This time of year is very interesting if you are a crossfitter. The CrossFit Games Open Competition is five weeks of worldwide, online competition between basically every crossfitter in the world. Each week for five weeks a workout is released on a Thursday evening and by Monday evening everyone must submit their scores and have them validated. People compete against, themselves, their friends at the gym, and against other crossfitters from around the world. The practice of “leaderboarding” becomes a favorite pasttime during the Open as everyone constantly checks the online leaderboard to see where they rank and also follow their favorite athletes to see where they rank. By using different filters on the leaderboard, you can compare yourself to others of the same age, profession, or in the same region, etc. It’s quite an event.
From the gym owner’s perspective it is a complicated time of the year because you try to sign everyone at the gym up for the Open. You have to make sure people take the online judges’ course and make yourself available to judge and validate scores. Most gym’s choose to run the Open workout all day Friday or Saturday and also make themselves available for make ups and do overs. With some people insisting on re doing the workout several times up until the last possible minute on Monday before scores need to be submitted. This can be an incredible opportunity for creating a fun, supportive, competitive environment at your gym and bring members together. Additionally, the Open competition has a magical ability to push athletes to try and succeed at many tasks that they heretofore were unable to do. Social media is often overrun with videos of people performing their first muscle up, double under, handstand pushup, etc. It’s a great time of the year. Many athletes enjoy the fun competitive atmosphere as well as the opportunity to push and hit new personal bests.
There is a downside to the Open as well. Many gym owners complain about this time of year because it forces additional administrative duties on them. The need to register people, judge and validate scores, keep the gym open longer for people to redo the workout. Additionally, many gym owners find it extremely hard to program workouts during the Open because they do not want to overtrain their athletes during the competition or fatigue some body part on Wednesday or Thursday right before they may be needing it on Friday. Gym owners often complain about the logistics of the open. So workouts are difficult to run in certain spaces, they may not have enough equipment. Some athletes will either want to or need to video their workouts and that often requires rearranging of space and resources to accommodate. Also managing people’s expectations during competition season requires a whole other level of empathy above and beyond what is usually required.
From the athlete’s point of view, the Open is a competition and all the stress of competition is in full effect. People stress much more about everything when it’s a competition. Some people shut down in the face of competition and refuse to partake or partake only half-heartedly. While others give in to the dark side of competition and start to obsess about everything. They swear they will only do the workout once and then find themselves repeating a workout two or more times until they are satisfied or out of time. As I said before, some people embrace this stress and it pushes them to breakthrough to new personal bests. Others breakdown. They quit. They cry. They Crumble.
I myself find the impending Open always fills me with a little dread, but once I’m in it, I am glad that I signed up. The Open is possibly the best part of the year in CrossFit despite all the negatives and hassles and here’s why. The Open re-affirms one of CrossFit’s defining characteristics: intensity gets you results. The Open is about intensity. If people treated every training session at the gym every day like it was the CrossFit Open, they would get much fitter much faster. Sadly, most people, coaches, owners spend the other ten and a half months chasing more volume and doing longer workouts, doing multiple workouts, and chasing quantity over quality. Then they have a hard time adjusting to the all-out intensity of the Open.
Here’s what a standard day looks like in an affiliate. There is a brief chat about the workout. There is a general warmup. Then the class will do a lifting session sometimes culminating in an EMOM. After that there is a mad rush to set up equipment for the Met Con and it’s “3,2,1 Go!” Followed by a cool down and class is over. Very little time is spent preparing for the workout, going over the movements and the standards. There is very little coaching or correcting when it comes to range of motion and standards. There is very little time spent on mobility or workout strategies. There is very little time spent on skill development.
Contrast this to how things happen in the Open. Every time a workout is released coaches start posting strategies and tips to their social media. You learn the best ways to mobilize, tutorials for how to do each of the movements, the best way to cycle the barbell, the best strategies for breaking up bigger sets, etc. Suddenly people become aware of things like range of motion and movement standards and no reps. And, maybe most importantly, class isn’t divided into multiple workouts. The whole hour is devoted to getting you to perform your best and be effective tackling one workout.
When you think about it like that, it’s no wonder that so many people set personal records during the Open and get their first muscle up or double under. What if we had one workout per day and just devoted a whole hour to smashing it and getting the best performance possible? Think about how that would affect your long term training and development. This is why if you look at CrossFit.com you will still see only one single workout each day. Each day the intention is to smash one work hard as if you were in competition, as if it was the only thing that mattered.
Every year the Open is a reminder to me to focus on one thing and do it better.