helped me to evolve and it learned me who I really was.
So, I went due to back pain and ended up spending 10 years learning and teaching yoga. Also, I went to India to see Pattabhi Jois the guru of Ashtanga Yoga. I continued with Yoga, until 2010 after that, I was ready to do something else.
As I had been living as a monk for a long period I felt like I wanted to enjoy life a bit more so I started surfing and at the age of 40-41 I found CrossFit.
Right away I understood that this was what I had been looking for all my life. You know before Yoga I had been doing different kinds of fitness and competing sports so this was a great match.
I loved it from the beginning and started my path. Then after some time, I found out that, I was ready to do something big with it. Of course, I knew CrossFit Games from the beginning, but I never thought I was going to get there but then at one point, I felt that I was ready to give it a shot and I did.
I felt so grateful to God for giving me this opportunity as it’s not easy to get to the Games, competing against 6000-7000 people.

When did you start with CrossFit and why?

Well, I kind of answered that above but when I picked up surfing I started to look for something that could make me stronger when paddling.
As mentioned I used to do a lot of stuff but surfing was different it was a kind of meditation on water and I realised that I didn't have to do Yoga every day as surfing was more or less the same experience. Like you know being involved with nature and nature pushing you overboard and feeling the sensation of being taken by a wave. That was amazing.
The ting was that I was very flexible and had a good balance all thanks to Yoga but I was weak which resulted in me missing a lot of wawes. So I needed something that could improve that.

How and to what extent were you physically active before CrossFit?

So before CrossFit, I did Ashtanga Yoga for 10 years which is a pretty tough practice, almost like Olympic Gymnastics because you need to move smoothly in and out of several demanding postures and at the same time control your breathing.
So, it was a lot of core, a lot of agility and a lot of concentration. It was pretty tough. Therefore after 10 years of Ashtanga Yoga, I felt like I could do anything. Also, I was used to training every day very strictly for several hours only resting on Saturdays.
Before Yoga I was going to the gym, doing hill running, standard strength training but mostly in circuit way. Therefore when I started CrossFit I felt like that was what I used to do and when I understood that I actually could compete with other people in these movements it was just amazing.

Marco Casali_1



How often do you train?

I mostly train every day but sometimes I rest on Sundays.
So like today, I'm gonna rest because it has been a very tough week. Normally I train every day from 10:30 to 13:30 and then I do classes.
After that, I go home and I'll take a little nap when I can and then I go back to the gym to teach a couple classes.
Finally, I do some accessory work for shoulders, core, stabilization, back ore some pulling. This is how it looks like Monday to Wednesday.
Then Thursday could be some light cardio or similar.
Friday & Saturday I increase intensity and load, especially Saturday as I rest completely on Sundays.

If I feel good and don't rest on Sundays I normally go for some interval running with a friend who got third in Barcelona Olympics for the 400 meter. She is so amazing and also married to an Olympic athlete - I really enjoy working out with them and they have thought me so much.
If I feel like I have more energy after the interval training I go back to the Box and do a bit more.
You know I'm 52 now and I want to go back to the Games in 2018 and try to reach the podium so I need to work hard. The competition is getting younger but I know that I have more experience and I also know how to train more intelligent.

Do you follow a specific programming?

After the 2017 Games, I came back and started doing "Brute Strength" but I've been pretty injured in my shoulder and they have really intensive WOD's. Therefore I stopped that and I started doing my own programming as I have a lot of experience.
So I'm doing my own programming but I have like a lifetime membership with "Comptrain Masters" because you know, first time I went to the games last year, I trained with them and we got pretty close.
So, it's a mix a because I know what they are doing but that's not enough - I have to add my specific need's as well. For that, I use my own experience and make sure to consult some of the amazing people I have around me.

I'm pretty grateful for "CompTrain" because they've are really amazing people and they actually manage the volume that we masters need, pretty accurate. Some of us need a bit more and we are always balancing on the edge of getting injured but if you manage that line you're gonna be on the podium. So, I try to be on that line but not crossing it because if you cross it, you're gonna get bad.

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Muscle endurance is one of the top three capabilities in CrossFit.



Is your training structured in a specific way?

It's a mix. I don't do so many standard WOD's. What you need to improve is to get stronger, faster and more muscular.
Muscle endurance is one of the top three capabilities in CrossFit. I mean muscle endurance, precision and strength are for me the three things that are gonna take you forward
I'm a pretty flexible guy from Yoga so I don't do much mobility just a bit on my shoulders as I injured them.
It's all a little bit of everything every day. Sometimes strength workouts and sometimes longer workouts.
A typical day would start with a little mobility, then activation, then barbell work and then on other days it would be a gymnastics, EMOM, Intervals or metcons. Finally in the afternoon some accessory work.

Marco Casali_3



As a Master Athlete, how do you train differently from younger athletes and why?

Well as a master athlete, the most important thing is volume. I mean you got to address your weaknesses and go ahead with your strength and stuff like that but the most important thing for masters is volume. I mean you do exactly what the young athletes and individuals out there do, but the volume is different. Volume is key for masters. I mean if you just neglect that, you gonna get hurt and you gonna get overtrained. That is it.


Marco Casali_2
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So that's it - very simple. Good healthy food - not too much and then plenty of water.



Do you follow a specific diet?

I try to eat clean.
Due to my injury, I tried to eat very clean. Nothing from a cane or a bag - basically strict Paleo.
Now I'm a bit more relaxed especially at the end of the year and also because I was so strict for a period.
I try to eat good carbs like sweet potatoes and stay away from rice and pasta.
And then, I stick to some good proteins, greens and then some nuts, but no sugar. Finally, I eat some fruits, so it's really simple.
Also, I try to eat at specific hours in the day, like I get my first meal at 7:00 AM and then the last one at 10:00 PM so there are no more than 10 hours between the first and the last meal. In that way, you get a natural fasting for 14 hours which results in a deeper sleep and when you wake up in the morning you feel fresh and are really hungry. For example, sometimes you wake up tired and just want coffee and nothing to eat and that is not good for me even though I know some people drinking only bullet-proof coffee and that works for them but not for me.
So that's it - very simple. Good healthy food - not too much and then plenty of water.

As a Master Athlete, do you think that nutrition is more important than it is for younger athletes?

Yes, it's pretty important. Maybe more important because when you're young; I mean you can eat everything, your machine is pretty strong and it can deal with all kind of foods - it will turn everything into energy.
So, for older athletes digestion will also take more energy and if you give bad food to your body, it's gonna take more energy to make it into real energy. And if it's not healthy food, also the energy of that food is not gonna be good either. So yeah, it's more important.
I mean for the master athletes, the food and rest are more important and the quality of both and also the quality of training. It's like when you're getting older, you need the right things more - I mean when you're young, you do a lot of mistakes and some of the great athletes they’ll say, "Oh I think I did too much of this and I did too much of that and I haven't rested enough" because you know when you're young you just push yourself .

We know that CrossFit it's for very fanatic people but if you don't do these mistakes, you're gonna do much better.
I think CrossFit and this is for Individuals and Master athletes. It's all about intelligence. It's all about doing the right thing at the right moment.
It's same-same when you're competing. You just got to be so aware of what you're doing and what others are doing too. Some people say, "No, just focus on yourself". but I don't think that's a good idea. I think you got to be pretty aware of what is happening around you and see what you are doing. If you do one mistake you are out I know because I've been doing a lot of mistakes this year and it cost me to be third instead of first or second.

What has CrossFit given you? In other words, how do you think your life would look like if you haven't started CrossFit - what would have been different?


Well, I have never thought what would be different if I haven't been involved in CrossFit. But what it has done is to fill an empty space in my life that wasn't filled before. It's very difficult to explain.
I mean before I didn't know that this was coming but after my first class it just felt right - this was gonna be my thing.
In other words, I feel so full of life when I do CrossFit and I know that it's something I can do all my life. I know this because when someone goes on vacation I prefer to stay here in Santiago and train.

And when I'm training, I'm happy. Sometimes, it's hard to start because you're feeling tired in the morning but due to the people around me and the way we relate to each other at the Box and all that, it's like my life.
Actually, I'm a bit of a gym rat so I try to go to the beach to do some surfing. I'm not a great surfer but I'm a soul surfer. I just like to go into the water and stay there.
I would love to live in Hawaii or maybe Southern California. I mean that's the perfect spot for me. Even for my family.
Here in Santiago, we have the mountains but I'm not a big fan of mountains. I don't like the altitude and dry weather.
So it's difficult to say what I would be doing if I didn't do CrossFit especially because this is so much me. Maybe a photographer or an artist but I couldn't see myself in an office or a factory. So what I'm doing right now is what I want to do. Doing CrossFit, going to the Games and meeting a lot of amazing people.
It's really like a dream for me.

Marco Casali_4




What should older athletes focus on?


Well, it depends. If your focus is competition, you should not overtrain and not listen to everybody around. You have to feel where you are and where you want to go and then start looking for someone who can help you.
If you are lucky not needing anybody to help you that's great but I doubt that's the situation as we all need somebody who can help us get to where we want to be.

So, focus on quality and focus on what you have and focus on where you want to go.
Don't focus on, "I want to be like that guy" Just concentrate on where you want to go. It's not about being bigger, smaller, healthier, fatter or whatever. CrossFit will give you what you need if you are patient. Think twice about what you are going to do and make sure to manage yourself. You don't have to rush and if you do your gonna get injured.



And what should they absolutely not focus on?

This is like Yang & Yang. Sometimes you have to be intense and other times you have to relax a bit. So you have to see if the path that you have chosen works for you or work against you. Therefore be intelligent about your choices.

Us older athletes have a lot of experience. I think we have to use it carefully because CrossFit is just like real life. You have to manage it like you manage your life and not just walk blindly around. Understand what is good and what is bad for you.

Maybe when you were young, you didn't have to run and you could focus on your strength and then when you get older it's the other way around, meaning you need to do a lot of cardio but can relax about the strength.
I mean it's just an example but you know for me it's a little bit like that. I'm pretty strong, stronger than most of the guys but I have to work on my cardio.
Therefore you have to be pretty aware and you have to look what is good for you and focus on those things and not focus on what you have. For example, if I focus on strength, I'm gonna be beaten. I'm gonna look like Hulk but I'm not gonna be able to move my ass around the track.

More...

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Actually, I think CrossFit is much better for older people than younger people...



For older athletes that are considering to take up CrossFit what is your advice to them and what can they expect if they start?


For me, CrossFit is the most effective fitness system. I have lots of Master Athletes, women and men in my Box that feel great after starting CrossFit and they are really excited when coming to the classes.
An important thing is that CrossFit gives back all the things you normally loos when getting older like mobility, strength, stamina.
So most people stop to do intense workouts when getting older. Instead, they do some biking, running, some sit-ups and a bit of stretching and nothing else. They get older and get weaker and weaker which again results in injuries, they lose their core strength because they only do biking etc.
Don't get me wrong these type of sports and fitness styles are great but what CrossFit gives us is an integral way of being fit. Normally the stuff that older people do is not gaining them. Playing tennis is fine but it's not what they really need.
Actually, I think CrossFit is much better for older people than younger people because it's a way for them to go back in time with their body. The body clock is going to stop as the body gets what it needs.
So, I think it's an amazing tool. Problem is that not everybody sees CrossFit the right way. They see people in The Games and think that's brutal and I'm not gonna do that but a normal CrossFit class is so different from that.
So, we are responsible for making that clear. That CrossFit doesn't have to be a competition. It's a way of staying healthy and strong especially when you get older.

For you as a CrossFit Master Athlete what is your plan and expectations for the future?


I think this is going to be my last year of competing because it is pretty demanding.
I’m still gonna be training, practising, lifting, doing pull-ups, muscle-ups and running on the track. Being with my friends, enjoying life and being as healthy as I can. But I also want to enjoy other things, like going to the beach with my kids and spending more time during the weekends with them.
Maybe some travelling and spending more time in my Box (CrossFit El Camino) because currently, I train so much that I normally go home when I have nothing to do there.
I will keep training but I don't think I will be back for competition when I'm 55 - I would prefer to train the Master Athletes for the Games and be able to help to give them that amazing experience.
This is what I'm telling people right now and I have three to four masters who have a good chance to make it to the Games. Actually one of them is the 4oo meter Olympic runner I told you about before. She is turning 50 next year and I think she has a good chance.
So this is what I'm focusing on for the future.
Training and teaching - not the technical details but more coaching and mentoring - this is what I'm in to.

Watch Marco doing the "Bar Fight" during 2017 Games



I hope you enjoyed this interview.
During January there will be three more with other CrossFit Master Athletes that made it to the podium in the 2017 Games - if you don't want to miss them you can sign up for notification - press the bell.
Also please have a look at my massive selection of
CrossFit related articles.

And finally please leave a comment!

2 thoughts on “The CrossFit Masters

  1. Want motivation to go to “The Games” as a Masters Athlete? Focus on the possibility to be surrounded (ever so briefly) by peers like Marco. That is truly the greatest reward of the experience. The brotherhood/sisterhood is what motivates and inspires! Games or no Games, simply knowing that others are out there everyday moving and being an example – this is the true gift of Crossfit.

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