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Journey through the CrossFit Open Competition (Pre-Competition, Week 1, Week 2)


The CrossFit Games Open competition is just a few days away and my excitement is growing by-the-minute. These Games are like The Hunger Games only in that you might die of a heart attack in the middle of the competition from too many alternating squats and sprints. The Open is a worldwide competition to find the fittest man and woman on earth. Tens of thousands of individuals complete five workouts over the course of a month at their local CrossFit box (gym). The workouts vary in exercises, length, and complexity. This is not dystopia. This is a competitor’s utopia.

CrossFit Info-Graphic
This is a quick info-graphic summary of CrossFit.
Note – WOD is Workout of the Day.

For example, workout #1 last year was to complete as many burpees as possible in 7-minutes. That sounds simple…right? To get an idea for how painful this is, start watching the following video of a competitor completing the workout at the 1-minute mark. Watch 15 seconds. Then fast forward to the last 30 seconds. Please note that the last 30 seconds isn’t being shown in slow motion. You can verify this by looking at the upside down phone clock on the left-hand side of the video. The oxygen in your lungs depletes exponentially throughout the workout. If you need more proof, try doing 1-minute of burpees right now. You can do them anywhere, except maybe on a bed of nails. From standing, squat down, drop onto the floor on your chest, stand up, jump and clap your hands over your head.

Try it. For one minute. I dare you.

Another workout from last year was 18-minutes of the most rounds of alternating box jumps, push presses (like an overhead shoulder press), and toes-to-bar, which is hanging from a pull-up bar and touching your toes to the bar. Other workouts involve Olympic and compound lifts with escalating weights throughout the workout. You can see all five of last year’s workouts at the CrossFit site by navigating through the week tabs. The competition requires a balance of strength, power, speed, endurance, and many other fitness skills.

The exercises aren’t announced until the week you’ll do the workout. You then have several days to complete the workout for your best score. Everyone training at a CrossFit box (gym) is encouraged to participate. Individuals with high scores move on to regional competition. If you don’t have a chance as an individual competitor, you can contribute to the team score. The top three individual scores from a box (gym) from each week’s workout make up the team score. If your team scores high enough, you can send 3 men and 3 women on to the regional team competition. While you might not go the regionals, you can contribute to the team’s success by posting a good score in just 1 workout over the course of 5 weeks.

I started CrossFit last year and did not compete in the Open. I did see a couple of the competition nights at my CrossFit box (gym). It was intense. There were scheduled heats on Thursday nights, so everyone could complete their workout in a positive, competitive environment with the support of their friends and workout partners. The camaraderie was strong at our box with constant encouragement. It’s the type of positive energy that can provide just the little boost you need when competing. I know the workouts will be brutal. I know the aftermath will be resemble a crime scene. I know the recovery will make me look like a grandfather.

I can’t wait…

Week 1

I’m sore. My hamstrings. My lower back. My shoulders. My chest. They’re all tender. I’m in recovery mode. I have one more day to get my best score on 13.1, which is the 1st workout of the 2013 CrossFit Games Open competition. Right now, I’m in Club 150, which means I completed 150 repetitions in the workout. There are many people in Club 150, because getting rep 151 means lifting a 165-lb snatch. If you are laughing, because you don’t know what that really means, read on.

The 13.1 workout was announced on the CrossFit games website on Wednesday night live at 8 pm EST. Here’s the workout.

17-minute time limit

  • 40 Burpees
  • 30 Snatches at 75 lbs
  • 30 Burpees
  • 30 Snatches at 135 lbs
  • 20 Burpees
  • 30 Snatches at 165 lbs
  • 10 Burpees
  • AMRAP Snatches at 210 lbs

AMRAP is as many rounds or reps as possible. In this case it means you can do as many reps of 210 lbs as possible with the remaining time in the 17-minute workout.

If you tried the burpee yourself earlier in this post or have ever done them before, you know that doing 40 straight is not easy. Still, this was the part of the workout I felt better about. Anybody can do a Burpee. Snatching heavy weight is much harder. Snatching requires you to deadlift the a barbell from the ground, shrug the weight up to shoulder height, then drop quickly under the barbell into a full squat, lock out your arms overhead with the barbell, and then stand-up from the squat. It requires a tremendous amount of skill as you can see in this video. In the Olympics you typically see men that look like they just finished downing a 100 cheeseburgers setting new Snatch world records. While they may not look the part, Olympic-level lifters have an unbelievable amount of skill, strength, and quickness in these movements. However, you can lift a significant amount of weight without the 100 cheeseburger look. Our Olympic lifting coach is five-and-a-half feet tall weighing about 160 lbs and can snatch 250+ lbs.

Bottom of a Snatch before standing up

My personal record for the Snatch is 155 lbs and I lifted that weight one time after an hour of coaching and my previous record had been 105 lbs. That was a good day, but it was six months ago. We did one of the standard CrossFit “Girl” workouts, “Elizabeth”, which is 30 Snatches at 135 lbs, a few weeks ago. Six months ago, I completed that workout in about eight to ten minutes. Three weeks ago, I couldn’t snatch 135 lbs one-time before the workout. I completed “Elizabeth” with 95 lbs. With some focused practice after “Elizabeth” I managed to get 2-3 good reps at 135 lbs. That was what was going through my head Wednesday night when 13.1 was announced. Some things are clearly in your wheelhouse. This was not in mine.

I did my normal preparation for a competition like I do during fight training, albeit at a highly accelerated pace. I spent Wednesday night practicing the Burpee and Snatch at home without any weight and visualized my progression through the workout. I set a goal to get to 150 reps, knowing that the 165-lb Snatch was likely too heavy for me to lift. Our box does the CrossFit Open workouts on Thursday night and Sunday morning. Thursday night is a practice round for Sunday, although the score from Thursday is counted if it’s better than your Sunday score.

Since there were 30-40 people doing the workouts on Thursday night, we were broken into 3 heats. I warmed up and tried Snatching 165-lbs, but couldn’t manage it. Despite being warmed up completely for the 1st heat, I drew the 3rd heat and had to wait and wait and wait. I don’t like waiting for competition. I don’t think anyone does, but it gave me a chance to see others in action and do some meditation. What I saw from others could easily psyche you out, since everyone struggled getting through the 2nd set of Burpees and Snatches. Now, it was my turn.

After taking a few deep breaths, I heard, “3, 2, 1…GO!” I blasted through the first 40 Burpees in a little over 2 minutes. The 75-lb Snatches took me to about the 6-minute mark and were mostly uneventful except for the last rep when I almost threw the bar onto the person behind me, but instead caught the bar in my biceps and had to redo that rep. I finished the second set of 30 Burpees at about the 9-minute mark. I had plenty of time to complete the 135-lb Snatches and took my time. I used a lot of upper body and lower back strength on each rep. When I manage to use more legs, hips, and drop quicker, I’ll be able to lift a lot more weight. I finished the 135-lb Snatches at exactly 14 minutes. I slowly pushed through the third set of 20 Burpees at 16 minutes and knew I was done. I fell flat on the floor watching everyone finish their final minute of the workout. It was hard, but a bit easier than I thought it might have been. Still, I’m sore.

I’ve had two days to practice Snatches, although without much weight. My body needs time to recover. I have a chance to get out of Club 150 on Sunday morning, if I can Snatch 165-lbs. Otherwise, I will be watching from the sidelines and getting ready for next week’s challenge.

Sunday came and Sunday went and I could not snatch 165-lbs.  I have a goal for next year.

After 1 week I’m #11,218 in the Men’s Under-40 Division, which has over 73,000 competitors across the world.  The Mid-Atlantic division has over 5700 men and I’m currently in 933rd place.  I have nowhere to go but up, since strength is not my strength.

Paleo Cartoon
This is the diet of most CrossFitters, although I don’t mind fatty meat.

Week 2

The announcement of 13.2, the workout for week 2, made me regret training on Tuesday.  Here’s 13.2.

10-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of:

  • 5 Shoulder to Overhead (any type of Shoulder Press) at 115 lbs
  • 10 Deadlifts at 115 lbs
  • 15 Box Jumps onto a 24-inch box

You repeat the sequence of 5, 10, and 15 reps of each exercise as many times as humanly or inhumanly possible in 10 minutes.  It may look easy.  It isn’t.

The primary muscles and ligaments taxed in this workout are the lower back, hips, shoulders, traps, calves, and achilles.  I regretted Tuesday, because we did 4 x 4 minute rounds of 10 Box Step Ups with 2 x 25 lb plates (easy enough), 14 Sit-ups (even easier), and 18 Kettlebell Swings with 53-lbs (much, much, much HARDER).  Kettlebell Swings require you to swing the kettlebell in between your legs and thrust your hips forward as you raise the kettelbell vertically overheard.  It fatigues your hands, hips, lower back, shoulders, and traps.  Notice the similarities with the impending taxed body parts for 13.2.  I completed the full sequence of those three exercises ten times, meaning I did 180 Kettebell Swings.

My hands started ripping apart at the end of Tuesday’s workout and a few spots turned black from calluses forming.  That was fine, but my lower back was still sore Thursday night when I’d take my first attempt at 13.2 and my traps were tender to the touch.  My goal when the workout was announced Wednesday night was to get 8 full rounds of the three exercises.  After watching the first heat on Thursday night, I barely saw some of our strongest competitors reach 7 rounds.  I knew hitting my goal would be challenging.

I was scheduled for the 3rd heat and did my normal shadow boxing, dynamic stretching, and practicing the workout exercises warm-up.  I took my time meditating to tune out the noise.  At the last minute, they switch my judge to Brian Provost, who is an excellent CrossFit coach.  I expected the Shoulder Presses and Deadlifts to be the hardest part, because while the weight was light, there would be a lot of rounds and these movements require using very large muscle groups.  I underestimated the Box Jumps.  “I’m good at Box Jumps” I told myself.  That may be true, but each jump requires lifting 185-lbs (me) 2-ft off the ground.  That takes a lot of energy.

As we approached the end of the workout I did not know how much time was remaining, since I prefer to face a blank wall when competing.  This helps me focus on my body, my breathing, and my technique when performing the movements.  CrossFit focuses on efficiency, so keeping your technique clean is paramount. Otherwise, you waste effort and energy.  Coach Brian kept me informed and had a game plan for me to finish strong.  With 90-seconds left, we shouted to finish my seventh set of Box Jump to leave enough time to complete an eighth round, which I thought was out of reach.  I didn’t rest in between rounds, but my legs felt like jelly and my lower back was losing strength quickly.  When I approached the box for my last set of jumps, Brian told me to step up instead of jumping to help my recovery.  I did this for 5 reps before Brian had me switch back to jumps which were now lightening quick, since I had a little bit of oxygen back in my lungs.  I jumped off the box completing my eighth round, reaching my goal.  I snatched the barbell off the ground and did a shoulder press to get one more rep in before time ran out.

Final score: 8 rounds + 1 rep

Goal achieved.  Next.

I will have a chance to do the workout again on Sunday.  That will depend on whether my achilles heals in time to jump again.  In the meantime, I’m resting and looking forward to the last three weeks of competition.

My Current Score (updated weekly on Monday)

If you want to see how I’m faring in the competition, check out my profile on the CrossFit Games site.  This will show my scores each week.  It shows the Mid-Atlantic region by default, but the filters can be customized to show my place worldwide.  The first number to the left of my name is my rank in the region displayed.  I can’t explain the number in parentheses to the left of my name.  I think it’s a proprietary CrossFit scoring algorithm.  Under the workout columns, the first number is my rank for that week and the second number in parentheses is the number of reps  I completed that week.

If you want to see what torture I’m subjected to each week in the name of fitness, here’s the link which shows the workouts that are announced each Wednesday live at 8 pm.  Working out…it’s better than being dead.

Exercise Cartoon

Note – If you want to read the 2nd part of this post, click this link.