CrossFit Games: 10 Tips for Surviving the CrossFit Open

So you signed up for the 2014 CrossFit Games Open and by the time this is published, you’ve ideally survived your first workout (14.1) and have four more to go.  Here are 10 Tips to ensure your CrossFit Open experience is a positive one:

  1. Maintain a balanced perspective.  I’d argue the most dangerous facet of the Open is folks getting overly excited and pushing themselves too far, too fast, and risking injury.  Ignore the marketing hype – the Open is not the report card to grade the culmination of the past nine months of work; a litmus test of who you are; nor do you have anything to prove.  If you are a professional CrossFitter – okay, maybe it is.  You started CrossFit to get/stay in shape.  Getting hurt in the Open doesn’t remotely contribute to that – maintain perspective.

  2. Mechanics, Consistency, and then Intensity.  The Open is the one venue in CrossFit where the critical doctrine of mechanics, consistency, and then intensity is thrown out the window. Many folks will be encouraged and/or will attempt doing exercise elements they neither learned nor demonstrated adequate consistency to safely perform at high-intensity.  So if a workout comes out with exercise elements you never learned - take the initiative to make sure you are taught the proper mechanics before the day you attempt the workout for score. Ideally, your CrossFit Affiliate is proactive at providing learning opportunities – take advantage of them.  I strongly recommend treating a workout with an unfamiliar element as a skill-building event versus a test of fitness. This is the same advice I give to folks with any workout that has an unfamiliar exercise element, i.e., take your time, move deliberately and consistently and not try to go for intensity.  This is particularly important with any exercise elements that have weight-lifting – go lighter, move slower, don’t get hurt!  Mechanics, consistency, and then intensity!

  3. Sleep, Eat, and Drink properly before doing the Open workout.  Seriously look at your life/work week schedule and try to do the scored workout when you know you can get proper night’s sleep, eat (fuel) properly, and focus on hydrating through the day.   The Open isn’t just like doing any other workout, you are likely going to be more emotionally invested – so don’t put yourself in a situation you are not physically at your best to perform.  Everyone has a different metric for what is adequate sleep, eating, and drinking.  The Open isn’t necessarily the time to adopt a Paleo Diet – my rule of thumb is at least 8-hours of sleep, eat a small meal consisting of protein, carbs, and fat at least 1-hour before a hard workout, and make sure when you pee it is more clear than dark.

  4. Mobilize and Warm-Up Properly before the workout.  Ideally, your CrossFit affiliate will provide guidance on specific mobilizations and warm-ups prior to each Open workout. Mobilizing with a foam roller or lacrosse ball preps your neurological system for work and maximizes healthy range of motion of your joints.  After mobilizing, I encourage a robust warm-up that includes replicating the exercise elements (at much lighter loads and repetition schemes) than in the Open workout.  A good warm-up should have you visibly sweating.  Time your warm-up to end 5-10 minutes before you begin the actual Workout.  As it is cool now in most parts of the world, wear warm-up gear and keep them on until it is go time.  In a perfect situation your CrossFit Affiliate takes care of all of this for you.

  5. Dress and Prepping Properly.   Ideally, you’ve watched experienced CrossFitters in your Affliate dress and prep for workouts, e.g., wear deadlift socks, wrist wraps, knee wraps, tape thumbs, wear sweat bands, etc.   If you haven’t asked them what and why they do all of these rituals – make a point of doing so and trying out some of the observed dress and prep tips.  The main reason experienced CrossFitters dress and prep is to be comfortable under intense load.  For example, I tape my thumbs prior to high-volume Olympic Lifting, because I also use the “hook-grip,” which combined with tape allows me to not tax my grip or hurt my thumbs while exercising.  I also wear wrist sweat-bands with pull-ups and Kettle Bell Swings so my palms get less sweaty.  In the heat of the WOD – the less distractions you can eliminate by dressing and prepping properly the better.  This includes good hand maintenance  – make sure you shave those calluses 24-hours prior to any workout that will tax your grip. Granted, it is good to make sure you practice with your strategies to ensure you are comfortable and properly prepped.  The Open workout isn’t a good time to experiment.

  6. Have a WOD Buddy.   If you can swing it, make sure you do the workouts with your best WOD Buddy or at least someone you trust, respect, and who knows your strengths and weaknesses. The worst thing is to be paired with someone you don’t particularly like or who’s encouragement distracts or de-motivates you while you are spelunking in your pain cave.  At a minimum, let your WOD Buddy know your concerns going into a specific workout, tell them faults or issues you’d like them to watch out for, for example, “I tend to hyper-extend my back when I get tired, please let me know if I’m doing that," etc.  Basically, you want a WOD Buddy, who understands item number 1 for you and will help you stay focused, for example, if your form has gone out the door, and you are moving dangerously and seriously risk injury – they won’t be yelling, “Go for It!” – they’ll be cueing you to remain safe enough.

  7. Nasal Breathing.  Nasal breathing is more efficient than through your mouth, but don’t go and try to breath through your Nose during the WOD. Just remember to take a big nasal breath/inhalation when you take a break in repetition schemes during a workout.  When you start red-lining from intensity and breathing rapidly from your mouth (almost hyperventilating) – instead of bending over panting stand up straight, take a big, deep nasal breath or three and then get back to work.  Your mind needs oxygen as much as your body – being present and focused, keeps you safe.

  8. Apply the 75% Rules.  The 75% rule involves breaking your repetition scheme before you red-line.  Red-lining means you’ve emptied the available energy your body has stored to allow for high-intensity movement.  Breaking repetitions at 75% of red-lining and taking 2-5 breathes allows you to push a harder pace in the long run.  Every workout is different, however, I personally know I failed in pacing when I am forced to take more than 5 breathes when I break up a work set.  Managing pain also keeps you mentally more confident and in control, working until you implode in the workout is frustrating and lends to forgetting item 1 and making stupid mistakes that may get you injured.

  9. Only do each Workout ONCE!  If you are seriously competing to go to Regionals or you are a Master’s Class Athlete and are trying to make it to the Games, maybe this doesn’t apply to you. However, for everyone else remember there is a difference between testing and training fitness and the CrossFit Open is a test for fitness, so in some instances, a particular workout may have a negative effect on your fitness.   If you follow the guidance outlined in this article, you’ll have done the best you can and that should be good enough.  Granted, if you had a major equipment failure or you made major errors during exercise element transitions and you want to re-do the workout to make up for obvious issues – then go for it.  However, for the non-professional athlete, repeating workouts is just risking injury and frustration.

  10. Have Fun!  Seriously, have fun!  The CrossFit Open is a test of fitness relative to others; it is not a test of how fit you are.  The only fitness standard that matters is relative to body composition, physiology (blood chemistry, joint and organ health), ability to do your job, physical independence, and emotional well-being.  I often remind folks achieving and sustaining fitness should not make your life more stressful – it should be making it less stressful and enjoyable.  Have fun!

If you still have concerns about successfully surviving the CrossFit Open, make a point to talk to your Coach and / or a seasoned CrossFitter in your gym who you respect and identify with.  Good Luck in the Open.  Of course, luck is simply being prepared for opportunity when it presents itself – so ideally you spent the past nine months properly preparing!


About the Author: 

Tom Mathis is a local fitness enthusiast and maintains the blog Cakehole Management. This article was written by Tom for for Active Life DC.Tom is a United States Military Academy (USMA) Graduate; Army Veteran - Infantry Officer with Airborne and Ranger training; and Army Master Fitness Trainer Certification (1993); Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Enthusiast; Mountain Bike Boot Camp Instructor (2000-2006), and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer (2012).

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