In Praise of The Off Season

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The Open is over. Who’s looking forward to The Open?

The Open is pure awesome! It raises our expectations of what’s possible, at the same time giving us a grounding reminder of what needs to work on.

We need seasons, and CrossFit is no different. For example rope climbs are a great tool – they develop grip and pulling strength, upper body health, and are one of those movements that most of us go from “I’ll never be able to do that” to “I can’t believe I did that!”, boosting our self confidence along the way.

But in our observation we need to limit the amount of time we spend practicing them. Too much too soon and the connective tissue in our elbows can’t recover quick enough for us to keep getting better at them. So they cycle in and out of the Programmeme.

The Open is five intense weeks, simultaneously very long and going by in a blur. The intensity level is raised. Chances are you’ve never spent so much time thinking about strategy and pacing in training. In training, if you’re having an off day you can lower the weights, the rep scheme, or just do a recovery piece. Not on these five days.

Afterwards, we need a break. The pressure and strain of competing needs to be matched with lower intensity, rest, and restoration.

It should start with a period of reflection. What went well? What was I proud of? Where did I shine the best? Find the positives in what you did and don’t be so quick to dismiss them. You didn’t “just take part”, you completed your first Open! If that’s the first time you’ve been competitive in forever that’s a big deal! Did you push harder than ever before, even if you didn’t “win”? Again, that’s huge! You found new limits for yourself, a new gear you can switch into. And hey, your first double under/chest to bar/43Kg Snatch, these are impressive feats! Take pride in them and use them as motivation going forward!

To balance this we need also to look at what needs improving. Only do this after you’ve taken stock of your victories and accomplishments. Otherwise you’re just flagellating yourself (and that’s not very pleasant!) It’s tempting to say “I just need to get fitter” and for some, if CrossFit doesn’t occupy much of your time and your thoughts, that’s fine. Keep showing up, having fun and that will take care of itself. But if you want to go deeper, start picking out some critical things you’d like to develop over the coming year.

The more you can narrow done areas of development, the more likely you’ll be successful in the coming year. Is it your engine? Great, what does that mean? Speed of burpees? Resilience on wall balls? Switching between movements without taking a break? Ability to cycle heavy barbell? All of these could be getting you out of breath, but all are very different activities.

The off season for us starts with Strict Season. 8 weeks where we take a break from kipping movements. This reduces the demand on the connective tissue and also allows us to build some strength and endurance, particularly in our upper body. Essentially everyone can benefit from this phase. Because strict movements tend to slow us down they also reduce the pace of workouts, again allowing our body time to recover from the frenetic effort during The Open.

While we’re working on our strict movements, after a few weeks we’ll separate the hollow/arch swing and strict movements, working on each independent, before reintegrating them as the summer and winter go on.

Most of what we do is squat, push, pull, hinge. During the off season we work more on our single side movements, and some “unusual” pieces, things we don’t expect to see during The Open. Which, given that Castro is determined to keep us guessing, will help us deal with whatever new, odd, or challenging movement that may present itself.

Lunges come back, who doesn’t need to improve on them? Do you think a perfectly controlled single leg pistol squat is going to help or hinder your health and fitness gains? Single side pressing and overhead squats are going to reveal more than their barbell equivalent will, and as such it’s an opportunity to increase strength will using lighter loads.

We’ll be adding in some Goat days as well? What’s a goat you ask? It’s any movement that you’re not so good at (identified above in our post-Open review) that will bring up our fitness. Take two goats, pair them up in an alternate EMOM (Each Minute on The Minute) and come away feeling more confident in the movements and your skillset.

And finally, running is back! It’s hard to ask you to run in the dark and ice over the winter, so now that we’ve sunshine we’ll take advantage of it! Running, apart from the cardiovascular benefits, gives us a great chance to work on our self talk and mindset. Are we heading out on our 400s thinking “I hate running” or “I’ll use this as a break before the ‘real’ work happens inside”? Or could we use it as an opportunity to push into discomfort just that little bit more, listen to our body without the distraction of the music and our teammates, and find out what we’re saying to ourselves when our heart rate is jacked? Are you coaching yourself in a positive, supportive way “come on, little bit faster, breathe”? Or merely surviving “just 200m more and I can stop this shit”? Or worse, berating yourself “how the hell are you so slow!”? What we say to ourselves before, during, and after a workout makes a huge difference in how much benefit we get from our training time.

The Open has helped us grow and develop. The Off Season now provides a great opportunity to continue that trend. With a little reflection and the right mindset, we can turn our weaknesses into strengths and make great strides on the journey to our individual greatness.

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