Training for the CrossFit Open - Skills

For those interested in the sport of fitness, the CrossFit Open is the first test an athlete must pass.  For five weeks, starting on February 23rd one workout will be released per week.  The Open workouts are known to be very grueling and their goal is to test an athlete’s work capacity.


But, what exactly is work capacity?  In laymen’s terms, it’s an athlete’s ability to keep moving, where, ideally, the only limiter on an athlete’s success is their conditioning.  Historically speaking, this meant couplets and triplets of movements like burpees, double unders, thrusters, rowing, box jumps and wall balls.  These are all movements that have a low technical requirement but which have a very strong metabolic effect.


But, CrossFit has continued to progress and the skill level of the athletes that compete continues to increase exponentially.


Take for example Open workout 14.2:

Every 3 minutes for as long as possible complete:

From 0:00-3:00

  2 rounds of:

  10 overhead squats

  10 chest-to-bar pull-ups


From 3:00-6:00

  2 rounds of:

  12 overhead squats

  12 chest-to-bar pull-ups

From 6:00-9:00

  2 rounds of:

  14 overhead squats

  14 chest-to-bar pull-ups

Etc., following same pattern until you fail to complete both rounds

In 2014, when this test was released, the average score for an athlete qualifying for Regionals (top 20) in the South East Region was 274. When this test was run a year later, the average score for an athlete qualifying for Regionals was 318, an increase of 16 percent.


Not only are athletes getting better overall, but CrossFit HQ started releasing scaled versions of the Open workouts in 2015.  This has allowed for a full range of skill heavy movements getting mixed into Open workouts.  Ring muscle ups, handstand push ups, bar muscle ups, toes to bar and chest to bar pull-ups are not only commonplace but they are programmed in large doses.


So, what is the aspiring CrossFit Regionals athlete to do?  Say you can do 5 ring muscle ups.  How many should you be able to do if you want to be competitive? Many people are quick to throw out numbers without having any strong rationale as to why.  


But, you’re a serious athlete and you deserve precision.  No sweat, Coach Verdi has got the medicine.  I’ve combed through all of the Open workouts since 2013 and looked at the results from the top 20 athletes that made Regionals from the South East Region.  Of those results, I found the median workout result and tallied up the total reps from each movement in the workout.


So, in the chart below, you’ll see the total volume for a given movement that you should be prepared to complete.  Additionally, I’ve broken out what ideal working sets look like.  So, let’s take toes to bar as an example.  The first number you’ll see is the total - 125.  That is the total volume you should be able to complete in a workout.  Then, you’ll see the goal reps per attempt.  That’s the total number you should be able to comfortably complete at once - 25.  Reps per attempt numbers are derived from the design of the Open workouts.



As a bonus, I’ve also selectively mapped out the requirements for less skill intensive movements that I think are worth noting for training purposes.



So, now that you are armed with this knowledge, how should you train to improve them?


In regards to the high volume skilled movements you need to start by building the necessary muscle endurance.  If you know in a given workout you need to be comfortable in completing 125 toes to bar that means in your training you need to be AT LEAST hitting this number in terms of volume.


But, you don’t just add a cash in or cash out of 125 toes to bar to your workout every day.  You need to be increasing your muscle endurance progressively.


Start by finding your max unbroken set.  So, for toes to bar, say you can currently do a ME set of 20.  You then take 30%-50% of this number and create a set/rep scheme that gets you to 125.  So, 50% of 20 is 10.  In your training, you would start with something like 13 sets of 10 (rounding up by 5 for simplicity).  Overtime, your goal is to decrease the total number of sets but increase the reps per set. The closer you get to 125 the better.  But, remember that your time is valuable, so take into account the reps per attempt number.  You should be able to comfortably train over this number, but getting too far above it is probably an indication that you need to be focusing your time on your other weaknesses.


Here is a sample 11 week progression.  Once you can complete the necessary sets and reps without fail, move unto the next week’s scheme.  Also, you should add this volume at the beginning of your workouts, when you are fresh.  Give yourself as much rest in between sets to hit your targets.



If you have the desire to be a competitive CrossFit athlete and want to take your training to the next level, we offer individualized programming.  We’ll start with an assessment to determine your strength and weaknesses and then build a plan tailored to helping you reach the next level.  

Send us an email at to learn more.

See you at the Open!

Coach Verdi

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