Open Prep Series: The 7 Movements to Master Before The CrossFit Open

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The CrossFit Open is a 5-week, worldwide online competition that tests athletes across a variety of movements and times domains, and ranks results from week-to-week.  For some, this is the first step in qualifying for the CrossFit Games.  For most, however, it’s a way to track their progress from year-to-year both against themselves, and against the thousands of people that post scores worldwide (209,000 people participated in 2014).

With the first workout announcement coming on February 26th, we have been targeting our “Performance” training toward preparing for the things that we typically see in the Open each year. Since its inception in 2011, there have been several underlying trends that hold true from year to year.  In the first of a series of articles based around this topic, we will be looking at the 7 most commonly seen movements that have appeared in the first 4 years of the competition.

Note: This data was compiled by CFG Analysis, a great blog devoted to breaking down the numbers behind the CrossFit Games, Regionals, and Open Competitions.  I highly recommend you peruse it if you are interested at all in the sport of CrossFit and how it measures (or fails to measure) fitness in varied domains and modalities.

1) The Snatch

This is actually somewhat misleading; there has never been a requirement that an athlete perform a full Snatch, received in the bottom of a squat, in any Open workout.  However, the Power Snatch, or moving the barbell from ground to overhead in one movement, has been a central part of at least one workout in each of the four years of the Open.  Twice it was light (75/55# in both 2011 and 2014), and twice it was featured in an ascending weight ladder (in 2012 and 2013).  Whether your max Snatch is correlated to your placing in the Open is unclear, but there is certainly a trend among the top place-winners being very proficient in the movement.
How to prepare: Because most people will not make it to the heaviest weights of the Snatch (if there is an ascending pattern), the best way to be prepared would be to work on the efficiency of the Power Snatch at light-to-moderate weights.  Working on touch-and-go reps, while keeping the barbell close to the body, is a great way to develop smooth movement and help minimize wasted energy when working at high reps.  Also, keeping the chest up and butt down will make better use of the legs, and help prevent fatigue of the lower back.

2) Burpees

It’s important to note that Burpees, when completed in the Open, will always have some specific standard that forces the athlete to actually JUMP to complete the rep (either by requiring that a target be touched, or by doing them “over-the-bar”).  While I doubt we will see anything like 12.1 (a 7-minute AMRAP of Burpees to a 6″ mark), we can expect to see these in a decent number, which means that pacing and not OVER-jumping is critical.
How to prepare:  The best way to make Burpees more efficient is to load up the hips and “snap” off the ground, as opposed to jumping the legs under and coming out of a full squat for each rep (this will wear out your quads very quickly).  Check out this Gymnastic WOD video in which Carl Paoli explains this at length.

3) Thrusters

I would argue that the worst Open workout to complete each year is the final one, and, for 4 out of 4 years, the Open has ended with a workout that is made up of at least 50% Thrusters.  The weights on these have remained essentially the same each year (95/65#, though the Men’s weight was inexplicably 100# in 2011 and 2012).
How to prepare: Developing a good front rack position, as well as overhead mobility in order to cycle reps efficiently and avoid losing the bar forward in the squat.  Also, practicing breathing out at the top; many people like to pause for a brief moment with the barbell locked out overhead, then ride the bar back down and rebound from the bottom.  This is much more effective than ever pausing with the bar on the shoulders

4) Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups

Because of the difficulties involved in judging a chin-over-the-bar pull-up when watching a video submission, the standard for pull-ups in the Open has always been Chest-to-Bar.  This, I would argue, is a huge separator for many athletes, and greatly prioritizes upper-body gymnastic abilities, especially for those that can perform these in butterfly fashion. For many women, this is where workouts are made or broken.
How to prepare: As with any gymnastic movement, the key to getting better is through volume.  Working on Chest-to-Bars often will help you with getting an powerful, efficient kip, and also gradually make your grip and hands stronger (as long as you take care an shave down your callouses).  Any time Pull-ups are prescribed in a workout, try to do them Chest-to-Bar (you can even lower the number of reps to make this possible, as long as you are still pushing yourself in the appropriate time domain for that day).  On a side note, we have seen a lot of success with people doing single reps, then dropping from the bar for a short break before hopping up for their next one.  If you struggle massively with kipping, spending extra time hanging from the bar is not going to help your cause. Again, check out Gymnastic WOD for some helpful tips on developing this movement

5) Double Unders

It is what it is: if you suck at Double Unders, you are severely limited in at least one Open workout each year.  Whether or not this is a true test of fitness (and whether or not these will appear in the scaled versions of the workouts), the Double Under has been chosen as a requisite movement, and there is no reason to assume it will not be seen again in the future.
How to prepare: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  Developing a smooth, efficient rhythm is key, as well as not overusing the shoulders.  Those that took part in our clinic with Shane Wisnor from RPM Fitness learned about the importance of keeping the hands close to the sides, keeping the eyes looking forward, and not “piking” the feet when we jump.  Work on these at least 3-4 times a week, both while fresh and while under fatigue.

6) Box Jumps

Not only have we seen Box Jumps in every year of the Open, but we have seen A LOT of them in most years.  And while it is yet to be seen whether or not step-ups will still be allowed in the RX division, our best bet is to practice these as a skill, just as we would any other movement.  One of the most overlooked (in my opinion) aspects of a Box Jump is the accuracy component; it’s important to land in roughly the same spot each time, so that we can stay in rhythm and not be forced to adjust our jumps in the middle of a set.  Furthermore, with the “Box Jump Over” becoming more and more prevalent in the Games, Regionals, and seemingly every other fitness competition around, we should also be prepared for that variation.
How to prepare: Practice Box Jumps in small-to-medium sets, and work on different cadences.  Physio Detective has a great article detailing the different ways to work on Box Jumps, including the important caveat that rebounding jumps is a very risky maneuver in the way of potential injuries to the Achilles.  Also, don’t forget to work on Box Jump Overs as well, as these could potentially replace the traditional Box Jump in the Open.

7) Toes to Bar

Getting the rhythm and timing necessary to complete kipping Toes to Bar can be very frustrating for some.  However, with their inclusion in every Open competition, it’s important that you don’t ignore this skill, even if you think you are already good at them.  In fact, for many of the workouts in which they have appeared, the Toes to Bar could be considered the “rest station,” meaning the easiest of any of the movements in the workout (This is obviously a relative statement, but I would rather to a Toes to Bar than a Clean & Jerk at 135 (2013), if both count for the same single point.)
How to prepare: Watch this video, then get to practicing.  This is a movement, like Pull-ups, that should be broken into smaller sets early, to avoid overly fatiguing the grip and lats.  Also, be sure to work on shoulder and thoracic mobility, so that you can initiate this movement through the upper body, and not the lower back. Finally, if you are prone to ripping, practice using some variation of hand protection, so that the feeling is not new to you come go-time.

*Honorable Mentions:

Wall Balls– We see them every year.  If you aren’t good at Wall Balls, then you simply need more exposure to them.  If you go to our gym, you get plenty of that!

Deadlifts– Not something you can greatly improve between now and the Open, but increasing pulling strength should be a priority all year round.

Muscle Ups– The big separator in one workout each year is the Muscle Up.  The best progression I’ve seen for this comes from Outlaw, and it takes a few weeks to work it’s magic, so get started now! P.S. I know the video is 18 minutes long, but if you truly care about the Open, you will watch it.

Good luck to everyone as they prep for the Open.  Be on the lookout for next week’s article, where we delve deeper into some more ways to get ready for the competition season!


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