The CrossFit Open, Explained

Heard about the CrossFit Open, but not sure what it's about or how it works? STACK provides answers to all of your questions.

You might've noticed a few of your CrossFit friends sprinting to their computers or cell phones on a recent Thursday afternoon around 5 p.m. Pacific Time. No, they were not hurrying to get their taxes done. They were probably checking this website for the second workout of the CrossFit Open. Because if they're exceptionally good at "the sport of fitness," that workout could be a step toward a big, fat check.

Confused? Don't worry about it. We're here to explain the ins-and-outs of the CrossFit Open—and, by extension, the CrossFit Games.

What exactly is the CrossFit Open?

The CrossFit Open is the first leg of the qualifying process to reach the "championship" competition, the CrossFit Games (a days-long event broadcast by ESPN last year). According to the CrossFit Games website, more than 138,000 people entered the Open in 2013.

138,000 people just met up and did a workout?

No. The CrossFit Open is divided into regions, both nationally and internationally. Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada East, Canada West, Europe and Latin America comprise the international regions, while domestically, the competition is divided into the Central East, Mid-Atlantic, North Central, Northeast, Northwest, Northern California, South Central, Southeast, Southwest and Southern California regions.

How does The Open work?

The Open is comprised of five workouts, performed over five weeks, for a score—generally either most reps completed in a set amount of time or a workout completed as fast as possible. At the end of the five weeks, the top 48 men and top 48 women advance to The Regionals. There is also a Team Competition with the top 30 teams advancing to the Regional competition. Every individual and every team in the world performs the same workout on a given week, and they all learn about it at the same time: 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday evening. Competitors have until the following Monday at 5 p.m. Pacific Time to complete the workout and submit their score.

You can find this year's workouts here.

Teams? How do those work?

Teams consist of at least three men and three women who train at the same gym. The goal is to determine the Fittest Gym, so athletes on teams must abide by the "More Than Half Rule." This means athletes on a team must train at that location for more than half of their training days per week and must train at that facility more than any other location.

A word of warning for teams with athletes who also enter the individual competition. If your team makes the Regionals and an athlete on your team also qualifies individually (and chooses to continue on as an individual), his or her score will be subtracted from your team's overall score (if he or she is in the top three) and replaced with the next highest score.

However, if a team member qualifies for the Regionals, but does not qualify for the Games, he or she can return to the team if it qualifies for the Games.

Can't athletes just lie about their scores?

If you're interested in competing in the Regionals, your scores are verified in two ways. If you have access to a local affiliate, you perform your workout in front of a registered judge who has passed the CrossFit Judges course. Then, you also need to videotape at least one (but probably all) of your workouts.

If you don't have access to a local affiliate, you can videotape your workout and submit it to CrossFit HQ. "I think less than one percent of all scores submitted are video," says Justin Bergh, General Manger of the CrossFit Games. "Those videos are reviewed by online judges who have passed the CrossFit Judges course. If a video has 43 positive reviews, there is no need for a member of the regional staff to review it. If half the votes are good and half say it needs review, our regional staff evaluates the video and makes a final decision." A video only needs one pass from a judge to be cleared; however, multiple judges can review it. If some coaches pass it and others don't, that's a red flag that's dealt with by CrossFit HQ.

Why do I videotape my performances if I'm with a local affiliate?

At the end of the five weeks of The Open, the top 60 men and top 60 women in each region are required to submit at least one video of an Open workout to CrossFit Games staff. The competitors will not know which workout they need to submit until after they complete all five of the workouts. Thus, you really should be videotaping all of your workouts.  Of those 60, the 48 athletes with the highest average score of the five Open workouts will advance to the Regionals.

I still don't understand why I need people to watch me work out.

CrossFit competitions depend on every competitor performing the same moves, so movement standards are enforced on every rep of every workout. The judges confirm that you meet the movement standards for each exercise—no half Squats here.

Um..."movement standards"?

That's the CrossFit way of saying "proper exercise form." It's what they're looking for in each rep to award full credit.

Is this contest open only to people who are already bona fide CrossFitters?

No. In fact, Bergh stresses that the Open is just that—open. Literally anyone can enter.

What happens after the Open?

Once they reach the Regionals, athletes (individuals and teams) face three days of exercises. The Regional is spread out over five weekends, so different regions compete at different times.

"At the Regionals, we typically announce the workouts about 10 days before the first event," says Bergh.  "Athletes competing in that first week have at least a week to get comfortable with all those movements and get a little bit of a strategy going in. Athletes in the fifth week have a bit of an advantage."

The top three men and women in each U.S. region advance to the CrossFit Games, as do two apiece for both Canadian regions, and one athlete from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Europe and Australia both get three bids.

What happens at the Games?

Hell, essentially. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but the workouts are incredibly intense. Scott Panchik, an accomplished CrossFitter who placed fourth overall at the 2012 and 2013 games, describes them as "a beating."

"Words cannot describe how my body and mind felt during those five days of competition," Panchik said. "CrossFitters take their body and mind to places most people don't want to go. And then they do it again."

A total of 43 men, 43 women and 43 teams from around the world make it to the Finals, competing for a prize purse. Last year's individual champions walked away with $275,000, and the runners up in the top 10 pocketed cash, too. The Team champion won $40,000. According to Bergh, this year's Games will have over $1.5 million up for grabs.

How do the athletes prepare for the Games?

Like the Regionals, the athletes do not know what most workouts will be when they arrive in Southern California, so CrossFitters need to be ready for anything and everything. There are a few exceptions to that rule, however. "We typically have a rolling series of announcements at The CrossFit Games," Bergh says. "Most of the workouts are announced just before the athletes actually perform them. Typically, if there is a really unique and technical skill—for instance, we did an event at Camp Pendleton that involved swimming, biking and running—we tell the athletes so they can bring the appropriate equipment and get the right nutrition plans. We wouldn't just spring that on them. The goal is not to catch them with their pants down."

You can see last year's workouts here. Last year's Games lasted five days, with four days of exercises, but that doesn't mean this year's Games will follow the same format.

I think I'm going to enter. What do you think my chances are?

Ask Rich Froning or Samantha Briggs. They're the ones you'll have to top. (And good luck with that.)


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

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