February 10, 2017
Embrace the Mystery
By Brittney Saline
Affiliate owners share tips for programming around the question marks of the Open. 
Affiliate owners share tips for programming around the question marks of the Open. 

Time-tested truth: Proximity to the CrossFit Games Open directly influences how often your coach programs thrusters and burpees.

In the weeks before the first live announcement, affiliates across the world ramp up their skill work, resurrect past Open workouts and concoct new ones built of rep schemes and loads seen in Opens past.

But what do they do when the Open arrives and they’ve still got to program for the other days of the week surrounding the Open workout? And how do they continue to increase fitness while also leaving room to accommodate its most comprehensive test?

“In the first couple years (of hosting the Open) I freaked out about it,” said Tom Moldenhauer, owner of South Tahoe CrossFit in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Moldenhauer writes a regimented program for his athletes, usually revolving around a five-week strength cycle with one or two days of heavy squatting and Olympic weightlifting, followed immediately by a daily met-con. Every few weeks he programs a day of gymnastics skill progressions as well.

So when the Open first came around in 2011, he was worried his painstakingly laid plans might clash with the worldwide test of fitness. What if they ended up doing 150 wall-ball shots the day after finishing the strength cycle and maxing out back squats? Or what if he programmed pull-ups and snatches for Tuesday only to find the same two movements announced on Thursday?

The resolution was simple: Factor the Open into his gym’s cycles. Today, Moldenhauer programs heavy strength days for Mondays during the Open and treats Thursdays like an active rest day.

Photo courtesy of Double Edge Fitness.

“We’ll do like a 28-minute EMOM, and people can adjust their intensity to what they need for the day,” he said.

The rest of the week is business as usual—with care not to overtax the shoulders or legs. And he doesn’t sweat it if he happens to program the same movement or skill that turns up in the week’s Open workout.

“Unless you've programmed Fran the day before, your athletes are probably gonna be fine,” he said.

Like Moldenhauer, Myles Lewis used to fret for five weeks each winter. Lewis runs CrossFit Avalanche in Tahoe Vista, California, and CrossFit Blizzard in Truckee, California—two gyms with nearly 350 members total.

For Lewis, one Friday Night Lights-style event wasn’t enough to get everyone through. So the Open workout became Friday’s workout of the day at both locations, as well as either Saturday’s or Sunday’s workout. But Lewis still had to program completely different workouts for the non-Open days at each gym.

“Needless to say, this had me stressed,” Lewis said. “So this year I am programming the week as if the Open were never there.”

Each location will host the Open workouts on Friday nights, but anyone who needs more time will come during an open gym time over the weekend, Lewis said.

“With this new plan, we will have to communicate with all the members signed up for the Open,” he said. “We will advise taking a rest day before attempting the Open workout … and using their best judgment on how hard to go on the workouts during the week.”

Smart programmers write workouts weeks in advance, often designing them with a purposeful flow and structure, and some choose to play the odds throughout the five-week competition.

“What we try to do is pretty much guess,” admitted Leo Fontana, general manager of Double Edge CrossFit in Reno, Nevada. “The more the weeks go by, the easier it is because we know certain movements have already happened, so they most likely are not going to be hit again.”

Fontana’s main goal throughout the five weeks is to keep his athletes Open-ready by laying off any movements that haven’t yet appeared.

“There's no need to do a bunch of pull-ups or muscle-ups,” he said. “Then we have members ripping their hands, and they can't do the Open, or it affects their performance.”

Lief Larson, owner of Carson City CrossFit in Carson City, Nevada, simply leaves the days before and after Friday's Open workout blank when he writes the gym’s programming about a month in advance.

“I usually leave it open with maybe about four to five (options for) exercises, and if something similar comes up on Thursday, I can adjust,” he said.

Regardless of how they manage the Open week, many trainers agree that the day before the Open workout should be light, but not sedentary. Fontana never advises a full-on rest day, noting that if he programs nothing, “Most likely people are going to sit on the couch and do nothing, and that’s going to make it worse.”

At Carson City CrossFit, Larson invites his members to pull up an erg or grab a foam roller and get some light activity in while watching the live Open announcement on the gym’s Wodify screens.

At Double Edge CrossFit, Fontana might program a couplet, such as 15 rounds of 10 calories on the rower and 15 burpees.

“Motion is lotion,” Fontana said. “Once you get your body moving, you’re going to feel much better.”

Some athletes might swing the other way come Open season: Freshly fired up, they come in early and stay late in a desperate attempt to cram a year’s worth of work into the days before an Open workout.

But “more is not necessarily better,” said Clint Russell, owner of CrossFit Coronado in California.

To prevent burnout during the Open, Russell makes sure Wednesday is the last heavy day of the week and avoids programming anything on Thursday that might tax the central nervous system.

“Movements without an eccentric load, such as rowing or the Assault (AirBike) are favorites for Thursday, as well as body-weight movements,” he said. “In laymen’s terms, we don’t want to kill everyone right before the Open workout.”

Photo courtesy of Double Edge Fitness.

The Open season might be five weeks of mental gymnastics for programmers and affiliate owners. But the extra work is well worth it, Russell said.

“The Open workouts push people to the next level with all the energy in the gym,” Russell said. “This is the time to see how far people have come in the past year.”