The 2021 CrossFit Open May Not Be As Different As You Think

January 11, 2021 by
Credit: CrossFit LLC
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Two weeks ago, the CrossFit Games announced via Instagram that competitors in the 2021 Open would only need a barbell, a box, a pull-up bar, a dumbbell, and a jump rope. They also introduced the concept of an equipment-free open that athletes would be able to participate in from the comfort of their own living rooms.

One big thing: The post pulled in over 500 comments of curious Open hopefuls wondering how this might change the look of the Open. In the past, Dave Castro has been known to bank on the unknown and unknowable. But the truth is, for the past ten years, the Open has been largely predictable.

  • From 2010 to 2020, there have only been 33 unique exercises featured in the Open.
  • Of those exercises, only three* cannot be performed without the equipment that CrossFit has decided to include in the 2021 Open. Those movements are wall balls, muscle-ups, and rowing for calories.

Groundhog day: It seems that the Open tends to favor what’s familiar. With the exception of perennial favorites of Castro that have been featured in the Open since its inception, Castro has only added an average of 2 new movements to each Open.

  • Once a movement is introduced to the Open, it tends to stay. More than 50% of movements keep their appearance rate higher than 50% once they are introduced to the Open.
  •  Out of the 51 Open workouts in the past 10 years, about one-third were repeated workouts.
  • By leaving out certain equipment from the Open, some workouts are eliminated altogether from repetition. But the reality is that only 13 (25%) of the Open workouts from the last ten years require equipment not designated by CrossFit in 2021. 
Chart 1: The unshaded workouts cannot be repeated in 2021 given the equipment list.

The Three Musketeers: It appears that the movements seemingly eliminated by CrossFit’s new equipment list commonly make appearances together.

  • Since their respective introductions, the wallball shot, the ring muscle-up, and rowing for calories have always appeared with each other in Open workouts. Whether that’s all three of them together like in 20.5, or just two of the movements.
Chart 2: Workouts in which wall balls and/or ring muscle-ups and/or rowing appeared together.

Castro’s favorites: While he’s certainly tested and pushed our limits over the years with some of the most brutal workouts ever written, he always comes back to the same core movements that have appeared in 100% of opens.

  • Toes to bar and double unders have appeared in 100% of all Opens since its inception. Given the equipment list and their high appearance rate, there is a high probability we will see them in the 2021 Open.
  • Handstand push-ups and handstand walks have appeared every year since their introductions in 2015 and 2018 respectively. Since both require no equipment, there’s a solid chance we will see those make an appearance in the 2021 Open.
  • Chest to bar pull-ups and thrusters have made appearances in 90% of Opens since their introduction in the original Open. 
  • While relatively new, dumbbell movements have become an integral part of the Open. Since 2017, every Open has featured at least one dumbbell movement. The main difference in this Open will be that all dumbbell movements will need to be single dumbbell movements due to the change in equipment requirements.

Movements we might not see: While technically all the movements except wall balls, rowing, and could make an appearance, there are some movements that are unlikely to re-appear in the 2021 Open.

  • Handstand walking could prove difficult for some athletes with limited space capacity in their home gyms and with social distancing policies in gyms still operating, it will make giving athletes enough space to handstand walk very difficult.
  • While not completely out of the picture yet, there’s a solid chance bar muscle-ups don’t make an appearance in this year’s Open. While the Open equipment requires a pull-up structure, many home gym athletes lack the overhead space needed to perform the bar muscle-up, making it a strong candidate for elimination from this year’s Open.
  • It’s also important to note that all double dumbbell movements will need to become single dumbbell movements in this year’s Open. While the basic movements can still be performed, there is no chance of double dumbbell thrusters or cleans in this year’s Open due to equipment limitations.

Could we see new movements?: While Castro has long had a propensity for repetition, with the new format to the season and the new changes to the Open, it might just be the perfect time to introduce some new movements. Plus, the fact that there has been a dramatic increase in the introduction of new movements in the last 4 years (see graph below), tells us that Castro likely has something special brewing.

Graph 1: New movement introductions by year.

From the Games: This year, the 2 phases of the Games gave us more events than we’ve ever seen before, as well as a plethora of new movements that could potentially be featured in the Open given the new equipment requirements.

  • The freestanding handstand hold was introduced in the first phase of the 2020 CrossFit games and seems like a fitting event and movement for people with limited space and equipment. Additionally, it’s an easy movement to scale down to wall supported handstand hold or plank hold for different divisions.
  • While we’ve seen chest to bar pull-ups, we’ve never seen standard chin over bar pull-ups in the Open. However, they made an appearance with 300 reps in the final event of the 2020 CrossFit games this year.
  • One rep max movements might make their comeback. It’s been two Opens since we’ve seen a one-rep max and we’ve only ever seen a one-rep max clean and jerk or clean. All other heavy lifts have been performed as ladders in past opens. This past year’s CrossFit Games featured 4 one rep max lifts (one in the first stage and three during the CrossFit total in the final stage). Perhaps we could see something new such as a one-rep max deadlift.

From CrossFit.com: Lest we forget one of our most important resources for a peek into what the Open might hold for us. CrossFit.com features many movements that have never been featured in the Open. 

  • Air squats have been featured twice in the CrossFit.com workout of the day in the past few weeks. Despite never having been featured in the Open, including them would help to fortify CrossFit’s mission to make the Open more accessible, especially since the bodyweight weight squat is largely considered CrossFit’s foundational movement.
  • Sit-ups have also never been featured in the Open, but are featured frequently on CrossFit.com’s workout of the day. Most recently, they were featured this Monday, January 11, as part of a TABATA workout featuring other bodyweight movements.
  • Sumo Deadlift High Pulls are frequent favorites of CrossFit.com and have never been featured in the Open. They are also one of the movements taught during the Level 1 seminar, making them a favorite of CFHQ staff and a favorable candidate for this year’s Open.
  • While toes to bar have been a perennial favorite of Castro, CrossFit.com often features the toes to bar’s lesser-known, but equally awful cousin, the knee to elbow. While often considered “easier” than toes to bar, when performed correctly and in high volume, the knee to elbow can prove quite difficult for even the most seasoned athlete.
  • The strict pull-up has never been seen in CrossFit Games competition before on any level but is often featured on CrossFit.com. Perhaps we could see a strict pull-up for load or even for reps. 

The big picture: While it’s impossible to predict the Open completely, we can glean tiny pieces of insight from years past as well as find easter eggs in other spaces, such as CrossFit.com and the CrossFit Games. However, when all is said and done, it seems that the Open might not be so different from years past given Castro’s predisposition to fall back on his favorites.

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