How We Train During The Open


The Open is upon us. We are now set at exactly three weeks, 21 days, until workout 13.1 is announced. As March 6 approaches, anxiety for some of you rises. I’m fielding questions from those of you following that seem a bit frantic as to how I’ll program volume, how I’ll program the Olympic lifts and and how I’ll programming conditioning. To ease your mental pain I thought I’d share where we’ve been in this program and how the Open fits in the overall scheme.

Remember, this program assumes the athlete is at least “Regional-ready”. Games-ready and “high level” Regional-ready athletes need more specialization, a topic I will address at some point. So, I do NOT program specifically for the Open per se. The program assumes you will make it through the Open. This is true even with the younger Masters categories of 40-44, 45-49. Although the Masters do not have a Regional and are unlikely to see Regional style workouts (heavier, time-oriented, higher order skills), this program will also prepare them to do well in the Open and beyond. It makes sense to review the phases of this program in a broad sense. The training year has been broken down into four broad cycles as follows:

Post-Season (June/July – August)
This cycle begins right after the Regionals or the Games, and it is focused on recovery, strength gains and speed development. During this phase we see about 250 reps per week on lifts of 60%+ of 1RM. Conditioning efforts total less than 30 minutes per week on average and less than 7 minutes per effort.

Off-Season (September – November)
The second cycle is where lifting volume increases and we begin to try to increase work capacity and tighten up our gymnastic skills. During this phase we see 300+ reps per week on lifts of 60%+ of 1RM. We start to work the Olympic lifts into the conditioning.

Pre-Season (December – February)
This cycle, in which we are currently, is where our conditioning begins to closely mimic what we will see in competition and our strength focus is on muscle endurance. Here our reps above 60% decrease gradually, down from 300 reps to about 200-225 per week. In concert (
or is it “in cosort”), our reps below 50% of 1RM, including bodyweight reps, increase substantially. Total conditioning minutes per week may be as much as 120 minutes.

In-Season (March-June/July)
And the last cycle, In-Season, we will be looking to maintain all our gains. In-Season is of course broken down into smaller cycles directed toward the Open, the Regionals and ultimately the Games which will also dictate volume, intensity and type of training we do.

The program is designed to move your 1RM in various lifts consistently upward while also increasing your capacity to perform multiple reps with less fatigue. (A nice byproduct is that the load in a typical HQ designed workout will be an increasingly smaller percentage of your 1RM.) In other words, it is designed to increase the efficiency of your mass-specific force. This is accomplished by using explosive weighted movements (Olympic lifts), explosive non-weighted movements (plyometrics) and short highly intense conditioning efforts. This explains why weight training 5k athletes are faster than non-weight training 5k athletes[i] and why most of you got faster in “endurance” efforts without focusing on it.

With that, let me delve more into the cycle approaching: In-Season Open.

Again, the program assumes you are “Regional-ready” and is designed with that in mind. There will be no wholesale changes in the program. We will continue to hit the Olympic lifts, squat and conditioning will reflect the tasks HQ will likely put forth. We will do the Open workout every Sunday with a practice run on Thursday. What’s unique about CrossFit is that the Open workouts themselves also serve as training efforts.

The week might look something like:

Mon: squat, multivariate conditioning
Tue: snatch, clean and jerk, monostructural conditioning
Wed: rest
Thu: squat OR snatch, clean and jerk, Open workout (PRACTICE)
Fri: squat OR snatch, clean and jerk, skill work
Sat: rest
Sun: Open workout, recovery monostructural conditioning

A word on doing the Open workout more than once. I have heard high level (and not so high level) CrossFit athletes emphatically state how they will only be doing the Open workouts once. And typically it’s stated in a way that anyone who even thinks about doing these workouts more than once is somehow a doofus. But I’m going to chalk this sentiment up as “dumb-stuff-CrossFit-athletes-say”.

Name any other sport where you are given what will occur in the contest prior to the contest and you would refuse to at least practice it. I imagine a golfer would review a course before playing the tournament. And if he didn’t, you’d call him an ass. If Patriots coach Bill Belichek told owner Bob Kraft prior to playing the Jets, that he wasn’t going to study any Jets game film because he thought his athletes were good enough to wing it, he’d be out of a job. Why should CrossFit be any different? Answer: it shouldn’t be.

It’s completely asinine not to at least run through the workout once before giving it a full go. And that’s what we will do, whether or not you’re a shoe-in for the Games or you’re just simply trying to make the Regional cut.

[i] Paavolainen, Leena, (et. al.). Explosive strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. J. Appl. Physiol. 86(5):1527–1533, 1999.

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