Training with the Fittest 60-Year-Old on Earth
Many athletes typically discover the sports they play from their parents. However, in the case of Dave Hippensteel, the opposite is true–he picked up CrossFit from his daughter.
Hippensteel, the two-time defending champion in the Masters 60+ Division at the Reebok CrossFit Games, got into the sport at age 56 after a trip to see his daughter Heather in San Diego, CA. Heather, a former college diver at the University of San Diego, had quit her full-time job as an accountant to work at CrossFit Invictus and train with their competitive team. “When she told me about what she was doing I got really interested,” Dave said. “I went out to visit her and did some training. Then I got hooked.” Most people don’t throw themselves head-on into a new sport in their mid 50s, but Hippensteel is not “most people.” A football player in high school, then a decathlete and springboard diver at Cal State Fresno in college, Hippensteel earned a graduate degree in dentistry from Temple University. “I’ve always stayed active,” he said. “After dental school, I did triathlons off and on for about 20 years. I got into motocross when I turned 40, put a track in my front yard with a 90-foot jump and raced motorcycles for about five years. When I found CrossFit, originally I just wanted it to help me with my triathlon training, but I soon realized it was exactly the sport I’d been looking for. I’d always been strong for my size (5’8″, 160 lbs) and loved gymnastics, not to mention I had a real knack for it. CrossFit combines Olympic lifting with gymnastics skills, rope climbs, muscle-ups and other things like that. It was really a great match for me because I’ve always been a very versatile athlete, I just fell in love with it.” “I started training seriously in 2012,” Hippensteel told us. “I put my sights on the next year’s Open, the first stage of qualifying for the Games. At first I just wanted to break into that top 20 and somehow maybe make it to the Games [in the men’s 55-59 age group]. It felt like a long shot, but I ended up winning the first Open event and managed to stay in first place for the entire five-week open competition. I got to go to the Games, where I finished fifth overall. I even won the clean and jerk with a 215 [lbs] despite being the lightest guy in the event. It was a pretty amazing experience for my first time there. CrossFit did an article on Heather and me as a father-daughter combo competing at the same Games. I learned a lot from her coach and just being around her team.” Included in that article, which was published prior to the 2013 Games, was this quote from Heather about her father: “He has a tendency to over-train, so the biggest thing I’m trying to help with is making sure he takes recovery days. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘I’m not going to talk to you about any of our workouts until you take a recovery day!’”
Dave returned to the Games in the Masters 55-59 Division in 2014. He was second overall in the Open and again finished fifth at the Games. In 2015, at age 59, he placed ninth. The following year, Hippensteel turned 60 and became eligible for a new age group. He dominated the 60+ Division at the 2016 Games, winning by more than 50 points. Heading into the 2017 Games, Dave was looking for an edge to stay on top. “I was experimenting with HRV (heart rate variability),” he said. “That was the buzzword I kept hearing about because I was really focusing on recovery. My son actually came across WHOOP, researched it and told me to check it out. What I had been using previously was helpful, but it didn’t get into HRV in your deepest sleep like WHOOP does.” The timing for Dave was perfect. It was mid May and he’d just won the 60+ Masters online qualifier at the end of April. “I remember going into the gym and picking up 135 [lbs] right after the qualifier, which usually feels really light to me for the clean and jerk,” he explained. “I couldn’t even warm up with that, I was so spent. That’s when I knew I really needed to dig into this recovery thing. WHOOP was instrumental. I learned pretty quickly how to follow it and how to listen to it. I’d think to myself ‘this workout was OK, but what will it feel like when I’m actually 100% recovered?’”
Finding time to train and recover at a high level is especially complicated for Hippensteel considering he still works five days a week as a dentist. “I don’t have a lot of margin time to make mistakes,” he told us. “I’ve got to be super efficient in everything, when I work out, balancing it with work, etc.” This season, WHOOP helped Dave prioritize sleep, naps in particular: “If I can get more deep sleep, no matter when it is, whether it’s a nap or at night, I need to be focused on that. The more I nap, the more recovered I get, I can see it in black and white. Figuring out when I can nap during the day was my biggest change this past summer. Whether it’s before or after a workout, dedicating nap time is huge. Seeing my WHOOP data can be very reassuring when I’ve hit my Sleep Need. Or, knowing when I didn’t sleep enough the night before and need a nap. Building that in has been key.” In the month prior to the Games, Dave averaged 92% of his recommended daily Sleep Need. He also had great Sleep Regularity, going to bed and waking up at consistent times each day:
Additionally, Hippensteel found a coach for the first time this year (through Ben Bergeron’s CompTrain Masters program), Dan Delomba from CrossFit New England. “I still did a lot of my own programming working with Dan, he got to know me as an athlete,” Dave said. “If I needed a day off because my WHOOP said I should recover, I let Dan know and he was cool with it. I did many of the CompTrain workouts and followed them as a guideline, but I also mixed in some of my own to hammer out weaknesses.”
Using WHOOP Through the Games
“It was really helpful to have WHOOP guide me into the Games,” Dave explained. “My last big workout was the Sunday before they started [on Thursday]. It was perfect, my Recoveries peaked at exactly the right time. The day the Games began was my highest Recovery ever. I went into the first day with a ton of confidence knowing that. I felt good and expected to be firing on all cylinders.” As you can see below, Dave did an outstanding job matching his Strain (blue) and Recovery (green/yellow) leading up to the Games. Then he cut back his Strain and got two great night’s sleep (8:33 Tuesday and 9:27 Wednesday), allowing his Recovery to peak at 98% on Day 1 of the Games (Thursday, August 3):
“The first day of the Games, there was a mile-and-a-half run with a 700-meter swim. It was supposed to be 500 but everybody said it was 700,” Dave recalled. “I got a nap in on Day 1 too. It was really critical that I got to rest before the first event. Because of that, I was still in good Recovery mode (90%) the next day. On Friday (Day 2), I finished second in the first event and won the second event, everything felt super.” “I just kept following my WHOOP data, having that reassurance that my body was ready for this. Day 3, my Recovery was still in the green (67%). I won the first event on Saturday and hit a PR (personal record) on a two-rep max front squat of 268 pounds. I ended up fifth in that event, not bad for the smallest guy competing.” On Sunday, the fourth and final day, Hippensteel still posted a solid Recovery (50%) considering what he’d just been through. “The fact that it was four days was a big change for the Masters,” Dave said. “It’d always been three days in the past, so this year it was even more critical for me to monitor recovery. The last day I played it safe. It was some nice gymnastics bodyweight events like rope climbs and handstand pushups. I had a 50-point lead and wanted to make sure I didn’t crash and burn. I cruised to second and third-place finishes in those events.” At the end of the day, Hippensteel was a two-time CrossFit Games champion, still the fittest 60-year-old on the planet.
“I felt I was able to time things perfectly in terms of utilizing WHOOP and the information it gave me about Recovery,” Dave said, “particularly in terms of being strategic about all the events over the four days. And it’s not just the exertion of the workouts, but also the pressure overnight. You have to be able to turn your brain off and get that sleep you need. It’s very reassuring to have that guide on your wrist 24/7 to give you the confidence that your body is primed to compete. I’d thought I’d had a perfect season the year before, but this just sweetened everything a little bit more.” You can expect to see a 62-year-old Hippensteel back at the Games in 2018 to defend his title.