Is CrossFit a sport, or is it a strength and conditioning system? That’s really where this conversation has to begin, but we’re going to skip that and just say “it’s both.” Unless you’re doing CrossFit in your garage, alone, and never asking another soul what their time was on the WOD, you’re playing a sport, if only just a tiny little bit. And for those of us who participate in the Open, CrossFit is definitely a sport, even if the only reason we are playing is to improve our fitness. This is why we call CrossFitters “athletes.”
BHCF has participated in every single Open, beginning in 2011. Through the first four years there were some changes, but nothing particularly dramatic. Almost every WOD was constructed in a way that almost everyone could do at least some of it, and thus continue to advance in the competition. You might not get a great score but you didn’t have to take a zero, or do it scaled — because there wasn’t even a scaled option.
For the vast majority of people, the Open WODs were great workouts that served to advance your fitness. They were primarily tests of strength and conditioning. The workouts were designed so that athletes with sufficient strength and cardio were given the opportunity to perform high-skill gymnastic movements like muscle-ups and separate themselves from others on the leaderboard who did not have those skills. But it was very clearly strength/conditioning first, skills second.
The 2015 CrossFit Open was just the opposite. The RX workouts required gymnastic skills first and foremost, from basics like toes-to-bar, to more advanced movements like chest-to-bar pullups, muscle-ups, and handstand pushups. If you had these skills (and could do them proficiently) then the RX workouts gave you an opportunity to demonstrate your strength and conditioning. If you didn’t have those skills, well then you probably struggled with the RX version, or were forced to do the scaled version. In either event, the 2015 Open was very clearly skills first, strength/conditioning second, and it’s safe to say that’s what we will see going forward.
That’s lesson #1.
You might be wondering why this matters for BHCF. We didn’t have an individual male or female even close to qualifying for regionals, and the BHCF team wasn’t close either. Why do we care about the Open at BHCF?
The Open matters because you need to have measurable goals in your training — and the Open WODs, in spite of their increased degree of difficulty, remain an excellent way to measure your progress in the development of functional fitness. You might wonder about the functionality of a handstand pushup, but I guarantee that if you can push press your bodyweight, you can do a handstand pushup. You might wonder about the usefulness of a toes-to-bar, but I promise that if you can do heavy front squats without surrendering midline stability you can get your toes to the bar. If you can do strict pullups and ring dips, you can do a muscle-up. Etc. The bottom line is that in CrossFit we are trying to improve all 10 general physical skills – we want to be strong, with good cardio of course, but we also want to be agile, with good balance and coordination. High-skill gymnastic movements are difficult but are no less functional, and are just as much a part of CrossFit as deadlifts and squats.
That’s lesson #2.
The goal of the programming at BHCF has always been to improve those 10 general physical skills, and to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains. That is “fitness” as defined by CrossFit, and we believe wholeheartedly in the definition and the method. But like I said, those goals need to be measurable, and the Open gives us a yearly five-week opportunity to verify that our programming actually serves to advance those goals. We use benchmark workouts like Fran and Grace in much the same way. When your Grace time goes from 7 minutes to 4 minutes, that’s proof you have become more fit. When we redo the Open WODs in six months or so, we will have that same opportunity to measure our progress, in quantifiable and undeniable terms.
So while you might not have known it, our programming has been designed to maximize performance on the Open WODs. And since the Open has always been mostly about strength and conditioning, and less about high-skill gymnastic movements, we were caught somewhat unprepared this year. We all knew muscle-ups would be in the Open, but who would have guessed they would be the FIRST movement in one of the WODs? Well, now we know.
That’s lesson #1, again.
What does this mean for the future of BHCF programming? More on that tomorrow…