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Journey Through the CrossFit Open Competition (Week 3, Week 4, Week 5)

Note – If you haven’t read the previous post, you will not have the full context, so you may want to check it out.  Then again, this is a long post, so you may want to dive right in.

Gandhi Destiny Quote

Week 3

13.3 was announced to be a repeat of 12.4, meaning that the 4th workout from last year (2012) would be done again this year.  Here’s this year’s 3rd workout.

12 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of:

  • 150 Wall Balls
  • 90 Double Unders
  • 30 Muscle-Ups

You can see pictures, descriptions, and a video of the exercises on the left-hand side of this link.  Essentially, Wall Balls require men to throw a 20-lb medicine ball at a wall target 10-ft high.  Double Unders require you to jump over a jump rope high enough that the rope passes under your feet twice before touching the ground again.  A Muscle-Up is doing a Pull-Up on gymnastics rings followed by transitioning into a Dip, so that your arms are straight with the rings below you at the end.  That’s really, really hard.  The Wall Balls are not hard unless you’re required to do 150 of them in a short period of time.  90 Double Unders are hard for most people, but are not that hard once you get the hang of that skill.  Doing 90, after 150 Wall Balls breaks down your quadriceps muscles, is really hard.  In case you’re not following the math here, that’s 150 of hard, followed by 90 of really hard, followed by 30 of really, really hard.

I knew I had done the 150 Wall Balls in a little over five minutes.  That’s a standard workout in CrossFit named Karen, which we’d done a couple months ago.  Two weeks ago I did 150 Double Unders in two minutes.  I knew I could do Muscle-Ups, which is probably the hardest skill to learn in CrossFit.  It’s so hard that I’d double-checked that I could still do them on Tuesday night before I even knew that they’d be part of this week’s Open workout.  My strategy for the workout was simple.  Start with sets of 25 reps of Wall Balls and decrease the reps in each set as needed.  Break-up the Double Unders into sets of 20-30.  I’d do each Muscle-Up individually, since I hadn’t learned how to string them together yet.

I knew going into the workout that my quads would be sore from the Wall Balls for days and that this pain would likely start around the 100th rep.  My strategy would have worked perfectly if I’d practiced Double Unders with quads in that weakened condition.  I finished the 150 Wall Balls in about six minutes, which was purposefully a little slower than I’d do them if that was the only part of the workout as I needed to conserve energy.  I rested 15-20 seconds while grabbing my jump rope.  I started jumping, but had no rhythm.  Rhythm is the key to getting longer sets of Double Unders, since your entire body must move in a consistent pattern in unison with the rope.  I completed a bunch of sets of 2-5 reps and an occasional set of 10.  Towards the end I completed a few sets of 10-15, but it took me over four minutes to complete the Double Unders when I thought I’d be done in three minutes or less.  That left me only about ninety seconds for Muscle-Ups.  My goal had been to get at least one Muscle-Up, but I thought I might be able to get many more.  I completed three Muscle-Ups.  My first attempt at rep number three appearing to mangle my arm and shoulder, but luckily it looked worse than it was and I successfully repeated the third rep.

I was proud of my performance.  Not many people successfully complete a Muscle-Up in that workout and I landed three.  When I completed my first Muscle-Up, Jason from our box yelled, “You just passed 1,000 people on the leaderboard.”  It was a good feeling.

Yosemite Sam
Picture Yosemite Sam with his stubby legs in two full leg casts doing his angry dance. That’s how I looked trying to walk anywhere after workout 13.4 and 150 Wall Balls.

It’s Saturday night – two full days later.  My quads are still sore.  Despite icing them, taking cold showers, and foam rolling them, I’m walking around like a cross between Grandpa and Yosemite Sam.  I can barely bend my knees without my legs spontaneously collapsing and I use a lot more of my upper body to push me off the couch when I want to stand-up than my legs.  It’s funny to watch.  Despite that, I’m more  seriously considering repeating the workout again on Sunday than the previous two weeks.  While my quad soreness might not technically be considered an injury, it’s pretty close.  I think they might heal just enough tonight to let me complete the workout again.  Why would I want to do it again?

I think I can string together the Double Unders much better.  I can do them well when I’m fresh, but haven’t practiced them enough when tired.  I added that to my goals for next year.  In the meantime I’ve been practicing Double Unders, since right after the workout on Thursday night along with Muscle Ups.  My current quad soreness replicates that same feeling that I’ll have if I redo the workout.  I’ve been able to string together most sets at 10-20 reps, which is a lot better than Thursday.  If I can replicate that consistency when doing the workout, I’ll finish the Double Unders in under three minutes and be able to hit a lot more Muscle-Ups.

It all comes down to how I feel on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday – once again.

Magically, my Sunday legs felt recovered…mostly.  There was still a bit of cement left weighing down my lower body, but it was markedly lighter than on Saturday.  I was ready for round 2…or so I thought.

I planned a similar strategy as the first time I attempted the Wall Balls, Dubs, and Muscle-Ups.  Blast through the Wall Balls in 6 minutes.  Pray that Dubs would not take me over 4 minutes again.  Leave several minutes to complete as many Muscle-Ups as possible.  There was one problem.  The concrete returned.

After my first 25 of the 150 Wall Balls, everything slowed down.  I could barely get the ball above the 10’ mark consistently.  My judge shouted, “No rep!” about ten times over the course of the Wall Balls indicating that I’d have to redo that rep.  The Wall Balls took me an extra 2 minutes, meaning I had only 4 minutes to complete the Dubs and hit a few Muscle-Ups.

The Dubs were still difficult as I was getting started, but I hit my rhythm earlier.  I finished 90 in just under 3 minutes, which was a big improvement.  I had less than a minute for Muscle-Ups, but managed to complete 2 out of 3 attempts with my last attempt being an almost grotesque example of how to muscle up a Muscle-Up (think elbows almost popping out of sockets).  I finished two reps short of improving my score from Thursday.  I was disappointed in that, but proud that I’d improved my recovery ability and technique on the Dubs and nailed a few Muscle Ups with little time remaining.

Week 4

13.4 was announced as a couplet of toes to bar and clean and jerks.  Here’s the format.

7 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of:

  • 3 Clean and Jerk at 135 lbs
  • 3 Toes to Bar
  • 6 Clean and Jerk at 135 lbs76
  • 6 Toes to Bar
  • 9 Clean and Jerk at 135 lbs
  • 9 Toes to Bar
  • 12 Clean and Jerk at 135 lbs
  • 12 Toes to Bar
  • 15 Clean and Jerk at 135 lbs
  • 15 Toes to Bar

…and continue in ascending multiple of 3 until time expires

A Clean and Jerk is the Olympic Clean lift where you pull/dead lift the bar off the ground close to your body raising it up to shoulder height before dipping under the bar and receiving it in a Front Squat racked position, followed by pressing the bar overhead by bending/dipping your legs, driving the bar overhead, and bending/dipping your legs again and landing with your arms and legs locked.  As you can tell by the length of that sentence, there’s a lot to it.

Toes to bar is easier by comparison, but that also depends on your body type.  It’s more of a gymnastics type of movement where you grab onto a pullup bar, use a kipping motion to generate momentum, and raise your toes up to touch the bar with both feet landing on the bar at the same time.  You can see pictures of these exercises at this link.

The concern from most people before doing the workout was how to save their grip strength, since grabbing the bar for the Clean and Jerk and the pull-up bar for the Toes to Bar would require a lot of contracted grip time.  I managed to avoid this issue, possibly due to using grip strengthening tools for the last several months.

My goal for the workout was 76 reps.  That would mean that I finished the round of 12 reps listed above, got through 15 Clean and Jerks, and made it back to the bar for 1 Toes to Bar.  I fell four reps short by completing 72 reps.  The biggest challenge for me, other than nailing my quad on the corner of a wooden box on my third Toes to Bar rep, was muscular endurance and technique.  I can Clean and Jerk 135 lbs a few times without extraordinary effort, but this isn’t easy for me.  Lifting this much weight over 40 times took every ounce of energy.  I was not using my legs enough on the Jerk portion of the lift, meaning that I was sapping my shoulders of critical energy.  On the Toes to Bar I started off well with the kipping gymnastics technique, but by the round of 9 repetitions, I was using mostly abs.  That took a lot more energy and a lot more time.  What I dislike most about these short workouts is how hard I’m breathing after the workout.  I don’t notice it during the workout, but I breath so hard and fast afterwards that it feels like a fireball was tossed down my esophagus.  Breathing that hard is harsh.

I may get a chance to do this workout again Sunday morning, but I may not.  Apparently, even CrossFit gyms take part of a day off for Easter as they rescheduled the normal Sunday competition workouts for Saturday, which conflicts with the MMA class I teach.  I  hope that there will be a judge willing to stick around to let me do 13.4 one more time.  I think 76 reps it achievable.  Easter Sunday awaits…

I didn’t get to do 13.4 again, but I had fun doing a regular Easter workout and visiting the Prohibition exhibit at The National Constitution Center in Philly.  When the in-laws come to town, I get a bit of culture…and a free dinner!  We watched Kevin Ware from Louisville break his leg before heading off to Teca in West Chester to dine on a pork chop.  Maybe the site of shin slanted at a right angle through a femur made me carnivorous or maybe I just need to accept reality – I’m a carnivore.

Week 5

13.5 was announced to groans around the world, since it resembled the fifth workout from 2012 very closely.  Here’s 13.5.

AMRAP in 4 minutes

  • 15 Thrusters at 100 lbs
  • 15 Chest to Bar Pull-Ups

If you complete 90 reps in 4 minutes, you get a bonus – 4 extra minutes to keep working out!  In other words, it becomes an 8-minute AMRAP workout.  You can continue adding 4-minute time intervals if you complete another 90 reps within the additional 4 minutes.

Last year’s final workout was very similar with Thrusters and Pull-Ups, but a slightly different rep scheme.  It’s very similar to one of the core CrossFit workouts named “Fran”.  Fran is so common that many people stack-rank themselves against other CrossFitters by asking, “What’s your Fran time?”  Frank is 21 reps of Thrusters at 95 lbs, 21 Pull-Ups, 15 Thrusters, 15 Pull-Ups, 9 Thrusters, and 9 Pull-Ups.  What’s a Thruster?  Imagine holding a barbell in front of you at shoulder height.  Squat down, stand up, and press the bar overhead.  It’s not too difficult until you add weight.  When you combine Thrusters and Pull-Ups, you’re essentially completing an intense total body workout taxing your legs, core, shoulders, and lats in a very short timeframe.  If you want more details on the exercises, here’s the link.

CrossFit Inspire held a special event on Wednesday night for the announcement of the final workout and invited any Master’s competitors, which is anyone over 40, to complete the workout right after the announcement.  The crowd as Inspire was underwhelmed by finishing the competition with a 4-minute workout, since only the top percent of CrossFitters would likely complete 90 reps in 4 minutes to trigger the bonus round.  You might ask: Why would anyone want to do more than 4 minutes of this?  Remember, that people training at CrossFit and competing have some masochistic qualities about them.  4 minutes isn’t enough time to feel like you’ve accomplished much.

CrossFit Inspire had two men in the Master’s division ranked in the top 65 in the world.  They did not complete 90 reps in 4 minutes.  One was either frustrated with his score or the lack of getting a decent workout and decided to complete the workout again right after finishing it the first time.  After seeing that I knew I’d have a hard time getting 90 reps on Thursday night and knew I might need a second workout.

Thursday night was fast and furious.  I started 13.5 smoothly completing the first set of 15 Thrusters unbroken, meaning I didn’t drop the barbell to rest on the first set.  I completed 10 Pull-Ups unbroken before taking two deep breaths before hammering out another 5 reps.  The second set of Thrusters was much harder.  Lots of lactic acid slowed me down and I dropped the bar after the tenth rep.  I took three deep breaths before picking up the bar and finishing the last 5 reps.  My second set of Pull-Ups did not go as smoothly.  I have the grip and shoulder endurance to complete one good set of unbroken Pull-Ups in a short period of time, not two.  I did mostly singles and completed my second set of Pull-Ups with about 50 seconds remaining in the workout.  I took three more deep breaths and launched into a set of 5 Thrusters.  I dropped the bar, took a couple more deep breaths, and completed 3 more reps of Thrusters to finish with a total score of 68 reps.  I had few regrets, but I knew I possibly could have completed the first set of Pull-Ups without dropping off the bar and didn’t need to take three breaths a few times.  This is what I’m learning at CrossFit.  Competition can be as detailed and focused as planning the number of deep breaths you’re going to take.

I was ready to be finished with this competition and didn’t care very much about completing the workout a second time, but I read a good article from a top CrossFit competitor over the weekend that gave me some motivation to focus.  I wanted to focus on micro-goals during the workout that would drive my performance further than the previous workout.  My micro- goals were:

  1. Take only two breaths when really tired before picking up the barbell or doing another Pull-up
  2. Hit the first set of Pull-Ups unbroken
  3. Hit the second set of Thrusters unbroken.

I completed the workout a second time Sunday morning and halfway through thought I had no shot of improving my score of 68 reps.  I was sticking to taking less long breaks by only taking two deep breaths when tired and hit my first set of Pull-Ups pretty much unbroken (I dropped off the bar before the last rep, because I thought it would be faster and it was).  Unfortunately, my timing was thrown off during the set of Pull-Ups when my coach tried to give me a tip halfway through my set.  That slowed me down.  My second set of Pull-Ups were again done one at-a-time and I had only 30 seconds left when I finished them, which was 15-20 seconds later than Thursday night.  I dug deep and with Will and Brendan from my box (gym) shouting encouragement at me decided I would not drop the bar on the Thrusters until time ran out.  I didn’t know whether I could get more than 8 reps in 30 seconds to get a better score when I picked up the barbell.  I got 12 reps and dropped the bar behind me like The Ultimate Warrior doing a Gorilla Press slam!  My total score was 72 reps, which was 4 reps better than Thursday.  Plus, I nailed 2 out of the 3 micro-goals above, only missing on the unbroken 2nd set of Thrusters.  I felt accomplished and ended this competition on the right note.

Ultimate Warrior
This is how I looked doing my last rep of workout 13.5 except that the guy with the sweet ’80s hair and ‘stache is a barbell and I didn’t have face paint on…but I may have had streamers.


I finished ranked #922 in the Mid-Atlantic region and #11373 in the world, which you can see on my CrossFit Games profile.  That’s not too bad, considering I was competing with about 180,000 other people.

CrossFit Inspire hosted a BBQ after the last workout on a beautiful April Sunday, which was the day before my birthday.  It was a great way to end the competition even though I struggled to eat, since holding a paper plate with food was a bit heavy for my fried forearms and my core needed a break from standing, eating, or any other minor exertion.  It was a fun day.  That’s a big part of what CrossFit is about: competition and community.  I welcome everyone to join and start seeing the benefits.  If you feel intimidated by the competitive aspect, remember – the competition is with yourself.  Once you start training you’ll already be on your way to beating your own self.  You’ll be on a path to a newer, finer, healthier version of you.  You’ll be one step closer to the greatest version of you that you can ever be.  It’s a fun journey.  Enjoy it!

Bruce Lee Limits Quote