The Open: the good, the bad and the ugly

The CrossFit Games season is upon us! In just a few days the madness will begin again as over 400,000 athletes prepare to test their fitness over 5 weeks with cleverly devised tests by the one and only Dave Castro, the Director of the CrossFit Games.

If we do a quick recap, the CrossFit Games Open is the very first step of the CrossFit Games. Everyone can participate, workouts are scalable, it is really a community event as every workout is performed at your own affiliate (or any other of your choosing) with a registered judge, or via video submission, and judged by the community. For some, the CrossFit Games Open is also the first step into qualifying for the CrossFit Games, as it is here that athletes move on to the next phase, the CrossFit Games Regionals. But if we are really honest, the CrossFit Games Open is the end of the road for the majority of people signed up. This is by no means a bad thing. The Open still provides a great means of testing fitness, of encouraging people to push themselves further, to step out and attempt, and very often succeed at a more advanced movement (I have seen so many people get their first muscle up, first pullup, first double under etc during the Open).

So from this point forward I will assume I don’t need to convince you to sign up the Open (because why wouldn’t you?) and focus on everything that can help you make the Open the best experience possible.

The first decision you will need to make is whether to compete in the Rx division or the Scaled division. I can already hear some people say “but can’t I do some workouts Rx and other Scaled?”. The answer is yes you can, but I would seriously advise you to chose one or the other for a number of reasons. There is a whole leaderboard dedicated to the scaled division where you can compare yourself to other people in the same situation; you don’t need to deal with the frustration of a movement you either cannot do or aren’t too proficient at doing and wasting huge amounts of time on it; motivation to competed 100% Rx in the years to come. There are many other possible reasons, but those come to mind first. I hear you again asking “how about that first muscle up and first pullup you talked about before?”. Well you’re right, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it IN the workout. Use it as motivation to try it, and if you can do multiple repetitions by all means do the workout!

Now that you have chosen a division you have five weeks of one workout per week ahead of you.

There are a number of things to consider. One of the first questions I get is “How many times should I do the workout?”. It’s an excellent question, but there isn’t one right answer to that. A lot can depend on what your goal is; are you trying to go beyond the Open? If so then multiple runs through the workout can be advantageous, however it is important to remember that it is the combination of 5 weeks and not just one week. Will performing the workout multiple times hinder the performance of workouts in following weeks? Will it detract from training for the remaining days, whether it is regenerative or not? Those are points to take into consideration when assessing whether or not to re-do a workout. Also remember that re-do doesn’t always mean an improvement in score, so bear that in mind as well. From my personal experience, I like doing one run through the workout as a reconnaissance mission per se. It allows me to study the workout beyond theory, and devise a plan of attack from when I re-do. I will almost always take this approach, and it has not yet failed me. By this I mean, it has always allowed me to devise a plan I am happy with and successfully put it into action.

Now that we discussed how often to attempt the workout in the span of the four days available in each week let’s discuss something very important. Open workouts can be very frustrating. They are designed that way, they are designed to test you. And they likely will test you not only physically but also mentally. And so it becomes very important to have a plan (which I refer you to what I mentioned above in how often to perform a workout). Know and accept your limitations, and plan to play within your means. If say your max set of chest to bar pullups is 20, you shouldn’t open up with a set of 20. By now, you, your coach, or a combination of the 2 should know what kind of reps you are able to hold for any given movement, and you should certainly use that information when devising your plan on how to attack the workout. Some movements come to mind, HSPU, where once you “hit a wall” you will have to wait before you can get your next rep, so try to never put yourself in that situation. From personal experience being conservative with rep numbers more often that not will pay off. There will come a workout (if not in all five) that you will become frustrated for a reason or another. It is a good idea to foresee that potential frustration and plan on how to overcome it proactively. Get yourself in the right frame of mind, be positive, and know it is not the end of the world if things fall apart at some point.

Other less talked about but important to consider during the Open are warm up, cool down and recovery. I find not a lot of people like to warm up, they feel like they are immediately ready for the workout. It is important to prepare the body for what is to come. Whether it is dynamic mobility, perform the actual movements involved, build up to the weights being used, but also a cardiovascular aspect, get warm and breathe hard. I have heard “but I don’t want to get tired before I even do the workout”. A well designed specific warm up won’t get you tired; on the contrary, it will prepare you to really attack it! I find that very few, if any at all know about cooling down, let alone perform it! After exertion it is a good idea to work your way down, to help the body flush out and prepare it for recovery. As for recovery, that can include many avenues; nutrition (food, supplementation, nutrient timing), sleep, mobility, body work (massage, cryotherapy, physical therapy, chiropractic care, etc), the options are endless and a good way to help the body recover from each attempt if performing multiple attempts, but also from week to week during the 5 week period.

The Open can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially for a first timer, but it can also be an extremely rewarding and positive experience, if we allow it to and plan for it. As I gear up for my 7th CrossFit Games Open, potentially attempt to qualify for my 7th Regionals (not a goal this year) and my first Masters experience (definitely a goal) I simplify it to Commit – Plan- Enact – Assess – Re-enact- Regroup – Recover, allow myself to focus on the positive aspects, use any negative in a constructive manner, and minimize frustration by being prepared.