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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.

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