A Tale of Two Workouts, by Coach Chris
The Open has always been the annual measuring stick for my fitness, since I started getting more serious about CrossFit. Each year I’ve been able to improve my overall placement in the state of MN.
This year started off with 18.1 — a 20-minute workout with toes to bar, dumbbell clean & jerks, and rowing. I was confident this would be a decent placement for me. It’s a long workout with no barbells — right up my alley! I did the workout, and it went fine, or so I thought. I briefly considered re-doing it after seeing some friends add 30+ reps on their second go, but my shoulders were pretty bruised up and decided one try was fine.
It turned out to be my worst Open workout placement in two years.
I was blindsided — how could a 20 minute workout with no barbells be my worst score in two years? Am I that out of shape? Did I really slide that much in one year? Why do I do this, blah blah blah…
I reflected back on the workout. I was reasonably proficient on all of the movements. On paper there’s no reason I couldn’t have been successful. The thing that was lacking was my focus, which in turn affects my effort. I took many unnecessary breaks, especially in the last 3-4 rounds on the dumbbell. I let my pace slip on the rower a little bit each round. Put all that together, and it’s no wonder I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. Mental errors led to physical errors. So how do I focus better? How do I keep my effort from waning?
I reflected a lot on this. I can’t control my placement on the leaderboard. I can’t control how many thousands more strong dudes are in my division this year. All I can control is myself. I can’t be disappointed with my placement, but I can be disappointed with my effort that resulted in this placement. Then it dawned on me: I was not well prepared for this workout.
Let’s do better this time
For 18.2, I came in with a chip on my shoulder. I had something to prove after the prior week’s disappointing effort. When I saw the workout, I knew this had potential to be my best Open placement ever. Relatively light dumbbell squats, and bar facing burpees, then a max lift with the remaining time.
I almost immediately threw the max lift out the window. I could have PRed my clean by 10 pounds and it still would have been low enough that it wouldn’t have mattered. So I turned my attention to part 1 of the workout — the ascending ladder of squats and burpees. Knowing my penchant for burpees, I set a goal to finish this part of the workout in less than six minutes. Not an “elite” time by any means, but an excellent time for an average CrossFitter like myself.
I knew I was capable physically of achieving this goal. Burpees are the one movement I can always do fast, even if I’m at my upper limits of fatigue. It would come down to my preparation, focus, effort, execution on game day.
One thing that heavily influenced my thinking during the week between these workouts was a short but powerful podcast from MisFit Athletics titled “Intensity is Freedom.” I highly recommend you watch it if you are using the Open as a competitive outlet.
The takeaway for me was simple. Prepare myself, stay focused in the workout, and stay in the moment. If bring my best effort in all those areas to the workout, I will be free from the doubt and disappointment and “what-if” game after the workout. The pain from going hard in the workout will last a few minutes. The negative mental beat-down I often give myself when I don’t give my best effort lasts for hours, days, weeks…sometimes longer.
I came in on Friday morning for a practice run. I did a fairly brief warm up, then tried some different rack positions with the dumbbells. I ended up putting them behind my head, almost in a back squat position. It looked super weird, but it worked for me.
Next, I ran through the first five rounds of the workout, at what I thought would be my actual pace. It was only a handful of squats and burpees, but it was enough to give me some valuable insight into how I needed to approach my workout, and my warmup beforehand.
I learned that the place I am going to want to rest or stop was after finishing the set of burpees, when I had to clean the dumbbells back up. I needed to be disciplined in that spot every single round. As soon as I hop over the bar, I need to go pick up the dumbbells with zero hesitation. No exceptions. I have built up years of experience with thousands of workouts. I know what I am physically capable of, but I also know how my mind is going to try to sabotage me: I don’t need to rest there, but I’m going to want to rest there.
I was also reminded of the importance of a thorough, intense warm up before a sprint workout like this. Too often, especially during the Open or competitions when I’m most nervous, I cut the warm up way too short. Even in just doing five rounds in practice, my heart rate was quite high and I was breathing hard. I needed to warm up properly to smooth out my heart rate.
I met up with a few others on Saturday morning to give the workout a go. I opted to judge for a friend first, so I could give myself as much time as necessary to feel ready for the workout. My warmup lasted about 30 minutes after all was said & done.
Then it was finally go time. I was nice and sweaty, I had spiked my heart rate and recovered several times. I’d practiced the movements, stretched out my tight spots, and didn’t skip anything I had written for my warmup. That in itself was a big victory. I was able to go into the workout knowing I had prepared myself properly, which gave me a lot of confidence.
Before I had my judge start the clock, I closed my eyes for a minute and visualized myself in the later rounds of the workout, speeding up my burpee pace but still going immediately to the dumbbells and starting the squats with no hesitation. I repeated to myself what my focus would be for the workout.
- Pick up the dumbbells immediately every single time. No exceptions.
- You can always do burpees fast. Don’t slow down.
- Focus on that rep, that set. Not on how many more rounds or reps I have to do. Stay in the moment.
Execution & Effort
It’s amazing how much easier it is to execute and give your best effort, when you have prepared yourself properly, and given yourself the right things to focus on. Now all I had to do was execute on my plan. It was like following a step by step pattern I had laid out for myself. Pick up the Dumbbells, steady but quick squats, put them down, do the burpees fast, back to the dumbbell, repeat. I dove across the barbell after my final set of burpees. Looked up at the clock: 5:49. F*&$ YEAH. I was more pumped and emotional about that score than just about any workout I’ve ever done.
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I'm not usually overly emotional or a yeller after finishing a workout, but today I was too pumped to keep it in. Sound on for happy yelling after I looked up and saw 5:49 on the clock🔊🔊 I knew I was capable of doing 18.2 under 6 minutes. It would only depend on my mental capacity to transition with no hesitation, and keep my burpee pace fast on the long rounds. May seem silly but I'm really proud of myself for not half-assing my warmup. I knew a big part of my performance would come down to properly getting ready for the intensity of the workout. I followed my plan and didn't rush, didn't skip anything, and didn't let my nerves make me say "screw it let's just go" before I was ready. Thanks @nate.bear83 @cole_fisher36 and everyone else there this morning for helping me through. The support was crucial! #crossfitsabertooth #18point2 #intensityisfreedom #oneanddone
Looking back, I truly don’t remember feeling tired, feeling my heart rate through the roof, desperately wanting to stop, or any of the things that I often feel in a tough Open workout. As soon as I jumped across the bar on that last burpee, THEN it all hit me like a truck. Legs burning, tunnel vision, gasping for breath. All these things were happening during the workout, but because I was truly focused and prepared, I simply didn’t notice those things until it was done.
I was deep in a flow state. Dialed in. Fully in the moment. It’s not an easy place to get to in an intense workout, but it happened this time. It’s not often I feel like I reached my full potential in a workout. Thinking back to some of the moments on my “personal highlight reel” — my most memorable performances across all of my CrossFit, hockey, inline skating career — this feeling of being dialed in and fully immersed, not feeling the pain, holds true.
What was the biggest differentiator? How was I able to get in the zone and stay there? What did I do differently leading up to my most successful athletic events? How can I replicate this more often?
Look for the next installment soon: Preparation: How to Fulfill Your Athletic Potential in the Open, coming later this week.