“The CrossFit Competitor’s Course is designed to help both athletes and coaches improve their own or their team’s athletic performance at any level of CrossFit competition.”
In other words, the goal is for any level of athlete or coach to leave more prepared for CrossFit competitions – including competitor workouts, programming, nutrition, and game-day. (Still confused? Here’s a great video that pretty much sums it up.)
Chris Spealler (my man crush), Matt Chan, and Eric O’Connor were set to be the instructors for the two-day course. Combined they have about 14 years worth of CF Games experience under their belts – aka they know a thing or two about competing. Plus, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to learn from legends like Chan and Spealler themselves.
Identification of Strengths of Weaknesses
Ladies and Gentlemen, Eric O’Connor. He joked about it himself. After an introduction by CF legends Matt Chan and Chris Spealler, Eric joked about the fact that we all must have been so pumped he was leading the first lecture. But in reality, he delivered one of the most worthwhile/applicable speeches from over the course of the weekend.
The lecture focused on the identification of strengths and weaknesses from a personal or coaching stand point by discussing various ‘evaluation tools.’ In short, the 3 steps to successfully evaluate an athlete are: assess basic information through questionnaire, evaluate strengths/weaknesses in CF movements, and observe an athlete during workouts.
Assessing an athlete’s basic information through a questionnaire is about as straight forward as you get. How long have you been CrossFitting? What are your nutrition habits? How many hours do you sleep per night? All pretty standard questions, but definitely key and probably something that’s most often overlooked. Sleeping and eating habits play such a crucial role in the performance and development of an athlete – and it’s hard to gain that type of information without the use of some sort of questionnaire. What it boils down to is a type of lifestyle assessment.
When evaluating an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, especially if it’s your own strengths/weaknesses, it’s pretty simple to kind of drift into the grey area – well I’m pretty good at Angie and my stamina is better than most…what? Thankfully, the coaching staff provided a more black and white resource to evaluate oneself – namely a benchmark chart and ‘spider web’. The chart had EVERYTHING on it – all the benchmarks – weightlifting benchmarks, gymnastics benchmarks, monostructural benchmarks, and even CF benchmarks. Everything is rated on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being ‘Games worthy’ and 1 being pretty damn good. For example, max rep chest to bar pull-ups 10 = 40 and 1 = 15. Low bar back squat 10 = 455 and 1 = 355. Amanda 10 = 3:20 and 1 = 4:40. Get the idea.
So we used fictional athlete, Matt O’Spealler (very creative), to evaluate his personal strengths/weaknesses by seeing where he falls on the chart. All the numbers were provided, it was just a matter of averaging out the scores and seeing if there were any glaring weaknesses. And what better way to than with a picture – remember CFers are not too good with the maths. We used a spider web-type graph with each quadrant representing a particular skill. If a certain quadrant isn’t shaded as high as the rest, bingo you sir are weak in that area. Fix it.
The final step in a successful evaluation of an athlete is to actually observe an athlete in a WOD. This may be the most crucial step of the process. There is no better way to gain a feel for an athlete than by watching them perform – some things don’t always show up on paper or just by looking at the raw score. When does the athlete hit a wall – is it during a certain time duration or rep scheme? When does technique start to break down? Mentally how do they approach the workout – do they become a complete nutcase when they hear the dreaded “no rep!” All these factors play a huge role in the performance of a top level athlete, but aren’t always obvious through scores alone.
Gymnastic Skills Breakout
The gymnastics skills breakout focused primarily on three movements: the kipping/butterfly pull up, handstand push ups, and muscle ups (bar and ring). The one thing I loved about this certification was it didn’t baby people like the L1 Seminar does – and rightfully so. They took for granted that every athlete at this cert should have all these movements in their toolbox, and it was just a matter of working technique and becoming more efficient at them.
Spealler led the lecture, with Matt Chan being his beautiful demo girl, which is only right considering his gymnastic movements are second to none in CF. The big thing was efficiency in movement – whether it be butterfly or kipping pull ups. Staying tight and not bleeding out unnecessary energy. Chris jumped onto the bar and did a super efficient tight kipping pull up while Matt hopped on the bar next to Chris and did the all-too-common wild butterfly kip you always see (see: legs flared out, huge over arch in back). The funny thing was Chris was doing his reps 2-1 in favor of Matt’s butterfly pull up. It was just the perfect example of how a butterfly pull up isn’t necessarily the faster movement when done inefficiently – everyone is always just mesmerized by the butterfly. Side note: they recommended not even attempting a butterfly unless you can bang out a minimum of 30 kipping pull ups – sorry to ruin the dreams of some of our gym members.
The other big take away from the gymnastics skill breakout was the bar muscle up. Our gym set up doesn’t really allow for us to practice bar muscle ups as often as I’d like. Yes we have the dirty south bars, but I’m too afraid I’m just going to bury my face in that top bar if I lean forward too much. So it was nice to just get a little practice with the skill itself. Personally, I would have always thought ring muscle ups would be harder – just because you’re on a more dynamic plane and it’s difficult to get a good kip, but that’s not the case. The bar muscle up takes a tremendous amount of pulling power to be able to get up and over the bar (think belly button to bar), whereas with the ring muscle up you can shoot your head through much earlier. I would definitely love to incorporate them into more workouts if possible. Which leads me right into my next section…
Bar Muscle Ups
Body weight thrusters. Terrific!
Thankfully the rep scheme wasn’t anything crazy, plus I had done 165# squat clean thrusters in a competition a few months back and it turned out not to be nearly as bad as I initially thought it would be. And as it turned out, the bar muscle ups turned out to sneakily be the more difficult part of the WOD.
I was partnered up with another guy from class with the intention of creating a game plan for the WOD. My original intention was to try and break the thrusters up into sets of 3 or 4 depending on how I was feeling. But that didn’t last long! Game plan went out the window the moment I picked up the barbell and did all 9 thrusters unbroken. Although, my elation faded quickly once I got to bar muscle ups. Remember, I had never really done them in a WOD before, so by the end of the round of 9 I had already resorted to singles for the muscle ups. Way harder than I anticipated.
The workout played to pretty much the same pattern – I did all my thrusters unbroken for the next two rounds, but felt like I was in quicksand when trying to muscle my way up and over the bar. I had to rest much more than I’d care to admit. But at the same time, is there anything worse than failing a muscle up?
Mental Preparation and Goal Setting
“The greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears” – Greg Glassman
Matt Chan kicked off the afternoon session with a lecture on mental preparation and goal setting. Basically, the goal (see what I did there) of the lecture was to provide a glimpse into the mindset of a Games level competitor and how they approach goal setting throughout the course of the year – and most importantly how to deal with the overly self-deprecating CrossFitter.
The mental aspect of CrossFit cannot be overstated! As cliché as it may be (and trust me it is), CF really is like 90% mental and 10% physical – ok that might be a little aggressive but you get the point. We’ve all been there before. Minute 13 or some torturous 20 minute AMRAP looking at the barbell and absolutely dreading having to go pick it up, or hitting rep 75 of Karen and being like “sweet Jesus I’m only halfway done!” Becoming mentally stronger in these situations is what separates the good CFers from the great.
But the truth is, that the mental toughness or preparation that characterizes so many top level CFers begins well before the 3,2,1 Go! Matt Chan left us with a flow chart: Thoughts ⇒ Words ⇒Actions ⇒ Habits ⇒ Character ⇒ Destiny. And what does all that mean? That your thoughts will ultimately influence every aspect of who you are and what you hope to accomplish. How many times have you walked through the doors and into gym, read the WOD on the board, and immediately turned around and said “this is gonna suck!” You’re already entering a negative mindset about the WOD, and trust me that will carry over to your approach and how you ultimately perform during the workout. Positive thoughts/self talk is what carries even the best through the worst of time mid-WOD. Remember, and this is something I feel like gets forgotten all too often, CF is fun! It’s the reason we all come back day after day. It really should be one of the most enjoyable hours of your day.
As important as it may be to head into the WOD with the correct mindset, an athlete’s mindset leaving the WOD may be even more important. The self-depreciating athlete – don’t be that guy! The athlete who leaves the gym harping on something that didn’t go their way – whether it be just missing finishing under time limit or not being able to string together more than 5 doubles in a row or something else. I think it’s especially easy to fall into these patterns the better an athlete actually becomes at CF. “Oh I only beat my old PR by 5 seconds. That means I’m only 5 seconds fitter.” No. As long as you came to the gym, worked your ass off and left it all out there, you got fitter. You are a fitter individual! There is always some sort of positive you can take away from a WOD, even if it’s something as simple as not stopping to walk during a running WOD – it doesn’t matter. Too often the negatives outweigh the positives when the opposite should be true.
One of the best things about this lecture was how Matt Chan was able to integrate his own personal experiences into the discussion as well. Right around the time of the Games, Chan torn both meniscuses in his knees (which he attributes to squatting with his knees tracking forward – let that be a lesson to you!). This was the first time in Matt’s athletic career he had ever had any sort of major injury – whether from CF or as a D1 water polo player. So naturally it would be completely understandable if he became discouraged or got down on himself because he wouldn’t be able to do the things he was accustomed to doing. But that wasn’t the case! Even at the time of the certification, Chan still couldn’t squat heavy or do any movements that put unnecessary pressure on his knees. However, rather than being consumed by all the negatives, Chan flipped the script. He made light of the situation by jokingly stating he’s PR’d every one of his upper body WODs.
Injuries happen – it’s inevitable. But how an athlete deals with it does not have to be so routine. Even with some of our injured athletes, I wish rather than becoming discouraged or feeling left out, they would take a page out of Matt Chan’s book and continue to come to the gym and work around their injury – and continue to become fitter individuals.
Weightlifting Skills Breakout
Once again, just like the gymnastics breakout before it, the weightlifting breakout focused on efficiency of movement rather than actually teaching the movement itself. On today’s menu, snatches and cleans.
For me, there were two big takeaways from this lecture – not so much new information, but common faults that often get overlooked. And personally, I know I fall victim to them from time to time. The first fault – spending too much time searching for that perfect grip whether it be during snatches, cleans, deadlifts, or any other lift. It’s a stall tactic. If you’re doing a maximal lift, by all means take your time to set up, get adjusted whatever you have to do to make the lift. But when you’re doing a workout like Isabel, a WOD that consists of a moderate load with a low rep scheme, wasting time to make sure your grip is absolutely perfect on the bar while valuable seconds are ticking off the clock is not an option. We all tend to do this especially once fatigue sets in mid-WOD. But believe me those seconds add up quicker than you could imagine, and in a competition that could be the difference between a podium spot and a spot in the crowd.
The second fault is just an extension of the first one – putting the weight down mid-WOD because you need a break and going for a hike around the gym. It’s just another stall tactic, and it happens constantly. I get it you’re tired. If you could do every workout without putting the barbell down, you’d probably be going to the Games right now! Everyone is human, but the fact of the matter is you need to limit your rest as much as possible if you intend on succeeding. CrossFit is pretty simple: work faster and rest less. Got it? People tend to get into these habits of every time the barbell drops they’re looking around the room, going to chalk up, thinking about all the reps they have left. Just go dammit!
And I’m not saying I’m perfect. I know for a fact this is where Kim will beat me in 99% of the WODs he finishes ahead of me in. He is so efficient at limiting rest and mentally blocking everything his body is feeling. It’s something we all need to work on for sure, but sometimes hearing someone else say it kind of makes you have that ‘ah ha’ realization moment even if you’ve known it all along.
12 Min AMRAP
5 Hang Power Snatches 135#
Then 2 Rounds of
3 Pull Ups
6 Push Ups
9 Box Jumps 24”
I LOVED this workout! – but maybe not for the reasons you might assume.
Think about it. For the vast majority, the WODs people tend to love are workouts they excel at, or consist of movements they crush. That’s not saying the workout in and of itself is a good workout, or a good measure of fitness. They love it because at the end of the day they get to write a good score up on the board and it makes them feel good about themselves. Hell if I was 7ft tall I might love Karen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good test of fitness!
But in this case, I loved this workout for the sake of the workout itself – not because I might excel at it.
Above all else, this workout had balance – and balance in my eyes is a true mark of a test of fitness. It’s a workout that is capable of being attacked from multiple angles, and depending on the type of athlete you are, this workout could look completely different compared to another athlete with a different skill set. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about using a comparable WOD: Amanda.
The 2010 CF Games opened with Amanda – 3RFT 9-7-5 Muscle Up and Squat Snatch at 135#. As I mentioned earlier, depending on what type of athlete you are – based on your own strengths and weaknesses – this WOD could be approached from two different angles. And what better way to highlight two drastically different approaches than to compare Chris Spealler and Matt Chan (you can actually see them go head-to-head in their heat here). Spealler’s strengths are skewed towards the bodyweight/high skill while Chan lives at the other end of the spectrum favoring heavy loads. So Spealler’s strategy when a approaching a WOD like Amanda was to do all the muscle ups unbroken while spending a little more time on the squat snatches. Matt Chan on the hand, did the opposite – choosing to pace out the muscle ups while powering through the squat snatches. Neither approach was wrong. Both athletes had a game plan going in, and a firm understanding of their own strengths/weaknesses and planned accordingly. And from that perspective, it was almost like two athletes doing the same workout weren’t really doing the same workout at all.
The same could be said of this workout. There were some athlete’s who would excel at the snatches and battle through the bodyweight movements, while others would find the opposite true. For me personally, I knew the bodyweight movements were right in my wheelhouse. Going into the WOD I wasn’t concerned at all with that portion of the workout. However, I knew the hang snatches would provide a sort of sticking point. I wouldn’t be able to rush through them. I would have to regroup, gather myself before attempting them – otherwise run the risk of failing reps. So after I finished the bodyweight portion of the WOD, I took my time walking back to the barbell and chalked up before picking the weight back up.
In the end, I thought my strategy and knowing/being honest with myself helped me out during the WOD. I did all of my hang snatches unbroken without failing any reps (although that could mean I was resting too much), and took care of business when it came to my strengths. I only heard one other person who had a better score than me – by one rep! – but he wasn’t doing Games standard box jumps so I’ll chalk that up as a win.
The only downside of this workout was it left my hands in shambles!
Day 1 wrapped with a brief stretch/Q&A session between the athletes and coaches. Any lingering questions, as well as all those random questions people had been dying to ask Spealler and Chan, got a chance to be aired out. Mercifully the Q&A was cut short by a ridiculous dodge ball game amongst the coaches – which came to an abrupt end when Spealler rocked Chan in the face from point blank range.
Overall, day 1 went better than expected – there may not have been any real revelations, but a bunch of little tips that I know will serve me well in the future. I really approached the course without any real expectations, and thankfully (for the sake of my wallet) wasn’t disappointed.