What Did You Learn? 2015 Open Wrap up by Kyle Ruth

The 2015 Open has come and gone and delivered a truly unique experience. Gone are the days where athletes could spend their season focusing solely on building their engine, and developing a small subset of movements within a narrow loading range. This years tests exposed athletes who have been neglecting localized muscular-endurance work, maximal strength, and advanced gymnastics. Additionally with the inclusion of the scaled division, CFHQ has given themselves the ability to create far more challenging tests and incorporate previously unseen movements (HSPU) into the testing design for Rx competitors. The result has been a heavier, more technical series of Open tests.

While most athletes will complete the Open and reflect on their performance with either satisfaction of their job well done or lament over their poor planning or preparation -- the smart athletes (and coaches) will use it as an opportunity to learn from each test and use that information to direct future training. Analyzing the Open tests and determining your specific limitations within each workout is essential to capitalizing on the Open as a testing battery. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to immediately incorporate overhead squatting + chest-to-bar pull-ups in your training program if that was your worst workout. Rather you need to identify the underlying factors that limited each performance, find the commonalities, and incorporate targeted training to address these limitations.

The purpose of this blog is to breakdown some common limiting factors for the first Open test and subsequently suggest some ways to address these limitations during the upcoming season. Additionally I will layout common limitations for the other four week’s tests without an extensive breakdown of each, but to give you a perspective with which to analyze your limitations. It is not within the scope of this article to address every possible metabolic, skill or endurance limitation for every athlete for all open workouts, however, it should provide you with some basic guidelines for identifying specific training targets for the upcoming season.

15.1 Limitations

Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 9 minutes of:

15 toes-to-bars

10 deadlifts (115 / 75 lb.)

5 snatches (115 / 75 lb.)

Grip Strength

Grip strength/endurance was a major limiting factor Open 15.1. The combination of hanging on a bar while swinging coupled with hanging onto a barbell restricted blood flow in the forearms leading to pooling of blood and inability to effectively fire the forearm flexors. Many athletes struggled to maintain their grip on the bar/barbell long before their trunk-flexors or shoulders/back/hamstrings gave out for the TTB or snatches indicating a need to address grip endurance beyond their current capacity for these two movements.

Developing Grip Strength

Grip strength/endurance training can effectively be incorporated as a standalone tool or within mixed training sessions. Its also important to note that some athletes have excellent grip endurance on a barbell due to their use of the hook-grip but struggle hanging from a gymnastic bar for extended periods. These two grip issues should be addressed separately. Effective tools for addressing gymnastics grip-endurance include pre-fatiguing grip training using rowing or farmers carries, double-arm and single-arm ring/bar hangs, and high volume KB swings. Tools for developing barbell grip-strength include axle/fat-grip deadlifting, and TnG Weightlifting with and without the hookgrip, plate pinches, and plate flips. Implemented correctly these tools can develop local strength/endurance of the forearm flexors allowing you to maintain your grip under fatigued conditions like those presented in many of the Open workouts

Snatch mechanics/strength

While many athletes were able to handle the 115/75# snatches easily in 15.1, there were also a large number people who struggled specifically with this movement. Obviously this can be limited by both strength (for smaller or weaker athletes) or mechanics (for relative novices to the Weightlifting). Regardless of the limitations it is clear that if you want to compete in the Rx category of the Open, you should now expect to see these loads as a minimum starting point.

Developing Snatch Mechanics

There are a multitude of resources on developing Weightlifting mechanics and strength so I’m not going to delve into the details here. I will steer you in the direction of the Catalyst Athletics Exercise Library, a resource that Max and I use frequently when prescribing Weightlifting drills and progressions. It is important to note here however that mechanics for the type of TnG work that is commonly tested in CrossFit do differ from the ideal technique utilized when attempting 1RM or near maximal lifts. Becoming familiar with both techniques is critical to success in this sport (as was illustrated by the Open this year from 15.1 to 15.1a).

Localized Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance played a factor for most athletes in 15.1 (outside of grip) and manifested as trunk-flexor fatigue. This felt like an inability to bring your toes to the bar and was characterized by reverting to a larger swing and bigger kip. Eventually you would be forced into doing smaller sets even singles in some cases depending on how crippling the combination of grip and trunk-flexion fatigue became by the end of the 9min

Developing Muscular Endurance

In the 2015 Open, local muscular-endurance was tested more frequently than just about any other construct in the sport. Between the TTB, CTB, Wallball, and HSPU we saw a muscular-endurance component tested every week. Local muscular-endurance is complex, resulting from the interaction of localized blood-flow, oxygen exchange with the active tissues, muscle-fiber type, contraction type (dynamic versus isometric), as well as other movements involved in the workout. Training to improve muscular-endurance however is relatively simple: you must target the specific muscles that you want to train and work them to failure (or near failure). Only in this state do our muscles and vascular system make the physiological adaptations needed for enhanced endurance. In the case of TTB this could be performed as reps for time (i.e. 50 reps for time) or max reps in a given time (AMRAP in 2min). Alternatively you could specify trunk flexion as your target and perform sets of v-ups, hollow to L’s, strict TTB on stall-bars, or unsupported leg-raises. Regardless of the movements selected, the work must be performed near failure.

Aerobic power

While aerobic power wasn’t tested as frequently in the 2015 Open as it has been in previous years, aerobic capacity and power were still major components in all of the workouts. For many athletes, 15.1 relied heavily on the development of their aerobic system to dictate pacing and breaking structures as well as recovery between sets and movements. The aerobic energy-system is responsible for recovery from localized muscular and CNS fatigue accumulated from TTB, deadlifting, and snatching. As a result respiration rates, heart rate, and metabolic heat are all produced indicating a high degree of aerobic engagement.

Developing Aerobic Power

Targeting aerobic power adaptations requires the use of specific energy-system training. Rather than arbitrarily training for “endurance” you should specify the metabolic system you are attempting to improve. In the case of most Open workout including 15.1 this means targeting the aerobic system. Training the aerobic system requires sub-maximal work over medium to long durations. This type of training is commonly called “cardio” and can initially be developed using cyclical means (running, rowing, cycling, or swimming). However once the initial adaptations are laid aerobic work should be mixed with other modes of training in order to create a more sport-specific adaptation.

15.1(a) Limitations

1-rep-max clean and jerk

6-minute time cap

Strength vs Strength Speed vs Mechanics

There are a number of elements that interact to determine the C&J 1RM on 15.1a including an athletes absolute-strength, speed-strength, and mechanics (technique). All three elements can be developed simultaneously, however prioritizing based on which element is the primary limiter can lead to faster progress in maximal lifts. Identifying technical issues is relatively easy, any coach familiar with the lifts should be able to recognise technical faults and prescribe corrective drills. On the other hand, differentiating between absolute-strength and strength-speed as a limiter is a bit more difficult. A general rule of thumb is that if you receive the clean but can’t stand-up you should probably prioritize absolute-strength over strength-speed. The opposite is generally true as well, if you pull a clean but cannot get the bar high enough to receive you should prioritize strength-speed work over absolute-strength. This is obviously too complex to address in the context of this blog, however just understanding that there should be some differentiation between “types of strength” puts you ahead of the curve.

*Note on Fatigued Lifting - before I address the limitations on the other workouts I want to briefly touch on the topic of fatigued lifting. We should always strive to train “optimally”. Generally this means that power movements like the Olympic lifts should be trained in a non-fatigued state. Training power movements in a fatigued state generally doesn’t allow athletes to express their full potential in the lifts and also creates “interference” for learning the optimal movement patterns. In order to execute a maximal lift under fatigue athletes do not need to train them under fatigue, rather they need to perfect the motor-patterns and develop a sound aerobic capacity. This will allow them to recover quickly from previous work and execute the movement correctly under fatigue.

15.2 Limitations

Every 3 minutes for as long as possible complete:

From 0:00-3:00

2 rounds of:

10 overhead squats (95 / 65 lb.)

10 chest-to-bar pull-ups

...add 2 reps to OHS/CTB during each subsequent 3min cycle

  • Grip Muscle Endurance
  • Local Muscular Endurance (either quad/shoulder for OHS or lat/trunk for CTB)
  • Skill (OHS / kipping CTB)
  • Mobility (OHS / CTB)
  • Strength (for both movements)
  • Aerobic Capacity/Aerobic Power

15.3 Limitations

Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 14 minutes of:

7 muscle-ups

50 wall-ball shots

100 double-unders

  • Local Muscular Endurance (shoulders, quads, hips, calves, grip)
  • Skill (muscle-ups as well as double-unders)
  • Aerobic Capacity/Aerobic Power

15.4 Limitations

Complete as many reps as possible in 8 minutes of:

3 handstand push-ups

3 cleans

6 handstand push-ups

3 cleans

9 handstand push-ups

3 cleans

12 handstand push-ups

6 cleans

Etc., adding 3 reps to the handstand push-up each round, and 3 reps to the clean every 3 rounds.

  • Local Muscular Endurance (shoulders, hips)
  • Skill (kipping HPSU, power clean proficiency)
  • Strength (power clean, pressing)
  • Strength-speed Endurance (power clean)

15.5 Limitations

27-21-15-9 reps for time of:

Row (calories)


  • Aerobic capacity/Aerobic Power
  • Anaerobic Power/Anaerobic Power endurance
  • Skill (rower)
  • Mobility (thrusters)
  • Speed-strength endurance (thrusters)


After the excitement of the Open wears off and the sting of 15.5 fades from your memory you will be faced with two opposing choices. One is to continue to train the way you have leading up to this point without utilizing the results from the Open to steer your training for the upcoming season. This is a reasonable option for anyone who doesn’t consider the Open to be their primary target or test of fitness, those of who do the Open each year just for fun. The other option is to use the information you’ve gained through the six tests over the past five weeks to refine your training program. Clearly define your limitations and weaknesses now, while they are fresh in your mind. This will give you a framework to layout a plan of attack for the upcoming year that addresses these weaknesses and limiters and gives you the best chance possible for success in the future.

~ Kyle

Created By
Kyle Ruth

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