What It's Like to Compete in the CrossFit Open

STACK Expert Jennifer Dietrich shares her experience of competing in the CrossFit Open. Be amazed by what she got out of it.

Like most sports, CrossFit has its own championship competition—the CrossFit Games. In this event, the "fittest athletes on Earth" are put to the challenge, completing several workouts a day over the course of a week in the hot California sun. The athletes are the elite in their sport. From swimming to Olympic lifting to gymnastics to hauling, pushing, pulling and climbing unknown elements, the Games test to the extreme. But where CF differs from other sports is this: anyone has a chance to make it to the Games, and it all starts with the Open.

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CrossFit Open

The CrossFit Open takes place every year in February or March. For a mere $20, anyone around the globe can sign up to compete in an event that spans five weeks. Every Thursday, the next workout is announced, and participants have until the following Monday to complete the designated WOD (Workout of the Day) and enter their scores via certified affiliate judge or videotape.

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I am one of the people who decided to give this a whirl.

As with most CF competitions, there is a scaled division and an RX division. (In the RX division, participants perform all the movements using the prescribed weight and reps.) Though performing the Open WODs at the scaled level doesn't earn athletes as many points, it creates opportunities for more people to sign up and challenge themselves in one of the largest athletic community events on the planet. In 2016, over 264,000 people, elite and amateur athletes alike from all over the world, registered and competed in the Open. And though there are a limited number of spots available to compete in the next round—the Regionals—and those spots are usually filled by athletes like Julie Foucher, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Dan Bailey and Rich Froning, there's always the chance that maybe, just maybe, you can make it too.

I have been doing CF for a little over a year, and I competed in one other local competition this past summer, so I thought it would be fun and enlightening to try my hand at these challenging workouts in an official capacity. My gym always makes their Friday WOD whatever the new Open workout is, but there was something about the accountability factor of having to officially log my results that kept me focused and pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.

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Friday Night Lights

Another fun fact about the Open is that many affiliates make a special event out of it, often called "Friday Night Lights." My gym, CTOWN CrossFit in Cleveland, was no exception. Each Friday night we held a gym-wide event involving teams, themed costumes, a pot-luck meal and our own scoring system for the top 3 male and female athletes in each division (scaled and RX). Side (pride) note: my team—"Toned Shrugs 'n Harmony"—was the overall winner this year. Boom.

Though we competed in teams, we took turns judging each other, cheering each other on, and encouraging our opponents to push harder and finish strong. It didn't matter that it was a contest: We genuinely wanted to see our friends succeed, whether they were on our team or not. This has been my experience with all of the CF competitions I have participated in and attended; and if you watch the Games from years past, you will see that same camaraderie displayed among the elite. Name one other sport where athletes cheer on and encourage their opponents in the middle of the competition.

To that point, I was out of town for the first Friday Night Lights at my gym, so I decided to find an affiliate near Concord, Massachusetts, where I was vacationing. CrossFit2A in Acton welcomed me with open arms. I was alone and far from home, yet I never felt it. People I met 30 minutes before I set up my equipment for the WOD were standing around me, calling out my name and pushing me to stick with it. It was a truly unique experience and the perfect way for me to start this arduous journey.

Each week of the Open was a physical crucible, and over the course of the five-week competition, I watched myself grow as a CF athlete. In the past year, I have declared only four WODs as the hardest workouts of my life, and two of them were in the Open—16.4 and 16.5, the latter of which was so challenging, I had to quit a quarter of the way in, which devastated me. But from failure we can learn something, and I was able to successfully tackle it a few days later with a new approach. (The other two WODS, in case you're curious, are Murph, which I completed for the first time two days after 16.4, and last year's 15.5 Open workout.)

Throughout the five weeks, I completed four of the five workouts at the scaled level and one at the RX level. (When I saw heavy Deadlifts in 16.4, scaling was not an option for me. Did I mention I love Deadlifts?) I even managed to place 3rd in the scaled division for 16.3 (Snatches and Jumping Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups).

For more on all of the Open workouts and their variants, check out CrossFit.com.

What's the Point?

So what was the point of it all? It's not like I would ever score well enough to make it to Regionals and have a shot at the Games. But that's not why I did it. The payoff was this: I was able to hit milestones and PRs in a short period of time. I got to watch some of the fittest athletes on earth compete in my gym. I was able to compete in the sport that I love at the same level as elite athletes. I was able to watch my friends do the same. I was given the opportunity to overcome, inspire, be inspired, coach, judge and flourish. And I got to lift a lot of heavy things.

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