In Defense of the Open (OPINION)

November 1, 2019 by
Photo Credit: Nero instagram.com/rxdphotography
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I’ve owned San Francisco CrossFit with my wife, Juliet, for nearly 14 years and, let me be frank, I don’t always like or appreciate the Open.  Running two Open’s in a single year is NOT a cause of celebration for our staff.  

But we need it. It’s necessary. It’s bitter medicine. So let me try and explain why, ultimately, I’m a fan.  

For many of our members, it has been a moment since they had a competitive season, if ever. In all likelihood, they were in their teens the last time they had to compete in back to back weeks. The Open is a short 5 week competitive season. It isn’t a single event, 5km, meet, pick-up game, etc.  It’s a full season. That means, you’ve got to show up on a given day and time and deliver. Oh, and you have to do it again, next week. So in the course of a week, you’ve got to compete, recover, still get some training in during the week, and be fresh enough to do it again. I’d actually argue that if you really attack the Open, you should come out at the end of five weeks a little less fit than when you started. If you are training through the Open, you are a savage. Sure, the best CF athletes on the planet should not be peaking during this month, but most participants in the Open aren’t them. The rest of us are going to have to modulate our training volumes if we are really going to show up and put the hammer down five weeks in a row. And this is the point. 

I’d even go further and say comparing workouts between Open years shouldn’t be done. All the conditions are different. Your life is different. Your training volume is different. Heck, we program for the gym THROUGH the Open. I’d argue that this aspect of the Open makes for more mentally resilient athletes (after they have a fit and melt down that they don’t know why they suck at HSPU’s…) You don’t have complete control. This is again the point. Show up, and let’s see how you go today. Only like 50 of us really have something on the line here. Let’s stop pretending we are playing for the same stakes as anyone that should be qualifying for the games. We aren’t. So, each Open effort has the possibility to be a learning experience.  

Here’s what I also know. The intensity of the Open workouts is typically higher than normal training sessions. This means the session costs are higher. It’s EXPENSIVE to go to the well. Not only do most of us never really touch that effort in our weekly training (nor should we necessarily) but we never really go there.  Coming face-to-face with smoked quads and another looming test is a real thing to navigate. I just talked down an athlete off the “I don’t know why my back is baked” ledge. Seriously? I know why. Your warm up sucked, you hustled in from work, you were a stress case this week and you went for glory. I had to also ask him, “what’s your plan to get turned around this week so that you can do it better next week?”

You know what gets better during the Open?  Everything. People eat better. They take care of their tissues. They sleep. They actually warm-up and cool down. They have to. You can’t really put out like that as a mortal person and not do it.  It highlights many behaviors that actually significantly impact the quality of our psycho-emotional motor selves, but fail to appreciate in the day to day training in which most of us engage.  It’s like Sober-October (people give up YHC/alcohol/etc for the month) but for your training self. It’s a reality check. Many of us have become quite consistent in our training efforts. But if we have a bad day, it really really don’t pay a cost for it.  Why? We really aren’t training for something. We are engaged in good strength and conditioning but there is no real test. In the rest of the world, strength and conditioning should make us better for a thing, a race, a contest, a match, a tournament. Oh you blew your hammies up? Well that sucks, because you are going to get crushed on the soccer field.  The Open focuses us to aim our training at a single day of the week. This is the lesson. Exercising and training are not the same thing.  

Once the newness, OMG I may not live-newness factor of Crossfit fades, we find that people actually become quite comfortable with being uncomfortable.  But not during the Open. You can’t cherry pick, sand bag, pull out your trick “I don’t believe in double-unders” form of apologetics. Castro planned it. It may suck. You may think it’s a stupid workout. But it’s the test. The worst part of this whole thing is that you don’t know what the test is actually going to be.  You tell everyone on the Facebook how gnarly you are. You follow CrossFit based meme sites. Heck you even know the name of Kara Saunders new baby (she’s beating you while holding her baby by the way). Time to show up and expose that ego, and confront the reality that our lives are complex and complicated.  This is all I can do today. But it’s ALL I can do today. It’s been a minute since you felt this way. Scared. A little sick to your stomach. 

The irony is that nothing is really different about doing an Open workout. You can scale it, sub it if you can’t do it. You don’t even have to record it.  But it feels different. This is the point. It’s in your head.  

There are a couple of other things that are hidden in the Open hell.  You can see how GOOD the top CF athletes really are. It’s easy to fall into the trap of the CF egalitarian lie.  We are NOT all equal no matter how often we train or what we eat. There are mutants amongst us. The Games and the Open remind me that I chose the wrong parents. I love that unlike many sports out there, we get to take the field alongside the best in the world, in the same test. This is probably why the recent sub-2 hour marathon is a topic amongst so many people, because we can all run. And we can all Crossfit.  We just can’t go like Ben, Annie, Freddy, Noah, Rich, Matt, Tia….

That last point really is the point. The Open is the largest sporting competition in the world. Now more than ever we need to have more in common. We get to pin our colors to the mast. For a few weeks (twice this year thanks) we all have to eat Dave’s cooking.  

Is the programming good for everyone? Nope. Can it be scaled? Yep. Do I love that many double unders? Nope. Do I have to do that many? Nope. Do you have to do the Open workouts at our gym on Fridays? Yep. Do you have to record your times or shout them out? Nope. Does it feel slightly different to work out with over a quarter of a million people? Yep. And this was always the point.  

Kelly Starrett
Co-Founder of San Francisco Crossfit, Affiliated 2005

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