Programming During the Open

Programming During the Open
by Matthew Sherburne

The CrossFit Open presents a multitude of challenges to an affiliate and an affiliate owner. The logistics of running Open workouts and offering retesting opportunities can take the focus away from your regular schedule. The Open also has quite a distracting effect on your members in terms of consistency of training that keeps them fit and coming back for more. The goal of this article is to provide some thought and insight into programming appropriately during The Open so that people continue to enjoy and progress during the 5-week CrossFit Open.

When should I program the Open WOD at my Affiliate?

At Misfit Athletics HQ we prefer to program the Open WODs on Fridays. There are a few reasons we choose to do this, the first being excitement. Moments after Castro’s announcement you can hear the members at your gym start buzzing about whether or not so-and-so can get X-amount of rounds, should you go touch-and-go or singles, or will someone get their first muscle up. Riding this momentum is why a lot of gyms, including Misfit HQ, have, what we like to call, “Friday Night Fights” where members and coaches square off in Open WODs. The intra-gym rivalries, the atmosphere of competition and opportunity to PR makes for fun a memorable experience that will bring them back each week. The second purpose behind programming the open WOD on Friday is recovery.

It’s fair to say that greater than half of your membership only cares to take a crack at the Open WOD once but there will be athletes who want more than one shot at the workout. By programming the WOD on Friday, these athletes have the ability to recover a day, or two, before attempt #2. This recovery is important because the workouts often punish parts of the body (grip, glutes, lower back, hip flexors, lats, etc), as well as your Central Nervous System (CNS), so a 24-48 hours of rest and recovery goes a long way when trying to get the body and CNS back to normal before attempt #2. A good resource for how to spend your active recovery days between Open WODs can be found on our blog on our Rest Day Protocol posts during the Open (Sundays & Wednesdays) for our Plus, Pro & Complete Subscribers. Our recommendation for your athletes who want a second attempt at the Open workout is to take their second attempt on Monday so the body has two full days of recovery.

How should I program at my Affiliate during the Open?

One major area of concern for the programmer at your gym is how the programming should be altered during the 5 weeks of the Open. I’m here to tell you that WE DON’T (for the most part) alter our programming. Before you get the chance to say “Yes, but what about…” allow me to tell you what we see as a common problem with athletes during the Open season, which is: THEY FALL OUT OF SHAPE. *GASP*

Wait, what? They fall out of shape? How? Please, again, allow me to explain. During the Open season people become so obsessed with doing well on the Open Workout that they fall out of their normal training routine. The fear that they might somehow mess up a future Open workout from a training session earlier in the week causes them to not train as hard during the 5 week period. Instead of hitting the metcon with wall balls, chest-to-bar pull ups and double unders they opt for a slow active recovery jog and some mobility. Don’t get me wrong, every high level athlete needs to stay on top of their recovery but they certainly cannot afford to miss all those training opportunities during the Open. Now that you are aware that you need to continue training during the Open, there is caveat I have for you and that is: The goal of your training sessions should be INTENSITY not VOLUME (not unlike the advice we give the other 47 weeks of the year to every athlete we meet).


Prioritizing intensity during the open will ensure that you keep your engine firing on all cylinders. Many athletes are going to test the Open workout and then potentially retest the workout and, as a result, the amount of training days may be reduced each week. Therefore, your training sessions during this time of year should not have you working through a half dozen pieces per day. Instead, your training sessions should have you investing all of your effort into 2 (maybe 3) devastating pieces where you can really push the gas; that is where the greatest benefit can be achieved. “Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise” – Coach Glassman

What should I program during the Open?

That question sounds rhetorical, doesn’t it? It should because it is. What program did you use all year long leading up to the Open? Was it CrossFit? If you answered, “yes”, then why change what has taken you this far, stick with what has been working. This means heavy doses of AMRAPs, Rounds for Time, Couplets, Triplets, Chippers, etc program it all! This is exactly what we do with our affiliate programming and before anyone has the chance to say, “Yeah, but what about X”, allow me, again, to address two common concerns heard this time of year.

The first concern is often “I can’t do that, that’ll make [body part X] sore”. The concern they are referring to is DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness which typically occurs 24 – 72 hours after a training session. This type of soreness, for most CrossFit athletes, is something they deal with day in and day out a through the rest of the year. I would argue that this type of soreness affects the athlete more mentally than physically. Allowing your mind to believe that DOMS will negatively impact your physical performance is more damning to your fitness than the DOMS actually is. Seasoned CrossFitters acknowledge this type of soreness is just part of the lifestyle of training and that they will feel better once they get moving around in the gym. For this reason, you shouldn’t shy away from movements, or movement combinations, when training during the Open season, just use common sense. 100 Chest-to-bar pull-ups on Thursday before the workout announcement when we haven’t seen any pulling gymnastics isn’t the best idea but you can still train the movement, remember: Intensity NOT volume.

The second concern is taxing the Central Nervous System with maximal lifts during the Open season. This concern is warranted. The effects of overburdening your CNS can last 3-6 weeks in trained individuals and potentially months in less seasoned athletes. Strength improvements during often take a backseat to conditioning as the open is typically a test of an individual’s engine. This should not be the case, the 5 weeks of the Open is a time where athletes continue to progress and get stronger. Instead of spending the 5 weeks working at maximal loads of 90%+, the focus should be on improving movement patterns, moving with speed, and moving loads up to 90%. By working up near 90%, athletes can reap the benefits of lifting often and heavy but without any of the detrimental effects that can be associated with lifting maximal loads. Bottom line, do not neglect strength work during these five weeks!

Oftentimes The Open causes undue stress on your members; people who feel pressured to sign up, people who feel pressured to excel at certain workouts, people who feel as though they should be able to do all the workouts RX, etc. What the programmer should look to do is to keep the workouts, fun, fresh, and exciting and to keep your athletes progressing throughout the entire 5 weeks. The Open is an opportunity to make your community more tight-knit, create memorable experiences for your members and continue to progress in their fitness.