The 2015 Crossfit Open is officially over and was it ever an eye opener! The competition was fierce and the workouts were humbling to say the least. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Crossfit Open, it’s a worldwide competition to find the fittest man and woman on Earth (believe it or not, there is no other contest to determine this). It’s a 3 stage process that includes the Open, Regionals, and then the Crossfit Games.
I’ve been competing in the Open since it’s inception in 2011. As a fitness professional who is passionate about training and always enjoyed some good, healthy competition, this was and still is a natural fit for me. I know there’s a lot of pundits out there that turn their nose up at Crossfit, but if Crossfit can get over 200,000 people worldwide to participate in this thing they must be doing something right. Any fitness enthusiast who appreciates elite athletic performances should take a closer look at what is happening in the Crossfit community. There were some absolutely mind-blowing performances during this year’s Open that would make even Stevie Wonder do a double take!
The Open is a 5 week process that consists of 5 different workouts with one workout being performed each week. Each workout presented a different challenge and targeted different aspects of one’s overall fitness. Absolute strength, relative strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic/anaerobic conditioning are some of the main elements that are tested across various exercises and time domains (i.e. long workouts vs. short workouts). As someone who enjoys being challenged and always looking for different ways to get the best results, I was able to learn quite a few lessons from this year’s Open.
Here’s what I learned from each workout:
Workout 15.1/15a – For the first time ever in the history of the Open, there was a 2 part workout. Part 1 (15.1), being a traditional 9 minute AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible) of 15 toes to bar/10 deadlifts (115#)/5 snatch (115#) followed immediately by 15.2 – 6 minutes to establish a 1RM clean and jerk.
15.1 was a true test of core strength and muscular endurance with toes to bar being the limiting factor in this workout. You needed to be able to perform this exercise in high volume if you wanted to separate yourself from the rest of the field (assuming you had no issue with 115# deadlifts and snatches). The ability to move one’s body through this range of motion at high intensity requires a degree of core strength that no amount of situps or crunches could ever duplicate. For all you meatheads out there, add this exercise to your repertoire to build a titanium core.
15.1a was curveball to say the least. Traditional thinking would lead anyone to believe that testing a 1Rm max under a state of fatigue would be completely ridiculous. How can anyone expect to lift anything close to their max if they’ve just completely exhausted themselves with 9 minutes of some crazy bodyweight/barbell complex? The truth of the matter is that most participants were able to hit 90%, if not more, of their 1RM – myself included. Whether it’s a combination of adrenaline from being in a competitive environment and conditioning your body to do anything at any given time, maximal strength can still be expressed under a reasonable amount of fatigue. In no domain other than Crossfit would this type of performance ever be revealed. Who says strength needs to come before conditioning?
Workout 15.2 – This workout was a repeat from 2014 that included a challenging couplet of overhead squats and chest to bar pullups. You had 3 minutes to complete 2 rounds of 10 overhead squats (95#) and 10 chest to bar pullups, the next 3 minutes you to had complete 2 rounds of 12 reps of each movement and the rep scheme kept increasing by 2 reps until you could not complete the reps within the 3 minute period.
Can you say “Pullup City!” This workout definitely epitomizes Crossfit with its high demand for pullup capacity. Kipping or butterfly pullups go without saying if you expected to do well in this workout. Much like 15.1, the barbell movement was not the limiting factor unless you really struggle with overhead squats.
There’s always been a lot of debate over the value of kipping and butterfly pullups. Here’s the deal, if you want to do more work in less time then kipping/butterflying is a must. If you simply want to get strong and build more muscle then you can get by without ever learning to kip or butterfly. Having said that, the ability to kip or butterfly can help you squeeze out a few extra reps if you are working to failure on any given set. This will lead to more time under tension putting greater stress on your lats, biceps and forearms which can ultimately lead to increases in strength and muscle mass.
Making sure you have a solid base of strict pullup strength is key before progressing to kipping or butterfly in order to reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Kipping/butterfly pullups also make a traditionally strength based exercise more metabolic because of the speed and volume that they can be performed. This movement definitely isn’t for everyone, but for the stronger, more athletic gym rats this exercise will definitely add shock value to your training.
Workout 15.3 – This was a workout that separated the men from the boys. For the first time, there was a workout that started with muscle ups. It was a 14 minute AMRAP of 7 muscle ups/50 wall balls/100 double unders.
High skill gymnastics, muscular endurance, and aerobic capacity were put to the test on this one. Being technically proficient in all 3 movements was important as there was a small degree of “interference” in this workout. Interference is when the same muscle groups are being used across multiple movements. In traditional strength and conditioning workouts, this could be referred to as “pre-exhaustion,” or “contrast training” and has many benefits but in Crossfit workouts, this is suicide. Being efficient would reduce the amount of energy used and muscle fatigue throughout the workout. There was no heavy barbell in this workout so absolute strength was not a factor.
The ability to perform high skill movements at a steady yet fast pace are commendable feats of human performance. This workout really gave new meaning to energy system training.
Workout 15.4 – Yet another test of high skill bodyweight exercise in this couplet of handstand pushups and power cleans. This 8 minute AMRAP looked something like this:
3 handstand pushups
3 power cleans (185#)
6 handstand pushups
3 power cleans (185#)
9 handstand pushups
3 power cleans (185#)
12 handstand pushups
6 power cleans (185#)
15 handstand pushups
6 power cleans (185#)
18 handstand pushups
6 power cleans (185#)
In the world of Crossfit, the handstand pushup is the new pushup. This workout was a great test and really pointed out my weakness (well one of them at least). The power cleans were moderately heavy but again not the limiting factor in this workout. I’m not quite sure if there is any direct substitute for the handstand pushup as it presents its own unique set of challenges. Just do more handstand pushups I suppose.
One thing is for sure, no amount of shoulder pressing and push pressing can prepare you for the stability and strength required in the handstand pushup.
Workout 15.5 – No Crossfit competition is complete without the infamous thruster. In the grand finale, we had a fairly straightforward yet lethal couplet of rowing and thrusters. For time: 27/21/15/9 row for calories/95# thrusters.
Nothing crazy here, just go hard and fight through the pain. I’ve always said the thruster is pound for pound the toughest barbell exercise and is utterly destructive when paired with anything. In a true test of grit and pain tolerance, this workout symbolizes what people fear most about Crossfit. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” if you will, this workout left the biggest, strongest and baddest flat on their backs.
After this thorough analysis, there are a few major areas that I need to address to have greater success in the future including:
Shoulder mobility – I’ve always had strong and stable shoulders however, I’ve never had the greatest shoulder mobility, specifically external rotation. This has always hindered my thrusters and clean and jerks. A long and concerted effort is needed to improve this and will greatly enhance my movement efficiency.
Muscular endurance – There have been many cases during workouts where my muscles will give up before my lungs. A combination of muscle stiffness and larger muscles makes it difficult for them to work for extended periods of time. Handstand pushups and chest to bar pullups were a perfect example of this. I do lots of mobility work but more is needed along with some soft tissue work to break down my sticky muscle fibers.
Lose weight – I’m fortunate that my weight does not fluctuate too much throughout the year (210lbs) but my ability to pack on muscle easily doesn’t work in my favor so much when it comes to high volume bodyweight exercises like muscle ups and handstand pushups. To be more competitive, I’m going to need to shed a few pounds of muscle. Time to dust off my running shoes and start jogging!
Overtraining – 3 out of the last 5 years, I’ve come down with a cold either in the first or second week of the Open. It could be purely coincidence, the time of year, or possibly that my body was in an overtrained state that was made vulnerable through intense competition. In the future, I need to keep a closer eye on my training volume and intensity leading up to the Open to ensure adequate recovery. There’s nothing more frustrating than to train hard all year only to have your body break down right when you need it most.
Pacing – Believe it or not, Crossfit workouts require a lot of strategy and pacing to be successful. Very rarely is it like a drag race where you just put your foot on the gas and hope your engine doesn’t explode before you cross the finish line. Over the years, I’ve learned how to pace myself better through workouts but this is always an area that can be improved by getting to really understand the limits of my body.
Programming – The most successful people always have someone to model themselves after. The best athletes have coaches to guide and monitor their progress. I’ve always taken things from various coaches and made it my own and I’ve had reasonable success. The problem is, it’s too easy to systematically leave gaping holes in my training. I would like to see how my performance would change if I follow some other successful programming. Hey, even the best barber needs to get his hair cut by someone else, right?
The fitness game is constantly evolving and the limits of human performance are continually being stretched to new thresholds each and every day. As someone who tries to maintain a panoramic view of the fitness industry, Crossfit has done a bang up job of getting more people off their asses and training with some intensity while defying what we think we are physically capable of. I know my training regimen over the next few months will be inspired by my experience in this year’s Open. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I’m excited to see how the next few months shake out. “Do more work in less time.” I’m still shockingly impressed by the genius of this concept.
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