How To Optimize Your Training for Next Year's CrossFit Open With Former Champ James FitzGerald

Emily Beers

Coach

Vancouver, Canada

Coaching

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For more than 99 percent of those who participated in the 2021 CrossFit Open and the quarterfinals, it’s back to the drawing board: eleven months of training ahead of you in hopes of improving upon your efforts next year.

 

Have you spent much time thinking about the method you’re going to employ to maximize your performance in, give or take, 320 days from now?

 

 

  • Are you following your gym’s group programming? Following CompTrain, Invictus, or some other competitive programming? Or are you working with a coach who has written an individualized plan for you?
  • Or, are you a coach who has clients with their heart's set on pursuing CrossFit as a sport? Athletes, who are focusing on maximizing their performance in the Open in 2022?

 

Regardless of whether you’re an athlete or a coach, here’s some food for thought from James FitzGerald, the 2007 CrossFit games champion and the founder of OPEX Fitness, about things to consider to maximize the next 320 days of training leading up to the Open in 2022:

 

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Consider What You Want Your Training to Accomplish

“So we have 340 days to prepare for three hard tests,” FitzGerald explained as the starting point (or at least 2021 Open included just three tests, with four data points, over three weeks).

 

Of course, next year might be five weeks again with five tests like past years, but in general, you know you’re training for three to six weeks, one test per week.

 

Next, if you look at the last eleven years of Open competition, FitzGerald deduced that you’re looking at approximately 36 minutes of work throughout the entire competition. While this is, of course, an estimation, the point is, you know you’re not doing 30 seconds of work, and you know you’re not doing three hours of work.

 

 

Thus, thinking you’re preparing for essentially three to five 12-minute tests “makes it simple for our brains to organize it,” FitzGerald explained. At the very least, this gives you a starting point for creating an effective training program, he added.

 

Break Up the Year to Get Maximal Expression

“Different kinds of training (must) take place (at different times of the year) to get the maximal expression,” FitzGerald explained.

 

He recommends breaking the year into the following pieces:

 

  • Base: The base period should take up approximately 200 days, FitzGerald explained. It’s the big hunken part of the year and takes up the majority of your time. The purpose here is to lay the foundation by logging volumes, accumulating skills, fixing asymmetrical issues, and focusing on characteristics and weaknesses that need attention.
  • Tough: The tough phase is precisely like it sounds. It’s frickin hard! FitzGerald said it should last approximately 60 days, and it's when you start doing the more intense shit. In other words, the tough phase is when you can begin to take the fitness you built during the base phase and put it to the test. You’re putting the last 200 days of hard work into action, he explained.

     

     

    Pro tip: For those who fear rest days, FitzGerald recommends taking three full-stop rest days per month during the whole year.

  • Pre-Comp: This phase lasts roughly 40 days and involves multiple simulations of what the actual competition will look like—in this case, the open. This pre-comp phase is a chance to prepare the way you will for those open workouts, not just in terms of the workouts themselves but also in terms of your nutrition, sleep, workout timing, recovery, mental prep, etc. "Basically, it’s about preparing yourself mentally as much as physically, so you’re ready to chew beads,” FitzGerald said when the open begins.
  • Comp: The Open is here. This portion was 21 days long in 2021, although it was 35 days in previous years, so you’re looking at 21 to 35 days.
  • Deload: After the open, there should be a deload phase of, give or take, 20 days. FitzGerald recommends getting out in nature, playing a sport, having fun. Anything but more thrusters and pull-ups. Give yourself a break.

 

Intention + Modality + Person = Design (IMP = D)

By this, FitzGerald means that what your training will look like, aka your program design, depends on three things:

 

1. What Is Your Intention?

What is your intention, goals, and priorities for the Open?

 

How does training fit into the rest of your life?

 

 

Your intention is super important because it’s hard to know what your training should look like without understanding this.

 

2. The Main Keys to Modalities

  • You need to be able to make all dynamic contractions aerobic and as sustainable as possible. This is the “key ingredient (for) optimal performance over a long period of time,” FitzGerald explained.
  • Strength and skills need to progress at the correct rate. Unless you’re a beginner, who will improve at a rapid rate, if you progress too quickly (without laying the proper foundation), you’re going to create compensatory patterns, FitzGerald explained. The point is, you can’t force yourself to gain skill and strength. It needs to be done intelligently and at the correct time and way.
  • FitzGerald explained you need to scaffold skills, meaning you need to get used to putting skills together with the way they might show up in the open. Nobody predicted wall walks this season. If you had practiced pairing a high-rep double-under with getting inverted, such as CrossFit movements like the handstand hold, handstand push-ups, or handstand walks, then your body would have been more prepared for a high-rep double under paired with wall walks in the 21.1 Open workouts.

 

Sidenote: When FitzGerald said this, I was immediately taken back to my 2010 CrossFit days. I was determined to get a ring muscle-up. I wasn’t strong enough yet, but I willed myself through the rings.

 

From there, I adopted this compensatory movement pattern, where I literally would invert my entire body upside down, throwing my feet well above my heels, to generate enough momentum and lift to get through the rings.

 

And, you know what, I got pretty good at muscle-ups for the 2010 era. In 2013, CrossFit implemented a rule where your feet couldn’t shoot above the rings' height, and I was stuck trying to relearn the muscle-up in the two weeks I had to prepare for regionals. In the end, I missed out on games' qualification by one spot because of my compensatory muscle-up.

 

3. Understanding the Person and Where They Are

This understanding primarily comes down to having a solid understanding of where you physically are, including your biological age, training age, and sports age.

 

FitzGerald shared these Key Performance Indicators (KPI) based on data accumulated by thousands of athletes.

 

Focusing on improving at each of these KPI tests (not necessarily hitting each KPI, but improving on each test and ironing out imbalances) will send you in the right direction in terms of maximizing your performance during the Open in 2022.

 

Doing random stuff—spending the next 11 months hitting random Crossfit workouts, following generic programming, or redoing past Open workouts—isn’t what’s going to set you up for success in 2022.

 

Following a systematic, individualized training plan designed for your specific intention, needs, physical abilities, and goals will set you up for success.

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