Spirit Weeks!

February 6, 2017

Brittney Saline

Affiliate owners share tips for using high-school tactics to amp up the Open.

It’s the final event, and just a few points separate teams.

The DJ’s laying down beats, and the crowd is on its feet, screaming equally loudly for a team dressed in “Walking Dead” zombie makeup and a team of Regionals hopefuls.

It’s not the CrossFit Games, but the CrossFit Games Open is packed with plenty of spirit at affiliates around the world.

“It's a big huge party for five weeks,” said Mike Wuest, owner of CrossFit COMO in Columbia, Missouri.

An affiliate owner since 2013, Wuest has hosted the Open for his athletes since 2014. For the past two years, he’s done it with a twist, turning the Open into an in-house intramural competition. Though athletes still register for the Open on the CrossFit Games site and put up a score recorded by a judge, the primary purpose of the intramural Open is to create unity and have fun.

“One thing we really focused on was, ‘Let’s not worry about people being the best athlete,'" Wuest said. "We really focus on 'What kind of experience could that team or that group bring to the gym every Friday night?’” 

CrossFit Como (Photo courtesy of Kim Wuest and Lydia Hunt)

The concept of the intramural Open was originally developed in 2014 by Chris Cooper, owner of CrossFit Catalyst in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As Cooper writes in his free guide explaining the concept, the “focus is on inclusion instead of competition.”

Jessica Kohler, a trainer at CrossFit Fringe (also in Columbia, Missouri), sees the intramural Open as a way to show athletes that the Open is for everyone—especially those who may be intimidated by the idea of competition.

“I think a lot of people still see the Open collectively as more for the (elite) competitor, and they never felt like it was for them because they’re a scaled athlete, so it's been a really great way to make it more inclusive for all of our athletes,” Kohler said.

Jenna Birch, owner of Side Door CrossFit in St. Paul, Minnesota, agreed.

“We got into the (intramural Open) because we wanted more people to get excited about the Open … and have them see that they can do these same workouts that people going to the Games are doing—maybe not have the same kind of times, but have that same idea that we can all do that workout,” Birch said.

But inclusive doesn’t mean boring, and at CrossFit COMO—just like in the NFL or NBA—the intramural Open starts with the draft. A week before the Open, team captains (coaches) divide registrants into four teams of 15-20 people, each captain making his or her picks based on critical factors: For example, how tasty a cheesecake can a particular athlete make (CrossFit COMO hosts several potlucks during the Open)?

To build anticipation and encourage more people to register, as each athlete “signs” for his or her team, Wuest and his wife, Kim, film a short “confirmed athlete” promo to post to social media.

“People would then know who's signing up for the Open, and maybe they would feel more comfortable to sign up,” Kim said.

Eric Chang, owner of CrossFit Reason in Arcadia, California, said drafting athletes shows them that “every single person matters."

“Human nature is you want to feel wanted. I think the intramural creates an environment where everybody is worth something,” Chang explained.

Though the Open has divisions, teams don’t have to be divided in the intramural competition. At CrossFit COMO, you’ll find athletes of all abilities competing on the same team.

“Whether you’re scaled or Rx, for us it doesn’t matter,” Wuest said.

Teams can be mixed, because many gyms don’t score the intramural competition by workout performance only. At CrossFit COMO, for example, athletes earn one point for completing an Open workout and another for recording it on the Games site. Five points are awarded to the team with the most spirit or best costumes each week—themes like ’80s night or hit-movie night generate excellent costume ideas.

Teams can earn more points by completing fun challenges throughout the week, such as posting photos of team members doing handstands at work, squatting a watermelon at the grocery store or eating the most fried crickets (true story).

At CrossFit Fringe as well as EverProven CrossFit in Dover, New Hampshire, teams with the top three athletes in each division earn additional points. EverProven CrossFit owner Matt Michaud livens things up even more with an emcee and Regionals-style color commentary during the workouts, which are streamed live on Facebook.

“It was something that a lot of people found really exciting, because they get to be the star,” Michaud said.

CrossFit Fringe (Photo courtesy of Fresa Jacobs and Sadie Thibodeaux)

When the Open is over, crews with the most points receive everything from bragging rights to trophies engraved with their team names. Hopefully, team members might have developed a new skill or set a new personal record as well.

“We see a lot of PRs during the Open because (athletes) try things that they're not (usually) willing to try,” Chang said. “And what I love about it is it kind of gives everybody a kick after the Open ... It shows their weaknesses and it shows what they need to improve, and they’re amped to go on for next year.”

Wuest agreed.

“The reason we have (athletes) participate and sign up (on the CrossFit Games site) is really about being part of the bigger CrossFit community ... and giving people the opportunity to maybe push that intensity a little bit more, get a little bit outside their comfort zone, so then they grow and develop,” Wuest said.

That’s the whole point for Michaud. The costumes, themes and parties might get athletes on the board, but it’s their accomplishments they’ll remember most when the chalk settles.

“It's really worth it,” Michaud said. “It not only helps build community, it's really fun. And the fear from people that aren't at (a high) level (or think) ‘why would I shell out the cash to participate? I'm not going to Regionals’—I think we've done a good job of taking that mentality and being like, ‘Well, it's not just about the people who are going to go to Regionals. It's about everybody—it's about you.’”