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Monday, December 10, 2012

Quick Hits: Women's Scaling and The Outlaw Open

In stark contrast to my last post, I just wanted to touch on a few topics briefly today without getting too involved. These were just a couple of interesting topics that I got into this past weekend.

Women's Scaling:

CrossFit HQ has asserted in the past that there are no "prescribed" women's scaling options for their workouts. According to HQ, each workout should be scaled to the particular athlete's abilities. I'm not going to argue with that sentiment here, at least as it applies to training. But the fact is that HQ does scale the weights differently for men and women during competitions, and most, if not all, local CrossFit competitions do the same. But are they scaled fairly?

Counting the Outlaw Open (Dec. 1-2), I've now analyzed seven different competitions from the past two years (the other six are the Open, Regionals and Games from 2011-2012). What I wanted to look at now was the average relative weight on metcons and the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) in each competition for both men and women. What I found was this:

For metcons, the average relative weight for women has been between 61-71% of the men's load. In total, the LBEL (which includes all events) has been between 61-69%. That's not a huge spread, but it could mean the difference between programming cleans at 95 lbs. and 110 lbs.

To see if there was an "optimal" relativity between men's and women's weights for CrossFit competitions, I decided to look into the (few) non-metcon lifting events we've had in those competitions. In those seven competitions, there have been three max snatches, two max cleans, one max thruster, one max bench and one 5-rep max deadlift. Taking the average of the field in each of those events, the women's results were between 51-65% of the men's. The 51% was on the bench at the Outlaw Open - my theory on the bench being so much lower is that a lot of emphasis is placed on the bench in many men's sports, including football (just a theory though). Other than bench, all others were between 58-65%. Considering that the average female competitor at the 2012 Games weighed a shade under 75% of the average male competitor, I'd say those are some damn impressive strength numbers.

If those maxes are a decent indication - and I think they are - then the programming should generally be looking to keep the women's weights at around 60-62% of the men's. And in fact, things appear to be moving toward that. In 2011, the women's loads in the Open, Regionals and Games were between 66-71% of the men's (using either LBEL or average metcon weight); in 2012, they were between 61% and 68%. At the Outlaw Open, the LBEL was 62% of the men's and the average metcon load was 65%.

This all assumes that the goal is to make the women's events just as challenging for their field as the men's events are to their field. For the most part, bodyweight movements are not scaled at all for women, which helps explains why in the 2012 Games, the average women's time on metcons was still about 20% slower than the men's. But perhaps that's not a problem. I think a lot of the draw for women's competition is seeing these women doing virtually the same thing as the fittest men in the world. I'd venture to say the top women are about as proficient at muscle-ups as the top men were just 3 or 4 years ago, if not more proficient. And at the Outlaw Open, the average max-rep set of pull-ups (after two miles of running and a 5-rep max deadlift) for the women was 33, just 9 behind the men.

Outlaw Open Notes:

The Outlaw Open is the first non-HQ sponsored competition that I've analyzed, so I thought it would be interesting to see how it compared to the Open, Regionals and Games, and also, what we can learn about the athletes who competed there (and there were some heavy hitters).

First, this won't come as much of a shock, but the Outlaw Open was heavy. Real heavy. The average relative weight on metcons for the men's competition was a 1.45*, which is 23% higher than the highest we've seen in the Games or Regionals. To give you a feel of what a 1.45 means, these are the types of weights you'd see in an average metcon:

Clean/Jerk - 195
Snatch - 145
Deadlift - 350
Thruster - 160
Overhead squat - 165
Back squat - 275
Front squat - 232 (we actually saw 250 in a metcon here)

The average weight for the women's competition was 0.95, which is higher than the average load in the men's Open in 2011. You may want to read that last sentence again to let it sink in.

In terms of LBEL, which takes into account max-effort events as well as the portion of the competition that was weighted/unweighted, the men's Outlaw Open came in at 0.94. That's just a shade below the 2012 Regionals, the highest in an HQ competition. The LBEL gives a better indication of whether a competition "favors" bigger athletes, so the inclusion of more bodyweight movements (in total the split was 50/50 between bodyweight and lifts) helped to balance things out. It's interesting to note that the men's CrossFit Invitational had an LBEL of 1.20, although that was a team competition so it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

As far as the types of movements involved*, here's how the Outlaw Open stacked up against the Open, Regionals and Games the past two years.

This kind of blew my mind that an Outlaw competition actually included Olympic lifts as a relatively modest portion of the scoring (I did take into account the points available on each event). So while the weight levels may have been most similar to the Regionals, the types of movements were distributed much more like the Games.

So what can we learn from the Outlaw Open? Well, clearly given the level of competition, anyone finishing well has to come away feeling good about their preparations for the upcoming season. I tend to think this will be most predictive of performance at the Regional level (vs. the Open or the Games), although we didn't see any lighter, higher-rep, grinding metcons, and the Regionals have had one of those the past two years. But if the Regionals are once again heavy, I think you'll see the top athletes from this competition with a good shot to get to the Games. Did someone say "vindication for Matt Hathcock?" We shall see...

*Assumptions on base weights for non-standard movements:
Wheelbarrow - 240 (same as deadlift)
Double KB thruster - 44 each arm (assumes DB's are 2.25x as difficult as a barbell, and KB's are 1.1x as difficult as a DB)
Double KB snatch - 40 each arm (same assumption)
Barbell step-up - 95 (this one was purely a judgement call based on watching the athletes a bit)
I'm always looking for more data to refine these base weights, so let me know if you have reason to believe these are out of line.

**If you've read my last post, you'll see that that I now have eliminated "Medicine Ball Lifts." I moved wall-balls into KB/DB lifts (I felt they are most similar to a DB thruster) and moved all other movements involving a medicine ball/slam ball (medicine ball cleans, ball slam, GHD ball toss, etc.) to "Uncommon Crossfit Movements."