Coaching Roundtable: CrossFit Open 13.5 Tips and Advice

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Coaching Roundtable: CrossFit Open 13.5 Tips and Advice
Admit it: in your dreams you thought to yourself, “There won’t be a Fran ladder because we already did a ladder for 13.4. Thank goodness!” And then CrossFit Open 13.5 dropped, and your stomach dropped into your shoes as you watched CrossFit’s finest athletes take this on — those gods with ridiculously smooth thrusters and consecutive chest-to-bar pull-ups. But we told you five weeks ago that there are only two questions you should be thinking about after each workout: 1) What did I do well? and 2) What did I learn? In other words, embrace the challenge, do your best, and have fun with this 2013 Open finale.

To quote Derek Robinson, remember this: “It is exercise, for God’s sake.” Yes, it is — now get out your notebook and take what you need from this week’s coaching panel.

Additionally, we are excited to welcome TJ and Dr. Allison Belger, owners of TJ’s Gyms in northern California, to the 13.5 Roundtable. They are focusing in particular on all of you Masters athletes out there, and this dynamic duo behind TJ’s Gyms provides a two-pronged attack: TJ tackles the physical game, while Allison offers mental strategy.

Kelly Starrett (MobilityWOD) & Brian Mackenzie (CrossFit Endurance)

TJ Belger (TJ’s GymsNorCal Masters)

My Take on 13.5 for the Masters Athlete—the physical game

It’s just dumb to risk having your depth and lockout questioned because your range of motion is hindered and you’re mechanically unprepared.
If you are a casual Master athlete like me, you may be wondering why you dodged the last three thruster/pullup workouts that were programmed at your gym. Well, the day of reckoning has arrived, and I reckon that if you don’t think about getting organized before 13.5, you’re in for a quick four minutes and possibly not even breaking a sweat. Even if you’re more of a competitor, this could come up and bite you, so you need to walk into it as prepared as possible.

Go balls out? Heck yes. You need to make this an eight-minute AMRAP if you have a shot at posting a competitive score, but if your thruster positioning sucks, you will be “leaking performance” (thanks, Carl Paoli) and will blow up faster than my old ’84 Honda Sabre with a rag for a gas cap. Having spent some serious up-close-and-personal time with both Masters athletes and 20-year-olds in the heat of battle, there is no doubt that the major distinguishing factor between the two groups is the quality of tissue younger folks have, which allows them to be in a better position in the thruster. The thruster is an unforgiving demon when performed poorly. It’s just dumb to risk having your depth and lockout questioned because your range of motion is hindered and you’re mechanically unprepared. Obviously it’s too late to fix any massive, long-term mobility issues, but you can do a lot to prep for this workout and optimize your resources.

Do a lot to prep for this workout
First off, get that lat/tricep combo stretched out and elongated. Hang from a bar while a buddy pushes you forward. Back rack the barbell while holding a hook grip and have your buddy press your elbows inward and skyward. Next, put a little weight on the bar, maybe 135/95, and take it into the bottom of the front squat and spend some time. Use the weight to push you down. Shift your weight back and forth from one foot to the other. Completely relax, round your back, drop your elbows, then pull your back upright, and drive your elbows up. Spend ten seconds of sitting in the hole and “getting organized” (K-Starr term).

A grip tip: [P]oint your pinky knuckle straight up when gripping the pullup bar. It helps to engage the forearm and forces you to rotate with the wrist instead of re-gripping at the top of each rep…
Practice many empty barbell thrusters at a high rate with exaggerated range of motion and get that depth and lockout assessed by a coach or gym buddy BEFORE you add weight. You should feel like you just finished a Bikram Yoga class before you start this workout — not out of breath at all, but a stretched-out, hot mess. A hot mess in weightlifting shoes. Use them. They will help you stay in your heels and fight the tendency so common in Masters athletes — especially men –to pitch forward due to poor thoracic mobility. The extra pound on the chest-to-bars is worth it. Wear them.

For most of us, high-volume chest-to-bar pullups when under fatigue constitute nearly a max effort. If you have never experimented with a slightly wider grip, then this is probably a bad time…but then again, you might not have anything to lose. Shortening that lever system could make a big difference. Changing your grip and going to an alternating grip or supinated grip might really help you out, as well. Some athletes have success concentrating on the cue of pulling their scapulae together as they pull towards the bar. My partner, Marcus Filly (not a Master but we can still listen to what he has to say), talks about trying to point your pinky knuckle straight up when gripping the pullup bar. It helps to engage the forearm and forces you to rotate with the wrist instead of re-gripping at the top of each rep, which can tax your mitts big-time.

Always quit two reps short of failure on this one. Forcing out those last two thrusters to then stand around under the pullup bar isn’t worth it. In my opinion, this workout probably has the least amount of strategy out of all of the Open workouts. Do me a favor, Masters: during this crushfest, try using some of my wife’s tips from psychologywod.com — a lot of this is mental.

Meanwhile, know that 99% of the world is awed by what you do in the gym every day, and the other 1% are douchebags. You are pioneers of what every CrossFitter will eventually experience, and you should celebrate that.

Good luck, and keep your shit together.

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