So it’s finally here! As crossfitters, we wait for this time of year for a solid 11 months. Well, at least the 99.999% of us that won’t be competing at the CrossFit Games in the Summer. Frankly, for those top-tier athletes the Open isn’t even really on their training radar. It’s pretty much a lock that they’ll make it past this first stage.
But, for the rest of us, this is our time to shine! We spend our entire year thinking about what happened during the previous Open. What workout was my favorite? Or more popularly, what workout was my LEAST favorite and the one I would literally vomit if I had to repeat the next year? We wonder what does Castro have up his sleeve for the next Open. What do I really need to focus on? What do I suck at? For many of us, we train every day in order to perform better in the Open then we did the previous year.
But for a lot of you out there, this may be your first Open. Maybe you’ve been doing CrossFit for a number of years, but have never committed to testing yourself against the 5 week challenge and decided to take the plunge this time. Or, maybe you are brand new to CrossFit, you haven’t been involved in it for an entire year and were aware of the Open until recently, but you signed up anyway. Either way, you’re in for a wild experience.
There are a few different ways that people approach the Open. But whether or not this is a competition for you, there are still some things that you want to try and think about in order to have the best experience possible. The main thing to get out of your experience in this process is the enjoyment of the community within your gym, the fun with friends and satisfaction of being a part of something so big. That’s what it is mainly about for the majority of us. But, nobody wants to perform poorly. Even if you really aren’t concerned with your placing among 500,000 people, you still want to be able to leave it all out there and give it your best effort every week. So, take some time to prepare yourself for what you’re about to do for the next 5 weeks and set yourself up for success!
I’ve set out with the hopes of touching on a few things that I’ve gathered over my years participating in the Open, the ups and downs, successes and failures, and hopefully preparing at least some of you readers for an overall positive experience. So, here are some tips to help you have the best Open you can have! Hopefully the experienced and inexperienced alike can take something away from this.
BE READY EACH WEEK
The workouts for the Open are scheduled to be released each week on Thursday nights, typically at 8pm EST. There are some people out there who love to watch the announcement and get it out of the way right then and there. For some it can be a good thing. I know for me, there have been years where I was competing pretty aggressively and the Open was a very stressful time. So much so that I would lay awake at night, unable to sleep because I would be analyzing the workout that was just announced, strategizing down to the most meticulous of details. But getting the workout out of the way can relieve a little bit of that pressure.
When I say “Be Ready” I really just mean recovered. This can seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how often people will put a lot of pressure on themselves about their performance, but do not prepare for each workout like they would any other competition. If you are going to be at your very best, you’ll need to feel your very best. Typically that means that if you’re planning to perform the week’s workout on Friday, you shouldn’t be doing Karen on Wednesday, or doing 10×10 deadlifts on Thursday. You don’t know what you’re going to have to do on Friday. Yes, there’s the possibility of wall balls and/or deadlifts being in that week’s wod, but just doing things that are guaranteed to give you DOMS for days, or tax your CNS like a max lift within days of you expecting a 100% effort on a workout is not going to do you any favors…similar movement or not.
The days leading up to you performing an Open wod should be left for work that keeps you moving, but isn’t going to tax you in such a way that leaves you flat on competition day. The worst feeling in an Open workout is being on that first round of thrusters and feeling an unwelcomed burn in your quads too early and thinking back to that workout 2 days before where you did 120 pistols. At that point you realize that physically you’re not ready to give 100%, and mentally you’ve already taken a blow. Workout over!
COMPETE LIKE YOU TRAIN
This could be a much longer section if we finished that statement with the proverbial “train like you compete,” but I’m only touching on one side of the coin and that’s to compete as close to how you train as possible.
This means everything from nutrition/supplements, warm-ups, time of day and mental focus. You don’t want to establish a deeply engrained routine in your training, then flip it entirely when it comes time to do your Open WOD.
This is very similar to the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Competitors establish routines for each and every lift that they must do in order to feel comfortable and lifts from warm-ups all the way up to max attempts look exactly the same.
If you typically arrive to your gym 30 minutes before you class and row, rollout, stretch, whatever before the start, you should do the same before the Open WOD. Similarly, if you take a certain pre-workout supplement, drink a cup of coffee before you workout, eat a certain snack, don’t change that routine either. Don’t change to a new Pre-workout right before 18.1, and especially don’t try one for the first time before it! The last thing you want to do is go experimenting with supplements in competition.
Mental focus can be a difference maker too. Again, you see this a lot in weightlifting, and I know I’ve had experience with this myself in CrossFit competitions. If you are one of those people who trains with a huge group of friends, laughing and goofing around, thoroughly enjoying each others’ company while you push through brutal workouts, then make every attempt to recreate that environment.
If you are used to training in a more relaxed environment that allows you to stay loose and enjoy yourself, then go to compete, in the Open or any competition, and you sit in the corner trying to shift to a more serious 100% firm focus with headphones on and a grimace like Michael Phelps, you’re forcing something that isn’t comfortable and is foreign to you. Similarly, if you’re one of those people who focuses on your training 100%, don’t joke around and keep to yourself, but jump into a fun, relaxed atmosphere like an in-house competition for the Open, filled with kids and food and drinks, your ability to focus the way you normally do will throw you off and you’ll be able to feel that during your workout.
If you’re serious about your performance in competition or in the Open workouts, make the effort to emulate your every day training experience when you do your workouts. Try to ensure that your routines stay the same and you environment is so drastically different that you can’t focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.
TIME OF DAY
This is a huge one that a lot of people don’t think about. But if you’re one of those people who workout religiously at the 5:30am class, then sign up for a “Friday Night Lights” event at your gym for the Open where you will likely be performing your workout at 6,7,8pm you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Your body is smart. It will adapt to what you do to it. It wakes up ready to go for that morning class. And by 8pm you’re shutting down and ready to go to sleep to prep for the next morning’s workout. Asking it give 100% effort in a workout 12 or more hours removed from when it is conditioned to do so is trouble. Even just a few hours difference can throw you off.
In 2015 I traveled to Dallas, TX for the USAW National Championships to compete. My typical training time was between 9:30am-12:00pm. I found out that my session was scheduled to begin lifting at about 9pm Central time. I didn’t spend enough time lifting in the evenings before the meet, and when my session started (late and with the time change) my body felt like it was 11pm. I missed my guaranteed snatch opener, barely made it on the second attempt, and missed my third. Then I proceeded to bomb out my cnj with 3 attempts at my guaranteed opener for that lift. My body was used to being asleep at 11pm, not being asked to perform maximum lifts.
Beyond just the Open, there’s a reason why coaches will tell their athletes to try training at different times of day. For one, it changes up the stimulus and can spark progression when you feel like you’re at a plateau, but if you change up your training time and go to compete in a weekend competition where you have to do 3-4 workouts in a single day, you’re not shocked at what it feels like to start a workout at 7am, or 6pm.
This is mostly aimed at those people who have never competed before, or are new to the Open this year.
Back in the day you didn’t even have to compete to make it to the games. You just showed up in Aromas and signed up for the first 2 years. For those first 2-3 years of the games the competitors looked and performed almost like normal people. At least like normal people by today’s standards. Today, these athletes going to the games, and even athletes moving into the Regional competitions, are basically professional athletes. It’s difficult to make it past the Open if you have a job, school, family, pet fish, etc.
Please understand that this has moved beyond something designed to see who can make it to the CrossFit Games. It has become a world-wide movement to celebrate fitness. That is how it should be treated. Don’t spend too much time focusing on the leaderboard and where you stand. You will beat yourself up every week and ruin the experience. Getting too caught up in comparing yourself to others can suck the fun out of it.
YOUR GAME PLAN
Approach each workout with a plan. If you want to do your best in a workout you should go in with some idea of how you are going to attack it. This can take a little bit of prep and education before hand.
Know your limitations and abilities. You should know about where you max out on movements. If you can only string a set of 40 wall balls max before you die out, and you suffer through small sets after that, you should use that information to plan out big sets of wall balls. As a competitor you’ll need to know your limitations on almost everything in order to set up a plan of attack on workouts.
Practice the workout before you jump in. This can be a good idea if it’s an AMRAP triplet or couplet or something that you will get a few or more rounds in. Set up the proper equipment and run through a single round of the workout at your typical competition speed and check the time that round took. It’s not likely that you’ll maintain that pace throughout the wod, so good practice would be to add some time to that round and spread that out along the full course of that AMRAP to get an idea of how many rounds you want to shoot for. This can give you an idea of how long you want each round to take and give you a time interval to shoot for with each round.
Lastly, go into each workout of the Open with a “one and done” attitude. Do NOT go in thinking that you’ll have a chance to do it one or two more times. That will only allow you room to doubt, give in to pain, or even quit with the knowledge that you have the opportunity to try again. If you go in with the attitude that this is it, this is the only opportunity and it’s “now or never” you’ll find intensity that you wouldn’t find otherwise.
There will also be those workouts that seem like repeatable workouts, but afterward you find out that it wrecks you in a way that you didn’t expect and you find that you can’t or don’t want to repeat it. So, planning to do each workout one time and one time only can keep you pushing as hard as possible each week. And as an added benefit, it won’t interfere with your regular training.
The Open, and really any other competition you’ll find, is as much about celebrating fitness and building a community as it is about crowning winners. Enjoy the process and try not to overthink it.
Control the controllable things, and enjoy the positives while ignoring the negatives. The controllable things are the things mentioned above: you prep, your game plan, your recovery, etc.
Things to enjoy are the community within your gym, the friendships you’ve made within that community, and being a part of something this big. Avoid the pitfalls of comparing yourself to others, or setting unreal expectations. There’s no way to know what we’ll see in the Open. So there’s no point in setting expectations when you don’t have all of the information. Just do what you can and have a good time. If things don’t go your way, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? Odds are nothing in your life will change. Your life will still be pretty good, friends will still be friends, your family will still be your family, and next year when the 2019 Open begins, you’ll be in the same boat as you are today, except smarter, faster and stronger.
Now, Good Luck!