Nik said she thought we should both do the CrossFit Open this year.
I go, “What’s that?”
After a year of doing CrossFit, I still have only a hazy idea how this crap works.
Nik patiently explained1 that the CrossFit Open is a 5-week event where people worldwide all do the same workout. Your score is validated either with a video you submit to CF judges or by coaches at a CF box. You post your results online. The top people in every region get to compete in regional CrossFit competitions. The top people at regionals get to go to the CrossFit Games, which is the thing you may have seen on ESPN with all the shirtless beefcakes and ladies in sports bras (or less) sweating and lifting barbells a lot and hitting things with hammers and flinging medicine balls around while doing Rocky IV situps.
I wasn’t sure I was up for that. I’ve seen CrossFit competitors. They are beasts. During an average class there’s a lot of stuff I can’t do, or can only do if scaled. Muscle-ups — can’t get anything close. I learned how to climb a rope only recently, and I didn’t get all the way up because I got chicken. My current limit is 6 pull-ups in a row. My wallball form sucks, my squats are getting better but not great, I can’t do a handstand, I can’t overhead squat worth a damn, and I’m not good at snatches.
“I didn’t even think they allowed people like me in a competition like that,” I said.
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
I love Nik and she loves me. She wouldn’t lead me into something she knows I can’t handle. I’m getting to the point where I can Rx some workouts.2 I’ve even done some parts of some workouts at competitor-level weights.3 I’m still not good at any of this stuff, but I’m better than I was.
I gave it some serious thought. Then I got an email from one of my coaches saying that all levels were encouraged to sign up. I figured, hey, if all levels are invited, surely that includes Crap Level. We registered at games.crossfit.com, paid 20 bucks, and signed up for the 2013 Open. I got to fill out my “athlete profile” on the website, which is hilarious since I’m not an athlete. I had no expectations of doing anything besides testing myself and having a good time, and no goal besides not looking like an ass.
Preparing for the Open
The Open lasts for 5 weeks. Each week’s workout is a surprise until Wednesday night when it’s announced, then you have until Sunday to get it done. You have to be prepared for any kind of workout. It could be anything.
“Fuck,” I told Nik. “I just hope it’s not snatches. Or burpees.”
On Wednesday, March 6, CrossFit announced the WOD, called 13.1:
30 snatches @ 75 pounds for men / 45 pounds for women
30 snatches @ 135# / 75#
30 snatches @ 165# / 100#
AMRAP snatches @ 210# / 120# until time is up
I immediately saw a few issues.
1. I hate burpees. I specifically requested no burpees.
2. I’m not good at snatches. I said no snatches either. Take it back, waiter, thank you.
3. I can snatch only 85, maybe 90 if I tried really hard and my form was impeccable. But my form is very peccable. I can pull on the bar as much as I please, but there’s no way I’m getting 135 pounds over my head. Not unless my daughter was trapped under it.
4. That’s assuming I even got through 40 burpees, 30 snatches, and then another 30 burpees in 17 minutes, which is both longer and shorter than you think when you’re doing burpees.
Each rep is 1 point. With 40 burpees, 30 snatches, and another 30 burpees, the best I could hope for is 100 points out of a possible 190 or more. And I wasn’t even confident I’d get the 100, because I don’t practice snatches much. Because, as I said, I’m not good at snatches, and like many people, I tend to be counterintuitive and practice the fun thing I need less help with and not practice the things I stink at — which is why I show up more often for deadlifts and back squats than for snatches, the opposite of what I should be doing.
I don’t love snatches, because I can’t do them very well, but I respect them. They’re fucking elegant as hell when I watch people do them well. They’re all about strength plus speed plus balance plus badassery. It only looks like you’re pulling the bar over your head. But the good snatchers kind of hoist the bar up to only mid-chest level, then make the bar float in midfrigginair for a fraction of a second while they quick-quick-quick swing around and drop their bodies underneath the bar, catching it in an overhead squat. Then they push it up by standing. Bad-friggin-ass.
People tell me snatches are by far the most difficult lift to learn and master, and I believe it. I wondered if it wasn’t a bad sign that the Open was starting with snatches.
As luck would have it, my box quote-unquote “just so happened” AHEM AHEM SUSPICIOUS COUGH to schedule 15 minutes of snatch practice mere days before the Open. Nik and I went, and we got in some good quality practice — then 55 reps in a 10-1 descending ladder. So yeah. Lots of practice.
I tried to prepare for burpees by remembering to keep my feet shoulder-width apart. I tend to kick my feet together, so I’m off balance and can’t stand up. But in the end the only way to prepare for a lot of burpees is to be fit enough to do a lot of burpees.
Nik, Malley, my mom, and I all arrived at CFP a quarter before 11 a.m. Saturday to sign up for judging in the Open. Got there just as the people who took the 10 a.m. class was on the floor. The gym had made 13.1 the workout of the day, so people had just finished it, but not for points. Some were heaving, some near death, all sweaty. Rattle and thump of barbells being dropped from overhead. Dozens of other people around, many of them doing PVC pipe passthroughs and overhead squats. A few guys who hadn’t done the workout yet were already shirtless. The PA system was blasting Drowning Pool, loud — deafeningly loud, nightclub loud. I told my mother that I bring my infant daughter here all the time. It’s fine, though.
The coaches held four heats of about 10 people each. I was placed in Heat #2, Nik in Heat #3. We got to watch the first heat churn through the workout, starting with a grueling slog of burpees. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing people force themselves to do 40 burpees, but it’s tough to watch. People spring around great for the first minute or so, gradually get weaker, then flop around gasping for air. After this, once people were good and exhausted, they had to do the most complicated and technical of all lifts, the snatches, 30 of them in a row. Some people dropped the bar after every rep, but the fresher competitors just heaved the bar up and down easily. Then more burpees. Then more snatches. Then more burpees — by now half as many as the first round, but it seemed to take longer. Then some more snatches. I didn’t see anybody get past that round. By then the time was up, and people were on the floor. One woman was red-faced and gasping. My mom pointed and looked concerned. “She’ll be fine,” I said.
Then I was up. The place was a mess of bars and plates and shit grip-taped to other shit to serve as burpee jump-targets (the standard is to finish the burpee with a jump and hit a target 6 inches above your reach). Took me a while to find a bar no one was using. When I got it sorted out, I had a 45# bar with 10s and 5s on it — which I’m not supposed to drop, because it fucks up the thin plates, but I knew I’d have to.
I introduced myself to my judge, was measured for a jump-target, and pointed at the 45-pound plates on the floor. Those were for the 135-pound snatch round.
I go: “Won’t be needing those.”
I found a toe-mark on the floor for my burpees, braced my feet, and the clock started. Right away I fucking forgot to keep my feet shoulder-width apart, and started kicking my feet like my laces were tied together.
About 10, maybe 15, burpees in, I was already wiped out. I fell back on my usual burpee style: fall down, get up, do a little hop, repeat. After about three or four days straight of doing burpees, my judge told me I’d hit rep 30: “Ten more!” I managed to gut those out, then stood and addressed the bar for the 75-pound snatches by standing over it for a second with my hands on my thighs trying not to throw up.
My first lift, I bashed myself in the face with the bar on its way up. I was so focused that I forgot about it immediately after it happened and only remembered later, when Nik asked why my nose was bruised. It’s still tender.
For I don’t know how many minutes, I hoisted the bar, dropped the bar, felt sorry that I dropped it on flimsy 10s, and tried to bend them back into shape, hoisted the bar again, sloppy, exhausted. Eventually I eked out the 30 snatches too, one by one, after 10:51 had elapsed. Then I headed back to my burpee target and started again on the next round. CrossFit tends to be like this. A coach gives me a pile of work, and I shut the fuck up and grind it out until it’s done. I knew this would be my last bit of the workout, since I couldn’t possibly snatch 135 pounds, so I focused on finishing the burpees in time. One by one, I dropped face-down onto the floor, stood up, jumped and hit my target, 3o times. I finished 100 reps, exactly the maximum amount I could possibly get.
When I finished, I stood and contemplated the bar again. My judge said asked if I wanted to give the 135 pound snatches a shot, just for shits and giggles. For a while before the games started, I thought I might just do 135-pound snatch pulls4 until the time elapsed. I was so wiped out, I said no. My 1-rep max is 85. I’d be hurting myself.
I go: “I’ll make it easy on the next guy after me and leave the bar as is.”
For several days before the Open, Nik kept worrying she’d no-rep on burpees because she’d miss the 6-inch target above her reach. As her nightmares predicted, there was some trouble measuring a burpee jump target for Nik. She’s a little thing, and because they’d run out of room and things to tape/tie/chain onto other things, she had a PVC pipe hung about 8 or so inches over her reach.
“You don’t have to jump that high to hit it,” her judge said.
Nik’s first burpee, she whacked the shit out of it. So no trouble there. All that worry for nothing.
My mom watched her roll through the burpees with no trouble. “She just bounces up and down, no stopping.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t do them like me.”
Nik finished her 40 burpees in what seemed like no time, then stood over her empty Olympic bar and began tearing through the lifts. I explained to my mom that it weighed 45 pounds. After 6 minutes had elapsed, there she was, headed back for 30 more burpees. Two minutes later, she was done. 100 points, and in only a few minutes.
Her second round of snatches was 75 pounds. She has snatched up to 85 pounds, but not in a while. She figured she had 9 minutes to play with, perhaps get at least one more lift in — either that or stand around twiddling her thumbs. Not being a big thumb-twiddler, she put some plates on her bar and gave it several shots, each one more agonizingly close than the last. I could practically taste that 101 score, and she tried incredibly hard, but she couldn’t make it happen.
While we waited for her time to be up, I played the “that person’s amazing” game with my mom, pointing out to her various people who are amazing.
I go: “That person’s amazing,” pointing at a guy I’ve worked out with in the mornings who reached the 165-pound snatch round easily and was lifting the bar like it was a paper towel tube.
I go: “Oh, that person’s amazing,” my chin in the direction of a woman about 5-foot-1 who hit the 75-pound round and was taking the bar up and down without breaks, unlike me.
I go: “Jesus, those guys are amazing,” watching several people do split snatches, a variation of the lift I’ve never seen before.
I go: “Still amazing,” as another guy fails at a 165-pound snatch and falls on his ass, because the effort to do even that is well beyond me.
• Nik and I both scored 100. I’m willing to bet that was a popular score.
• I’m tied for 7,130th place. Regionally. I always knew I’d be somebody!
• As of right now, the top male competitor worldwide scored 199. The top female scored 211. Fuck.
• We both only worked out for 17 minutes each, but we were exhausted the rest of the day. I felt like I ran a 10K.
• I never expected anything out of this other than a good time and a benchmark to set. It’s been helpful there. We took loads of video and photos. Not going to share the video because it’s too embarrassing, but looking at it, I see why the snatches were so hard. My form was garbage. I was muscle-snatching the bar. I wasn’t so much pulling it up and ducking underneath it to drive it up with my legs, as pulling it up and strict-pressing the stupid fucking thing overhead. Which is much harder. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to use your damn legs and not your arms. I did a lot better in the practice a few days before the Open, but with the excitement and pressure, it all fell out of my head. If there’s more barbell work to be done in the Open, I’ll have to remember to lift with my brain first.
• We’ve only got a matter of hours until the Open WOD 13.2 is announced. Whatever it is, it’s got to be easier than burpees and snatches together. Unless it’s muscle-ups.
• Please don’t let it be muscle-ups.
• OK. Just announced, minutes ago, CrossFit Open WOD 13.2:
10 min AMRAP
5 shoulder-to-overhead @ 115 pounds
10 deadlifts @ 115 pounds
15 box jumps @ 24 inches
To be continued…
- (not for the first time, she reminded me) ↩
- Meaning, do them as prescribed, which usually means “big boy weights.” ↩
- At my gym, this generally means weights are heavier than Rx. The fact that I can do this sometimes is puzzling to me, and I’m not sure if what’s going on is (a.) I’m getting stronger, (b.) I’m pushing myself more, or (c.) the programming is getting easier. ↩
- (where you shrug the bar up but don’t attempt to lift it overhead) ↩