Monday, April 4, 2016

Recap: 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open

In March 2015, I registered for my first "Open" only 4 months after starting CrossFit. I was super weak, lacked flexibility in just about every direction, but loved the worldwide nature of the event and since one of the main purposes of the Open is to see where you've progressed year to year, I considered it a good baseline to launch from. The "Open" is the beginning of the CrossFit Games that ends in Carson, CA where the "Fittest on Earth" will be crowned for men and women. It all begins, though, in gyms and garages across the globe where anyone can compete and see where they rank in their state, region, country and worldwide. For the 99%+ of us, we do the Open for 5 weeks and then sit back and watch Regionals and the Games in CA.

Last year, I joined friends at All Heart CrossFit in Kent, OH and gave it my all. I looked back on my blog and didn't do a recap but honestly, there wasn't much to tell. I'll give you the highlights: I couldn't do a pull-up without a band, I couldn't do toes-to-bar, I couldn't do chest-to-bar, the most I could get over my head was 135 pounds, and my overall strength and flexibility was just awful. Things like overhead squats and squat cleans were just horrendous. I was a newbie in the finest sense of the word but giving it my all and having fun with it. This past February, my coach at my new CrossFit gym at CrossFit 881 encouraged participation. I wasn't going to, actually. I was only going to do the workouts and not pay the $20 to actually record scores and see how'd I'd fare the globe over. But he was right...I liked the spirit of competition and that simple logging of a score would be a motivator. It was going to be me vs. me and that was perfect. I gave up my 20 bucks and looked forward to week #1.

Each Thursday night at 8pm, CrossFit HQ streams the workout LIVE on YouTube. To the one not familiar with CrossFit or the Open, this may not seem like a big deal but I assure you...there is all kinds of hoopla and anticipation that surround it. Admittedly in our family, we gathered around either the TV or our iPhones each Thursday night to listen to Dave Castro, director of the CrossFit Games give the announcement and watch two elite athletes do it. The Open has a repuation for pushing people outside of their comfort zones and often, it introduces something not so common for many athletes. This year was no different and on Thursday night, Feb. 25th, Dave Castro announced "16.1." 16.1 was a 20min AMRAP (as many rounds and reps as possible) of:

  • 25ft overhead walking lunge with 95lb barbell
  • 8 bar-facing burpees
  • 25ft overhead walking lunge with 95lb barbell
  • 8 chest-to-bar pull-ups

95lb Overhead Walking Lunges
Overhead walking lunges aren't too uncommon but doing them with a barbell plus two 25lb plates on them is. For the athlete who lacks flexibility, it's even worse. BUT, unlike a year ago, I can do chest-to-bar pull-ups so I was totally down with doing this. Saturday came and our gym did it together. It went pretty well and I ended up with 109 reps. Unfortunately, I had to drop the barbell twice during those 25ft stretches which definitely cost me reps. Over the next day or so, I considered doing it again, knowing that if I could do the walking lunges unbroken, I'd be able to improve. On Monday, I did exactly that and with 3 minutes to go, I hit 109 reps! I didn't break any of the lunges up and I took less rest breaks between chest-to-bar pull-ups. I ended up with 125 reps and couldn't be happier!

Rx vs. Scaled: In CrossFit programming/workouts, "Rx" means doing a workout "as prescribed" with the exact movement and weight. Very often, I can't do that. One goal of doing the Open in 2016 was to log a Rx score all 5 weeks. A few things could de-rail me. For one, if muscle-ups showed up, I would be done...can't do them. Also, if hand-stand push-ups made an appearance as they always do, I'd be done. So for 16.1, so far so good! I did the prescribed weight and unlike in 2015, I could do chest-to-bar pull-ups. Boom!

Getting some singles in during the Scaled 16.2
As I mentioned previously, each Thursday night at 8pm was an "event" in our house. We gathered around our smartphones and TV and typically within seconds of the Open announcement, texts would begin flying amongst fellow CrossFitters about the workout, how dreadful it was, our predictions, etc. For 16.2, I am quite sure my face sunk into a frown as former Navy SEAL, Dave Castro gave the annoucement. 16.2 is a bit confusing to explain. Let me try: The 3 movements were: 25 toes-to-bar, 50 double-unders, and 15 squat cleans at 135lbs., but within 4 minutes. If an athlete could finish that in under 4min, they got another 4min block to do the same but increase the weight of the clean and do 2 less reps (e.g. 13 reps). The faster you move, the more time got banked, if that makes sense. It had a 20min total time limit. So for me, it just hit me with two of my major weaknesses, those being toes-to-bar and double-unders. I can do toes-to-bar and honestly, they were the best ever during this workout. I just can't string a bunch of them together. I can also do double-unders but only a few at a time. I can't do 50 unbroken like some folks...or even 5. So one thing I knew here: I wouldn't even get to the bar and my workout would be done in 4min. Just as expected, it was and I logged a score of 46: 25 toes-to-bar and 21 double-unders. One thing I like to do is work, though...so a few minutes after finishing, I got right into the scaled version of this workout "just because." Instead of T2B, it was knee raises and instead of DUBs, it was singles, and the weight for the first round of power cleans was 95lbs. I did it and crushed it. Still, I got myself a Rx score for the week, albeit tiny, but I did. Hopefully in 2017, I will have those T2B on point and can somehow break through on double-unders. It's all about working on the weaknesses and getting stronger every day!

Trying for my first BMU!
16.3 was...well, a week to work on something totally brand new. Typically, the workout is a burner with very high intensity or it goes heavy. 16.2 went heavy with those squat cleans but 16.3 was lightweight with a movement I cannot do. It was a short 7min AMRAP of:

  • 10 Power Snatches at 75lbs
  • 3 Bar Muscle-Ups

The power snatches were no challenge at all. I've been working on this movement a lot lately and this was the easiest variant of it. Luckily, it was the first of two movements for this workout which allowed me to log a Rx score, keeping my Rx streak alive. So within about 35 seconds, I finished the snatches and then I spent the remaining 6 1/2 minutes trying so hard to get ONE bar muscle-up. The finish of this movement are arms extended and locked out with you above the bar. I got close...many times! However, it wasn't meant to be. I tried all throughout the next week to get one. Another thing to work on? You bet. I intend to keep focusing on weighted pull-ups and dips to get me stronger that "should" help getting my first BMU.

With light weight in 16.3, my prediction was something heavy for 16.4. My guess was a max effort on something like the clean and jerk or heavy deadlifts. I leaned towards deadlifts because we had a max clean and jerk in 2015. I was right...and this was my favorite workout of the 5 weeks. 16.4 was a 13min AMRAP of:

  • 55 deadlifts at 225lbs
  • 55 wall balls (20lbs)
  • 55 calories on the rower
  • 55 hand stand push-ups

Once again, Mr. Castro's choice of order benefited me. I can do HSPUs but not to the floor. Had they been the first movement, I would've been done before I started. As for those other movements, my deadlifts have been stronger than ever lately when I hit a new PR recently at 380lbs, I'm good at wall balls, and I'm one of the strongest rowers at my gym. My plan of attack for the deadlifts (which at 225 are decently heavy, especially given the high rep count) were a rep scheme of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 with a 5 second rest between. That went well until the rep of 6 and I went 3-3. After that, I just got them done as efficiently as possible. The first few wall balls were...well, you would've thought I was drunk! My legs were jacked up but I quickly got a hold of them and did well. As for the rower, while I am a strong rower, those wall balls left me gassed. I finished the row in 10:48, leaving 2:12 to do "something." That 10:48 was a recorded time to help with the rankings so it definitely mattered. Castro knew a lot of people would hit a brick wall after the row. So instead of staring at my fellow athletes for 2:12, I repped out a bunch of hand-release push-ups, the scaled movement for part 4 of 16.4. They didn't count for anything as the Rx portion of the workout ended with my row. I logged a score of 165 reps! It was an awesome workout and I felt those deadlifts for about 3 days!

So for the prior 4 weeks, I couldn't shake the hunch that Castro would bring back an old workout from 2014. We weren't yet doing CrossFit in March 2014 but it ended with a killer workout of thrusters and bar facing burpees. To date, no CrossFit Open has been void of thrusters so 16.5 would surely have them, or so we thought. BUT, 16.1 had bar facing burpees already so would he repeat? The big Thursday announcement was broadcast LIVE from The Ranch in California where the original Games took place. As he stood there staring into the camera with his trademark smirk on his face, he said: "16.5 is....14.5." And there we had it. No time cap, just plenty of suck. 16.5 was the only thing between me and doing the entire Open Rx. 16.5...or 14.5 is:
21 thrusters at 95lbs, 21 bar-facing burpees, then 18 and 18, and so on all the way down to 3. 21-18-15-12-9-6-3. In all, 84 crushing thrusters and 84 bar facing burpees. Those require you to do a burpee facing the bar then jump over the bar (both feet leaving the ground at the same time) and do the next burpee and so on. Thrusters are yet another weakness for me. Upper body strength is far better these days but flexibility is still a struggle. That many thrusters at 95lbs would certainly be very rough...but I did it. I'll never forget my wife's comment after the workout...and keep in mind she is a nurse:

"I thought you were having a cardiac event during the round of 6...but I knew you'd say something if you were in trouble." 

It did suck...for 23min, 41sec. But wow...so proud of myself for doing it and even more so? I was proud of my wife because she did it Rx as well. She almost didn't even walk into the gym that morning!

Overall, I'm thrilled with my performance in the 2016 Open. I am far stronger than a year ago and I'm already looking forward to what 2017 will hold. Here is where I ended up both in the Central East division and worldwide amongst Men, ages 40-44. Am I happy? Big time. I'm especially thrilled because heading into week 5, I was over 9,000 worldwide and in the 600s in the region. I essentially jumped 1500 athletes worldwide with my effort in 16.5! Plus, being in the top half is really enough for me. I'm very happy with it.

The icing on the cake for the 2016 Open is that my wife did it all, and half of it Rx. She wanted nothing to do with it in 2015 but her confidence and strength has sky-rocketed over the past 10 months. She has a passion and drive like never before and she crushed it. I couldn't be happier and more proud of her!

After 16.5, our small community at CrossFit 881 spent a few hours together, grilling some chicken and steak, enjoying some comfort food and even a few beverages. Great friends, quality coaching, and "embracing the suck" together. The 2016 Open is a wrap and now us 99%+ of CrossFit athletes will glue ourselves to LIVE YouTube streams as the Regionals kick off on May 13th all over the world and then the Games form July 19-24 in Carson, CA where the fittest man and woman will be crowned. Now get on your #beastmode and get to work!

CrossFit 881 Family post-16.5

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