Coaching a Bada$$ Masters Athlete for Longevity

Written by Michele Vieux

There’s no doubt that John Mariotti is a seasoned and fierce competitor. He did his first Open in 2012 at the age of 55 and has competed every year since. For the past 10 years he has been working with Invictus and the past 4 years with the Invictus Masters program and coach Nichole Kribs. One of the highest-longevity athletes in the sport, he’s now in his first year in the 65+ division and is headed to the CrossFit Games for the 4th time!

None of these are easy feats, much less for an athlete of John’s stature in age. There’s all the typical hazards that top tier athletes face like injury and burnout. But Masters athletes face an ever greater chance of injury, overtraining, and under recovering, especially if they are trying to follow a program that’s written with the 20-something athlete in mind.

That’s where Coach Nichole comes in. She’s the ‘Masters Master’ and has developed a program over the years that gives Masters athletes the competitive programming they desire along with the proper dose of volume, skill work, and mobility to ensure longevity in the sport. 

Actually, her program is so well thought out that many of those who follow it have no intention of competing. They just enjoy the workouts and the added Masters-specific work to make sure they can train with little risk of injury. So they can enjoy life.

“This was not supposed to happen. I was not training for the Games. I was just doing the Master’s programming and really only doing 5 days a week,” says John. He was just training for fun and to stay fit. “Took a couple vacations, not really dialed in on nutrition or anything else.” 

We’ve actually heard that a lot over the years – I’m just training for fun. Some might find it hard to believe that training can be fun. But they must never have met Coach Nichole. She can make anything fun because of her positive energy and her creative programming. Any of the Masters following her program would tell you that she’s the best. Best programmer for their bodies’ needs. Best motivator. Best at understanding the life balance that seasoned adults seek, and wanting to train for longevity. 

That’s why she sneaks focused cycles into her programming. You can’t hit everything all at once and write a successful program. To everything, there is a season…

“In December, Nichole started throwing out some Zone 2 training things into the program. This was a game changer. My aerobic fitness level exploded and everything got easier and faster,” said John.

Zone 2 is NOT the sexy stuff. It is not the Fran’s, the Isabel’s, the Jackie’s, etc. But Zone 2 work is what a lot of CrossFit athletes are missing in their training programs and is one of the things Coach Nichole decided to use to give her athletes more of an edge in the field.

Although Zone 2 training is typically the lowest zone used for training. When you incorporate a little Zone 2 work into your training, all other facets can improve as well. Higher cardiac output, lower resting heart rate, increased VO2 max, and increased endurance performance are common markers coaches and athletes seek to improve. 

For John, even though he wasn’t planning to compete, the programming prepared him to do quite well.

“The Open came around and since I wasn’t aiming for the Games, I decided to do all the workouts twice. I won the first WOD, tied for 1st on the second, and was 6th on the last one. I won the Open! Holy cow I WON THE OPEN!!!!” John seemed surprised to do so well. But we weren’t. 

Because there are other, more calculated, reasons Coach Nichole likes to incorporate Zone 2 work. She pairs it with gymnastics for developing stamina for higher skilled movements which is oftentimes an achilles heel for Masters athletes and the Open is known for exposing any weaknesses in this area.

The addition of the right amount of Zone 2 training at the right time also helped John to be able to repeat those super-demanding workouts in a short window of time as it helps to bring your body into a more parasympathetic state which, in turn, decreases your sympathetic drive and allows you to rest and recover more effectively.

There’s a lot more to coaching Masters athletes than just Zone 2 training, and John is an exceptionally gifted athlete so of course it’s not the only factor in his success. But it’s certainly one of the tools that the Invictus Masters program used in focused cycles throughout the year that aided in it. The key to coaching Masters is understanding the needs of the general population, listening to their training goals, and then finding that perfect combination for the individual. 

And that’s what Coach Nichole does. Because even though the program is online, she gives each athlete the attention they need to exceed their training goals. She’s right there to help the individual athlete get exactly what they want and need. It’s worked out pretty well for John so far.

My concept is simple…I don’t want to train for the Games. I want to train for health and longevity. The contest is a bonus!” said John famously before crushing his age group at the CrossFit Games…

Invictus Masters Program

This program offers a well thought out training program designed specifically for masters athletes (35+) who are looking to compete at a higher level in the sport of CrossFit, or those who want to generally improve their athleticism and ability to keep up with the young kids in their CrossFit gym. The program places year round emphasis on mobility and stability exercises, and movements that we have seen directly benefit master athletes.

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