Mastering the Open

masters open

The grand scale of the CrossFit Open makes it exciting. As Affiliate owners, our challenge is to make it personal.

The first step is understanding that not everyone views the Open with the same enthusiasm. My husband jumps all-in every year; I need to talk myself into it. He’s been RX all the way, usually finishing well enough to earn himself four more workouts in the masters qualifiers. I commit to scaled workouts and despite feeling as fit as ever, have watched my placement steadily drop during seven years in the 60-plus category.

The Open can be an incredible training tool, but masters’ skills, motivations, and goals often change as they travel through and beyond each five-year age group. It’s our job to help them find meaning and encouragement wherever they are. 

Factor in your athletes’ personalities, egos and needs when helping them choose their path in the Open. It’s no surprise women and men differ in their approaches. Last year, the majority of all masters women chose to perform scaled workouts. Almost 52 percent of women aged 35 to 39 scaled and the percentage increased in each age group, topping out with 78 percent of 60-plus women scaling workouts. 

The majority of masters men, however, chose RX throughout the age groups, with the exception of the 50-plus and 60-plus divisions, where about 55 percent did scaled workouts, but only one-third of men 55 to 59 chose to scale. 

How to choose? Some thoughts to steer your athletes to their best path:

All WODs RX

If the athlete is capable, or if it’s a reasonable stretch and they’re willing to try, there’s no reason not to go for it. We’re usually not fans of eking out one or two reps in order to claim RX, but if doing all the WODs RX is a goal this year, it’s a valid option.

All WODs Scaled

We recommend this path for those newer to CrossFit and for most of our over-60 masters. For that group, we typically scale high skill movements such as double-unders, toes-to-bar or handstand pushups to single-unders, knee raises and push presses in our daily workouts. Our preference to focus on strength and endurance means they’re less likely to acquire some of the skills called for in Open RX workouts. Instead, we encourage them to go hard on scaled workouts, and compete within that category only.

Mixing RX and Scaled

An appropriate option for those who are still acquiring skills and want to concentrate on getting the most out of each workout. If an otherwise scaled athlete has mastered a new RX skill this year, let them show it off.

Cherry Picking 

It’s perfectly fine for athletes to test themselves on WODs of their choosing. It’s their $20.

Sitting it Out 

No matter what headquarters says, the Open is not for everyone. Workouts have clear standards that can’t be infinitely scaled. Before you encourage someone with limited mobility, experience or skills to tackle the Open, be sure they understand what they’re signing up for. 

A woman recently posted on the CrossFit Master 60-plus Facebook page about her dismal first Open experience:

“Last year our owner was very enthusiastic about getting as many members as possible to sign up for the Open. I was 62, obese and had been doing CrossFit for about five months. My workouts were incredibly scaled – and often still are – but I loved my community and trusted the process. I signed up. It was a horrible time for me, filled with anxiety, embarrassment and sometimes shame, being individually judged for some movements I couldn’t even do to the prescribed scaling of my age group. I dreaded going to the gym.”

Understandably, she’s hesitant to sign up again, despite losing weight and improving her skills. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to encourage the athlete who underestimates her considerable skills. She’ll thank you later. 

Make it Relevant 

Personalize your leaderboard. Show your athletes how they fare within division, region and state.

Customize and study weekly statistics to add fun and perspective. In 2015, for example, our small Box had six women competing in the 60-plus division, which was more than 20 states. Last year, that once small division drew more than 3,000 women worldwide. Our Box’s top finisher in that division was Kathy Pachal, who finished first in Wisconsin and 35th in the world in the scaled division. Those scores were a more accurate level of her fitness and accomplishments than 820th place in the RX division.

As CrossFitters, we’re often viewed as fanatical oddities. One of the joys of the CrossFit Open is that for five weeks we feel gloriously normal, part of a world-wide community of athletes who tackle incredibly difficult tests of fitness and call it fun.

Darlene Prois
Darlene Prois, 67, has co-owned CrossCut CrossFit with her husband Dave, 63, since 2012. She moved to the resort community of Hayward, Wisconsin, after a 30-year career as a Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer, reporter and editor. Her inner-athlete was dormant before meeting Dave, a former detective sergeant and training supervisor, in 2002. Their short courtship included 400-mile bike trips, inline skate racing and wilderness camping. The couple started a kettlebell club for fun in 2008, which eventually morphed into their current business. Contact Darlene on Facebook @CrossCutCrossFit or by email at deprois@aol.com.