The Open is Over, Now What?
First, I'd like to congratulate you on a job well done. The Coaches and Owners of Misfit Gym Portland are damn proud of your willingness to put yourself out there and the effort you put forth; it was amazing to see all of the triumphs over the last five grueling weeks. For us coaches and owners, the Open is bittersweet. We know how much stress the Open can create for everyone. The pressure of trying to perform your best with someone right by your side counting your reps and making sure you adhere to the movement standards can be downright overwhelming for some, so congratulations on gutting through that. However, despite any anxiety or fear the Open might produce, as a Coach and Owner, I absolutely LOVE the Open, specifically how it teaches you more about yourselves and how you can take those lessons to shape your training going forward! Unfortunately, I do realize that not everyone knows will understands how to use the Open to direct their training moving forward; let me show you how. If you follow this roadmap for success, next year (insert weakness) will not "hold you back."
At the heart of both CrossFit and The CrossFit Games Open is your metabolic conditioning, which for this article, I will call your "engine." Your "engine" consists of three energy systems, which all contribute in varying capacities at different durations. The three energy systems are ATP-CP, Glycolysis, and Oxidative (Short (<30-seconds), middle (:30 - ~5:00), and long duration (longer than 3 minutes) efforts; sorry I won't continue to bore you to tears with exercise physiology term). One of CrossFit's definitions of "fitness" is: you are only as fit as you are robust in each of these three energy pathways. If you have a significant deficiency in any of those three-time domains, and you have a weakness in your fitness. Do you find yourself struggling to sprint on the bike or rower? You probably have some deficiency in your short-duration engine. Struggle with workouts like "Fran," 1000m Row, or 800m Run? Your middle duration engine may be lacking. Finally, do you hate 20-minute AMRAPs because you feel like you run out of steam? Your long duration engine is no bueno. The solution to your problems are as follows:
1) Show up. Step one is nothing more than showing up consistently. By attending the gym more often, you will be exposed to each of the time domains repeatedly, and each time you train that domain, you get just a little bit better. Little by little, little becomes a lot.
2) Listen. I am honored to be able to say that our gyms have some of the best CrossFit coaches in the entire world (Don't believe me, drop into another CrossFit gym, you'll see they're just like any other industry, some good, some bad, some average). At the start of each class, we begin with a whiteboard brief. The purpose of this brief is to help provide you context with the "how." "How" the weight should feel, "how" fast you should go, "how" many rounds you should get, "how" long it should take, etc. While it may feel like each day is random, I can assure you that each and every piece that we do is written with the intent of progressing your fitness and getting you better day-by-day. Listening and understanding the context of each piece should help you properly attack each day of training, and thus giving you the desired adaptations we are looking to provide you with.
3) Effort. Nothing worth doing comes easy, and while you may not be able to control whether or not the gym's programming the day is "good" or "bad" for your abilities, you can manage your effort. Often the days when the programming looks like it "couldn't be worse" for you; it's actually exactly what your fitness needs. On the days when you feel like the programming is "out to get you," focus on getting better at one single aspect of the workout. Setting a micro-goals of "going unbroken" or practicing calculated sets of 5 or rowing at a slower pace so you can get over the rings on those ring muscle-ups are an excellent way to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Never underestimate the benefit of hard work. Give your best each day.
Strength and skill are lumped together in this section. While these two topics are certainly not the same, the exposure to both in the Open is unique, when compared to the daily group class. In your regular group class, your coaches provide scaling for the workout, and often there isn't one single scale; there are many. This is to ensure that everyone "gets a good workout," however, scaling in the open is very different. Most notably, you are given 1 RX version of the workout and 1 Scaled version of the workout (along with some modifications for masters/teens), and in the scaled version, you get 1 option per movement, not multiple. Very commonly, the scaled option is more challenging than the scaled options we provide at the gym, and that is a good thing. While initially, you may look at this with frustration, "what the heck, kipping pull-ups are the scale??", this frustration will ultimately help you grow. The correct attitude to this frustration is, "well, I can't do it now, but this exactly what I should work on." This is EXACTLY the right attitude. Instead of being discouraged, reframe your thinking, you now have a goal to shoot for. So what is the solution? Here goes:
1) Scale differently, mix it up. Yes, I know that sounds counter-intuitive to what I just stated above, but stay with me. We often get "stuck" in our training because when we see "X," we do "Y," automatically. Pull-ups in the workout? Better go find a set of rings to do ring rows. Handstand push-ups today? Better warm up my push-ups. Having a go-to scale that you do every single time isn't good training. Variance is one of the reasons CrossFit works so well as a training methodology, so mix it up.
2) Reach a bit more. When I say "reach a bit more," start trying skills and weights that are a bit outside your comfort zone. The saying from Coach Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder) is that "you fail at the margins of your experience." What this means is, if you train all year and never ever try a kipping pull-up, why would you expect that when they return in the Open, you'll automatically be able to do it? The solution to this problem is identifying what particular movements, weights, combinations, etc. held you back and to start working them into your training more often. Now what this certainly DOES NOT mean is trying to "RX" every single workout, every single day, that would be lousy training, if inappropriate (not sure? Ask your coach). The proper way to "reach" is to work with your coach to help you find the appropriate that has you "reaching" outside your comfort zone, but something that doesn't blunt the stimulus of the workout. A great example is a workout like "Fran." Fran is a fast (3-8 minute workout) that has both weightlifting and gymnastics. Let's say the RX thruster weight is inappropriate for the volume of 45 reps, but it's something you want to work on. Working with your coach, they may have you do 12-9-6 or 9-6-3 as your rep scheme rather than 21-15-9, thus ensuring you have exposure to the weight, but at a level that is appropriate for your fitness. Another example within the workout "Fran" is the pull-ups. Similar to the barbell weight being inappropriate, the volume of pull-ups can sometimes be too aggressive for people who are new to kipping pull-ups, so scaling them back to 12-9-6 or 9-7-5 can ensure you get the workout stimulus. Asking your coach to challenge you daily is something we want you to do, be an active participant in your scaling, rather than defaulting to what you always do.
One more concept, or hurdle, that you may need to clear, to advance your fitness is to be more confident and taking more risks. Starting day one, you made a gamble, you walked through the big, scary doors a brand new gym, you likely did a style of workout you had never done previously, and almost certainly felt a certain way you had before. However, as you started to "get the hang of this CrossFit thing," you likely got complacent with your training. You go at "one pace," you scale "this way," you break up movements "that way," etc. As I told you before, you fail at the margins of your experience. How will you KNOW that you CAN or CANNOT do something unless you try it? The solution is to take more risks. Stop playing it safe when you train. Go at speeds that scare you and make you want to hug the bucket. Attempt to snatch a weight that you haven't before. Hang on for a larger set of pull-ups than you've ever done before. Do shit that scares you, you'll be better for it :).
Still, need help?
Take the ideas above into your training, and I can promise you that you'll be fitter for it. However, some of the concepts outlined within this article are easier to adapt immediately, while others may take days, weeks, or months of calculated effort to improve. If, after working on these components of your fitness, you still find yourself struggling, talk with your Coach. Coaches may tell you that you are being impatient and keeping at it, as in the case of working on getting stronger, while other components of your fitness, such as skill work, may be best addressed in a one-on-one PT session. I assure you that your Coaches want nothing more than to see you succeed, but success takes ownership, patience, effort, and time. Now get back to work!