1/28/15 Programming Check-In

Pre-Open Programming (January – February 2015)

Going into the Open, we are emphasizing conditioning, first and foremost. In the past, almost every Open workout has involved fairly “simple” CrossFit movements at relatively “light” weights.  We put these movements in context of the most competitive athletes competing – for some the RX’d movements and weights are both highly complex and heavy. (Note: Good news, this year the CrossFit Open will have a Scaled Division, which we will offer in our Beginner level classes!)

So let’s discuss what types of time domains and levels of intensity we should see in our WODs….

In class, you are doing more sprint style workouts (depending on the movement(s) from 1-5 minutes which would be highest intensity), intervals (i.e. 30 seconds on/30 seconds off which would be low to moderate intensity), or workouts of longer duration (i.e. anything over 10 minutes, generally lower intensity).


Strength endurance is another focus since repeated efforts of moderate to high intensity lifting often comes up in Open workouts.  This means that you are required to perform high repetitions with various percentages of your 1 RM (1 rep max) with a variety of lifts (i.e. push press, deadlifts, snatch, or cleans).

For example, we have seen in past Open workouts:

Open WOD 14.1
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 10 minutes of:
30 Double Unders
15 Power Snatches (75/55)

Men’s 14.1 Winner: Dan Bailey (461 reps, 46.1 reps/minute)
Women’s 14.1 Winner: Samantha Briggs (472 reps, 47.2 reps/minute) 

Open WOD 13.1
Proceed through the sequence below completing as many reps as possible in 17 minutes of:
40 Burpees
30 Snatches (75/45)
30 Burpees
30 Snatches (135/75)
20 Burpees
30 Snatches (165/100)
10 burpees
As many reps as possible, Snatches (210/120)

Men’s 13.1 Winner: Neal Maddox (199 reps, 11.7 reps/minute)
Women’s 13.1 Winner: Kristan Clever (211 reps, 12.4 reps/minute)

There were a range of reasons for poor performance on these workouts: lack of skill (snatch technique and/or double unders), lack of engine, lack of low back endurance, lack of strength, lack of strength endurance, inability to cycle a barbell for higher repetitions, and even lack of mental toughness.  Both of these WODs are brilliant in their design, they are very simple couplet (2 movement) workouts. Coaches and programmers can easily assess multiple issues someone might need to improve in order to better their performance for the next Open.

By and large, most members struggled with the Snatch and Burpee combo – especially heavier weights on the snatch.  Their form fell apart before they even reached 85% of their max. The endurance needed for the Double Under and Power Snatch couplet was tough even if people had the skill of double unders. If members have difficulty performing larger sets of barbell or gymnastic movements, then there are some particular things they will need to improve upon. Programming more cardio will not solve these issues.

Notice that in almost every Open workout there is a conditioning element (i.e. pull ups, push ups, burpees, double unders, etc) that is paired with a barbell movement.  Duing the Open, you are testing these two movements.  During the year, we tend to build and acquire skills separately, because fatigue often prevents your ability to master the technique that is necessary to become efficient.  We also build up many of these skills in our warm ups.  When we are doing Open prep (November-February) we are more likely to combine more of these movements to practice them and see where we are deficient.

So what about the Skill Work?

As far as gymnastics skills, the primary goal is for members to focus on improving their kipping ability with a variety of movements (pull ups, toes to bar, HSPU, etc).  For those of you in the Beginner WODs, we focus on members getting strict, full ROM movements first, regardless of the time of year.  We may include some more kipping preparatory skills into warm ups, but we will always emphasize getting foundational movements first (reason: to build solid movement mechanics and injury prevention).


A new addition to our skill focus this year will be repetition Olympic lifting for All Levels of classes.  Throughout the year, we generally adhere to a lower rep or EMOM (every minute on the minute) style to focus on technique.

We do this for good reason – learning to cycle barbell reps will look and feel slightly different than classic lifting technique.  We’d rather spend more time teaching you how to lift correctly, building strength and speed in your lifts, before we introduce high rep lifting.  For those that are newer, we may limit your positions to the hang or instruct you to lift at lighter percentages – especially if you are struggling with your technique.  This is not only for safety (most member’s form will degrade far too quickly for what we’d like to see in training), but it’s also so you don’t practice a lifting pattern that is wrong and prevents you from making progress on your lifts in the future.  So if your instructor is telling you to go lighter on a conditioning piece that involves a barbell movement, there is a really good reason for it!

How did you choose THOSE skills?

“All you need to do is keep it basic … . The intensity, the effort, the ‘go’ that people give each (Open) workout is what really makes them hard. … Expect some pure CrossFit programming.”

—Dave Castro, Programmer for the 2015 CrossFit Open 

While some of it comes from our own experiences of having participated in every Open, since its inception, we can also look at some of the statistics.

According to the CFG Analysis website, “ Last year’s open had a little wider spread of movements than in the past, but still, you can see that historically, there are a few movements that are tested heavily again and again.  This year, you can expect about 60% of the points to come from six movements: snatch, burpee, thruster, pull-up, double-under and box jump.  Just in those six alone, you can see that there is a jumping theme.  All but the pull-up and thruster involve some sort of jump or explosive hip movement (and you could argue the thruster does, too, especially at higher weights).” (And perhaps you thought that max height box jump or performing broad jumps was a waste of class time!)

So while there are about 50 “CrossFit” movements from the CrossFit Games, the Open historically features a small subset of them in the workouts, limited to only 15 basic movements. We focus on the basics, because it doesn’t have to be complicated to get your fitter.  Not only do we want you to master the basics, but ultimately achieve Virtuosity in performing the basics.

What aren’t we working on?

While it may appear that we do a little bit of everything all the time, we are not working on improving any of your 1 RMs – on purpose. While some of us will see increases in our 1 RMs by virtue of doing a movement more often,we do not expect to see you PR-ing every heavy lift that comes up.   To put in perspective, a beginner that has just started squatting this year may see a 100# increase on their back squat just by virtue of squatting, while for someone more advanced a gain of 20-30# in a year would be huge!

Pure strength (i.e. a heavy squat or pulling cycle) is taking a back-seat during this period, as we hope to leverage all the strength work we’ve done over the past few months.  While it’s always nice to see improvements on your 1 RMs, right now it doesn’t really matter.  We need you to focus on moving anywhere from 50-85% of your 1 RM more efficiently, for more reps and in larger sets.  We will see another squat cycle for every level of programming, post Open, after a general recovery period.


As a quick reminder, while most people think that building endurance and cardio takes a long time, it’s actually strength and strength endurance that takes much longer to build – especially when it comes to cycling overhead lifts, pulls, and Olympic lifts.  That is why we do not emphasize longer duration WODs/”Hero” WODs all year long – they will blunt the gains we desire to get either in our technique work, skill building or strength programming.

While this seems like common sense (you can’t improve at everything all at once), think of the rest of February as your best chance to refine any weaknesses that you have to the best of your ability.  March will be mainly testing these skills and then April will be a recovery period after 5 weeks of Open WODs.