Competing in the 2012 CrossFit Open taught me more about workout strategy than any of my competition experiences thus far. Here are some lessons learned that I plan to implement during my future competition experiences.
First, correct pacing is the key to success. Correct pacing means maximizing your output over the entire duration of the workout by performing less than maximally at the beginning of the workout. Our shortest WODs in the Open were 7 minutes. Seven minutes is far too long to maintain a sprint pace from the very beginning. Move deliberately through the opening minutes, but if you plan to perform 100+ thrusters then thrusters 1-10 should not be performed as fast as humanly possible.
Sprint too hard at the beginning and you’ll red-line. You’ll “hit a wall” and every rep will become a struggle. Avoid this by planning your workout, even to great detail. The better you know your capabilities, the better you will be able to plan. But also don’t be afraid to modify the plan if you truly feel failure is imminent. The worst thing you can do is go to failure before the workout is coming to a close. You know—that last pullup that takes 5 seconds to get your chin over the bar? You don’t want to go there until the final seconds.
I made this mistake during 12.1 and the 7 minutes of burpees. I started far too fast, at probably 25 burpees per minute, and my performance fell off quickly for a final score of 107. Eric Carmody, however, used a pacing strategy of 20 burpees per minute for the first 5 minutes, followed by a final 2 minutes of “whatever I can get.” He watched the clock religiously, and I kept him informed on his pace. At 4 minutes he had completed 78 burpees—only 2 burpees off pace! His pace continued to taper during minute 5, so he wasn’t able to stick to the plan verbatim, but close enough to finish with 127 reps.
You can also prevent red-lining by beginning deep breathing early in the workout. Mentally relax and intentionally breathe as you perform reps. This will keep your pacing strategy on track.
On the other end of correct pacing is slacking. This isn’t usually from a lack of motivation or trying, but from a lack of knowledge of your true capabilities. If you determine that you absolutely cannot hold on for more than a single toes to bar, and you actually can perform sets of three, then you’ve severely hurt your performance. Experience and confidence will prevent this. The former only comes with time, but the latter can be forged in your mind.
Next is fast transitions. Transitions can make or break your score. During WOD 12.5, a 7 minute workout with only 2 movements, I had 20 transitions between movements and sets. If I spent just 5 seconds per transition, that’s 1:40 of 7:00 spent not scoring reps! Extend that to 8 seconds per transition and you spent 2:40 staring at your equipment! Imagine the transition time spent during 12.3, an 18 minute triplet! Every single second you delay adds up exponentially. Mitigate this by counting during your rest intervals. I like to count to 4 or 5, which yields a 6-8 second rest after I get my hands back on the equipment and start moving again.
Finally, tapering and practice is also huge. If you are performing a competition workout on Saturday then Tuesday or Wednesday should be your last full intensity training day. You want at least one day of complete rest, and then an additional day to practice the competition movements. You will never get your best performance by performing a competition WOD as your third day on, or even your first day on after a regular training cycle. Stop being a metcon endorphin crackhead and be smart! Practicing the movements is also important for priming your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is incredibly important in exercise. Especially for complex movements like the snatch, ingraining the motor patterns in your brain 1-2 days prior to competition will pay off on gameday, even though you won’t be able to “feel” it.
I performed the final three Open WODs on Friday evening after going home from work and taking a substantial nap of 1-2 hours. I think this allowed me some extra recovery, and probably helped push my testosterone levels up and cortisol levels down. My scores got much better as the Open continued, and this could be part of the reason.
Many athletes chose to perform the Open WOD on Thursday or Friday and then repeat it on Saturday or Sunday. I took a taper, practice, WOD approach. They chose a taper, WOD, taper, WOD approach. Both approaches have merit. My approach yields a well-rested body for a single run with a possibly flawed strategy. Their approach yields a full understanding of the WOD and a better strategy, but a slightly fatigued body for the second run.
I want to know: What did you learn during the Open this year? How will it change your daily workouts?