Follow me on Twitter!

Monday, November 24, 2014

What to Expect from the 2015 Open

So I'm a little late on my annual "What to Expect" post this year, but you've still got about 3 months left before 15.1 is announced.  That means there's still plenty of time to fine-tune your game, work on your weaknesses and get yourself as prepared as possible for this year's Open.  To help you do that, this post gives you an overview of the type of programming you should expect to face.

For those familiar with my past "What to Expect" posts, nothing here should come as a major shock to you.  But I have updated the numbers based on what happened last year, and I've also got some thoughts on what might change this year due to the changes mentioned by Dave Castro following the CrossFit Invitational a few weeks ago.  For those of you who are new, this should be a good primer on what the first stage of the CrossFit Games competition is all about.  To be sure, it is quite different from what you may have seen on ESPN (hint: you probably won't be pushing any sleds or doing 315-lb. squat cleans for time).

The way this post will be laid out is the same as last year.  I'll pose some questions that many newbies might have, and I'll answer them as best I can based on the information we have from the 2011-2014 Opens.  As I have noted in the past, I won't be covering how you might want to train for the Open in this post, but rather what you should be training for.

Let's get started.

What movements will I need to do?

Fantastic question.  I like where your head is at.  Although the CrossFit Games is all about preparing for the "unknown and unknowable" (do they still use that tagline?), you can expect to face a small subset of movements in the Open.  By my count, there have been 52 different movements tested at the CrossFit Games finals, there have only been 15 tested in the Open.  The chart below shows how much value each of these movements has been given in the past four years, along with the best estimate of what might be to come this year.  All of the "best estimates" in this post give more weight to recent years, but they are influenced to some extent by all years dating back to 2011.

Last year's open had a little wider spread of movements than in the past, but still, you can see that historically, there are a few movements that are tested heavily again and again.  This year, you can expect about 60% of the points to come from six movements: snatch, burpee, thruster, pull-up, double-under and box jump.  Just in those six alone, you can see that there is a jumping theme.  All but the pull-up and thruster involve some sort of jump or explosive hip movement (and you could argue the thruster does, too, especially at higher weights).

It's also worth noting (for all you home-gym folks) that you may need a Concept 2 rower available to be able to compete in the Open.  From 2011-2013, nothing was required other than a barbell, weights, rings, a box and a pull-up bar, but in 2014 there was a workout that involved rowing.  This came as a surprise to many, but now that it's been done once, don't be caught off-guard if it happens again.

In the previous chart, there was also a "Subcategory" listed for each lift (I know a wall ball isn't actually KB or DB, but I put it in there because it's a lift that doesn't use a barbell). Grouping movements by the subcategory can be useful, because it reduces some of the noise and gives us an idea of the type of movements that will be used. For instance, cleans haven't actually been used that much in the Open the past three years, but I wouldn't recommend skipping them in training - the movement pattern is similar to that of a snatch, which is highly valued. Below is a table similar to the one above, but looking at subcategories instead of specific movements.

The big theme here has not changed since 2011.  The focus of the Open is on two things: Olympic-style lifts and basic bodyweight gymnastics. This is partly due to equipment restrictions in the Open, but partly due to the fact that HQ seems to really value those two types of movements when making the first cut of athletes.

For those wondering why I have a category for "Uncommon CrossFit Movements" that has 0% value each year, it's because that category contains things like sled pushes, sandbag carries and swimming that have appeared at the Games but are rarely seen at other levels of competition.

How heavy will the lifts be?

Two years ago, I came up with the concept of average relative weights last year as a way to understand this topic a bit better. There is more background in this post from 2013, but here's the concept: depending on the movement, a certain weight may be heavy, medium or light, so I have normalized the weights prescribed on each workout so that we can get a fairer indication of how "heavy" the lift was. After looking at the normalized loads that were prescribed in the past three years, I applied the average relative weight we've seen to the various lifts to show the average expected weights in this year's Open.

The above graph is useful, particularly for new competitors who'd like to get a feel for what they will have to handle in the Open workouts.  However, there are some other factors to consider:
  • These are only averages. The "heaviest" load required in the Open was a 165-lb. clean and jerk (squat clean and jerk technically), which is roughly equivalent to a 130-lb. snatch, a 290-lb. deadlift or a 145-lb. overhead squat. Last year, I said that HQ would likely never require something that heavy again, but with the scaled division being added this year, I actually think it is possible (but unlikely) to see something that heavy required in an Open workout this year.
  • Once in the each of the past three years, HQ has programmed workouts where the weight starts light (to allow everyone to participate) but gets progressively heavier.  Expect this to happen again in 2015.  For those looking to make the Regionals, you'll likely need to be able to comfortably move weights that are about 75% heavier than the loads shown above (for instance, 165-lb. snatch for men).
  • From 2011-2013, HQ never really went heavy on a "heavy" lift (like the deadlift), rather going with heavier loads on the Olympic lifts.  Last year in 13.3 (deadlift/box jump), they showed that you need to have plenty of weights on hand.  Anyone qualifying for Regionals would have needed to handle plenty of deadlifts at 315 for men or 225 for women.
The chart below illustrates the distribution of weights that have been used in the past.  For workouts where the weights got progressively heavier, the weight used for this chart was the average that would be lifted for a typical Regional-level athlete.  Above each bar on the chart, I've given some examples of the type of movement/loading combinations that would fall into that range.

What types of WODs will be programmed? Will there be any ridiculous chippers like 121201?

First of all, there will not be anything like that workout.  There should never be anything like that.  If you are a gym owner, do not program 20 different movements into one workout.  Please.

Anyway, HQ has made it clear that they believe couplets and triplets are the bread-and-butter, so I'm sorry if you're really awesome at "Filthy Fifty," because it's probably not getting programmed.  We did see a little more variety last year with 14.4 and 14.5, but still, it's going to be pretty straightforward.

In the past four years, we've seen 21 workouts:
  • 20 of them included either one, two or three movements.  One involved five movements.
  • All were metcons (no max-effort lifts)
  • 18 had a fixed time limit, and 2 had a time limit that could be extended if you completed a certain amount of work in the first time limit.  Only one has had a required amount of work.
  • All fixed-time workouts have been between 4 and 20 minutes.  Anyone competing at Regionals would have finished the "for time" workout in less than 15 minutes.
Is it impossible that a max-effort workout will be used this year?  No, not after seeing a few of those in the team series.  But I still wouldn't count on it.  Work on your metcons if you want to qualify for regionals.

The chart below helps to get a sense visually of what combinations of loading, duration and number of movements we have seen in the Open.  Each ball represents a workout, and the size of the ball indicates the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) of that workout. The LBEL is a metric that tells us not only how heavy the loads were, but what percentage of the workout was based on lifting. So if the workout had 135-lb. cleans and burpees, the average relative weight is 1.00 but the LBEL is 1.00x50% = 0.50.  The left-right arrows indicate the time domain was variable; the plus-symbol indicates the weight was variable.  In those cases, I've used the average time/load for Regional competitors.

You'll notice that as the workouts get longer, the weights tend to decrease and the number of movements tends to increase. This is also typically what we see in CrossFit programming on the main site and in most gyms. For instance, programming 7 minutes of burpees (Open 12.1) is torturous, but not unreasonable; programming 20 minutes of burpees is a recipe for Rhabdo.

Are past years really a good predictor of what's to come this year?

In many ways, they are.  We have not seen big shifts in the types of movements tested, and the loading has not drastically changed in the past four years of the Open (although it has been declining slowly each year).  There were a couple of curveballs last year with the 5-movement chipper (14.4) and the for-time workout (14.5), but those workouts were still not wildly different than what we had seen in 2011-2013.

That being said, the introduction of the scaled division this year could change things.  It's all speculation at this point, but as I said a few weeks ago, HQ may be more willing to push the required loading up a bit in the Rx division.  I'd also say that we could see some slightly more challenging movements (such as handstand push-ups).  That being said, I doubt that HQ is going to change the over ally feel of the Open dramatically.  The Open is likely still going to be a test of conditioning primarily, with a modest amount of strength required in order to move on.  The big weights will probably come into play more at the Regional level, and the truly unexpected movements and workouts will be reserved for the Games.

I hope that new and old athletes alike can get some value out of this.  As I've said before, I'm not going to tell you how to train, but I'll try to help you understand what you should be training for.

*Note that for this chart, I considered Open 11.1 a single-modality despite technically being a clean and jerk. Also, in calculating the LBEL for the snatch workouts with varying weights, I took the average weight lifted for someone who reached regionals. This reflects the fact that, while only 75 lbs. is required, for a regional-level athlete, they'll be moving somewhere around 130 lbs. on average throughout the workout.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quick Hits: What Impact Will Next Year's Games Season Changes Have?

In a surprise announcement following the conclusion of the 2014 CrossFit Invitational, Dave Castro unveiled some changes to next year's Games season.  The details are still a little sketchy, and it sounds like HQ may be leaving themselves a little wiggle room to change their minds, but on the surface, the changes seem pretty substantial.

There were three key changes that Castro mentioned:

  1. Add a scaled division to the Open
  2. Limit each of the current regions to somewhere around 20 athletes qualifying for the second level of competition (formerly "Regionals")
  3. Regions will then be combined (likely in pairs) to produce "Super-Regionals," each of which will qualify 5 athletes to the Games
First of all, I'll say that like many of the changes HQ has made in the past, I am initially skeptical.  That being said, many of those past controversial decisions (moving the Games from Aromas, partnering with Reebok, replacing in-person sectionals with the Open) have worked out well.  So I won't pass judgment just yet.

But that doesn't mean we can't start trying to assess what the impact will be (without labeling that impact "good" or "bad").  I'll address each of the three changes and what impact I believe they will have next season.

Add a scaled division to the Open
  • The reason has to be money, right?  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that.  But HQ is likely seeing that there is an untapped market of athletes looking to compete who may not have quite the capacity to handle the Open.  
  • That being said, I have to believe that market is not huge.  What I would expect is a lot of beginner-level athletes who would otherwise have entered the Open will switch to the scaled division.  I'm not sure there will be a ton of increased participation solely due to this division.  Measuring this will be tricky, to be sure.
  • For the Rx division, my guess is this means the loading could increase a bit, but what is more likely is that HQ will start workouts with heavier loads.  For instance, 14.3 was a heavy workout, but it started very light.  It wasn't until the third round that things even got close to a 1.00 relative weight.  I'd expect that workouts like 11.3 (AMRAP-5 of squat clean thrusters at 165/110) could be fair game again, as well as something like the snatch ladder in the Team Series, which started at 135/95.
  • I don't expect the types of movements tested to change much.  I believe HQ still wants the Open to be a test of conditioning with mostly basic movements.  They will leave the more advanced movements and extremely heavy loads to regionals and the Games.  Maybe we'll see some handstand push-ups thrown in, but I still wouldn't expect rope climbs or dumbbell snatch.

Limit regions to 20 qualifying spots out of the Open
  • Yikes.  The Open will be even more cutthroat this year, and absolutely only the very serious athletes will be contending for spots in the next stage of competition.  
  • My fear is that this further intensifies any potential judging problems.  Athletes are going to be pushing the boundaries on range-of-motion in order to get into that top 20, which means more likelihood of complaints from those who don't approve.  The good news is that HQ requires video for all qualifiers, so the evidence will be out there.
  • Here is the list of 2014 Games-qualifying athletes who would not have made it past the Open last year under this format:
    • Quinton Z Van Rooyen (Africa, 40th)
    • Tyson Takasaki (Canada West, 22nd)
    • Cody Anderson (North West, 45th)
    • Kenneth Leverich (Southern California, 31st)
    • Paul Tremblay, who competed on Team Canada at the Invitational, would have been right on the border in 20th.
    • Interestingly, no females would have missed the cut.  This is likely due to the fact that the women's field still doesn't have quite the depth of the men's field.
  • It will be interesting if this number varies by region.  Will 20 athletes still qualify from Africa? Will only 20 be allowed from the South East, which had nearly 5,900 athletes complete all five workouts last year?

Combine regions to make "Super-Regionals"
  • It seems this was done to address some of the issues that have arisen the past few years with some elite athletes from talent-rich regions missing out on the Games despite posting results that would have won many other regions (Graham Holmberg 2014, Nick Fory 2013, Kristine Andali 2014).  
  • The issue here is combining the right regions.  Sticking Northern California and Southern California together isn't going to make it any easier to get out, and putting South West and Latin America together would still make for a pretty weak Super-Regional.  However, it sounds like HQ wants to combine regions based on geography, so we still may end up with some of the same issues.
  • You could (and probably will) see some of the old regions not have any athletes qualify.  For instance, if Central East and North Central were combined last year, Kyle Kasperbauer would have been the only male North Central representative in the top 6 based on the Cross Regional Comparison (even after my adjustments for the week of competition, this would still be true).  Depending on how they combine the regions, we may not see any athletes from Asia, Africa or Latin America.
  • We will potentially see the loading and skill levels increased even further since the bottom half of each region has been weeded out.  However, I think any changes here will be modest, since HQ likely wants each level of competition to maintain its own identity.  I believe the Regionals are still a test of classic CrossFit movements tested at high loads and short-to-medium time frames.  I think HQ will leave the crazy stuff for the Games.
I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this.  I'm still planning on publishing my "What to Expect from the 2015 Open" post in the next few weeks, but there are certainly a few more unknowns than there have been the past two years.  It should be interesting, if nothing else!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Team Series Thoughts and Site Updates

The first edition of the CrossFit Games Team Series has come and gone, with Team Reebok East pulling off a somewhat surprising win.  One of the big questions coming into the Team Series was what the programming would look like, considering HQ had never put together anything like this before.  With scaled divisions being offered for the first time, how tough would the Rx division be?  Would things look like the Open, Regionals, Games or something entirely different?  With all 12 events in the books, let's take a look at how things shook out.


As far as the weights used, the Team Series fell somewhere between the Open and the Regional level.  For men, the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) came out to 0.56 for men and 0.39 for women.  The heaviest Open to date was 2011, which came in at 0.51/0.35 (men/women), but typically it has been somewhere around 0.45/0.30.  The 2014 Regionals were in the same ballpark as the Team Series, at 0.58/0.36, but the Regionals have averaged 0.69/0.44 since 2011.  This year's Regionals were particularly low because lifting made up such a small portion (37%).

Weighted movements made up 51% of the Team Series, which is just about the average across all HQ competitions since 2011.  When weights were used in metcons, the average load was 0.87/0.59, which equates to about a 115/80-lb. clean-and-jerk, a 210/140-lb. deadliest and a 90/60-lb. snatch.  These are by no means hefty weights, and in fact, they are quite close to the historical averages for the Open and well below the averages for the Regionals.  But what differentiated the Team Series was the addition of two max-strength events, something we've yet to see in the Open.  These are a big reason that the Team Series seemed to have a bit more emphasis on strength than the Open.

Types of Movements

With 12 events, we did see a pretty good variety of different movements tested, much more so than a typical Open.  In all, 17 movements were tested, including at least one movement from each of the seven subcategories I typically use ("Uncommon CrossFit Movements" were not used, which makes sense due to logistics).  The largest focus, not surprisingly, was on Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts, which comprised 44% of the points, including 14% on snatch and 12% on front squat.  The 44% actually ties for the most emphasis on any one of these subcategories in any HQ competition, tying the 2011 Open, when Oly lifts also made up that same portion.

Aside from the Olympic lifts, we did see that Basic Gymnastics (24%) were not used as much as in the Open (36% average), but more than Regionals (18%).  We also saw Powerlifting-Style Barbell Lifts make up 13%, which is higher than the historical average for the Open (6%), Regionals (10%) and the Games (3% since 2011).  That was due in large part to a 2-rep max bench press, which is actually the first time bench press has ever been used in an HQ competition.  No wonder Camille said the last time she maxed on bench press was "in a dream."

Time Domains

This one is hard to assess because the team setting often makes it difficult to compare the length of an event in this competition to, say, an event from the Open.  There is often plenty of built-in rest throughout some of these team chippers that a 20-minute team workout with four athletes working together might not feel any more grueling than an 8-10 minute Open workout.  All-in-all, the focus in the Team Series seemed to be more on power output over short time frames and being able recover quickly, rather than the ability to grind out long workouts and keep a steady pace.


The team series, to me, seemed like a nice blend of the inclusiveness of the Open with the heavier, more challenging movements of the Regionals.  Athletes who had the ability to go heavy or excel at some more challenging gymnastic movements were able to do so, but anyone who is capable of finishing all the Open events would be able to complete the Team Series workouts (provided they had capable teammates).  Although some of the events were a little bland (still can't believe they opened with that dull 14.1/11.1 remake), there were some pleasant surprises that kept things interesting (such as the burpee-box jump/squat clean ascending ladder).

Are there kinks to be worked out?  Certainly.  I also don't think the Team Series will ever be quite as popular as the Open.  I think the feel of the Team Series is necessarily going to be more low-key than the Open due to its position on the calendar.  But that doesn't mean there isn't a place for something like this.  Hopefully HQ will continue to refine what they have and make this an annual event worth looking forward to for the masses.

Site Updates

The Team Series was the first open HQ competition since 2009 that I haven't been a part of (I even competed back in the "Sectionals" back in 2010).  The Open will almost certainly be the second competition I sit out.  The day after last season's Open, I injured my back deadlifting, my second back injury in 6 months.  I have taken things very slow coming back from this one, and opted to skip the Team Series despite feeling 75-80% healthy.  However, in my recovery from the back injury, I looked into some lingering hip pain and found that I had a pretty significant hip impingement and labral tear (the impingement is genetic and was bound to flare up at some point). I will be having surgery to repair the tear and clean up the impingement soon, but that means a recovery time of 4-6 months.

I've also been studying for my latest (and hopefully last) actuarial exam, which I just took last week (results still pending).  All this combined with dealing with a one-year-old baby have made it challenging to make time for the web site.

I say this not because I plan to retire this site or give up on CrossFit.  Rather, I hope that you can continue to bear with me over the next few months if updates are not quite so frequent (though I don't plan to go dormant).  My hope is that in time, I can be back to CrossFitting and blogging on a much more consistent basis.

In the meantime, get your SWAG's ready - the Open is only 3 months away!