The “Masters” Athlete’s Guide to Lifting “for Life”

By Dr. Hays Estes, DPT

Owner, Premier Physical Therapy & Sports Performance – Clearwater & Palm Harbor

You’re only as old as you feel, right? At least that’s what your kids, younger siblings, primary care physician, and (maybe?) your grandkids tell you. But that only helps so much when you get lapped during a WOD by some [insert younger generation slang term here] who was out until 3am the night before and smells like a dirty bar rag. Stings, doesn’t it?

Well, as someone who has recently hit a milestone birthday himself and experienced his fair share of injuries in and out of the gym, allow me to weigh in on the subject of “lifting for life.” That is my goal for any patient who walks in my door, and if you’re still reading to this point, then it’s presumably your goal, too.

So how do we get there?

Since I don’t own a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor (man, I hope that reference still works), we can’t go back in time. So that means we need to start TODAY if you want to keep lifting for several more TOMORROWS.

It first starts with acceptance, meaning that some things related to aging we cannot stop (but we can slow them down). These are things like sarcopenia (the gradual decline in skeletal muscle mass), speed of muscle “twitch” and peak tension of the contraction (Davies et al, Mechanical Properties of Young and Elderly Human Muscle, 1986), and changes in enzyme activity in both anerobic and aerobic activities that means it is more difficult for your energy pathways to be replenished after a workout (Kaczor et al, The Effect on Aging of Anerobic and Aerobic Enzyme Activities in Human Skeletal Muscle, 2006).

Once you accept that these things are going to happen, you can move on and make yourself a more efficient CrossFitter. And we even managed to skip the first four stages of grief!

Let’s talk efficiency. What does that look like in a real-world setting? It consists of 3 things:

  • Pre-workout prep
  • Within-workout strategy
  • Post-workout recovery

For key #1 (Pre-workout prep), that means extra mobility work and extra warm-up sets. I know, I know. But this is the epitome of “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” I’m not saying you need MORE foam rolling or MORE stretching. You can do these things, but this is not where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. I am talking more about “loaded mobility” and using your bodyweight and/or extra weight (like a kettlebell or barbell) to help you achieve positions like a deep squat, the end-position of any overhead lift, flexing and extending your spine and then holding in those positions for 5-10 seconds at a time and working farther and farther into that position for 2-3 minutes total…DAILY but especially before a workout that includes squats, overhead work, or a lot of flexing or extending. Examples include hanging onto the rig and sitting into a deep squat while breathing and bracing, performing a slow, controlled weighted pullover, Jefferson curls, prone press-ups, etc). THEN we need to warm up for the main lift of that workout. So if deadlifts are the main lift of the workout, and let’s say your working weight is 225 LBS for sets of 10, then your warm-up will look something like this:

Bar RDLs x 10

95 LBS x 8-10

135 x 6-8

175 x 4-5

195 x 3-4

215 x 2-3

The best way to warm up for a specific lift is to do more warm-up sets of that lift.

For key #2 (Within-workout strategy), this means PACING and BREATHING. As I like to say in my clinic, rest breaks are allowed and encouraged. I cannot guarantee you won’t hurt yourself by taking rest breaks, but, anecdotally, this allows for better technique and pain management within a workout. What does this look like? Let’s say you have a “death by” exercise where you have to perform a certain number of reps within a minute time span. Take the first 40-45 seconds and get all of your reps done then, leaving 15-20 seconds of rest each round. If you try to time it so that your last rep is finished at the 59-second mark, then guess what? The next round starts IMMEDIATELY after you finished that rep. During this rest break, focus on NASAL BREATHING. While you’re going to want to suck in air like you’re at the bottom of an ice luge, try to fight against it. Nasal breathing has been shown to have better physical and psychological benefits during exercise compared to oral breathing (Dallam and Kies, The Effect of Nasal Breathing Versus Oral and Oronasal Breathing During Exercise:  A Review, 2020). How else can you manage yourself during a workout? Drop the weight…A LITTLE. If every workout is at a 9 or 10 out of 10, you run the risk of running yourself into the ground and “red-lining.” This is one of the simplest strategies for reducing pain and injury risk. You can still get strength and hypertrophy gains at intensities as low as 70% (7 out of 10).

Lastly, for key #3 (Post-workout recovery), what does your recovery look like? Do you just shower and go straight to work where you sit at a desk all day? When’s the last time you took a rest day? How is your nutrition? How is your sleep? These are things in the healthcare community that we call, “low hanging fruit.” If you’re in pain and have not taken the time to cool down, don’t take standing or walking breaks at work, haven’t taken a rest day this month, ate an entire pizza by yourself last night, or tried to party with that [insert younger generation slang term here] who was out until 3am the night before…then maybe address one of these issues. Now, I admit that I am not a nutritionist but do know something about recovery and supplementation. And if there is one supplement out there that has been studied extensively, it is creatine. When combined with a strength training program, creatine supplementation in the older adult can enhance both muscle strength and hypertrophy and is safe to use (Dalbo et al, The Effects of Age on Skeletal Muscle and the Phosphocreatine Energy System:  Can Creatine Supplementation Help Older Adults, 2009). I am not prescribing or diagnosing any internal disease or dysfunction, and, clearly, consult with your primary care medical doctor, but the evidence for creatine is pretty darn overwhelming for its benefits.

So that’s it. Use these strategies to keep lifting and playing the long game. You’re going to be on this planet for a while. Might as well enjoy your time here, and exercise is going to help you do that.

With that said, if you use these strategies and STILL have pain or aren’t recovering from your workouts they way you’d like, then that’s where I can help. I’m Dr. Hays, board-certified orthopedic Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Premier Physical Therapy here in Clearwater and Palm Harbor. I also hold my USA Weightlifting Level 1 certification and am a lead instructor for Barbell Rehab, a continuing education company who teaches other rehab and fitness professionals how to manage their athletes in pain.

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Cara Ruscin


A transplant from Arkansas, Cara played every sport she could growing up. After a small stint as a personal trainer at a globo gym, she was introduced to CrossFit in 2017 through another personal trainer. Her very first week of CrossFit was the first week of the 2017 Open and she’s been hooked ever since. She obtained her level 1 certificate in 2020 and coached at a gym in Arkansas for two years before moving here last year. Cara got into coaching because she loves to help and encourage people to reach their goals, whatever they may be!wing two coaches to our coaches page.


CrossFit Level 1 Certification

Tony Jurado


Tony is a highly-regarded CrossFit coach, known for his unwavering commitment to promoting fitness and wellness. Over his 11-year tenure in the CrossFit community and a decade of coaching, he has refined his approach to training, expertly blending rigorous physical conditioning with mindful perseverance.

His personal journey into fitness was initiated in adolescence, kindled by a passion for soccer that he nurtured well into his adult years. His tenure in the military further honed his discipline and mental resilience, vital attributes he instills in his athletes today.

Tony’s portfolio of qualifications is expansive, covering a broad range of CrossFit certifications, including Level 1, Anatomy, Coaching the Aging Athlete, Dumbbells, Running, Programming, Lesson Planning, Scaling, Spot the Flaw, and Coaching the Aging Athlete. These credentials equip him to create individualized and comprehensive training plans, catering to the unique fitness objectives and needs of each athlete.

In addition to his expertise in physical training, Tony brings a deep understanding of nutrition and supplements into his coaching approach. This knowledge was garnered during his time at the Vitamin Shoppe, and recognizing the pivotal role of nutrition in achieving fitness goals, he seamlessly integrates this into his holistic coaching strategy.

Tony’s coaching expertise extends far beyond his local community. He has demonstrated his effectiveness and adaptability on an international platform, engaging with a diverse array of athletes. His inclusive approach ensures that individuals of all ages and fitness levels have the opportunity to benefit from his coaching.

Embodying his mantra, “Only you can make it happen, so make it happen,” Tony encourages his athletes to seize control of their fitness journey. His coaching style marries challenge with support, fostering an environment that empowers athletes to push their limits.

Regardless of where you stand in your fitness journey, Tony’s comprehensive approach to CrossFit, backed by a wealth of knowledge and a firm belief in personal determination, is poised to inspire and guide you toward achieving your full potential.


CrossFit Level 1 Certification



Amy Bell has always been into sports and fitness all her life, starting soccer at a very young age, playing competitively through high school. Once she started college, being an athlete and staying fit wasn’t really important to her at the time but quickly realized she needed to do something to get her fitness back in check. Her sister participated in CrossFit for over a year before she finally talked Amy into trying it. Once Amy did, she was hooked. She started CrossFit in Georgia as she finished her bachelor’s degree and then moved to Florida. Shortly after her move to Clearwater, planning on testing different gyms in the area, she bought a Groupon for ABF as her first one and stayed, never trying anywhere else.

Amy enjoys the community, the programming and the overall atmosphere of ABF. She been with ABF for four years now, making huge improvements to her fitness and dialing in on her nutrition. CrossFit has become a passion and a lifestyle for Amy. Working in the medical field, she realized how important fitness and nutrition are and if more people could make this kind of lifestyle change, even just a small change, there could be less people with illnesses and more living healthier lives. CrossFit has also given Amy the competitiveness she’s always loved playing sports, competing against other athletes at ABF as well as competing in local competitions and the CrossFit Open.

She has been a large part of how we’ve kept the gym clean the last three years. She has been planning to coach for some time now and finally completed her CrossFit Trainer O-L1 course in September 2021 to become an official coach at ABF. She is excited to be able to share her passion with others, to encourage and help fellow athletes reach their fitness goals.


CrossFit Level 1 Certification



Brandi fell in love with all things barbell after watching the CrossFit games in 2012. She hadn’t been into sports or fitness in her younger years, but had been looking for ways to improve her strength and conditioning between a desk job and being a mom. After failing to make much headway in a standard globo-gym, she bought a Groupon for a local CrossFit box and immediately realized there was no turning back. The supportive community and infinite scalability of CrossFit has kept her engaged and coming back for more. Years later, Brandi continues to grow into a well-rounded athlete.

Her passion and dedication has lead fellow athletes to look to her for guidance on their lifts, so when Brandi was offered the chance to coach she jumped at it. Brandi earned her ABF L1.5 in 2020 and runs our foundations program. If you’re new to CrossFit, she will likely be your first coach.


CrossFit Level 1 Certification



Fitness has always been a piece of her life, but things didn’t change until she found a Groupon for CrossFit ABF. Andrea gave ABF a chance after years of attending a regular gym that left her wanting more out of fitness. This was the best choice she made as it combines her love of being social with new and old friends and a newfound love of lifting weights and pushing herself to the limits. CrossFit ABF has shown her what a FitFam really means as she looks forward to working out with them every week.

Andrea is an inspiring mother to her daughter Layla and her giant fur babies, Storm and Thunder. You can catch Andrea killing a workout, rollerblading down the causeway, or enjoying a night out line dancing (yes, she loves her country music!). She enjoys the adventures of life and encourages others to strive towards their goals. Andrea continues to take her skills to the next level and wants to be there to help you do the same.


CrossFit Level 1 Certification



Amber Krumn, lovingly referred to as “Krumncake,” joined CrossFit ABF (and the overall discipline of CrossFit) in 2017 after she grew tired and bored of the “typical” gym atmosphere. Different from anything she’d done before, she grew to enjoy CrossFit due to its varied workout types. Every day’s workout finally became exciting! An avid runner, Krumncake also fell in love with the sporting aspect of CrossFit. Recently, she’s become more interested in the nutritional aspects of functional fitness and you’ll often find her trying to improve the sport’s various skills, which, in turn, make the sport all the more challenging.



CrossFit Level 1 Trainer



Ryan McElhaney is a CrossFit Level II Trainer, USAW Level II Coach, CrossFit Gymnastics, and CrossFit Movement and Mobility Certified. He has been an athlete for as long as he can remember. His father built box jumps and agility courses in the backyard rather, than sending him to summer camps. He’s participated in soccer, track & field, cycling, golf, basketball, paddle boarding, 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and extreme napping.

In February of 2012, he realized that he needed more than what the standard Globo-Gym could offer, so he finally took the advice of a good friend and gave CrossFit a try. He was hooked somewhere between 3-2-1 Go! and the gut-wrenching feeling of never having conquered a workout like this before. Continuously-varied challenging workouts, strong community support, constant improvement, and a proper diet are what fueled his passion to coach and inspire others to share in his success. Two years later he completed the CrossFit Level I Trainer course followed by CrossFit Movement & Mobility.

“I love to coach, it’s the highlight of my day when one of my athletes becomes proficient in a lift or movement and I’m extremely passionate about helping others improve their fitness. I’m also a big fan of any career that promotes flip flops and t-shirts as the standard work uniform… coaching!”

Ryan is married to Linda and they have an adorable puppy named Bella.


CrossFit Level II Trainer


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