Competing in the CrossFit Open, which is the annual start to the Reebok CrossFit Games in August, is tough and exhausting. The Open started in late February and has five workouts that anyone above the age of 14 can attempt—just log your score on gamescrossfit.com (with video proof), or go to a local box—that’s CF slang for “gym”—with an official judge.
But it’s a humbling experience to check online after a brutal workout you thought you smoked and realize you placed only 43,438 out of 150,000-plus people. Gaining ground against the “Fittest on Earth” won’t be easy, but these tips from Ron Mathews, C.S.C.S., the 2016 CrossFit Games Master’s champion, will prep you for next year’s Open and blast your way into regionals.
3 ways to win
There are three keys to owning your competition at the CrossFit Open, says Mathews, who owns Reebok CrossFit LAB in L.A. You’ve got to be strong and able to put up heavy weight efficiently. You must master the skills that test your agility, balance, and flexibility, like tricky double unders and gymnastic-based movements. And, above all, you need to have enough endurance to last through the grueling events.
You aren’t often going to see one-rep max strength being tested at the Open, and though it’s great to have big 1RM numbers, says Mathews, good max numbers don’t always translate into good athletic performances. “In CrossFit, being able to move 70–80% of your 1RM for multiple sets will serve you better in most workouts and the Open than huge max numbers.”
How to improve strength:
Gain strength through a powerlifting routine like Wendler 5/3/1 or a 5×5 scheme (five sets of five reps) using increasing percentage, says Mathews. Being proficient in Olympic lifts such as the snatch and the clean and jerk (including variations such as power snatches, overhead squats, and the hang versions of the clean and snatch) are essential to CrossFit success, he says.
Pullups, chest-to-bar pullups, ring and bar muscle-ups, handstand pushups and walks, and double unders all require practice to perform well and with efficiency, says Mathews. “Multiple sets of 10 or more in all of these exercises are common for a Games athlete, and usually there will be sets over 100 on the double unders,” he says.
“If you are struggling with your technique, you will find other athletes quickly pulling away from you.”
How to improve skills:
Simple: Do the movements over and over and over. And then do them some more. “Refine your gymnastic technique and keep your core tight to ensure maximum muscle activation and power transfer,” says Mathews. “When these exercises are done poorly, they make you look like a floppy fish, but when performed properly the body moves through the exercise effortlessly.”
This is the main measurable in the CrossFit Open, says Mathews. “The Open workouts are designed to bring athletes to his or her knees and send weekend warriors scurrying home with shattered egos and their tail between their legs.”
How to improve endurance:
Work in increasing rep ranges with decreasing rest to force your body to process lactic acid and manage heart rate. The best tool to do this is the EMOM, or the Every Minute on the Minute training protocol, says Mathews.