This year is my 5th CrossFit Open! So I’m a bit of an old-timer and I’ve picked up a few things along the way. The below are my top tips for anyone wanting to get their best performance during the open. I hope it helps!
1. Focus on YOUR performance
During The Open, there is a massive temptation to start comparing yourself with others. I know: it’s fun to see how you stack up against your friends, colleagues and fellow box members. But the only way to do well is to focus on yourself. You know your own capacity. You know your own strengths and weaknesses and you need to use this knowledge when you are deciding on strategies and setting targets. Just because Bob is doing the chest to bar pull ups unbroken doesn’t mean you should. Just because Jill is aiming for 10 rounds doesn’t mean you should. You might desperately want 10 rounds, but is it really feasible for you? If not, trying to get there will lead to disastrous results as you red-line too early or reach muscular failure and have to stand around, hands on knees, gasping for air. Even worse, is 10 rounds actually conservative for you? Don’t limit yourself by following the lead of others.
The only way to do well in The Open is to attack each workout with full intensity and full strength of character. Stick to your own limits and push like hell where you can. Put everything into your effort, finish pasted to the floor and you will achieve your best score.
2. Read the standards properly
Read the standards thoroughly for yourself. Don’t rely on other people to tell you what is allowed. Even if you are being coached through the workout at your box, read the damn thing here: https://games.crossfit.com/workouts/open/2017
The more in control you can be of every aspect of the workout, the better prepared you will feel. Knowing the standards will alleviate some of the anxiety of doing an Open workout. It will also help avoid confusion and frustration during a workout. Getting no-repped and not knowing why is incredibly disruptive to your performance.
3. Trust your judge implicitly
Your judge is your God for the duration of the workout. Don’t question no reps. Don’t question their counting. Believe me, he or she has a much more objective view of what’s going on than you do! Trusting your judge will have the effect that you can concentrate on the task at hand. I love to have my judge count out loud. Why? Because not having to count lets me focus every bit of my energy on the event. Let’s face it: it’s easy to lose count during challenging workouts. Not stressing about doing extra reps or doing too few reps is a boon. If they are a great judge, you can also have them remind of the time and of the strategy you committed to going in. Ask them to count down for you when you are resting. Ask them to remind you of your targets. All this can have a major impact on the end result.
4. Warm up properly
How obvious, right? Yes, but I mean something a bit more specific here. The Open workouts will generally take you to levels of intensity you rarely go to in training. If your system is not completely ready for that, it can be crushing. So when I say warm up, I mean REALLY warm up. Your warm up needs to get you breathing hard and sweating. You want to avoid any lactic acid build up, but you must raise your heart rate up to the point it’s going to reach during the WOD using some basic mono-structural work. The general rule is that the shorter the workout, the longer the mono-structural warm-up.
For a workout over 15 mins, I would recommend at least 5 mins on the rower or assault bike.
For workouts in the 10-15 minute range, I would recommend at least 7 mins.
For workouts under 10 minutes I would suggest at least 10 mins.
The general format would be:
40% of that time at an easy pace.
20% of that time at a moderate pace.
40% of that time doing sprint / recover intervals: 10 seconds at 90% intensity; 20 seconds super light recovery pace.
As an example, if you were warming up for a 15 minute AMRAP on the rower you may do the following: 2 mins at 1:55 pace; 1 min at 1:45 pace; 2 mins of 10 seconds at 1:35 pace, 20 seconds at 2:10 pace.
Do this as the first piece of your warm up. Then go into mobility followed by specific skill work and then finally some practice mini-rounds. Using 17.1 as an example, your practice rounds might be 3 rounds, moderate pace: 8 dumbbell snatches, alternating, 4 burpee box jump overs.
5. Once and only once!
This may be a bit controversial, but I believe you should only be doing the Open WODs once (unless you are on the bubble of going to Regionals, but how many of you are there out there?). Let’s leave aside the fact that The Open is supposed to be for fun. If you know you are only going to attempt the workout one time, you will attack it with the proper intention and intensity. If you know you are going again on Monday, all you are really doing it testing the waters. Can you make big improvements from first to second attempt? Sure. But I think a lot of this is down to the fact that competitors already know they are going to try again when they make their first attempt and this leads to them taking their foot off the pedal. The problem with this approach is that if your recovery is not top-notch, your second attempt may produce a score that is worse than what you would have got it you went hell for leather on your first attempt. What is more, the cumulative effect of repeating workouts will almost certainly impact your performance in later weeks. Now, I am going to put my hands up. I actually repeated 17.2 this Monday. I improved by 4 reps. Worth it? No. Absolutely not. The one positive thing that came out of it was the realisation that I’m pretty good at getting close to my best effort on my first attempt, even if I think I’ve made massive strategic errors!
6. Nutrition / hydration
You need to be adequately fuelled for Open workouts. Pre-workout you should focus on carbohydrates and protein. You should also LIMIT fat and actually don’t go overboard on fibrous veg either. The focus should be on energy and ease of digestion. For women somewhere in the range of 30-60g of carbohydrate and 20-30g of protein would work. For men, 40-80g of carbohydrate and 30-40g of protein. A ratio of 1.5:1 or 2:1 carbohydrate to protein will work best. So if you’re having 60g of carbs, have 30-40g of protein. If this is all a bit technical for you, just eat some lean protein and some starch like rice or sweet potatoes and limit the fat.
If you’re going in the morning, I would recommend having this meal as your dinner the night before. Then perhaps a banana in the morning. If you are going later in the day, eat this meal 2-3 hours before you start warming up.
Make sure you drink plenty of water before the event! Dehydration has been shown to decrease VO2 max considerably.
7. Have fun / relax: do some belly breathing
This is what it’s all about anyway. But being relaxed will also help your performance. If you are overly anxious or amped, your heart rate will be artificially elevated and you will get gassed more easily. To that end, I suggest doing some breathing exercises after your warm up. Nothing crazy. Just spend 3-5 minutes deep-belly breathing. Breathe only through your nose and focus on expanding your belly when you inhale and depressing your belly when you breath out. Make the inhales and exhales as long as you comfortably can. Count the breaths and get at least 15-20. This kind of breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous response calming you down and bringing your heart rate back to a normal range. One of my favourite things to do is to take a long easy breath through my nose just before the 3-2-1. I close my eyes, take a massive breath and tell myself “this is just another workout: enjoy it!”.
8. Mental preparation / visualisation
I would recommend you do this at the same time as you are doing your breathing exercises. Visualisation is an incredibly powerful performance enhancing tool. You know the workout is going to get hard. You have to DECIDE before the workout who you are going to be when the shit hits the fan. As an exercise, imagine that feeling we all know so well: when the workout really begins to sting and you get that almost uncontrollable urge to slow down or rest longer. Really imagine that feeling. You should be almost able to feel your lungs, feel the lactic in your forearms. Taste that metallic nastiness in your throat. Really get into that moment. And then I want you to see yourself overcome that feeling. You can still feel it. But you pick up the bar anyway. You keep smashing those wall balls anyway. You keep pulling the rower anyway. You decide in that moment that you will overcome the adversity you know is coming!
9. Set up how you’re going to do the workout before you warm up
This really only applies if you are doing the workout on your own. But if you are, make sure you set everything up before you start warming up. Mark out lines if you need lines. Set up boxes. Hang and set the height for your rings etc. etc. If you are filming, set up your camera, make sure it has battery and storage (make sure your phone is on airplane mode if you are using a phone!) and make sure you can get the right shot with the clock and all equipment in it etc. Take care of every practical consideration before you even go for a row or sit on the bike. Think about where you will do each movement and how you will manage transitions. If you are being coached at a box, thank your lucky stars someone else is going to help you figure this out! But make sure you visualise and understand exactly where you are going to be for each part of the workout.
Good luck to all of you for the rest of The Open! Keep on smashing it. I hope this helps you get a couple more rounds or at least a couple more reps! Give it a go and feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments.
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