It’s been less than a month since The CrossFit Open ended, but the lessons we’ve learned and the experiences we’ve gained by surviving another season of Dave Castro’s brutal WOD’s are still with us. As you plan your training life beyond The Open, Coach James Quigley breaks down, from his perspective, what to take with you—and what to leave behind.
Thursday, March 31st: The day came and went. For the first time in over a month, I felt relaxed. No Dave Castro, no Open announcement, no judging responsibilities. The Open was officially over.
For most of us, the Open, is a time to apply and challenge our fitness with our friends and with the greater CrossFit community. We gain a sense of camaraderie, eat some humble pie and most of all acquire some solid takeaways.
For the elite, it is the next step towards qualifying for the CrossFit Games: Regionals. But most of us won’t make it to Regionals (we’ll be cheering on our local CrossFit heroes from the sidelines). So let’s chat about why most of us even participated in The Open. We participate for various reasons, whether we wanted to give Regionals our best shot, test ourselves against our friends, compare our physical capacity to previous years, subject ourselves to peer pressure, or we just wanted to have some fun. And each of these reasons left us with different experiences and lessons.
What does the Open mean for the majority of us who are not going to qualify for Regionals?
The Open workouts are opportunities for everyone in the CrossFit community to test our physical competence across all 10 domains of fitness: cardiorespiratory, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy.
I’m sure you also think Dave Castro just wants to kill us.
However that is not (entirely) the case.
The Open is a golden opportunity to collect valuable data about ourselves. That’s what an effective fitness test will do. It allows us to express our strengths while exposing our weaknesses, and puts these strengths and weaknesses directly in front of our face (once we can open up our eyes after wiping off the sweat and tears).
Yes, these workouts crush our souls (16.5). And yes, some of them really suck (16.5). However, these workouts are designed to put us in that dark place in order for us to understand where we can improve and grow.
Now that it’s over, let’s plan how we can best turn the page and focus on the next steps in our training to maximize what we’ve learned about ourselves.
We’ll start by looking at 3 of the biggest mistakes we see people make year after year.
#1 Mistake: Getting Down On Yourself
No specific workout truly defines you as an athlete let alone you as a person. Real talk for a second: there are major world problems out there. Take your fitness seriously but never yourself. Don’t hang your entire self worth on a workout.
At the end of the day we are exercising or as we like to say “training”. Focus on the bigger picture and think about what you accomplished rather than focusing on the defeats.
Be honest with yourself and think about what kind of realistic expectations you set for yourself in the first place. Did you take your injury prevention as serious as your training? Make sure your values are aligned to ensure long-term success rather than short-term wins.
#2 Mistake: Immediately Increase Volume and Frequency in Training
We see this happen every year. The Open is over and we didn’t perform as well as our friends. Some of us might think it’s a great time to jump on an advanced weightlifting/powerlifting program or some form of general elite competitor Crossfit programming.
First ask yourself a few questions. What do I wish to gain or achieve by doing this? What are realistic strength and conditioning goals for the year ahead? Is this program offering what I actually need to be working on?
Then take the time to think about what you put your body and mind through during the 5 weeks of the Open (or even longer, given the preparation leading up to the season). Remember how you crushed yourself each and every week, rising to meet whatever Castro handed us. Yes, it was only one workout a week, but it called for the most intense demand you will place on yourself outside of a high-level weekend competition.
Do you think it’s a good idea to immediately step it up a notch?
Professional coaches will tell you. It’s not.
Your muscles, joints, tendons and central nervous system need time to recover and heal. This doesn’t happen overnight. Rest and recovery periods are the key to training intelligently, and ensuring your longevity in any sport or physical endeavor.
Think about your lifestyle choices and how they affect your ability to recover. You probably celebrated a bit and rightfully so. Think about the bigger picture, and set an image of what you wish to accomplish. Then work backwards. Remember, certain skills and numbers take years to achieve. Embrace the fact that you’re in this for the long haul!
Now’s the time to build your body up the right way before jumping back into the fire. Spend the next 4-6 weeks building a stronger foundation. Then over time gradually start to increase your volume.
#3 Mistake: Set Unrealistic Expectations for Next Year
Sure it’s great to want to be able to achieve certain performance milestones. But let me ask you a question. How much time under tension have you spent? How long have you consistently been putting in the work?
Ability, work, and talent get you to a point, and then the rest is taken care of through the natural process of time. You can’t cheat this. There is no going around it. Experience cannot be manufactured; it has to be earned over days, months, and even years.
There are those who acquire certain milestones faster than others, but don’t compare your body to someone else’s. Stay within your own game and be realistic on what page you are on in your journey. This will help you set smart and realistic goals.
Now that we’ve addressed common mistakes, here is my advice to help you elevate your game without compromising the quality of your training:
#1. Focus on your Takeaways
“Replace your expectations with appreciations.”
Instead of getting down about your performance think about what you’ve learned. After every class, training session, or competition, sit and reflect about the work you’ve just accomplished. Ask yourself two questions,
- What did I do well at?
- What do I need to improve upon?
Now that there’s been some time since the end of The Open and we’re getting back to a regular schedule of training, it’s the perfect time to reflect about each of the 5 Open WOD’s and the days surrounding them. Just because the workout crushed your soul or you didn’t do as well as you thought you could, doesn’t mean you suck. However, it means there is plenty of work to do and some golden opportunities for athletic improvement and personal growth.
If we take time to thoughtfully reflect on what we struggled with and what we exceled at, our honesty with ourselves will provide a roadmap toward the most important athletic improvements. Break down each workout, with positive and constructive feedback, and it will allow you to focus on the right improvements versus randomly increasing volume or completing unnecessary additional work. Moving forward, don’t forget the essential task of tracking each new workout and training session either online with Beyond The Whiteboard, in a WOD journal, or in a personal notebook.
#2. Work on Structural Balance
Our body is a complex system that demands balanced care and recovery time in order to train at an optimal level. Achieving quality structural balance doesn’t sound half as sexy as building large muscles or dropping 20 lbs of body fat, but it is imperative to achieving either of those goals.
Structural balance takes on even more significance if you have any aspirations for competitive training. The old saying “You can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe,” helps us visualize the importance of structural balance. If your “big” muscles are strong, but the tendons and stabilizers that support them are weak, what do you think will eventually happen?
Depending on how much time you spend in the gym, more work may actually be working against you if you are spending too much time focused on one area (how many hours do you spend every week working on your Cleans versus time spent your gymnastics technique?). Building good balance ratios within our ability to push and pull objects or your own body weight is essential for long term success.
Here are some quick examples and helpful tips for improving structural balance.
Add Accessory Work Before Or After Workouts:
- If Squatting, add 3 sets of 8 Single-leg Deadlifts
- If Pressing, add 3 sets of 10-12 KB High Pulls
*In our daily CrossFit programming at Solace, there is extra credit with every workout that is exactly for this purpose. Do your extra credit! And if you want to address a specific issue, don’t hesitate to talk to me or your other coaches about individual exercises to improve structural balance.
Mono-structural Training will help to increase capacity while not overtaxing the body and central nervous system (running, rowing, bike, jump rope etc).
Unilateral Work. If your programming calls for a barbell, substitute it for a kettlebell or dumbbell movements every so often. You’d be surprised at how much stronger and stable you can become by doing this over time.
This is a great time to really focus on building a stronger and overall balanced foundation of athleticism. To really capitalize on this, try adding in strict gymnastics movements to your weekly programming. When I say gymnastics, I don’t just mean the sexy skills—Muscle ups, pistols etc.—I mean all body weight movements.
Check out “The Monkey Method” online programming by the team over at Power Monkey Fitness. The programming is amazing stuff to compliment your weightlifting and CrossFit training. It will guide you towards improving your body awareness, which will in turn help you move weight more efficiently, balance your structure through stabilizing exercises, improve motor patterns, and at the end of the day stay healthy and injury free.
The smart athlete focuses more on the process and less on the results. Learn to love the grind in your endless pursuit of excellence.
3 . Tap The Talent At Your Gym
Besides your family and friends, no one knows you better than your coaches. Talk to them and give them the opportunity to help you. I can tell you from my 15 years of experience in the fitness world that good coaching beats great programming any day of the week. A talented coach will listen to your wants and needs, help you dissect the lessons from your workouts, and then be able to point you in the right direction.
Find someone that you trust and can build a good rapport with, as this will help tremendously when you hit walls and times of frustration. Trust me, failure is inevitable in the process of becoming a better athlete. Find someone who will be there to guide you during those times.
Does your gym have a quality specialist coach (weightlifting, strength, gymnastics)? If so, now is the perfect time to take advantage of that and speak with them about how to set an effective plan going into the off-season.
My advice after The Open is simple: Reflect on your takeaways, stay positive, set realistic goals, leave it in the gym, be patient, and invest time in building a better foundation. Talk and listen to your coaches, focus more on training and less on competition, and most of all make sure to enjoy the entire journey of becoming a better, fitter, and more awesome human.
Til’ next the year.
– Coach James Quigley
Follow James on Instagram! @lifeasjamesquigley
Photo by Lisa Haefner