The Open isn’t Healthy

The Open

I love the excitement of the Open, the anticipation and dread before each workout, the sense of community, and feelings of accomplishment when it is over. It’s a serious competition for elite athletes and a fun competition for the rest of us.

But after a few weeks of reading social media during the Open, I agree with Greg Glassman: our current emphasis on CrossFit competition needs some adjustment. Check out any Masters athlete group on Facebook, and it’s apparent that the prevailing culture values an RX score over any other consideration, health be damned.

The Open could be the perfect measurable, observable and repeatable test that Greg Glassman envisioned when he started CrossFit. But when we put more emphasis on standings than the test itself, when we hold RX as the Holy Grail, our athletes act in ways that negatively impact the integrity of the test and often endanger their safety as well.

You Need to Scale It

One way we do that is by allowing obviously scaled athletes to do RX workouts.

Why applaud the athlete who throws a single wall ball to 9 feet during a 15-minute AMRAP of wall balls and rows? What meaningful idea of their fitness can they possibly get from that? 

In any competition other than the Open, the point of 19.1 is to get the maximum number of movements possible. It is gaming the system to spend 15 minutes attaining one rep, especially when a more appropriate and still challenging scale is available.

I get that an otherwise scaled athlete wants to do an RX workout because it includes a skill they’ve been working to attain. Ring a bell, buy a T-shirt, but have them sufficiently master a movement before using it in an RX workout. 

When they don’t, the results become less meaningful, not only to the athlete but the rest of our community. The higher-level skills required in Open 19.2 provide a case in point: nearly 4,000 women in the 45 to 49 division did the workout RX. More than 1,000 of them failed to complete more than 90 reps of what was potentially a 20-minute, 430 rep workout of toes-to-bar, doubleunders and squat cleans. More than 200 of them did not make it past 25 toes to bar.

Why do we scale athletes to meet the intent of the workout in our classes and allow them to (poorly) practice a single skill in an Open WOD? Why do the values we hold as Coaches go away when the Open rolls around? How does this serve our athletes?

Keep This in Mind

Open RX workouts are designed to challenge the elite, so it’s understandable that even athletes with excellent RX skills will not finish them. But a minimum work requirement for RX WODs would go a long way toward helping athletes reach a more meaningful assessment of their fitness. 

If working toward RX floats your boat, be sure your athletes are fit enough to crush scaled workouts before they add bells and whistles — or as in the above case, one bell and no whistle. 

Before Open workouts, frankly discuss reasonable limits with your intermediate and RX athletes. Don’t allow an emphasis on scoring to push them to attempt weights that could hurt them.

Don’t coddle your oldest athletes, but don’t push them to RX workouts they’re not ready for. This year, more than 5,000 CrossFit athletes over 60 years old signed up for the Open. Most in this age group are focusing on staying strong and fit rather than acquiring doubleunders, bar muscle-ups or handstand walks, but the fittest warriors among them can and should continue to test those skills. 

The Question Is…

Is it time to add an age group for the 65-plus group, which currently accounts for 20 percent of this growing demographic? Thanks to CrossFit training, the decline in performance may be more gradual than in the general population, but those five-year increments are real. Age is not just a number: there is more performance decline between 60 and 65 than between 35 and 40. High level skills become more difficult to acquire and are of less importance to maintaining health. All age groups need to be suitably scaled, and have the ability to compare their performance to their peers.

Chris Spealler, my Level 1 instructor, made it clear to us that health and his success as a Games competitor were not synonymous. The Games, he said, are about competition, and pushing limits. CrossFit is about health. At the time, Spealler was one of CrossFit’s best-known athletes, a top Games competitor with three top 10 finishes. He was not yet a masters athlete.

Today, at 39, his athlete bio is short and simple: “Training for life these days… it’s a good thing.”

Most of us are training our clients for life, not the Games. Encourage your athletes to approach Open workouts that same way.

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

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