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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Quick Hits: Open Week 4 Initial Thoughts

Despite our best efforts, neither I nor any of the commenters nailed 13.4 exactly with our predictions, but we were awfully close. As I (and probably many of you) expected, things got heavier and shorter this week. Personally, I expected them to go even heavier, but then again, it's the Open and surely HQ is trying to keep things inclusive.

So without further ado, let's move on to my thoughts on 13.4 (and a little analysis):

  • I think you'll see a lot of folks try this one twice. I know I plan to retry it. With only 7 minutes to work with and an unusual rep scheme, I think strategy can play a big role. Anyone who watched the Chris Spealler-Graham Holmberg demo on Wednesday saw that Graham went way too hard out of the gates and paid for it. However, I felt like I let myself go too far the other way: pacing too much early on simply doesn't leave you enough time to make up ground late. I got a score of 85 but I'm going to give it another go tomorrow.
  • Strategy aside, I think for the elite athletes, this workout comes down to who has the biggest engine. The clean & jerks aren't heavy enough that there's really a risk of failing a rep, but they're heavy enough that going unbroken isn't feasible after the early rounds. The key is who can pick the bar up a split-second faster each rep in those rounds of 15 and 18.
  • I'm surprised HQ decided to stick the clean and jerk first on this workout, if for no other reason than it does eliminate from the competition any athletes who can't clean and jerk 135/95 pounds. It's not an excessive load, but at the same time, sticking the toes-to-bar first would allow almost everyone to continue on. But I'd also like to expand on the design of this work out more:
Although we saw Graham struggle on the toes-to-bar, I believe that the design of the workout puts more emphasis on the clean and jerk. Similarly to what I did with 13.2, I watched videos of three athletes completing the workout with similar scores* and timed each of their rounds. Using this data, I got some rough averages for the speed of both the clean and jerk and toes-to-bar. These averages allowed me to do the leveraging analysis I discussed in my post "Why It (Usually) Pays To Be Well-Rounded."

Below is a chart showing the expected score of an athlete with the average rates of speed, then also two other scenarios: one with the clean and jerk speed decreased by 20% and the toes-to-bar speed increased by 20%, and another the toes-to-bar speed decreased by 20% and the clean and jerk speed increased by 20%.

So what this is saying is that if you're slower on the clean and jerks, it's very difficult to make up for it on the toes-to-bar. However, the opposite is not true. Going 20% slower on the toes-to-bar and 20% faster on the clean and jerks actually produces a higher score than being average on both of them. Part of this is due to the fact that a 135-lb. clean and jerk is simply harder than a toes-to-bar, yet both are valued the same. But another factor is that the clean and jerk comes up first, which means that most athletes will end up doing more clean and jerks than toes-to-bar when it's all said and done (all three of these athletes did). Let's look at the same leveraging analysis, but assuming the reps scheme was reversed (toes-to-bar, then clean and jerk).

You can see that the clean and jerks are still emphasized more so than the toes-to-bar, but they are much more even than with the original rep scheme. This isn't to say that the original rep scheme is bad, it's just saying that clean and jerks are clearly valued more than toes-to-bar. But perhaps that was HQ's intention.

One last set of graphs, just because I thought it was interesting. Here are the speeds for the three athletes on each movement as they progressed through the workout. Notice how much the clean and jerk speed degrades after the first 20 reps, yet the toes-to-bar stay much flatter. Even Graham didn't drop off by as much on his toes-to-bar as he did on the clean and jerks.

That's it for now. Good luck to all for the rest of week 4 and I'll see you Monday night for our last SWAG of the season.

*Due to time constraints, I'm just focusing on this workout from the perspective of high-level athletes (this is not me). The three athletes I used were Holmberg, Spealler and Travis Stoetzel (he had the highest score with a video submission at the time I wrote this). They averaged a score of 106. For athletes shooting for a score of 75, we should use different average speeds to break this down, which would produce a different result. However, I believe you'd find that the emphasis is even more on the clean and jerk for an athlete shooting for a lower score.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fun With SWAGs: What Will 13.4 Be?

Welcome to week 4 of the 2013 Open. After a disappointing showing with my scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG) last week, I'm dialed in and ready to roll for week 4. But first, I wanted to address a question from the comments about my post on points needed to regionals. I think it's a topic that actually feeds nicely into the prediction for this week.

Reader Brian Gresham pointed out that we're seeing pretty low point totals for the top 48 athletes in most regions compared to what I had been projecting. For instance, the 48th place male in the Central East region has 211 points, which is still about 400 points shy of my 'mid' prediction through 5 weeks. What are some possible reasons for this? Well, first, I think the fact that we only have two years of data makes it tough to be accurate, especially when most regions are substantially bigger than the biggest region in 2012 or 2011. Secondly, I think I'll probably re-visit this model next year and consider fitting a square-root (or some over concave down curve), because the slope probably flattens out as the regions get bigger and bigger. Third, let's keep in mind that we've only had three weeks, and these point totals could jump up a lot in the final two weeks. Still, if I'm a betting man, I'm betting my models over-predicted.

But that being said, a big reason for this is the programming this year. The three workouts have all been relatively similar, especially compared to the first three workouts last year. Remember, if you programmed Fran for 5 straight workouts, you'd probably be looking at a very low point total to finish 48th because the results would be really similar every week. Here's what we've seen through 3 weeks in 2011, 2012 and 2013:

2011: Time domains of 10, 15, 5. A couplet, triplet and single modality (if you count C&J as one movement). One very heavy workout that really mixed up the standings, plus one workout that relied heavily on double-unders, which always can shake things up.

2012: Time domains of 7, 10, 18. Two single-modalities and a triplet. One workout completely favoring smaller athletes and one athlete completely favoring heavier athletes. This definitely leads to big variation in points week-to-week.

2013: Time domains of 17, 10, 12. Two triplets and a couplets. The burpees on 13.1 seemed to hold back some of the pure strength folks (even Olympic games weightlifter Chad Vaughn barely cracked 150). No extremely heavy workouts, no extremely light workouts (though 13.2 was all about conditioning).

Clearly through 3 events, 2013 has had the most homogenous programming. In fact, through 3 events last year, the 48th place male in the Central East actually had 308 points despite a field that was half the size of this year's field. I don't think the programming has been bad, and in fact, I've argued in the past that testing single modalities in the Open isn't a great idea for exactly the reason that they can allow athletes who aren't as well-rounded to shake things up too much. There are only 5 workouts, so we want ones that tell us a lot about the athletes.

Now, what does that mean for 13.4? Well, looking at that comparison of 2011-2013, we can see what's missing from this year's programming: short and heavy. The average time has been 13:00, compared to the 2-year average of 11:00. The load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) through 3 events this year is about .41 for men and .25 for women, which is below the 2-year averages of .48 and .31. The average relative weight also is low at .81 and .50, compared to 2-year averages of .96 and .62. Not that HQ is necessarily thinking in terms of these exact numbers, but I think it's a reasonable assumption that by the end of week 5, we'll end up with similar numbers to the past two years.

Let's also consider what movements are still on the table, with the number of times they've appeared in past Opens in parentheses: pull-up (2), thruster (2), toes-to-bar (2), clean (1), overhead squat (1), push-up (1). For the sake of judging, I'm going to pray they don't put in push-ups. So that leaves the other 5 movements. I also highly doubt we'll see 11.6/12.5 repeated again, since they just repeated 12.4. So, with all that in mind, here's what I got for 13.4:

AMRAP 6 of 3 squat clean thrusters (155/100), 9 pull-ups (chest-to-bar) - squat clean & jerks are allowed

Feel free to throw in your best SWAG in the comments. I promise a serious high-five if and when we meet if you get it right. Good luck to everyone on 13.4!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quick Hits: Open Week 3 Initial Thoughts

After hinting early on that there might be a repeat workout again this year, HQ delivered this week by repeating 12.4 as 13.3. I thought they might have considered 13.1 to be a "repeat," since it was just a mash-up of 12.1 and 12.2, but obviously they wanted to go with an exact duplicate this week. My thoughts:

  • I wasn't too upset that they picked this one to repeat. It's a workout where you can certainly make big strides over last year by fixing one or two weaknesses. For me, I was able to go much more smoothly on the wall balls and double-unders and save a lot more energy for muscle-ups. I scored 253 compared with 246 and 243 on two attempts last year. Part of that was strategy, no doubt, but I'd like to think that some improved fitness contributed as well.
  • After the judging fiascos from 13.2*, I'm glad HQ decided to go with a workout that was lot more easier to judge. Sure, depth is always tough to judge on squats, but for the top dogs, we're talking about muscle-ups making the big difference, and those are hard to cheat. I'm glad we saw Kristan Clever called out on the big kips a few times during the demo. I have nothing against Clever, but it's nice to see the judges willing to call out the sport's top athletes. We need things like this.
  • You could certainly argue that there is no need for the restriction on the height of the feet on muscle-ups, but in my opinion it's a good rule. The muscle-up is meant to be an upper body movement, and this keeps it that way. If you want to have uprises in the competition, fine, but they can be a separate movement, just as the snatch and clean and jerk are two different movements despite starting and ending in the same spot. Everything in CrossFit doesn't always have to be purely about functionality. Otherwise we'd have no need for the rules regarding squat depth, because life rarely demands you bend your knees to an arbitrary angle. 
  • Continuing on this train of thought (sorry, rambling a bit here), let's treat this sport as what it is: a sport. It's an attempt to find the fittest athletes in the world, but at the end of the day, we're finding the best CrossFitter. They can be called the "fittest man/woman on Earth," but let's not get carried away in trying to prove this in any sort of absolute terms. It's a fantastic sport, but it's not a science experiment.
  • OK, back to 13.3. I had forgotten how critical the accuracy component can be in the wall ball. For me, and many long-time CrossFitters, hitting the wall ball target consistently has become second nature. But for many new athletes, or those who have recently moved up to a heavier ball, achieving an accurate toss can prove difficult. Over the course of 150 wall balls, a lack of accuracy really adds up, not only in terms of missed reps but reps that are more difficult than they need to be because the ball didn't rebound back smoothly.
  • That being said, I'd love to see HQ throw in wall balls at a different height at the Regional or Games level. These top athletes have no trouble hitting the 10'/9' target, so why not test their accuracy on an different height? Multiple heights in the same workout? Perhaps ball tosses over an object, as opposed to at an object? And let's face it, watching even the best athletes in the world do regular old wall balls just isn't that exciting.
Well, that's it for now. I'll be back on Monday night to try and redeem myself after my last scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG) was basically a big swing and a miss on 13.3. Let's see if we can't get a bit closer this week. And feel free to chime in with your prediction. If you get it right, I'll reward you with a high five if we ever meet.

*For those not aware, Josh Golden was disqualified after posting a score of 387 (tied for tops in the world). Although the workout was validated at an affiliate, a video surfaced showing this performance with a substantial number of reps not up to standard. HQ decided to disqualify him based on this video, and of course the internet then exploded. Also, earlier today, Danielle Sidell's score of 420 (which was tops in the world by nearly 40 reps) was removed due to box jumps that were not up to standard. No video has been released publicly, but I have to believe that if HQ was willing to invalidate a score that no one else will ever see, it must have been obviously sub-standard. So in summary, the top men's score in the world and the top women's score in the world were both invalidated. That's generally not a good thing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fun with SWAGs: What Will 13.3 Be?

Hello, all. First off, before I get into the fun part (making a semi-educated guess on the next workout), I'd like to briefly address the controversy surrounding some of the top scores on 13.2. For those not aware, the top men's score of 387 (Josh Golden) has been invalidated by HQ, thereby disqualifying him from competition. Additionally, there has been a major storm brewing regarding a score of 420 posted by Danielle Sidell, although there is no video evidence (yet) for that score. Here are a few quick comments regarding the situation:

  • First of all, I am glad HQ invalidated the Golden score. I feel terrible that he had to be eliminated entirely, as he clearly has excellent capacity, but their hands were tied on this one. The push presses in particularly were egregious (the first one was a snatch and then the rest never touched his chest), and on nearly every single box jump there was no control on the top of the box. Yes, his hips were open, but his center of gravity never made it anywhere near the box, so he was basically falling backward on every one.
  • Unfortunately, this obviously illustrates a big problem with the Open set-up: there could be thousands of these scores floating around that won't be caught. Now, there is even less incentive for anyone to post video. It's a shame, because there are some very legit performances out there (I watched Kristin Holte's video of 382 and Sam Briggs' video of 383 and they were on the money). In the end, the top athletes will be put through a legit test at regionals, and no one will sneak through to the Games on shady reps, but for those working to qualify for regionals, this could have a big impact.
  • That being said, I tend to have faith in most individuals. I truly believe the vast, vast majority of people are trying their best to hold themselves and others at their affiliates to standard. A workout like this really makes it tough because there is a limit to how fast you can do these movements legitimately, and for the top athletes, the only way to push beyond the top scores is to cut corners. There's simply no margin. I think most of us now agree that the design of the workout was not ideal for the high-level athletes.
  • I'm not sure there's a simple solution to this in the future, but I certainly hope HQ will consider some options to keep the regional-level competitors honest. I saw a suggestion to have random video submissions required for athletes that qualify for regionals. I think something along these lines would be a good start. Judging movement is going to be subjective to some extent - but we need to see that the athlete is not blatantly short-cutting movements before we allow them to take a spot away from someone else.
  • For the rest of us, I think it's easy to get bogged down by all the negativity, but by and large, the Open should be fun. Remember that this is a very new sport, and there are certain to be logistical issues like this in its infancy. Keep yourself honest, post your best score and by all means, call out the scores that are not legitimate - but keep it fun. And watch that video of Sam Briggs to remind yourself that greatness can be achieved on these workouts without cutting corners.
Now, onto the fun part. Let's put together a scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG) about 13.3!

"Science" first. Here are the movements that I believe are still on the table, with the number of times they have occurred in previous Opens in parentheses: thruster (2), pull-up (2), double-under (2), ring muscle-up (2), toes-to-bar (2), wall-ball (2), clean (1), overhead squat (1), push-up (1). To make things easier, let's again ignore movements that have never occurred in the Open (although bar muscle-ups, pistols and HSPU's, among others, certainly could show up). Now as far as time domain, I see this one being sub-10:00, since we've been medium-to-long on the first two. As light as the deadlifts were in 13.2, the average relative weight through 2 workouts is actually only slightly below average (0.93 compared to 0.96), but I still believe we'll see things get heavier in 13.3. Again, I still do not see HQ repeating 11.5/12.6, so let's throw thrusters or pull-ups into this one. And lastly, since we've already seen 5 movements in 2 workouts, compared to 2 at this point last year, let's assume this one will be a couplet and not a triplet (I still doubt we'll see a single-modality this year).

So, with that being said, here is the official CFG Analysis SWAG for 13.3:

AMRAP 7 of 10 overhead squats (115/75), 10 chest-to-bar pull-ups

/vomits in mouth

And, of course, we will see Kristan Clever win by a score of 201-196.

Enjoy the Open everyone!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Quick Hits: Week 2 Initial Thoughts

Well, I didn't exactly hit 13.2 spot-on with my scientific wild-ass guess, but we're in the same ballpark. I haven't tried this one yet, but from watching a few videos, doing a bit of statistical work and talking with friends, here are my thoughts on 13.2:

  • This one looks to be all about conditioning and efficiency. Almost all the top athletes are going unbroken on everything (even a lot of athletes scoring under 300 are still going unbroken). This is probably the first workout I can remember in the Open where that's happening.
  • I don't hate the concept of a lighter workout like this, but personally, I with they would have used a slightly higher loading and/or more reps per movement to force most athletes to break more. I'm not sure I believe an athlete is significantly fitter than another just because they can cycle each box jump 0.1 seconds faster. We've already seen that Annie Thorisdottir's seemingly untouchable score has been beaten by quite a few athletes, but I'm not sure if I believe that means much other than these athletes set their weights and boxes up closer together and cycled box jumps a hair faster. They're all amazing scores, I'm just not sure the separation at the top means a whole lot.
  • The deadlift load in particular seems a little out of whack. Based on the work I did in looking at relative weights a while ago, the deadlift is a .48 relative weight for men and a .31 relative weight for women. These are both the lightest of any barbell lift in the Open, Regionals or Games dating to 2011, by quite a wide margin (next lightest was the 155/100 deadlift in 11.2, which was 0.65/0.42).
  • As a corollary to the last point, I think we're learning that HQ isn't going to program a workout in the Open that requires two bars. I think they kind of got stuck going so light on the deadlift because they wanted to keep the push press at a moderate weight.
There is also one larger point I'd like to expand on. The consensus among people I've talked to is that this one comes down to the box jumps. Is there math to back that up? Yep. I looked at how much each was leveraged (see my post "WOD Design and Why It (Usually) Pays to be Well-Rounded" for explanation). First, here are the results for an elite athlete:

I got the minutes per station assumptions from watching and timing the performances of Annie Thorisdottir, Lindsay Valenzuela and Kristin Holte (currently 5th place in the world on this one, and she had a video available). I timed a few rounds of each athlete from the beginning and end of the workout, then averaged them to get a decent starting point. To calculate the time at each station, I started the clock for each movement when the prior movement finished, so any rest time gets added to the movement you are about to start (resting after box jumps counts toward the push press, for example).

The scores are listed in terms of rounds completed, and 12.19 (the baseline) is about 338 reps. Again, you can read my earlier post for a full description of exactly how this calculation works, but what the leverage factors are saying is that an athlete who is slower on box jump will be punished most here (the highest leverage). In fact, this is saying an athlete who is 20% slower on push press but 10% faster on deadlift and box jumps will actually do better than the baseline athlete.

Is this still true for athletes going considerably slower? I think so. Here are some results that are based on a couple of male athletes I watched who each got about 7.5 rounds.

Again, the box jump is the key. If you convert these minutes per station to a reps per minute, you'll see that each movement can be done at a similar speed, given this rep scheme. That means the box jump station is simply going to take longer, and therefore more ground can be gained there.

I should add a caveat that due to time constraints, I am basing my assumptions on watching a limited number of athletes. But I feel confident that the underlying point (that the box jumps are most critical) would hold even if we had a more robust sample to generate these assumptions. 

So what we have is a cardio-intensive workout that puts a significant emphasis on box jumps for most athletes. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends, to some extent, on whether this was what HQ intended to test.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fun with SWAGs: What Will 13.2 Be?

Ok, it's time to cut the crap and make some bold predictions. And since we don't have enough data to support any sort of reasonable estimate, we'll go with the next-best thing: a scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG). Margin of error: a freaking ton. Reward if I nail it: bragging rights for a year and the possibility that people may consider me a wizard. Let's go for it!

Ok, first for the "science."  We can rule out snatch and burpees since they appeared in 13.1 and we haven't seen a movement appear in back to back WODs before. Let's assume the movements will be one(s) that have appeared in the Open before, which limits us to basically 12 movements (see my post "What to expect from the 2013 Open and beyond" for this list). Based on the fact that 13.1 was relatively long (3rd longest of 12 Open WODs), my assumption is that 13.2 will be much shorter. 13.1 had some heavy and light loading, plus some body weight movement, so I can't really infer much about the loading for 13.2. We had a couplet to start, so I'm going to rule out a couplet in 13.2 (probably not justified, but just go with it). I'm doubting a single modality because I doubt HQ wants to put that much stock in any of the other movements remaining. Also, I don't think they'll repeat 11.6/12.5 again, so I say they throw in thrusters or pull ups here.

So, with that as our background, let's make something up. Here goes:

AMRAP 8 of 25 double-unders, 10 deadlifts (225/135), 10 chest-to-bar pull-ups

So there you have it. Get to work on your double-unders, deads and pull-ups. You can take that to the bank!

Oh, and Annie beats Lindsey by a score of 402-388. Guaranteed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How Few Points Do You Need to Make Regionals?

[Note: I goofed the first time I posted this (Monday afternoon), forgetting that 2011 had 6 events, not 5. The final results in this updated post are similar, but some of the methodology had to change. I'm on vacation, so I'm doing my best to post this revised version quickly despite a pretty slow internet connection.]

Today I’d like to take on a topic that may be irrelevant to 95% of the competitors, but which is of great consequence to the remaining 5%. Although we know exactly how well athletes overall must place in order to reach the regionals (ignoring for a moment the vagueness surrounding whether HQ will invite a few extra athletes in certain regions), we do not know exactly how well an athlete needs to do in each particular workout in order to finish well enough overall. In fact, we cannot know this for sure, no matter how much research we do and how robust a model we might use to predict it.

For the purposes of this post, let’s assume that an athlete needs to finish in the top 48 in his/her region to qualify for the regionals. To be sure, placing 48th or better in every workout would guarantee this (that’s 240 points). But given the nature of our sport, we know it’s not necessary to place that high in every event. Because of the way athletes’ performances vary between events, athletes finishing toward the top of the standings on each event will tend to finish higher than the average of their individual event placements. Conversely, athletes near the bottom will tend to finish lower than the average of their individual event placements. So for athletes near the top, the question is, just how far can you afford to fall in each event and still keep your hopes alive? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for about 80% of the athletes, their first event score alone will be too many points to qualify for regionals. That’s the nature of the points-per-place system: there are some holes you simply cannot dig yourself out of.
So how can we try to estimate the number of points necessary? Well, based on the data available, our best shot is to develop a model based on the number of competitors in each region to try to estimate the number of points you’ll need at the end of week 5. Without knowing any more about each region (are certain ones more top-heavy than others, for instance), this is really all we can base our estimate on. Let’s start by looking at what happened last year.

I went through each region’s 2012 results and recorded the following information: the point total of the 48th and 60th place athletes and the total number of competitors that competed in week 1. I did this separately for men and women. I’ll focus on the 48th place model for now but I’ll throw in some results for the 60th place model at the end, since it’s possible that HQ will end up taking athletes who finish that low. Below are scatter plots for both men and women, with the number of week 1 competitors on the x-axis and the 48th place points on the y-axis. (I apologize for the small charts. I'm posting this from a different computer and it's not letting me size the charts when I post them to the blog. Hopefully I can get them re-sized eventually.)

To me, the relationship looks roughly linear with an intercept near 300 or so. We know there is no way that the 48th place athlete can possibly score fewer than 240 points (mentioned earlier), even if there are only 60 or 70 athletes. From that point, however, the number of points needed rises as the field gets larger, and thus more competitive. We could simply slap a linear estimate on here and call it a day, but I think it might be a bit more complicated. I also decided to look at 2011 – would we see the same type of relationship there? Well, sort of. 

Below are scatter plots for the men in 2011 and 2012, each with their own linear fit on the graph to help illustrate the point. (Note: To get the 2011 points, I tried to get an estimate of what the points would have been after 5 weeks. Since I was a little strapped for time, I looked at the total points after 6 weeks and then scaled it back to about 75% of that number. That 75% figure was based on looking at a few regions and actually calculating out the rankings after 5 weeks. That would have been too time-consuming to do for every region, though.)


We can see that the intercept is lower for the 2011 group, but the slope of the line is steeper. It's tough to use 2011 to infer too much from these differences, however, because the region sizes were generally so much smaller in 2011.

So what do we do about predicting this year? Well, I decided to come up with three different models to provide a bit of a range. The first model is based solely off of 2012. This produces the "mid" estimate. Using all the data points from 2011 and 2012 produces a steeper line (the "high" estimate) that is higher for the larger groups but slightly lower for very small groups. The third model ("low" estimate) assumes that the slope of the line will continue to decrease in 2013, similarly to the way it did from 2011 to 2012. I repeated this process for the women as well.

Below is are the three men's models in graphical form.

For the men, the mean absolute error was 27 the 2012 model and 25 for the 2011-2012 combined model. For the women, the mean absolue error was 19 the 2012 model and 21 for the 2011-2012 combined model. Keep in mind those were the errors on the historical data; the tricky part here is estimating how well these models will translate to 2013.
There is no doubt that there is a bit of "fuzzy" math going on here due to the data limitations we're facing. But despite the difficulties in making these estimates, I think they do provide some insight into what types of scores you’ll need to make it to regionals. People tend to get concerned if they finish 100th or 150th in event 1, but realistically, in many larger regions you probably can still make it just by hitting those numbers each week. That being said, there’s no doubt I’d be sweating bullets those last few weeks if I was anywhere near the cutoff, so if you feel like you need to hit a workout two (or three) times, I won’t stand in your way.

Here are my final estimates. To use them, find the number of athletes in your region, then find that number (as closely as you can) on in the column on the left. For example, in my region, the Central East, we have about 4,800 men's athletes at the end of week 1, so my mid estimate is that 637 points (about 127 per week) will put you in 48th and 728 points (about 146 per week) will put you in 60th.

*Note: I think an interesting analysis for another day would be to look at the number of athletes in each region who actually impact the standings at the top. You could do this by removing each athlete from the competition and testing whether the point totals of the top 48 (or 60) athletes changed at all. This number of athletes would probably correlate much more strongly to the number of points needed to make regionals. However, a difficult task would be estimating this number for 2013 so we could make predictions. But it’s something to consider.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Quick Hits: Open Week 1 Initial Thoughts

This will just be a quick one, since we really don't have enough results in to draw a ton of conclusions, but I wanted to write up some thoughts on the first workout before I head out of town tomorrow morning. I've got a more detailed post planned looking at the number of points you'll likely need to score in order to make regionals. It's an interesting topic for sure, but for now, let's stick with Week 1.

So here we go, in no particular order:
  • I really like the programming here, especially as it compares to last year. Not that HQ was influenced in any way by my blog, but I'd like to quote my last post regarding WOD design: "For instance, something like AMRAP 10 of 10 snatches (95/65), 10 burpees will punish the specialist more so than AMRAP 7 of burpees followed by AMRAP 10 of snatches." Lo and behold, HQ actually puts up a workout that does punish the specialist more by setting up the workout this way. A little eerie, no? 
  • Thank you, HQ for implementing a tie-breaker. Although I'm sure there may be some bumps along the way with people inputting this incorrectly, the scoring is infinitely more fair to everyone involved. There is no more push to get that ONE REP that will make a 4,000-point difference. Also, the athletes who get that one or two snatches at the beginning of each new weight are now rewarded the way they should be, since all the athletes who tied just below them don't automatically get pushed up to the top end. 
  • Time will tell, but my feeling is that this workout punishes the "burpee-specialist" more than the "snatch-specialist." Most people can grind through the first 100 reps, but what will really separate a large majority of people will be that 30 snatches at 135/75. I'd like to do the type of leveraging analysis I talked about in my last post, but the varying weights on the snatch makes it a bit more complicated. Maybe we can do something with the results to look into this once they're complete.
  • As an athlete, I was surprised how much this workout hurt. I underestimated the "suck" factor of the burpees, and I'm not exactly sure why. Burpees are always terrible; I suppose that's the lesson here. For what it's worth, I got 154 reps (4 snatches at 165) and that will probably be my only attempt.
  • I'd be curious how HQ chose the weights for this. My guess was that when they set it up last year (12.2), they tried to base the weights on specific percentiles of the 1RM's that were listed. They are certainly out of line with the typical women's scaling (more reading on women's scaling in a prior post for those interested). It looks like we're seeing that for the top women, these weights are much easier than for the top men, which is consistent with what we saw last year. I could see someone like an Annie Thorisdottir or Lindsay Valenzuela hitting 20+ snatches at 120.
  • Now that the snatch and burpees have been combined, we're likely to see at least one more movement than we saw last year. My hope is that there are no single-modality workouts this year, because in my opinion, five workouts isn't enough to waste one of those on a single movement. Especially in light of how incredibly tight the competition is getting just to qualify for regionals, you need to test as many things as possible in order to select the best athletes.
As I noted above, my next post will look into how many points an athlete will likely need to reach regionals. Suffice it to say you don't need to be in the top 48 every week to finish there, but exactly how far you can fall in any given week is a tricky question to answer. Though it likely won't affect me,  a lot of athletes need to know what types of scores they can afford to post, and whether re-doing a workout (and wasting a training day) is a necessity.

Good luck to all the rest of week 1!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

WOD Design and Why It (Usually) Pays to be Well-Rounded

With the Open just a few short days away, I wanted to look at how the design of a CrossFit workout can affect the results we see in competition. I considered writing a last-minute manifesto on why HQ should not program 7 minutes of burpees for the first workout, but I've resigned myself the inevitability of that happening on Wednesday night, so let's just move on. (Reverse jinx right there? Maybe...)

It goes without saying that CrossFit is a sport that demands its athletes be strong in all areas of fitness. Any glaring weakness will eventually be exposed, and no one is winning the CrossFit Games (or even making it there) with a major deficiency in any area. That being said, simply because a movement comes up in a workout does not tell us exactly what type of emphasis is placed on it. In my earlier post "What to Expect From the 2013 Games and Beyond," I summarized all the movements used in the last two years of competition based on how much of the total score they represented. To do this, I assumed that in a workout with 3 movements, they were each worth 1/3 of the score. While this does give us a good idea of the value of each movement in aggregate, the truth is that it doesn't tell the whole story.

Consider two workouts, both comprised of thrusters and pull-ups. Workout A is 3 minutes of thrusters followed by 3 minutes of pull-ups, with the total number of reps as the score. Workout B is "Fran" (21-15-9 rounds of thrusters and pull-ups). Below are two charts showing how an athlete would fare given his/her rate of pull-ups per minute and his/her rate of thrusters per minute. The red cells represent better scores and the green cells represent poorer scores.

Look first at the top chart. You can see that the scores are identical along each diagonal, moving from top right to lower left. That's because you can exactly offset a deficiency in one movement with an equivalent improvement in the other one. Doing 30 pull-ups per minute and 20 thrusters per minute produces the same score as 25 per minute of each.

Now look at the chart for Fran. In this case, the best scores always occur when the athlete is balanced. Performing 25 thrusters per minute and 25 pull-ups per minute produces a time of 3.6 minutes (~3:36). Improving the pull-ups to 30 per minute but decreasing the thrusters to 20 per minute produces a time of 3.8 (~3:48). The reason for the discrepancy involves some pretty simple algebra.

In a workout where a certain number of reps has to be performed at each station, the time needed to finish a station is (reps needed) / (reps per minute). If we improve our speed by 20%, that lowers the time for that station to (1 / 1.2) = .83 times the original time. If we decrease our speed by 20%, it increases the time for that station by (1 / 0.8) = 1.25 times the original time. In total, our new time is ((.83 + 1.25) / 2) = 1.04 times the original time. So you can see the punishment for a poor movement is greater than the reward for a strong movement. In a workout where there is a fixed time domain per station, we don't have this effect.

One way to quantify this effect is to look at the drop in performance in a workout that occurs when we drop the speed of one movement by 20% and increase the other movement(s) by a total of 20%. So if there are three movements, we drop one by 20% and increase the other two by 10%. 

I'll also need to make some assumptions are necessary about the "base" speed for each movement. "Fran" was an easy example above because it's reasonable to assume that on average, thrusters and pull-ups take a similar amount of time for most athletes. That isn't necessarily the case with other workouts. My estimates for these base speeds for each movement are roughly based on my own results, but I also was trying to represent a relationship between the movements that is pretty typical for CrossFitters. But I will admit, there are no exact answers for this. Changing these assumptions based on the level of athlete will certainly change our answers, and I'll go more into that in a moment.

Let's look at a few workouts from the Open in years past. A few notes first: 
  • The result for each movement is what I'm calling "leverage." It represents the decrease in performance if we drop the speed of a given movement 20% and increase the others by 20% (in total).
  • I'm using a using a 20% decrease for each movement, but that's just an arbitrary choice. Any other choice (10%, 30%, 40%, etc.) would yield slightly different results, but the concept is the same. 
  • The term "Rate" here means the speed, in terms of stations per minute (it's just the inverse of the minutes per station, which I listed first because it's easier to comprehend).
  • I calculated the score as the number of stations, not the total number of reps. That's because all reps are not equal: one double-unders doesn't mean as much as one muscle-ups. All stations aren't necessarily equal, either, but it's better than simply counting reps.

OK, onto the results.

WOD 12.3 is pretty much a classic CrossFit workout. For most athletes, all three movements take a similar amount of time, although I think it's fair to say the push jerks were generally the slowest, especially as the workout wore on. You see that each movement is leveraged a decent amount, but athletes who struggled on push jerks were punished the most.

For WOD 11.1, based on the assumptions I've used, the snatch was the more critical movement, despite being the second of two movements. For athletes who have solid double-unders, they will almost certainly be slower on the snatches. This means that a deficiency on the snatch is really exposed, whereas the double-unders weren't punished too much, so long as the athlete didn't have a catastrophic weakness.

WOD 12.4 was an interesting case. The wall balls took up a big chunk of time for all athletes, while the double-unders should be comparatively quick for athletes who are pretty competent with them. For most athletes, the muscle-ups are going to be slow, especially at that point of the workout. But what is also key here is that the order of movements is critical. Athletes who struggle with wall balls will be punished hard, and they may not even make it to the double-unders or muscle-ups, hence we see the 7.5% leveraging factor. Conversely, the double-unders and muscle-ups were actually negatively leveraged, meaning this athlete would actually benefit if he/she got 20% slower at that movement but 10% faster at each of the other two. I'm sure that shorter athletes who may excel at muscle-ups but struggle with wall balls can probably relate to this fact.

Now let's look at 12.4 once more, but for an elite athlete who is gunning for about 1 full round.

You can see that for the elite athlete, the muscle-ups become much more important, while the wall balls aren't quite as critical as for the intermediate athlete. Still, though, slightly slower double-unders were not a problem if you could offset that deficiency with strengths elsewhere.

Now, I tend to prefer workouts like 12.3, where the stations have relatively similar time domains and no single movement can make or break the workout. However, I believe there are reasons for designing workouts where certain movements are leveraged significantly more than others. For one, since the Open is designed to be inclusive, the workouts will almost always start with the movement that is easier to complete for one rep. This allows the maximum number of athletes to compete. I'd be stunned if we ever see a workout in the Open start with muscle-ups.

Another issue is that certain movements are prone to have a wider range of speeds than others. For instance, wall balls are basically capped around 30-35 reps/minute due to gravity, so it takes more reps for athletes to really separate themselves. With something like muscle-ups, however, a set of 20 muscle-ups can separate even the best athletes in the world by quite a bit. So perhaps it makes more sense to design the workout so that the wall ball stations take twice as long as the muscle-up station. I notice this a lot with rowing: if you're not careful, the row can become a throwaway movement (as far as competition is concerned) unless you devote a considerable portion of the workout to that movement. The difference between a strong and weak rower just isn't that wide, even over something like 1,000 meters that takes more than 3 minutes.

So what can we take away from this? Well, personally, I learned a few things in doing this analysis, or at least put some numbers behind some things I (and likely others) sensed intuitively:

1) You can't offset any weakness by simply being stronger in another area. In general, it pays to shore up weaknesses across the board rather than improving in areas you are already strong.

2) This concept varies depending on the workout. In some cases, you can actually benefit from being particularly great in one area and weaker in others. Sometimes this means the workout isn't perfectly designed. However, it could be because HQ is programming the workout to account for the fact that certain movements take more time/reps to separate athletes than others.

3) Order matters in an AMRAP. We saw this clearly in WOD 12.4. And although I didn't show it as an example above, the thuster/pull-up ladder (WOD 11.6 & 12.5) also is a great example. For athletes with a base speed of 15 reps/minute on each movement (105 reps for the workout), the thrusters are leveraged at 5.7% and the pull-ups are leveraged at just 1.4%.

4) Testing movements together, with a required number of reps on each movement, will punish weaknesses more than testing them separately. For instance, something like AMRAP 10 of 10 snatches (95/65), 10 burpees will punish the specialist more so than AMRAP 7 of burpees followed by AMRAP 10 of snatches. (Sorry, I know I promised not to argue against the 7 minutes of burpees, but I couldn't resist...)

So these are some intriguing conclusions, but what can we do with this moving forward? Well, there are two ways I can see this type of analysis being applied moving forward:

1) Once a workout is released, athletes can start to understand what the keys to the workout will be. If we plug in some assumptions for a certain level of athlete, we can see how much each movement is leveraged based on the workout design. That might provide some insight on how to attack a workout. For 12.4, we can see that the hitting the gas on the wall balls might be worthwhile, even if the double-unders suffer a bit. Again, this may have been intuitive to many athletes/coaches, but seeing some numbers can help to clarify things.

2) We can assess what worked and didn't work in programming a competition. In theory, you could actually look back and calculate how long it took (on average) for athletes to complete each movement, and then use that information to get a clear picture of how much each movement truly was leveraged. Did you adequately test the movements you wanted to? Was the workout balanced? If not, was that by design? Just because a workout seemed friggin' awesome when you wrote it up doesn't mean it actually turned out to be a great test of fitness.

Anyway, that's all for today. Time permitting, I'm hoping to post something each week during the Open. No guarantees on exactly what those posts will look like or what type of analysis I'll be doing, other than to say I'll be talking about the Open. So pop on over this way from time-to-time during the week - it's got to be a healthier habit than leaderboarding.