So you completed the CrossFit Open. Congratulations, friend!
Whether it was your first or your you’ve done many past Opens, soak in your wins. Really, truly reflect on how far you’ve come. Feel awe for what your body can do. And let gratitude wash over you, because you’re able to live a life so freakin’ awesome, you actually look for challenges to add to it.
But I have news for you, athlete: The hard work is still ahead, not behind you.
Competition always lays bare the things left undone.
What you do next is the most important step of all. ONWARD!
First: Conduct a Post-Mortem
At the conclusion of a business project, savvy leaders will conduct a post-mortem to see what went right, what went wrong, and adjust future plans accordingly. We’re going to borrow that model.
If you’re like most athletes, your Open has ended with a bit of relief, pride, and a vague promise to yourself you’re finally going to get around to those weaknesses. You might check your rank on the worldwide leaderboard, or ponder how close you would hypothetically be to a Regionals invite. Maybe you’ll pout that you didn’t beat Suzy Q from the 6:00 am class, but at least you can gloat about beating Bobby Jane for the next 11 months.
Many athletes will simply breeze back into their classes and neglect to conduct a proper post-mortem of their Open performance. Don’t do that. Benchmarks help us keep moving the ball forward long after the days of fast and furious beginner PRs have passed. Not noting benchmarks is the first step down a road that sooner or later ends with burnout, boredom, and frustration. Next thing you know, you’re cancelling your CrossFit membership without a great explanation, and back in some mindless cardio class you hate attending.
Use this opportunity.
Forget about Suzy Q and Bobby Jane. They can provide a short term competitive push, of course, and the right dose of competition is totally healthy. But externally-driven indicators are not going to help you build a strong bedrock for performance improvement.
Take stock of how each workout went. Emotionally, mentally, physically. And duh, the actual results of your WOD! (Save to Wodify, Beyond the White Board, whatever you use to track your results for future comparison.) There’s a ton of data to be gleaned from your benchmarks.
Here’s what my personal CrossFit Open 2018 post mortem looks like:
- 18.1. I didn’t trust my engine on this 20-minute AMRAP, and it showed. My calorie output (per hour) was dismally low, and I held back too much for too long. My lack of thoracic mobility killed my kip, making toes-to-bar more difficult than it needed to be. I was in good spirits. The dumbbell movement was fun and fast.
- 18.2. My anabolic output is not what it used to be. I’ve worked hard on my breath control and pacing, but now I have to start bringing some intensity back into my training. My knee did not like the front rack dumbbell squats.
- 18.2a. My clean weight was exactly the same as my 15.1a clean and jerk weight, which was the first Open after my ACL surgery. In fact, my all-time clean and jerk PR is only 5 lbs. heavier. Why? Despite a lot of technique work, I’ve neglected consistent strength gains and my back is still weak. I feel a lot of front squats coming on.
- 18.3. Muscle-ups are still a goat for me, and I expected that. I have extensive work to do on my ongoing wrist issues so I can finally lose my false grip and string together neutral-grip muscle ups. But hey, I did 12 with toasted shoulders and very little practice, so I’m not mad. What surprised me was just how bad my double-under endurance was. I thought my okay technique would save me, but it failed fast, and hard.
- 18.4. I was actually really happy with my 18.4. “Diane” usually leaves me with back spasms for days, so I broke up my sets early and often. I had plenty in the tank to power through some of the heavy reps. Probably need to do some HSPU more often, but I was barely sore the next day and that’s a huge win. (Take that, Diane!)
- 18.5. Same lesson as 18.2– need to regain some giddyup on these short, fast WODs. Thrusters didn’t hurt my knee like they often do, and I wasn’t as terrible at C2B as I expected. I got Fran Cough and almost passed out. But I’ll take it!
Overarching takeaways: I’m battling insomnia right now, my diet has not been up to snuff, hydration is dismal, and my workouts are rushed. Proper warm-ups, recovery steps, and bodywork has been nonexistent. Shame on me. No wonder I feel like shit every time I try to start gaining momentum on strength and skill work. I haven’t earned it on a cellular level. Post Mortem Summary: Back to basics.
How do I turn this into a Game Plan?
It’s easy to take stock, but that leaves you with a bunch of data points and the question what now?
Let’s filter that data through some questions so we can add context. Here are a few you might ask of yourself:
What can be done with ease? I’m all about the emotional boost from quick wins when we can make them happen! Thisclose to your first muscle up? Let’s get serious about making it a priority.
What specific movements would give me the most bang for my buck? For example, I know if I get stronger at front squats, I’ll also get better at thrusters, cleans, wall balls, etc.
What am I avoiding? Why?
- Does it hurt when you do X? How can we remedy the causes of pain? Do not stop looking for answers until you get them. (You may not like the answers, but someone out there has them.)
- Do you just hate X because you’re not good at it? How can we shift your mindset so there is one thing you like about it, and make it bearable to train?
- Do you just not know how to go about making headway on X? It’s very likely time to seek out personal coaching so you can tackle this thing with focus.
Don’t limit yourself to specific movements. Think about your energy output. Are you amazing at short WODs but have no endurance? Most of us have whole categories of workouts we can improve at, even more so than specific movements. Read more about metabolic pathways here.
How can I keep this fun? How can I battle burnout? What factors would keep this mentally engaging for me as I prepare for the long climb to the higher-hanging fruit?
CrossFit is infinitely scalable. When you hear that statement, you probably imagine scaling down. But the fact is that we can scale up, too. There is always a next progression to improve upon.
Losing the joy of learning new stuff is an athlete’s kiss of death.
What would happen if I focused on increasing the quality of my movement instead of the volume? How can I begin to apply that in my daily training? I hate to tell you, but most people who tell me they’re looking to start doing two-a-days or competitive programming are not even close to yet earning that kind of volume.
Have you ever watched Rich Froning compete? Really, really watched him? He’s the legend in functional fitness purely because his movement is Grade A quality, and then he built volume on top of that while keeping the quality. Not the other way around.
What if I prioritized consistency over intensity? Do you leave the gym feeling like shit every day? Do you show up to compete, totally wreck your body, and then force yourself to skip several days at a time? I get it, folks. We get addicted to the pain, adreneline, and ensuing endorphin rush that come with constantly living on the edge with high-intensity workouts. But your addiction will eventually derail your progress with nagging injuries and burnout.
NFL athletes only compete a few times a year. They don’t go that hard all the time, for the very same reason you shouldn’t: It’s simply not reasonable to think you can sustain it long term.
How is my mental game? Do you show up feeling prepared and ready to prove yourself? Or fall apart when the pressure rises? Do you punish yourself unnecessarily when things don’t go your way? Are you able to fight back when you get (metaphorically, I hope) punched in the face? Do you even like the process?
Suggested listen: This week’s Brute Strength Podcast, Episode 141, Program Your Mind For Improved Performance And Greater Self Awareness. This topic is woefully underrated.
Am I working as hard (or harder) on my recovery than in my WODs? If you even have to wonder, the answer is “no”.
Where the Open fits into the The Big Picture
Functional fitness is a means to an end, and that end is your long, healthy life, not the CrossFit Games. No one is paying you to do this. You have to use your shoulder to throw the ball for your dog, need your knees to continue to take the stairs three at a time, and hips that can hopefully go snowboarding at 80 years old. That’s the big picture.
If you want any longevity whatsoever as an athlete and as a high-functioning human, you must learn this lesson sooner rather than later.
All that said, we want to continue to improve for as long as possible. If you repeatedly circulate back to these steps, you’ll be able to keep healthfully pushing the boundaries of your athleticism for many years to come.
So what does your game plan look like? I’d love to hear!