Six weeks ago over 400,000 athletes kicked off the 2017 CrossFit Games season by participating in the Open: the first stage in the qualifying process of finding the fittest man and woman on earth. The Open started with a bang and no — I don’t mean the sound of Sam Briggs being shot out of a cannon as she set the second best score in the world on announcement night.
A Brief Review of the 2017 CrossFit Open
Workout 17.1 introduced the dumbbell snatch — not a new movement to the CrossFit community by any means but for the first time a dumbbell was used in an Open workout. The prescribed weight was relatively light by Regional/Games standards and coupled with burpee box jump overs it was CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro’s way of bringing the pain to the masses.
There was no doubt about it: this workout was going to hurt. It was very much a grip-and-go workout. Since both movements are pretty low skill anyone willing to put their head down and keep moving could put up a good score. I personally didn’t love this workout. I expected it to make my lungs burn but I was not expecting the extreme soreness I felt after doing this. Whatever sentiment I had toward this workout, going into my fifth Open I’ve learned better than to question Dave Castro and know that there’s always a method behind his madness. On to the next one.
When 17.2 was announced I wasn’t too surprised to see some higher skill gymnastics movements show up. Where 17.1 was a grip-and-go kind of workout, 17.2 was literally all grip. The sets of 16 bar muscle-ups after doing all those lunges, dumbbell cleans and toes-to-bar was going to be the separator for most. The genius behind this workout was that on paper it seemed deceptively simple and all anyone was thinking about was the bar muscle-ups and if you had them you were good to go.
What people overlooked was just how much work they were going to have to do just to get to the muscle-ups and how gassed they’d be from it. On top of the dumbbell cleans and toes-to-bar the requirement of having your hand wrapped around the handle of the dumbbell during the lunges taxed your grip even more before heading back to the bar. I think a lot of people came out of the gate too hot, trying to bank as much time as possible to get through the bar muscle-ups only to realize how much harder they were breathing than they expected.
What I loved about this workout was watching people get their first muscle-up. It’s perennially one of the highlights of the Open and this year did not disappoint.
It’s no secret that snatches are one of my favorite movements so when 17.3 was announced I could hardly contain myself. From the time domain to the rep scheme, it was an elegant test of Olympic lifting proficiency with a high heart rate and potentially at a very high percentage of your max. It was nearly perfect. For me, the only issue was that the weights were heavy. But when the scores rolled around and the end of the workout came, we realized Castro hit this one on the head. The loading was just right for elite athletes to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
This was also hands down the most exciting workout I’ve ever witnessed. It’s one thing to see someone get their first muscle-up but there are few things in fitness as satisfying as a celebratory bar slam after PRing your snatch. Seeing athlete after athlete hit a new PR and in many cases get multiple reps at that weight really embodied the magic of the Open and I still get chills thinking back on it.
Not too many people were surprised when 17.4 was announced. What did surprise me was the extra pressure I saw people putting on themselves and if I’m being honest I was guilty of it too. There’s something about a repeat workout that amplifies the normal expectation you put on yourself during the Open. It’s like all of a sudden this one workout summarizes your entire year of training and if you don’t do better it feels like you’ve failed in some way.
That being said it was pretty incredible to see how much the scores improved across the board over last year. Case in point, this year I did eight reps better than I did during 16.4, yet actually ranked six spots lower in my region. Not only is it a testament to CrossFit’s effectiveness in getting people really fit but how much more competitive the Open gets every year.
By the time 17.5 rolled around everyone knew that thrusters and double-unders were coming. The gym’s prediction board had all sorts of elaborate rep schemes and time caps written up with one twist or another. In the end this workout was devastatingly simple. Moreover Katrin and Sara flew through it so easily during the live announcement that it misled a lot of people, myself included, into thinking they might just make it through this workout unscathed. There was nowhere to hide in this one and regardless of your skill or fitness level every single one was a pure engine and mental test.
CrossFit when done competitively is a sport and like any sport should have an offseason. Although you may already be chomping at the bit to hit the training hard for the 2018 Open, now is the time to take a few weeks to decompress from the stress of the Open. You might not even be conscious of it but the constant leader-boarding and worrying about the workout each week takes a toll not only physically but mentally as well.
I think one of the most beneficial aspects of participating in the Open is how much you can learn about yourself based on how you performed in each workout. The workouts this year were sure to expose one weakness or another — whether it was grip endurance and upper body pulling strength in 17.2, strength and Olympic lifting in 17.3 or maybe it was in the pure engine test of 17.5. Regardless of where you need to improve, instead of throwing in an extra metcon there are three areas where I think everyone would benefit from focusing their extra time:
First and foremost any nagging tweaks and aches need to be addressed. Overall lower training volume and instead focusing on mobility and tissue quality is essential to setting yourself up for a successful training season.
2. Accessory Work
Low intensity, bodybuilding type exercises have somehow developed a bad reputation in most CrossFit gyms. Yes, there is a time and a place for bicep curls in your program. In my opinion adding in some accessory work is an effective way of addressing muscle imbalances and developing some of the smaller muscle groups that don’t always get worked during a regular CrossFit class.
Tempo work such as eccentric and isometric holds is also a great way to build strength without the stress of lifting heavy all the time. It’s not always glamorous work but in the long run accessory work is essential for maintaining healthy joints and injury prevention.
3. Aerobic Capacity
Also not high on the glamorous or Instagram-worthy list of activities, balancing the intensity of classic CrossFit workouts is one of the best ways to improve your engine. I remember the last time a 5k row was programmed at our gym I think about 10 people showed up for class and I wasn’t one of them. Since then I’ve recognized the error of my ways and devote one to two workouts per week to long, monostructural aerobic workouts in the form of varied intervals.
Although some worry that cardio is going to “steal their gains,” Chris Hinshaw, developer of the CrossFit Aerobic Capacity specialty course, has actually found that when athletes start training their aerobic system they see an increase in their absolute strength. Having experienced the benefits firsthand I can attest that you can develop your engine and still make strength gains.
At the end of the day your goals should dictate your training but now is the perfect time of year to take a step back and celebrate an Open well done.