Preparation: How to Fulfill Your Athletic Potential in the Open
By Coach Chris
Earlier this week I wrote about my experiences about the first two weeks of the 2018 CrossFit Open. A tale of two workouts. Both workouts I felt had potential to be a great score. The first one, I totally bombed and got my worst placement in two years. The other, I got my best ever Open placement by a huge margin, breaking the top 100 in Minnesota for the first time ever.
How did it happen?
In that second workout, I took deliberate steps to set myself up to succeed: I prepared myself properly for the task. The first workout I waltzed into without a good plan, without focus, and without a proper warmup. I got the results I had coming.
Here is my framework for setting yourself up for success in your next tough workout. This is written in the context of CrossFit, but you can apply it to any sport, race, or physical trial.
1. Self assessment
Preparation starts with an important question: What am I realistically capable of in this workout? On my best day, knowing what I know about myself as an athlete — what would be a reasonable goal score for this workout?
The more experienced you are as a CrossFit athlete, the better you’ll get at answering this question accurately. We have hundreds of opportunities throughout the year during our training to gather data about our capabilities, our sticking points, and how movements affect us. If you’re not tracking your workouts, writing down notes, or otherwise making use of this data — start doing it now!
If we start by setting a pace or score goal that is totally unrealistic, it won’t matter how well you prepare or execute…you’ll still be disappointed. Use your knowledge of yourself, similar workouts you’ve done, your proficiency in these movements, and the Dry Run you’ll be doing to get an idea what makes sense for you as a goal score or pace.
2. The Dry Run
In situations like the Open, where there’s a fairly large window of time to complete the workout, I highly recommend a dry run of the workout. This doesn’t mean doing the whole thing. It might mean doing 5 minutes of a 20 minute AMRAP, or 3-4 rounds of a 10 round workout. Enough to gather some insight, to know what to expect, but not enough to compromise our ability to do the workout at full strength later that day, or the next day. You may find out after just a couple minutes that your initial strategy wasn’t going to work, or that the movement you thought would be the tough part was totally fine.
If possible, do this dry run in the morning, with your workout scheduled later that day. Or do it on Friday, and do the workout Saturday. Ideally you’ll want some time to assess the information you’ve collected before you hit the workout for real.
Some questions to answer during your dry run:
When am I going to be most tempted to take long breaks?
What tweaks do I need to make to my movement or technique to be more efficient?
Where did my mind wander as I moved through the workout?
You may find that your initial thoughts about what the workout would feel like, what your sticking points would be, etc. may have been inaccurate. Now you have a chance to adjust, and you have vital information that will help you set your focus for the workout.
3. Setting your Focus
Setting your focus is all about controlling your inner monologue during your workout.
For most people, our mind gives out before our body. This often happens as a result of focusing on the wrong thing. If we focus on the pain we’re feeling, how much of the workout we have left to do, what the person in the next lane is doing — it’s way, way too easy for us to find an excuse to stop or rest when we otherwise don’t need to. Once you fall into that trap once in a workout, it’s extremely difficult to get back on track.
Many athletes struggle with negative, motivation-killing self talk.
“This is so hard”
“I’m so tired”
“I can’t wait for this to be over”
“This feels heavy”
Giving yourself something to focus on in each movement or transition fills your mind with thoughts that are at the very least, neutral. This is a big step up from overtly negative.
We can simply focus on the tasks we need to accomplish. What sticking points have we identified in the workout? What movements have we found ourselves breaking down in form or efficiency? By giving ourselves small, tactical focus points to solve these issues, we can take our mind off of those negative effort-killing external thoughts.
For example, my focus points for 18.2 were these:
- Pick up the dumbbells immediately every single time. No exceptions. No hesitation (I knew my biggest temptation for unneeded rest was between the burpees and squats)
- Don’t let my burpee pace slip. You can always do burpees fast.
- Focus on that rep, that set. Not on how many more rounds or reps I have to do. Stay in the moment. (The workout was an ascending ladder 1-10 reps, so it would be easy to slip into the “Crap I still have half the workout to go!” when I finished the round of 7)
4. Warming Up Properly
This is perhaps this single biggest opportunity I see for most athletes. There is a misconception among everyday athletes that if they work too hard in warmups, they won’t have any energy for the workout. I’ve seen athletes warm up for hyper-intense workouts like “Fran” with 2 minutes of lazy biking while checking Instagram, doing five empty bar thrusters, and calling it good. Then, they wonder why it feels like they got run over by a freight train after their first 21 thrusters, and they never really recover, and “Fran” takes them seven minutes even though the weight isn’t that heavy for them, and they’re decent at pull ups.
You need to WARM UP when you warm up! Spike that heart rate. Get sweaty. Give your body a chance to oxygenate your blood. The more intense and sprint-like the workout, the more intensity needs to come in your warmup.
If the first time you spike your heart rate the whole day is in the first round of your workout, you’re going to have a bad time, literally and figuratively.
You should get your heart pumping hard. Practice the movements of the workout at your race pace, in small chunks. Rest and let the heart rate come down. Repeat this a few times. It’s not about a warmup being long in duration — it’s about being effective for the workout at hand. Not sure what to do? Ask your coach!
One of my go-to warmups to start prepping for any CrossFit workout is 5 minutes on the air bike. Two minutes at moderate pace, then a 10 second sprint at the start of each minute for the next 3 minutes, going easy the other :50. This gets that initial “Oh S*&$” feeling of your heart rate skyrocketing out of the way in your warmup. Each of those 10 second sprints will actually feel a little better than the last one.
A good general warmup template might be:
— General warmup. Bike, row, run, jump rope, etc. Mix of easy, moderate, and sprint. Obejctive is to break a sweat and spike the heart rate.
— Movement specific warmup & prep. Simple stuff like air squats, lunges, etc.
— Streching/mobility for any tight or problem areas
— Warm up to workout weights and movements
— Practice small chunks of the workout with some rest in between
— One more 10 second air bike sprint w/ :50 easy
— Let heart rate come back down to a comfortable but not cold place.
Take a moment to close your eyes. Visualize yourself executing your plan, reciting your focus. Take some deep breaths. Stand up tall. If you see yourself in your mind’s eye smoothly moving through the workout, you will go into the workout with confidence. If you picture yourself dropping a snatch on your head right before the workout, you’re going to perform worse. Guaranteed. Control your thoughts — see yourself being successful.
Following these preparation steps should instill confidence in you. You have given yourself every chance to succeed in this workout. You know what you have to do. You know how to do it. You’re ready. Give it everything you’ve got!