Over the next few weeks, we at Fairwinds CrossFit will be completing the 2021 CrossFit Games Open. This is an exciting time of year for the CrossFit community. Since 2011, CrossFit has made the road to the Games accessible to anyone in the world who has a camera, an internet connection, and a few pieces of basic exercise equipment. This year, even those small barriers of entry have been reduced. It’s like the Open went through an episode of Joanna and Chip Gaines’ Fixer Upper and now we are getting the big reveal…”Show us the new HOUSE!!”
In my opinion, the two new scaling options – “Foundations” and “Equipment-Free” are some of the more exciting additions. However, the expansion of the age group competition to include additional 60+ categories is a close second. They have also added an adaptive athlete category and have even created multiple additional post-Open competition stages, both virtual and in-person, for a wide array of athletes.
Bottom line, if you want to compete in CrossFit during this year’s Open Season and beyond, no matter who you are, where you are, or what your level of CrossFit experience is, there is a place for you. That’s pretty incredible.
This will be my 11th Open. I’ve done every one since it started in 2011. Some have gone better than others. Some have been more enjoyable than others. Some have been downright painful and arduous due to what was going on in my life. In the end, no matter what was happening in the world or where I was, I have appreciated every single Open because I love the whole concept and I support what the Open facilitates in myself and the athletes I coach.
The Open gives us one of the greatest opportunities to hold the CrossFit methodology accountable to its stated objective – improve work capacity across broad modal and time domains, when athletes consistently follow its stated prescription – constantly varied functional movements done at high intensity.
Almost two decades of data has shown that if you do CrossFit four to five times per week and keep your nutritional intake to meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables, some fruit, little starch and added sugars while limiting alcohol intake, you have a prescription for extremely high levels of health and fitness. In other words, CrossFit works when those doing it put in the work and the Open is the time of year when that work pays off.
But what happens when it doesn’t pay off? Why does that happen? Well, there are plenty of reasons to include injury, lack of experience, or major life changes, and we could talk about those, but I would like to focus on the one I feel is the most common cause outside of catastrophic issues – the absence of effective scaling in day to day training.
In the end, an athlete who ignores the power of scaling by going too heavy, too hard, or doing too much volume throughout the year, will miss multiple opportunities to optimize intensity during the majority of the training year; and those inefficiencies will show up in the Open because the Open is about one thing: intensity.
I have talked, at length, about scaling in other forums. I wrote about it in a blog post detailing my first head-on collision with the concept of Rx while I was in Hawaii and attempting to complete an “Rx Checklist.” I’ve talked about it in a couple of Nerding Out On The Creek episodes – Scale Yo’ Shit and Scaling to Increase Intensity. And I did a very detailed dissection of power output through a series of experiments we did in the gym with different variations of the same workout across a few weeks of programming.
But I’m not the only one out there talking about it. Emily Beers, a former member of the CrossFit media team and a well known contributor to all things CrossFit nerdery, has a wonderful article about scaling in the Open. Published in 2018, Beers’ article still resonates and has even more relevance in this year’s Open with the added “Foundations” category.
Here’s a little secret that isn’t so secret: scaling works because it mathematically allows an athlete to optimize overall power output in a workout and he or she who produces more power longer does more work, and fitness equals work capacity. That’s it. Plain and simple.
Completing the workout “Fran” sucks. No doubt about it. I don’t care if you’ve done it 1 time or 10 times, it’s going to hurt every time you do it. So how do you make Fran easier? Go heavier.
For those who don’t remember, or you’ve never heard of Fran, it is 3 rounds of barbell thrusters and pull ups in a descending order of 21 reps of each movement, then 15 reps of each movement, then 9 reps of each movement. The barbell weight is prescribed as 95# for men, 65# for women. The pull ups are prescribed as chin over bar pull ups completed in any way desired.Top times in the CrossFit world are in the low 2:00 range…most of us are happy with anything around 3-4 minutes.
Realistically, an athlete should be doing every round unbroken. Unbroken means you pick up the barbell to your front rack position on your shoulders just once for the round of 21 and do all the thrusters before putting the barbell down to immediately transition to the pullup bar and do all 21 pull ups without coming off the bar. You keep repeating this sequence with breaks only as you transition between the two movements. It’s fast. It’s furious. It’s ferocious. It’s the manifestation of intensity in human form.
For an athlete who doesn’t understand what intensity means, using a PVC pipe and jumping pull ups can quickly convey the potency of this workout. However, for those who have been in the game for some time, they may think they want to make Fran a bit harder and increase the load on the bar…or maybe even make the pull ups chest to bar pull ups or bar muscle ups.
Unless you are a CrossFit Games-level athlete, that increase in difficulty would be a mistake. For most of us, the reality is if you make that barbell heavier or those pull ups harder, I guarantee you your Fran time will instantly be slower and you will NOT get the same level of power output as if you had scaled the workout to a difficulty level where you could meet the intended stimulus – unbroken movement done as fast as possible.
However, with the now-harder version, you will spend significantly more time standing around staring at the floor, chalking up your hands, getting a sip of water…or whatever other activity keeps you from moving and you will miss the intended stimulus.
Fran is fast. It’s a start to finish, no breaks, SPRINT! Anything else isn’t Fran.
So then why do we strive to complete a workout with the artificially defined Rx version at the expense of the intended stimulus? Is it simply human ego? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a sense that we should always strive for better and, in our culture, bigger and harder is generally seen as better.
I fear that may be a faulty perspective and perhaps we have an opportunity to redefine our priorities.
What if I didn’t let you call the 95#/65#, chin-over-the-bar pull ups Fran as Rx if it took you longer than 5 minutes to complete it? What if you could only say you did a workout as Rx if you were within an agreed upon range of the intended stimulus?
In other words, the athlete who does an 8:00 Fran with the Rx weight and movement standard would have to mark that effort as scaled while the athlete who uses a scaled load and movement standard but finishes the workout in 2:45 would mark her effort as Rx. Similarly, the athlete who scales too much and goes under 2:30…well, he missed the mark too and we would agree that he would need to say he did it as scaled.
And what if we strived for this standard for an entire month and we only got to click that little Rx button in SugarWOD on the days when we hit the mark regardless of what scales or modifications we used? Well, that is actually the topic of this episode of The Best Hour of Their Day where Coaches Jason Fernandez and Jason Ackerman explore the topic.
Well, guess what Creek Peeps, it’s coming to Fairwinds. Over the next few weeks during the Open, I am going to challenge you to practice with this idea as a pilot experiment for a follow-on Rx-Month Challenge.
Don’t worry. We are going to have lots of practice with this.
We will be doing the Open workouts every Friday and Monday during the normal class times over the next three weeks. You will have FOUR different versions available for each of these workouts. As athletes and coaches, we will undoubtedly discuss what we believe the intended stimulus of each of the workouts is and how best to achieve that stimulus through those four versions.
You, as athletes, will have the opportunity to learn about your fitness and your capabilities over these next three weeks. You will then take that learning and apply it for a whole month. With that new perspective, we then have a whole year to put this into practice day after day and see just what kind of fitness we can achieve.
Who knows, if you lean into this and really give it a try, you may just find yourself that much fitter in March 2022 when we get the chance to test our fitness once again.
Here’s to being curious, being consistent, and being courageous.
See you on the Creek.