Coaching Roundtable CrossFit Open 14.4: Tips and Advice

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We are in the home stretch of the Open now, with only this brutal chipper WOD of rowing (for calories!), toes to bar, walls balls, cleans, and muscle-ups, and one more WOD to go. With 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 — all punishing, classic CrossFit couplets — behind us, it’s time for a new challenge.

Read what the experts have to say about preparation and approach for CrossFit Open 14.4 before you hit it over these next few days. We are switching it up this week and starting off with tips for mental prep before the experts talk physical prep and technique. Good luck, and may the CrossFit gods be ever in your favor.

Dr. Allison Belger: TJ’s Gym and PsychologyWOD

Dr. Allison Belger: TJ’s Gym and PsychologyWOD
This one is all about being prepared—prepared to accept the fact that movements you normally move through easily will be challenging from jumpstreet.

The basic idea is that you need to practice feeling less adept than normal, so that you can keep your wits about you when the going gets tough.
Starting the workout with a relatively fast 60-calorie row will set you up for earlier-than-normal fatigue on subsequent movements. While this makes sense intellectually and on paper, make sure you remember this seemingly obvious tidbit as you begin each of the movements in the chipper. Being prepared means both having a plan of breaking up movements AND having a plan of dealing with, and controlling, your internal self-talk. You are likely to be surprised by how hard your first few toes-to-bar feel after the row. You are likely to get fewer wallballs in a row than you anticipate. You will almost certainly find that the barbell feels heavier to you than a 135/95 pound bar normally feels (note: Josh Bridges and Scott Panchik were doing single reps). And then, of course, come the muscle-ups. These will be HARD, even for those of you who normally do well with muscle ups. Other coaches will address the physical aspects; as usual, I’ll focus on the psychological.

In order to develop the mental fortitude to persevere through this chipper when the going gets tough (again, this will be sooner than later), if you have time and can tackle this workout some time on Saturday-Monday, it’s a good idea to do a mini-version of the workout a day or two before. Ideally you’ll have a chance to practice just enough to get a feel for what it’s like to transition from one movement to the next. Getting a solid feeling for how your body responds to the transitions will arm you with experience, thereby reducing the shock factor of the discomfort and fatigue you will feel when you give the full workout a go for real. For example, experiencing the forearm pump on your first clean in practice will alleviate some of the anxiety you might feel when your arms threaten to fail you during the full effort. It’s not that practicing will make you any better at the cleans, of course, but you will be mentally prepared for the level of difficulty that might otherwise surprise and unnerve you.

Perhaps it’s analogous to the difference between doing a bunch of math problems at home, with no distractions, and doing them in a testing situation in a room filled with people with all sorts of noises in the background. If you practice in the noisy room, you’re less likely to become emotionally unraveled when you can’t focus as well as you’d like during the real testing scenario. The basic idea is that you need to practice feeling less adept than normal, so that you can keep your wits about you when the going gets tough. 

Chip away, keep up the positive self-talk, and think of this as a set of mini-workouts, rather than a monstrosity you need to tackle all at once.
Your mantra this week might be something like, “This is supposed to be hard.  This is supposed to be hard.” Or, “I knew this would feel different. I’m right where I should be. I knew this would feel different. I’m right where I should be.” The idea is to fight thoughts akin to, “I can’t believe this hurts already, and I still have 30 more reps. I’m screwed.” You can only be conscious of one thought at a time; make it something soothing and optimistic. 

Focus on one movement at a time. Don’t allow yourself to dread the cleans when you’re still working through the wallballs. Stay in the moment. Break up your sets. Chip away, keep up the positive self-talk, and think of this as a set of mini-workouts, rather than a monstrosity you need to tackle all at once.

One final note this week: many of you will get to the rings and fail to get a muscle-up. This will be true even for those of you who “have” muscle-ups. For the sake of the overall picture — the grand scheme — do yourself a favor and resist judging yourself, your fitness, your success, your value in the world, based on whether or not you get a muscle up in 14.4. Life is bigger. Maintain perspective. It’s ok if it matters to you, and it’s ok to be disappointed. Just be sure your own personal big picture remains intact, even if you don’t get over the rings…this time!

Shane Farmer: CrossFit Invictus

Shane Farmer: CrossFit Invictus

14.4 Rowing Prep

How could I not be excited about 14.4? Rowing in the Open, for the first time ever. Concept2 getting some definite airtime love, and getting a chance to test everyone in the world on their rowing skills.

This one’s going to be a grip killer and and heart rate elevator, so let’s talk warmup.

Spend some good time warming up on the erg. Think technique practice first, then start building the intensity.
Early on get some voodoo flossing of everything from the shoulder down to make sure you have good blood flow feeding your grip. Get your shoulders open as well. I’d suggest some serious t-spine mobilization and going back and watching Carl Paoli’s Open prep video’s ( from years past to get ideas for proper warmup and skill based transfer. Past this, you’ll want good general openness from your whole body because this being a chipper, you’ll be using every part of your body.

Spend some good time warming up on the erg. Think technique practice first, then start building the intensity. I’d spend at least 10 minutes on the erg before the workout starts getting nice and hot. Then jump off and do a run through of everything else. Feel what it’s like to move from each station to the next and how your body feels the changes.

Now to the good stuff. The rowing. I’m going to let the other coaches take the reins on the rest of the workout, and I’ll just focus on the rowing for you.

Since we get to start on the erg, if you know and have practiced your sprint start you’ll want to use it since you’ll chip away some free calories out of the gates. If you haven’t, check out this video: 

Make sure once you finish the sprint start though, that you settle into a really manageable rhythm because you will not win this workout on the first row. Maybe you’ll win it on the second one, but definitely not the first.

I can’t stress this enough — make sure you actually strap in tight and row continuously instead of stopping and starting. Smooth is going to be the name of the game for your rowing. Any of those stopper starters out there will find themselves unnecessarily fatigued. If you haven’t learned the quick release method for being able to tighten your straps and still get out of the erg quickly, check this video out:

Smooth and steady: Stay away from trying to kill it on the erg because you’re going to need your heart rate in control for everything that is to come.
You want to come off the erg feeling decent and having kept your heart rate relatively low. Stay away from trying to kill it on the erg because you’re going to need your heart rate in control for everything that is to come. That’s going to mean keeping your stroke rate below a 28 so you don’t gas your system. To check out good skill cues as well as HOW to keep your stroke rate low whilst still staying powerful, check this video out:

Just a knowledge point for everyone: if you’re able to keep a 1500cal/hr average on your monitor, it equates to roughly one calorie per stroke. This should give you a reference point. It doesn’t mean you want to be there if that’s not totally feasible for you, but if you’ve tested it before and you know you can handle it, then you know what to do.

Keep your hands extremely relaxed on the erg as well. If you grip the handle instead of letting it sit relaxed in your fingers, you’ll find it’s going to blow up your biceps and forearms which will wreak havoc on everything else for you.

Now, I said that the first row won’t win the workout for you, but if you make to the second row, you could very possibly win it there. So that’s where you’ll want to turn it on and shine. Give it everything you have because anyone who makes it there is going to live on hopes and dreams to finish the workout and get through as many calories as possible. And whatever you do, please make sure you tighten your straps the second time around. Having that connecting when you’re going nuts is going to be worth it for you.

This should be a fun workout that requires good pacing and control. Learn from the other great coaches here and use as much of this rowing as you can handle. With a movement that may come up twice for you, you’ll want to know what you’re doing.

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