Collected Thoughts on The CrossFit Games

So it’s over a week since The Games have ended and the events and spectacle are still buzzing around my head. I’ll try put my notes here of the highs and lows and the lessons learnt as a spectator, fan, coach, and athlete.

Before we dive in, all this is my observation and opinion. I don’t know the ins and outs of the athletes, The Dave Castro, or CrossFit as a whole. I’m sure my thoughts will mature as we get further from the season and once I see the behind the scenes I’m sure more of it will make sense. For further insights I recommend:

Madison

There’s rumours about why Madison, which are fun to entertain but don’t really add up to anything. Overall I think this was the best Games I’ve attended or watched. Despite the Severe Weather Warnings the events were so well structured that the leaderboard was completely shaken up every workout. From an fan point of view this is the excitement you want but also shows how tight and competitive the ladies’ field really is. Even though there’s 10 names that could podium, anyone could “steal” points from the leaders and upset the apple cart.

One could argue that with sprint events, judging errors, and knockout style events that you haven’t found “The Fittest on Earth”. But if you take a look at the ten components of fitness (and CrossFit to my knowledge is still the only body that’s bothered to really define fitness.) they were all tested. Speed (cycle time per rep) matters. Agility (sprinting to the finish line) matters. Coordination, balance, accuracy – aspects generally devalued in favour of strength and endurance – are important and were tested. And as The Games move on the need to not be deficient in any of these becomes increasingly important. This makes it harder to train for and demands more in terms of variability in our training, but Fraser has figured it out (for now).

To win The Games you need to “win” The Open, “win” Regionals, and then win The Games. This year that’s 24 workouts in total. By comparison to win The Super Bowl you only have to take part in 19 tests, and not win all of them, just the last 3. To win the Rugby World Cup it’s only 7 matches. To me, it’s enough tests to crown the fittest. As a fan I’d like to see more for the women’s competition, but I’m fairly sure at that stage the men just wanted to stop getting pistol whipped by Mat Fraser.

Fraser is better then Froning.

Early, “old school” CrossFit featured videos of people racing out to flying starts, and dying a death. No one personified this more than Jason Khalipa (Seriously, check out the 2010 “Amanda” workout if you don’t believe me. Actually, check it out anyway and you’ll appreciate how far the sport has come on). People sprinted and Froning reeled them back in calmly and methodically. So the sport changed towards pacing.

Mat (I feel I can call him Mat) understands it’s exercise racing and pushes people to a faster pace than they’d like. His drop off from the start to the end is less than others, so he can hold a higher pace. Amanda .45 is a great example of this. He raced out, looked side to side, and kept the pace up so only one or two can keep with him. If someone can hold with him for one, I’d say they’re overstretched for the next event.

Fraser’s intelligence was also show in the Fibonacci Finale. At one point, he was dead last in his heat, and he goes on to win it, taking second only to Ricky Garrard (who I really hope is a threat and not a flare up). He knew that going unbroken in the rounds of 5 and 8 weren’t important. The round of 13 mattered the most, and he reeled everyone in. He knows which events are sprint starts and which are paced starts. He had such wherewithal in that event that when the stadium announcer said he was done with his 8 HSPU he corrected him. Now, he’d won The Games at that stage so he could afford that but it’s clear throughout the weekend that he understands where he needs to attack and push to stay ahead of his competition. Oh, and did you see how clever his steps were in the 2223 Intervals between Overhead Squat sections?

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So how is Fraser so good? I’d propose that he’s found the sweet spot of believing in his programming and understanding that it’s not good enough and needs to improve. A lot of athletes can believe their training is good enough if they make Regionals or Games and don’t want to rock the boat too much by changing things in the off season. Belief is important. Everyone who I’ve trained and got the most out of my programming has trusted that it would make them better. Seán is a fantastic example of this. I told him he could go 140/170Kg at Euros and once he knew I believed he could, he did. Trusting the training while constantly looking for flaws in it, finding them, and continuing to improve. That’s some programming/training genius execution right there!

The Games and Fraser “prove” just how much variability you need in your training. Not just amongst the Tier One movements, but amongst everything. Everything used to be such a narrow net, but as Castro has improved his understanding of the holes in various athlete’s games, you need to be able to constantly look at your training and ask “what’s missing?”, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do? The only one thing I can see is that traditional strength modalities need to practiced for conditioning and for speed work. Remember when rope climbing was strength work, and not sprinting? Twice we’ve seen the yoke not as a test of strength, but as part of a “cardio” test for want of a better word. Mix that shit up yo!

That aspect of your training you've been neglecting? Yeah, that's 18.1

That aspect of your training you’ve been neglecting? Yeah, that’s 18.1

 

Sara’s mistakes

Ahhh Sara, what are we to do? Sara slipped up a few times. She also fell victim to judging errors (it happens). She was called back for a costly no rep (that in my opinion wasn’t) on the Handstand Walks during “Strongman’s Fear” which dropped her from probably 4th to 10th place. That in itself is 24 points, and is the difference between her and Annie on the podium.

She looked like shit on the Madison Triplet too, which I’m guessing comes down to fuelling and arousal levels. Did she eat enough on days 1-3 to be able to push on Day 4? Was she relaxing and calming herself down enough between events to ensure she could fire when she needed to? My guess is no. Had she gotten 11th place on this event she’s still in third, but now she’s at 990 points to Toomey’s 994.

My guess with Sara, and she still could win it yet, is that more time on tightening up her movement and less time “hitting metcons” would help her immensely. But, at the end of The Games, she looked happy out there on the competition floor, and that’s huge considering the amount of athletes that took to IG after The Games saying how things didn’t go so well for them.

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Toomey’s Time

I’m happy for Toomey, she’s deserved champ after this last week. Toomey simply moved better than the other girls. All those reps that are less than perfect throughout the weekend take a toll on the body and drag your performance and recovery down. And that’s the noticeable thing sitting in The Coliseum watching Heats 1 through 4, is that even at this level, the top 40 out of 400,000, is that movement quality and efficiency plays such a major role. Sure, you may need to rush a sloppy rep to get over the finish line, but how much does that cost you as the events add up? Every broken arch on the muscle up, every high school power clean, every slightly wider than optimal squat slows you down a second and costs you.

I’m happy for Kara too for finally getting on the podium. And I hope they keep their fight now to give us another few years of exhilarating competitions. I’m still gonna root for Sara though!

What was the difference for these girls? One thing that’s been mentioned a lot through athlete interviews and social media posting is their mindset and belief. The takeaway lesson here for us all is that if self-belief can make or break you at that level, where margins are so tight, imagine what it can do for us where there’s much more gains to be had.

Bergeron’s Camp?

It’s exciting for me to watch the leaderboard and work out the permutations for each upcoming event. As a fan that’s awesome. As an athlete it is 100% counterproductive. Sure, you may know who you need to beat, but to a large degree (Fraser aside) you still have to run your own race. You’ve got to trust in your training when they push on and if you need to up the tempo to reel them in or will they burn out and you can keep your rhythm. This is huge in terms of self belief.

I totally get what Ben says here about the leaderboard, and focusing on yourself. It appears from the outset he did. Katrín, Brooke, and Cole all placed worst this year than they did last year. I say placed worst as in our sport it’s difficult to say whether they performed worse. But as Ben, and other high level coaches (Phil Jackson, John Wooden, Bill Walsh) say, you can’t control the outcome. You can only do your best.

There’s a true test of your belief and attitude when you’re in the lowest ranked heat and mathematically stand no chance of winning. Easy to talk about confidence when you’re winning and everything is going well. Much harder when you’re not where you want to be and the weekend is slipping by. The behind the scenes documentary will be interesting to watch to see how they responded. (Of course, there’s Sevan’s story telling bias). We did see Brook Wells claw her way back into the teens and Katrín take a win on the final day, so that “shows” fight.

What was cool about Katrín’s win is if you listen to The Chasing Excellence podcast her and Ben talk about an overhead squat training workout where she had a meltdown. Ben followed her out of the gym and talked her down and now they regard it as the best training day ever. Clearly, for Madison 2017, it paid off.

Is Katrín’s time done? A few years ago I would have said the sport has past Annie by, but this year she got back on the podium. The standards go up in the sport, and the focus changes each year (making it more and more rounded in my opinion) so it’s up to the most adaptable athletes to find a way.

The Future…

While the above was merely biased opinion and observation, anything about the future is anyone’s guess. So what’s detailed here is best described as widely speculative. But it’s fun, right?

If there is one thing that you can and should consistently train its core work. There’s no event where having a strong, durable, adaptive core isn’t going to help you. The last one is particularly important. Core can’t just be hollows and arches or GHD work, it’s gotta be Carries, holds (of any and all objects – yokes, d-balls, barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells, sandbags, et cetera et cetera), hangs, moving with a bar, change of direction, and so on.

Sprinting matters. For the last few years the speed at which you race through events has become more important, and more and more events are finishing under 10 minutes. One could argue that the TV needs and scheduling dictate that this is a necessity rather than a deliberate test but I’d argue that Castro doesn’t give a shit about this. Remember he had them do a 1/2 marathon row in 2013 and everyone was glued to their FB live feed last year watching the athletes queue up in an airport! My guess is the “speed” events simply test more components of fitness with more intensity than long, drawn out events. The culmination of the multiple tests becomes the major endurance test of The Games. Whereas years ago Lucas Parker talked about The Dave Castro Games and surviving that the modern day talk out of the athletes seems to be that they’re prepared for it now and it’s par for the course. It’s not just can you do it, and do it well. It’s can you do it near perfectly and fucking fast! And then again.

 

What I’m amazed by is how short the off season has been for the top athletes. While Mat chills by the lake and Tia floats around Paris, everyone else seems to be back to work so quickly. I know the margins get tighter and training demands higher, but wouldn’t they benefit from a few weeks off to allow everything to settle? I guess we’ll see what happens next year who’s got their training right. But in the meantime, you’ll excuse me as I start prepping for 18.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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