CROSSFIT OPEN: TRENDS AND TIPS FOR 2016

February 16, 2016 3:22 pm

By Lauren Bass

Note: Much of the content of this article was originally published leading up to the 2015 Open Season. This article has been updated for 2016.

The 2016 CrossFit season is upon us! In a little over a week, we will find out what we have in store for Open workout 16.1 – the first of five workouts in the first (“Open”) stage of the world-wide competition leading up to the CrossFit Games. The Open is just that – open to everyone in the world of every skill level.

Each Thursday night for the next five weeks, a new workout will be announced by CrossFit Headquarters. We then have until the following Monday night to complete the workout in front of a judge and log our scores. Over 500,000 people are expected to participate this year… make sure you’re one of them!

If you have not signed up yet, go here right away:  http://games.crossfit.com/ and sign up as part of CrossFit Solace.  If you’re still debating whether or not to sign up – or if you’re thinking you’ll just do the workouts without signing up this year: let me kindly remind you that some of the most amazing experiences in life come from stepping outside your comfort zone…  So sign up!

While we don’t know what each of the workouts will bring yet, we can be sure that the workouts will test us physically, mentally and emotionally. However, we can make sure we are as prepared as possible for the unknown and unknowable by making some educated guesses on what we have in store.

Without further ado, here are some trends that have been established over the past five years – and some general strategies around these movement and workout types:

TREND 1: MOVEMENT TYPES

Since the first CrossFit Open in 2011, a total of only sixteen movements have been tested through open workouts – and just like our everyday training, these movements fall into three main categories: Weight lifting, Monostructural (cardio) and Gymnastics movements. Here is list of these movements, and a couple key points to consider if and when they come up in this year’s workouts:

Weightlifting & Weighted Movements

1.     Snatch & Ground to Overhead. Depending on the movement standards that are published with the workout, we may have an option to use any method to get the barbell from the ground to overhead. This means using either the snatch technique or the clean & jerk technique. Practice a few sets, at working weight, of both snatch and clean & jerk technique. Which feels better to you? Which technique will allow you to move that particular weight through the rep scheme with the least amount of cumulative fatigue? The same technique will not apply to everyone here and your preferred method may change depending on the weight and rep scheme.

2.     Clean. We’ve seen this come up as just a clean (14.4 chipper) as well as part of a clean and jerk. Unless specifically stated in the workout, this does not need to be a squat clean.  The decision on whether to cycle through cleans as touch-and-go or the one-and-drop technique will depend on what other movements are paired with the clean, how that affects your grip, as well as how heavy the weight is for you. If choosing the one-and-drop method, make sure you are carefully timing your reset so not to waste time: think “One-drop-reset. One-drop-reset…” and so on. Barbells tend to bounce around if they are ACTUALLY dropped, so think about guiding the barbell down so that you can make that quick reset. The last thing you want to do is chase after a barbell. Avoid excess foot shuffling.

3.     Press / Jerk / Shoulder to Overhead.  Similar to the Ground to Overhead, this movement is about getting weight from your shoulders to overhead in the fastest / best way possible for YOU. If the weight is very light, you might be most comfortable cycling through strict or push presses. As the rep scheme increases or as the weight increases, push jerks or even split jerks may make the most sense. Mixing techniques is fine during competition, and may allow you to complete more unbroken reps with less overall fatigue. Pay careful attention to the workout standards here though. If the standards specifically say, “Push PRESS,” the re-dip for a jerk will not be allowed.

4.     Deadlift. Our tried and true favorite… No matter how little time you have on the clock or how light the weight may seem: DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, pull with you back. Touch-and-go will be faster than one-and-drop, but be conscious about your comfort with the eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement. Touch-and-go generally requires more control in the eccentric (bouncing the weight off the floor is not permitted), which gets tricky as the weight gets heavy.

5.     Thruster. The Thruster moves us through an extreme range of motion. Remember to BREATHE on every rep and keep your breath and heartrate controlled. Inhale on the way down, exhale at the top to keep from redlining (bringing your heart rate above the 90% mark). It is very hard to recover from redlining mid-workout, and few movements will do it faster than the thruster if you’re not careful. The top, fully extended and fully locked out position is the ‘rest’ phase of the thruster. Pausing briefly at the top when you’re fatigued will allow you to complete a few more reps without dropping the barbell (and then expending valuable energy picking the barbell back up). The thruster has been in the open EVERY year, so expect to do (lots of) them again this year.

6.     Overhead Squat.  The overhead squat made its first appearance in 2011 and did not come up again until 2014, with a repeat of the same workout in 2015. This movement requires a great amount of flexibility and stability. Due to the amount of time required to get the bar up into a stable overhead position: (a) break large sets as few times as absolutely necessary, (b) use a squat snatch for your first rep when possible and (c) bring the barbell down to a back-rack, rather than ground,  for a quick reset between sets.  If your flexibility allows, play with a slightly more narrow grip in order to save your wrists with high volume overhead squats.

7.     Wall Ball. Rx weights have been standard 20#/14# with 10’ targets for men and 9’ targets for women in past years. While competition programming has been leaning towards 30# for men and 20# for women, we think that too few gyms have enough 30# med balls for this to become a new Open standard. Similar to the thruster, keep your breathing nice and controlled while working so that any breaks can be limited. Keep the ball in a tall front rack position, supported by an engaged midline (think: touching chest and chin, squeeze butt, squeeze abs) so that you do not need to use your back to pick up a droopy ball. Wall balls are typically programmed in large to very large sets (40 reps to 150 reps), so chip away at them in the largest sets as you can, and one the ball drops count to 5, pick it back up and GO!

Monostructural (Cardio)

8.     Double Unders. The double under has come up every year, so we can bet we will see it again this year. Stay RELAXED, keep the arms long, and do not try to move faster than you normally do in practice. The amount of time required to restart after tripping up will be greater than the amount of time you might gain from speeding up. If you trip up: stay calm, reset and go. Frustration, anger and double unders do not mix well, so keep your mental game in check on this movement. Set up your rope in a clean horseshoe before you start the workout, and lay it back down in the same way between movements within a workout. The one extra second you’ll spend keeping an organized rope is so much less than untangling a heap of rope and handles.

9.     Rowing. Rowing was a new movement in 2014, kicking off the 14.4 chipper and made a reappearance in the task-based rowing thruster workout 15.5.  In both instances, we have rowed for calories, which is a measure of the power put into the flywheel. Try to keep your stroke rate low to get as much power as possible on each pull. Test different damper settings to determine what feels best for you given the requirements of the workout, and consider your row pace in relation to the other work requirements: how will a 5 second faster split affect your overall performance? Or is the row where you can make up tons of time to get more reps later in the workout? Also practice getting on and off the rower. Use the thumb technique to quickly loosen the foot straps – please ask a coach if you do not know what this is.

Gymnastics

10.  Push-up. Standard push-ups were included in the 2011 Open, and have not come up since, as they are inherently hard to judge. If we do see a resurgence of them, it will likely be as the hand release pushup in order to ensure athletes are achieving the full range of motion: chest to ground. In 2015, the handstand pushup was introduced. I have given them their own section, below.

11.  Box Jump. Step ups and step downs have been allowed in past years – though we have seen a trend in competition allowing only jump-ups in order to meet Rx standards, then allowing either jump or step downs. Do what you are most comfortable with and if you typically rebound: be prepared to mix it up mid-workout. It is better to keep moving with step-ups/downs than to take a rest in order to keep rebounding. Many people find step-ups/downs to be faster, especially when box jumps are paired with other posterior-chain dominant movements like the deadlift (such as in 11.2, 13.2 and 14.3). While we did not see box jumps last year, I would not write these off as a movement that will not come up – whether as a traditional box jump or a variation such as a box jump over or a burpee box jump over.

12.  Burpee. Burpees will have a range of motion standard such as a 6” target, over a barbell, over a box, etc. Best strategy for burpees? Keep moving. Like thrusters and wall balls, burpees require a very long range of motion and a great for spiking the heart rate. Stay calm prior to starting your burpee workout and when it’s go time, move smoothly. Stay flat footed for as long as possible (rather than coming onto your toes) to stand up, and use gravity as your friend in the eccentric phase.

13.  Toes to Bar. Big sets of toes to bar will fatigue both lats and grip. If you can consistently kip, break large sets into smaller sets earlier than you think you need to, ensuring you can get right back on the bar each time. If you do not have kipping toes to bar, only have the double swing kip, or loose the kip at some point during the workout: use the “one-and-down/ turn around” method: Do one rep, quickly drop, turn around to face the pull-up bar, jump up and do another rep and repeat. Dropping and turning around will put you in the right position to jump right up again without extra steps and positioning. Use hand protection such as Natural Grips or gymnastics grips, or tape in a gymnastics grip type configuration. Do not wrap the tape horizontally around your hand.

14.  Chest to Bar Pull-up. I have seen so many athletes get not only their first pull-up, but their first pull-up as a CHEST TO BAR pull-up during the open workouts. Chest to bars are easier to judge than the chin-over-bar pull-up, as the body actually makes a point of contact with the bar. Avoid just hanging from the bar. One-and-drop will be faster if you are not able to, or lose the ability to string them together during the workout.

15.  Muscle-up. Prior to 2015, the muscle-up came up only at the end of longer WODs, in order to separate the scoreboard.  However, because of the introduction of the Scaled division, in 2016 we saw workout 15.3 lead off with the muscle up. Many many many people spent the entire 14 minutes of this workout fighting for their first muscle up. And many people got not only their first muscle up, but their first MANY muscle ups! If muscle ups lead off a workout again this year, be smart in your approach to them: what is your max set and how does that compare to the number programmed? If the program is for small sets in relation to your max, go unbroken. Jumping up to the rings and initiating that first kip takes more energy than the second and third – but make sure to break up sets before failure. If the movement comes up at the end of a workout, be prepared to be fatigued. Collect yourself prior to making the first attempt, as failing a muscle up will leave you significantly more fatigued than completing one rep – and can be dangerous.

16.  Handstand Push-up. We had a feeling we would start to see more advanced movements during the 2016 open due to the introduction of the scaled division… and the handstand push-up was it. Programmed for the first time in Open competition last year, the HSPU had very strict range of motion standards, requiring rather narrow hand placement and FULL extension with heels on the wall – and it became easy to fail reps once fatigued. If we see HSPU again, make sure to practice perfect range of motion. Break up the sets before you think you have to, shake out the arms and count to 5 then get back on the wall. Once your HSPUs are gone, it’s hard to get them back and a sloppy-body is not going to allow for the full extension required to call it a rep.

TREND 2: WORKOUT TYPES

The majority (85%) of past workouts have been time domain (complete as much work as possible within a set amount of time) couplets (two movement) or triplets (three movements), averaging 11 minutes per workout. Within the past three years we have started to see a greater variety of workout types, including workouts with time extensions for completing a certain amount of work; a chipper with more than three movements; work domain workouts (14.5, 15.5) and a max load lifted within a time cap (15.1A). The longest workout, possibly aside from the open ended 14.2 and 14.5 has been a 20 minute AMRAP of power cleans, toes to bar and wall balls. Curiously, the shortest workout could also be considered 14.2 (repeated as 15.2), where a certain amount of work needs to be completed within just three minutes in order to progress into the next three minutes.

TREND 3: REPEAT WORKOUTS

One workout has been repeated each year:

  • In 2012 we repeated 11.6 as 12.5, the thruster/ chest to bar pull-up ladder
  • In 2013 we repeated 12.4 as 13.3, with wall balls, double unders and muscle ups
  • In 2014 we repeated 11.1 as 14.1, a 10 minute AMRAP of double unders and power snatches
  • In 2015 we repeated 14.2 as 15.2, a ‘death by’ workout with Overhead Squats and Chest to Bar pullups

One reason to repeat workouts is to see how both individuals and the CrossFit community as a whole is progressing from year to year. For example, the 2014 Fittest Woman, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet put up a score of 264 reps on 12.4 and broke her record by 23 reps in a year later on 13.3. Likewise, the best woman’s score on 12.4 was 270 reps by Kristan Clever.  Sam Briggs smashed this score by 53 reps in 2013 to place first overall after the opens.  What will we repeat this year??

TREND 4: UNKNOWN AND UNKNOWABLE

With each Open season, a new ‘surprise’ is thrown into the mix. This is the sport of CrossFit after all, where we train to be prepared for the unknown and the unknowable.

While we can learn from these trends from the past Opens, only one thing is for certain: 2016 will be a year of new surprises.  In 2011, we had six workouts. 2012 reduced the number of WODs to 5 and introduced the single-modality WOD (7 minutes burpees). In 2013, we saw the first WOD with a time extension (13.5) and in 2014 we completed the first row in the chipper and first Open workout “for time.” 2015 was the first year with an official scaled division and a max effort lift based on body weight.

We will likely see a new movement this year – perhaps  a unilateral / alternating movement like weighted lunges or pistols, or another advanced movement like Bar Muscle ups. We may see a new workout time domain/ scoring method, such as a Fight Gone Bad scenario with max rep repeating intervals. We will also likely see another two-part workout (like 15.1 and 15.1A with the max effort lift immediately following the metcon. Maybe something like a 3RM thruster?

OK Solace – it’s just about game time… Trust the training that has brought you to where you are today and learn from your experience to see where you have to go. Stay hydrated and eat well, and get ready to leave everything you have out there as we log our scores with the rest of the world. But most importantly, remember to have a whole lot of fun this Open season!

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