Let me start by saying if you’re not a CrossFit fan, you may not get much out of this post. But if you’re still interested in hearing how I apply productivity to fitness, keep reading.
If you’ve never heard of the CrossFit Open before, it’s a worldwide competition that takes over a 5-week period each year. Each week a workout is announced and everyone around the world competes to get the best score. There are different divisions and the workouts vary slightly for men, women and masters athletes but essentially everyone is doing a very similar workout.
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A quick bit of history – I initially got into CrossFit after reading Brian MacKenzie’s Unbreakable Runner as I was training for a marathon at the time. The premise of the book is that you can use a style of CrossFit training to condition your body for long-distance runs without having to pound the pavement for 3 hours at a time. In a sense, it’s a more productive way to get better at running and as you can imagine, this instantly appealed to me.
And that’s one of the reasons I love CrossFit. When you start a workout, you need to find the most efficient way of completing the work while avoiding burning. You have to carefully manage your energy and be methodical about how you complete the repetitions in order to minimise breaks.
Okay, so back to the open…
At the time of writing this, my legs are still sore from the final workout which was a real challenge (more on this below).
Overall, I’m really happy with my performance. Considering I’ve lost a few kilos in the last 6 months (since the birth of our son Jay), I’ve actually maintained my strength really well.
Now, most people do the open for a sense of personal achievement and participation. Me on the other hand, I’m very competitive and loved keeping track of my overall score at our gym to get the best result possible.
In this post, I’d like to share some of the highlights and lessons learned from each of the 5 workouts. Here we go.
19.1 – Use every second possible
19.1 refers to the year (2019) and the open workout (#1).
The first workout was a 15-minute couplet (two movements) where you had to complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of:
- 19 wall-ball shots (Men throw 20-lb. ball to 10-ft. target. Women throw 14-lb. ball to 9-ft. target)
- 19-cal. row
This was a pretty good workout for me as I don’t mind cardio based workouts. My strategy was to find a good pace where I’m working at about 80% of my capacity. Then in the final 2-3 minutes, ramp up the pace and go “balls to the wall” putting in max effort towards the finish. This plan worked well. A few guys went out the gate too fast and I was able to catch up around the 8-minute mark as they began to fatigue.
Going into the workout I had a guy next to me who I’ve always been very even with. During the workout, he got to about 10 reps ahead of me but I wasn’t paying attention as I began to catch up. On the final row, I was able to catch right up so we were even and with 30 seconds to go we both got onto the wall balls. I didn’t realise as I then overtook him.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and still thought he was about 10 reps ahead of me. So with 5 seconds left on the clock, I couldn’t throw the ball any more, let it fall to the floor and walked away. In my mind, any extra reps wouldn’t make a difference to my position on the leaderboard.
I then learned that we tied the workout. Had I been paying attention I could have thrown the ball one more time and beaten his score. This would have really helped a few weeks later as I was chasing 3rd place and desperately needed an extra point.
My takeaway from this workout is to pay attention to your surroundings, use every second on the clock and don’t stop until the very end.
19.2 – Break down the workout
For 19.2, we began with 8 minutes on the clock, and had to complete.
- 25 toes-to-bars
- 50 double-unders (skipping where the ropes passes under your feet twice per jump)
- 15 squat cleans, 135 lb (62kg)
- 25 toes-to-bars
- 50 double-unders
- 13 squat cleans, 185 lb (83kg)
If you completed all this before 8 minutes, you could 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to do:
- 25 toes-to-bars
- 50 double-unders
- 11 squat cleans, 225 lb (101kg)
Going into this workout, my first priority was to get past the first time cap of 8 minutes. That’s a lot of work to get done in a pretty short amount of time so I decided to break down the workout to determine just how fast I needed to be to get past the time cap.
I worked out that if you could do the toes to bar and double-unders in about 1 minute 30 seconds (including transition time), for the two rounds this would leave you with 5 minutes to do all the cleans.
My plan was to do the toes-to-bar in sets of 15 and 10 to make up the 25 and do the double-unders unbroken.
Then, for the first set of 15 cleans, I budgeted about 2 minutes, leaving 3 minutes for the heavier set.
I then took it a step further and divided the 15 reps by 2 minutes (120 seconds) to arrive at a pace of 8 seconds per rep for the 15s and 14 seconds fo the 13s.
When I came to do the workout, I executed my plan almost perfectly. I did my toes to bar in sets of 15 and 10 and the double-unders unbroken, just as planned. I was off to a great start.
I was a little slower than planned on my first set of cleans. But I was still able to start the final set with a split time of 5:09 which meant I was only 9 seconds off my target pace.
83kg cleans for a guy that weighs 69kg is about 80-85% of my max clean. So they’re not exactly light and each rep was a real effort. I’d shared my plan with my judge, Kurt, and he did a great job of keeping me on pace. He later had to apologise as he felt like he was being really pushy by telling me to get back on the bar really quickly, but he did a great job.
Unfortunately, despite my best-laid plan, I couldn’t quite get the work done before the first time cap and I was just 2 reps short.
My analysis looking back was I’d done everything almost perfectly but just needed to be a bit quicker on the final set of cleans. It was really just a strength issue.
I tried redoing the workout a few days later. I thought if I could go even faster on the first part I would have more time for the cleans. This didn’t work as I was more fatigued and got a few no reps as I couldn’t get the bar up.
Overall, it was really fun to break down the workout and I’m confident that I did better by going into the workout with a clear plan of attack.
19.3 – Fix your weaknesses
For 19.3, we had to complete the following as fast as possible (but with a 10-minute time cap):
- 200-ft. dumbbell overhead lunge (50-lb. dumbbell, about 22.5kg).
- 50 dumbbell box step-ups
- 50 strict handstand push-ups
- 200-ft. handstand walk
This workout was my nemesis and is where I lost a lot of points overall. The issue was the handstand push-ups.
Back in 2018, we had handstand pushups and I’d struggled back then as well.
Normally, when we do handstand push-ups we can ‘kip’ which is where you kick your legs like a frog to propel your body upwards. This is a great way for someone who’s good at gymnastics but has less shoulder strength (like me) to do better. Unfortunately, in this workout, they had to be ‘strict’, which means no kipping allowed.
I got through the first two movements reasonably well, but getting onto the handstand pushups I hit a brick wall. I was only able to get 2 (and that was on my 2nd attempt at the workout).
So my takeaway here is to address my weaknesses. Going into the open I knew that I sucked at handstand pushups but I didn’t do anything to address the issue. So this is definitely something I need to work on for next year.
19.4 – Faster isn’t always better
19.4 was by far my favourite workout. Finally, this was a workout that was designed just for me. With a time-cap of 12 minutes, you had to complete as much of the following:
3 rounds of:
- 10 snatches (Men snatch 95 lb, about 43kg. Women 65 lb)
- 12 bar-facing burpees
Then, rest 3 minutes before continuing with:
3 rounds of:
- 10 bar muscle-ups
- 12 bar-facing burpees
My plan was to do the snatches in sets of 6 and 4. I have no issue with burpees so I just had to move through these at a good pace. My goal was to get the first 3 rounds done within 5 minutes, so that after the 3-minute rest I’d have 3 minutes to do as much of the final 3 rounds as possible.
I went out the gate pretty fast and got this all done in 4:09 which was over 50 seconds faster than I had planned. During the rest, I even said to my judge that I felt like I’d almost gone too fast.
This showed on the muscle ups. I was about to get through the first round pretty easily. But when I got onto round two I was getting no reps and taking much bigger breaks between reps. I finished having completed 17 total reps of the muscle ups. Not bad, but I knew I could do better.
A few days later I tried again.
This time, my coach, Richie, judged me. For the first three rounds, he was constantly telling me to slow down. While doing the burpees I’d never paid so much attention to my heart rate during a workout.
My split time for the second attempt was 4:51, so I was over 30 seconds slower. But, this meant I was less fatigued going into part two.
I also attacked the muscled ups in smaller sets of 2 but with more energy, I was able to take shorter breaks and never missed a rep. I later finished having completed the entire second round of muscle ups and burpees so it was a massive improvement.
There’s a time and a place to go as fast as you can. This was not it. Putting in max effort isn’t always the answer. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
19.5 – Embracing the hurt locker
I had such a bad attitude going into 19.5. Mainly because I knew the workout was going to hurt. We had to complete the following for time (with a 20-minute time cap):
- 95-lb. thrusters (Men use 95 lb, about 43kg and women use 65 lb).
- Chest-to-bar pull-ups
Having learned my lesson from the last week, I was going to keep my thrusters to small sets. I knew that completing the first two rounds was going to be the hard part and depending on how you tackled that would determine your speed for the last half. My plan was to do:
- 6-5-6-5-6-5 for the 33s.
- 5-4-5-4-5-4 for the 27s.
- And then wing it from there.
Just before I started, my judge, Robin, who’d already judged three other people do the workout told me to do the chest-to-bars in smaller sets. This ended up being great advice. I was planning on doing big sets but the smaller sets meant I fatigued less quickly and got throw them quicker overall.
The workout actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My rep scheme for the thrusters worked well. Even though I was taking more breaks than other people, I had more energy for the chest to bars and quickly overtook other people. The time went by pretty quickly and I actually did pretty well.
My downfall was when I was completing the 15 chest-to-bars and I ripped the skin on my hand and couldn’t grip the bar. I ended up using a hand grip to get through the final 3 reps but lost a good 30 seconds. I ended up completing 4 of the final 9 thrusters and really felt like I could have finished the workout had I not ripped my hand (my bad for not wearing grips).
My takeaway here was to 1) wear handgrips, even if it was just for the final few rounds, and 2) to have a better attitude going in. I ended up getting the best score of the day. I’m capable of doing the work and my bad attitude only made me more nervous.
Overall, I’m really happy with my performance in this years open and finished in the 85th percentile (top 15% worldwide). I had great fun and really enjoyed the community coming together to support one another. This is the best thing about CrossFit. Not the workouts or even the sense of personal achievement. It’s the community.
The 2020 open is taking place later this year. If you enjoy keeping fit and want to push yourself physically and mentally, I highly recommend you sign up.