By now, the emergence of fitness as a sport is not new to us. We’ve seen it grow exponentially from workouts in a dusty ranch to open workouts, regionals, and a grand multi day event across several stages in a sport complex. Not to mention the emergence of gyms pretty much everywhere, merchandise, and million dollar endorsement deals. More recently, in the last 2-3 years, there’s also been growing interest in age group competition within the sport. In 2015, multiple teen divisions were added to the existing masters divisions. This would seem to be what will gather the most attention in years to come, as it has in endurance sports. It’s understandable, as it provides a competition platform to all the “normal” folks who are not elite athletes in the sport. As time has passed we’ve seen these divisions becoming a heck of a lot more competitive.
Perhaps the most impressive of these groups is the female 40-44 division. The level of competition, fitness, and physical specimens we see in this group is nothing short of amazing. This raises one question: Where did these ladies come from? They’re in their early to mid 40’s now, so they obviously haven’t been training in the sport since they were kids. Who are they, and how have they been able to get so good in a sport that is so new?
In January 2015 I was approached by one of my gym members about getting a little more serious with her training. Mariangie Del Valle had been taking part in our group classes for a little over a year up to that point. She came in 6 days a week, and it was clear to see that she was a hard worker. A multisport athlete growing up, she had ample training experience, but a lot of the requirements for this sport were new to her. It was her first exposure to weightlifting and most of the gymnastics movements. Nonetheless, at 40 years of age, she was a fit woman. In December 2014, she attended an OPEX Athlete Camp and it was an eye opening experience for her. She realized that in order to get competitive she would have to seek coaching at an individualized level. And so we got started, roughly 6 weeks prior to the 2015 Open. The plan at that point was to give her touches according to the demands of those 5 weeks of competition, but expectations were not high. In 2014 she finished in 4091st place in her age group. After 1 year, she improved to 1201st place in 2015. That’s when the fun started.
We followed the Open with 2 weeks of recovery training, and went into a full testing period right after that. Of course I’d known her for a while now, and knew pretty much all she could do. I had a good idea of what those results would say, but we needed to establish a baseline. At 5’2” and 118 lbs, Mariangie would need to get a lot stronger and more powerful to go with a good aerobic engine in order to enjoy success in competition. Her program was squat heavy with a lot of touches in upper body gymnastics and front-end power intervals. At that point, it all seemed easy, as these were obvious things to address. However, certain situations started coming up. Within the first 2 weeks, there was a nagging “tweak” in one knee that just wouldn’t go away. So we had to adjust her program and work around that. Increasing her squat was still a priority, so we went to movements that didn’t cause pain. Step Ups and Split Squats were staples in her program for months. A little after that, she started feeling discomfort in one of her wrists at certain angles. So we I had to program around that and provide alternatives to e able to continue developing that upper body. We resorted to DB’s and neutral grips, amongst other things. Then came another issue, this time life related.
Mariangie took on a new (better) job that placed certain demands and new stressors on her life. It was immediately evident in her training. She wasn’t recovering from higher intensity pieces and everything started getting inconsistent as a whole. By this point, we were weeks away from the Open, nearing the peak of an intensity build, and we had to decide in favor of adding one extra rest day in her week as well as spacing out those intensity hits strategically so that the dose response was adequate. In other words, quality over quantity.
Fast track about 2 months to today. Mariangie placed 321st in the 2016 Open. That is and improvement of 880 places, in a division that’s getting scary good. Remember, this division ranks worldwide. I’ll call her a LEGIT athlete in her age group. That’s not all. As we did one year ago, we just got through a full battery of tests. Take a look at all the other ways in which she improved her game:
|Element||April 2015||April 2016||Improvement|
|Strict OH Press||80||95||18.75%|
|Weighted Ring Dip||135||157||16.30%|
|Weighted Pronated Grip Chin-up||151.5||161.4||6.53%|
|Back Squat, 1 x AMRAP @ 85%, 30X0||5||6||20.00%|
|8:00 AMRAP power cleans @ 90%||26||41||57.69%|
|Assault Bike calories in 10:00||96||105||9.38%|
Some of these numbers stand out more than others. The most impressive thing here is that there was improvement across the board, all energy systems while maintaining balance amongst them. It’s not a strange thing to see an athlete put 30 lbs. on a particular lift, early in their training age. However, these usually come at the expense of other areas in fitness. As you can see, that did not happen here.
Back to our original question: Who are these athletes? Well, they’re real life people, not unlike many of us, who live and train under real life circumstances. Did I mention Mariangie is a single mother of twins? She makes the time to train and still finds a way to prioritize fitness because it’s a part of her essence. Like the rest of the athletes she competes against, and all those in the masters categories, they didn’t know the sport of fitness until just a few years ago. They never trained thinking about the Open, or a Masters Qualifier, or The Games. They just TRAINED. And they continued to get fit throughout the years. Now they have something to train for, a formal competition. But that’s not why they truly do it. Maybe in the future, as the young studs of today start making their way into the masters ranks, this will different. But this breed of athletes do it because the enjoy the PROCESS.
It would’ve been easy for Mariangie to lose focus when injuries started nagging her. She could’ve put her training on hold when she needed the extra time and energy to put into her new job. Instead, she placed her trust in me, her coach, to figure out a way to make steady gains and continue moving towards her goals regardless of what life may throw at her. Like all the other masters athletes, they just can’t neglect this part of who they are. They’re driven by competition, but that’s not what defines them. They’re in it for the journey. Today, that may look very different to how it did 20 years ago. In turn, 20 years from now it may look completely different as well. Nonetheless, they’ll always be committed to it, regardless of how that may look. They’ll continue to bust their asses to defy father time and inspire awe with their level of fitness, in spite of age.
As I reflect on Mariangie’s last year of training, and gear up for the upcoming one, I’ve come to appreciate this as the most gratifying aspect of coaching. It’s something that is preached at OPEX, and we project at Aggressive. It’s what being a REAL COACH is all about. As athletes, you embark on this journey. As coaches, it’s our job to put the pieces in place for that journey to be evolutionary and fulfilling. There will be ups and downs, rocks on the road, and obstacles to overcome. But our craft is about stepping back, reassessing, and adjusting as needed to stay on course.
Mad props to Mariangie for riding it out, and choosing to keep grinding towards her goals. She’s 121 spots away from a qualifying spot, and now she can begin to taste it. She absolutely loves her fitness gains over the past 12 months and is extremely excited for the upcoming year. As am I.