Since 2012, I have enjoyed the spectacle of the Reebok CrossFit® Games more and more each year. Both as a spectator and a coach, the events themselves have become more grandiose, the athletes are much more capable and the design and layout of the events have consistently improved.
From a coaching standpoint, the Open, Regionals and Games are what my planning revolves around for many of my clients. Almost all of our clientele compete in the Open every year, some compete at Regionals and a select few make it to the Games. Over the years, I have had the great fortune to coach many different individual competitors at the Games in Carson each July, including Masters from nearly all divisions, those competing on their respective team and a few individual competitors.
I have attended the CrossFit® Games seven times (09,10,12,13,14,15,16). In 2009 and 2010, I was lucky enough to be an Individual Athlete, competing alongside the best in the sport at the time. From 2012 to present, I have attended the event mainly as a Coach to my athletes and, to a large extent, as a fan of the sport. 2011 was the only year I did not attend. Truth be told, 2011 was the only year I remember not actually loving CrossFit®. I was at a crossroad. I was well aware that I was no longer able to compete for a qualifying position at Regionals to make it to the Games. I was also transitioning from being a competitor, to accepting my role as a Coach. Now, being a Coach is my life. I cherish my current role. And, I would not have it any other way. I still compete in the sport, mostly at a local level, which is great fun.
Volunteering as a judge is admirable. Especially when you only really get noticed for doing a bad job. A great judge won’t be noticed by the spectator. There really is no love for the judge during a fitness competition. It is not a glamorous position, unless of course you are this guy and you have shirts printed about you. With that said, the impact of having poor judging at the level of your local competition is pretty negligible. You may get a gluten free beer bottle thrown at you, but nothing to write home about. However, when poor judging is on display at the highest level of the sport, at the Games, it is not the same thing. In many instances, a few no reps here and there for people could be the difference between being on the podium and not being on the podium (3rd and 4th – which is also a difference of $10,000 USD).
Having an individual train all year for this event only to have some bad calls is unfortunate. It is part of all sport and attempts are made by HQ to ensure it is minimized as much as possible, but it still exists. The events that seemed to have the most judging inconsistency were Murph, Double DT and The Separator. Not coincidentally, these events also placed the greatest demand on the judges. Compare these events to ones like the 7k trail run, the Deadlift, the 500m Ocean Swim, the Suicide Sprint, the Handstand Walk, the Plow Pull, etc. Those events have basically no need for judging in comparison and, therefore, generally have very little issue.
During “Murph“, some individuals were getting away with not opening the hips at the top of the squats. With this strategy, you will perform the reps MUCH faster than your fellow competitors. Even from half way up in the stands the difference in movement is obvious. This is not a difficult thing to spot. The athlete in question will be taller during their rest period by a noticeable amount when compared to the “top” of their air squat. The athlete is not opening the hips at the top. The main problem with this is that your cycle time per rep is VERY fast, which gives you a considerable advantage over your competitors.
During “Double DT“, the only real issue seemed to be with some individuals doing the “rapid” hang power cleans. This style has the athlete quickly dropping the bar to the thighs, very little forward torso inclination, then a rapid thigh contact and bringing the bar back to the shoulders. Many people were being called for not fully extending their elbows at the bottom of the reps, while others in the lane next to them were getting away with the exact same movement. I remember Sara Sigmundsdottir got a no rep for this exact thing in round 9 (I believe) while she was trying to keep up with the eventual event winner, Katrin Davidsdottir. The hang power cleans were a very important part of the event. If you got a few no reps on those, it could be costly, which it was for Sara.
During “The Separator“, there was a HUGE difference in movement standard among the male competitors. Go here, here, and here to see some of the different standards of movement. None of this is the athlete’s fault or issue. If you were them, and the judge never said anything, you would continue working in the way you had been and trying to find the most efficient technique. I don’t believe this is the judges issue either, the standard of movement is both understandable and completely grey. This is no different than what we saw at the 2016 Regionals with the Strict Ring Muscle-ups in the second event on Friday evening, “Regional Nate”. In that event, the standard was very different, depending on your judge. The question then becomes, should those movements, ones that are so subjective at times, be included into professional competition? Advancement of the sport is important, but so is providing a consistent competition experience for all involved.
The Scoring System
Lowest points win system
2009 and 2010 Games Scoring and Regionals Scoring system for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014
- 1st – 1 point
- 2nd – 2 points
- 3rd – 3 points
Old Highest points win system
2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Games Scoring
- 1st – 100 points
- 2 – 95 points
- 3 – 90 points
- 4 – 85 points
- 5 – 80 pointsv
- 9 – 69 points
- 10 – 67 points
- 11 – 65 points
- 14 – 59 points
- 15 – 57 points
- 16 – 55 points
- 19 – 49 points
- 20 – 47 points
- 21 – 45 points
- 40 – 17 points
New Highest points win system
2015 and 2016 Games Scoring
- 1 – 100 points
- 2 – 94 points
- 3 – 88 points
- 4 – 84 points
- 5 – 80 points
- 9 – 64 points
- 10 – 60 points
- 11 – 58 points
- 14 – 59 points
- 15 – 57 points
- 16 – 55 points
- 19 – 42 points
- 20 – 40 points
- 21 – 38 points
- 40 – 0 points
One thing you may have noticed in the 2015 Games is that the scoring system had been changed from previous years (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). The difference is significant for those who finish outside of 5th place. The difference becomes even more apparent as the placing drops below 20th. I am not sure why they made that adjustment, but I am sure they have their reasons for doing so. The reason I bring this up is because in the 2009 and 2010 Games, the scoring was very simple, your placing = your points and lowest points wins. This lowest points wins system was also the scoring system used at Regionals up until the 2015 season.
One thing about the lowest points wins system is that is rewards well rounded athletes to a greater extent than the current system. The current system also rewards being well rounded, but not to the same degree. The current system really rewards the ability to finish 1st, but mainly in the top 5. One thing to note is that at Regionals in 2015 and 2016 they continue to employ the 2011–2014 Games scoring system, which seems inconsistent.
An example of how the scoring system effects placing can be evidenced from this year’s top 6 Men’s and Women’s finishers. If you apply the lowest points scoring system to the finishers you will notice a few things. The current scoring system and points will be in normal font, the lowest points wins scoring system will be in bold font.
- 1st/1098 points
- 1st/79 points
- 2nd/899 points
- 2nd/150 points
- 3rd/863 points
- 3rd/154 points
- 4th/861 points
- 5th/196 points
- 5th/803 points
- 6th/213 points
- 6th/800 points
- 4th/183 points
- 1st/984 points
- 1st/118 points
- 2nd/973 points
- 2nd/124 points
- 3rd/919 points
- 3rd/142 points
- 4th/874 points
- 4th/172 points
- 5th/804 points
- 5th/199 points
- 6th/796 points
- 6th/204 points
From the Women’s side, nothing inside the top 6 would change. However, on the Men’s side, things look a lot different. No longer would there have been a race between 3rd and 4th place (Velllner and Fikowski), but there would have been a race between 2nd and 3rd (Smith and Vellner). As well, Fikowski would have slid to 4th, Sager would have slid to 5th, and Panchik would have leaped into 4th. Obviously, this is an “after the fact” analysis which does not mean anything. If the scoring system was based on the lowest points wins system then the athletes and their coaches would strategize differently, would potentially train differently, and would potentially perform differently.
Unknown and Unknowable… even for spectators
As I was making my way to Redondo Beach for the Swim event I was talking with some Aussies in the parking lot. They were not very pleased that it had taken so long to announce the location and time of the Swim event. They were also a bit chapped that the Wednesday events were not open to spectators due to their location. As a spectator, I would agree. I was not happy that the Wednesday events were off-limits to spectators and coaches.
For the Athletes it is part of the sport, which is fine. For people that fly half way around the world, it sucks. It would be much better to simply tell the paying spectators ahead of time that “you won’t be able to attend the Wednesday events for the Individuals”. Friends of mine wanted to fly into LA on Tuesday for this expressed purpose, to see the Wednesday events. Last year, she arrived on Thursday and regretted that she did not fly down on the Tuesday so she could see her friend compete on Wednesday in the Pier Paddle event on Hermosa Beach and the Sandbag event in the Tennis Stadium. These are just some of the little things that could be done to ensure the spectators continue to pay to support the event.
Other than this issue, I thought everything else was pretty damn good. Each year the experience is very good – every event and heat runs like clockwork. They have a LOT of individuals and moving parts to organize and it is done seamlessly. As a coach, I would like to be able to go into the tent with my athletes to discuss strategy and de-brief on the previous events, but it is not a big deal. It is great that the athletes have a great place to hang out, not to mention the fantastic warm-up area. They make the athletes a priority in the planning, which is fantastic. Compared to last year, there was more emphasis placed on the athletes knowing how to cool their body temperature and recover from events and there was also more access to the necessary things in order to accomplish this important part of competition.
Early in the week, Dave Castro announced that this would be the most challenging Games to date, both mentally and physically. I am not sure I agree with that 100%. The main reason being “Murph“. In 2015, the Murph event changed the Games from my perspective. People were MESSED up from that event, like, big time. Event though, on paper, the 2016 Games had the most events and probably the largest total work volume to date, I still feel that the 2015 Games were tougher both mentally and physically simply due to the placement of the Murph event being mid-day on Friday. As a spectator, and coach, that event was kind of a turning point for many athletes in 2015.
As the number of Games events increases, the amount of cyclical modality involvement needs to increase (i.e. Running, Rowing, Biking, Swimming, SkiErg, etc.). The increase in volume should not continue to come mainly in the form of movements that cause a much more muscular break down (i.e. thrusters, pull-ups, deadlifting, etc.). To understand what I mean, what do you feel like the next day if you rowed 20 minutes as hard as possible vs. you did a 20 minute AMRAP of Thrusters @ 95lbs/65lbs? This is not a realistic event (I hope), but I am just using it so you understand what I mean. By following this arrangement in program design the total volume of the Games could actually increase from its current level with relatively little risk to an athlete’s health.
Short Discussion on Validation
If the testing involved in the Games continues to grow in both volume and number of tests does that mean that the testing is improving? Should that not be a goal of the Games programming? That goal being, to become more and more efficient in assessing whom is fitter than whom. This has improved over the years, but it can still get better.
Every year, without fail, the program design of the Games is always placed under a microscope by the community. Every year, without fail, there are critics that think the design was absolutely horrific. Every year, without fail, the athletes and HQ defend the program design stating how amazing it was and thanking them for such great events. I don’t think validation of the programming by the athletes themselves adds any credibility. The main reason for this is that the athletes that are competing against one another will do whatever is required to achieve their goal. That’s why they’re at the elite level of this sport – they don’t make excuses like the rest of us.
I also don’t believe it to be a very good practice when the organizers/supporters spend so much of their time defending their position and stating reasons why others are wrong and they are right. If you are constantly having to defend what you believe in the face of much criticism from various points then it may be wise to reevaluate the process in which the final product of the program layout occurs. Unless of course you believe that those criticism do not have any merit.
Just because an event itself is damn near impossible does not make it the best test of fitness. If the focus of the program design for the Games is on rewarding sustainability then the design will not always reward capability. Everyone must be aware that making tests that cause the athletes to suffer and endure is very, very easy. To me, the magic of a great program design is in its ability to select and separate individuals without having to excessively leverage their well-being in order to realize this.
Notable Omissions from Programming
The longest event for Mat Fraser in the 2016 Games lasted 35 minutes. The longest event in the 2016 Games for Katrin Davidsdottir lasted 38 minutes. This is not even close to a long event for the Games. In 2012, there was Pendleton 1 and 2, which lasted 2 hours and 6 minutes for Rich Froning and 2 hours and 18 minutes for Annie Thorrisdottir. There has to be a long event coming soon. The last time there was an event over an hour for every competitor was in 2013 for the Row 1 (2,000m) and Row 2 (Half Marathon).
2016 was the first time since 2008 Games that there was no “Snatch” prescribed. 2016 was the first time since 2008 since Ring Muscle-ups have not been included. Ring Muscle-ups were “kind of” included into “The Separator” but not really as they were not a scored movement. 2016 was the first time since 2011 Bar Muscle-ups were also not included. Like 2015, 2016 did not feature any specific single leg movements, such as lunges or pistols. Although, the hills involved in the Ranch Trail Run could be considered into this. If you have ever had to climb a steep hill, it is basically a lot of really fast step-ups.
Going into the 2016 season many of my friends and clients ask me who I thought would win the Games in 2016. For the Men’s side, I consistently said Mat Fraser 1st and then Ben Smith 2nd. I couldn’t see anyone beating those two. However, I could never pick a 3rd male. This makes sense, because I can’t imagine many people picking Patrick Vellner. As a Canadian, I was super happy to see him and Brent Fikowski finish 3rd and 4th respectively the year. They each had a fantastic rookie year. I hope they match or surpass their performances in 2017.
Mat’s performance this year was unbeatable – very “Froning-esque”. He was unstoppable. For a guy to win the 7k Trail Run, finish 2nd in the Suicide Sprint and then finish high on the Clean Ladder speaks to the breadth of his ability. From Friday to Sunday, he looked like he wanted to win every event. If he is healthy going into 2017, he is going to win again.
At first, the Women’s side seemed like a very wide open competition. To me, the Women’s competition this year was WAY more exciting than the Men’s. There was many more potential winners going into the Games this year and there was way more of a race leading into the end of the competition. However, when asked, I consistently said that Sara Sigmundsdottir would win, followed by Tia-Claire Toomey in second and either Katrin Davidsdottir, Kara Webb or Annie Thorrisdottir in 3rd. To me, Katrin performed perfectly over the week. She had many clutch performances and had a little bit of luck, which is needed if you want to win a tight race. Tia is lacking in a few basic areas, but has the potential to be the complete package in 2017 and to win it all.
I was very surprised that Sara did not win this year. Sara did not look like Katrin did. Even in the seats I could see the Katrin wanted to win. Sara appeared a bit more tentative. From what you can see from her training, she is a machine. The things she does in training are incredible and maybe unmatchable by any other women in CrossFit®, but she makes little mistakes on the competition floor that cost her dearly. Like Tia, Sara has it in her to be a champion in 2017. The race between these 3 women in 2017 is going to be fantastic to watch.
Event 1 – Ranch Trail Run
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Agility, Pacing, Mental
Oh my! As previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to compete in the 2009 Games. The first event that year in Aromas was the 7k Trail Run. It was horrendous. Dusty, hilly, dusty, slippery…did I mention it was dusty? I was so excited to be competing I think I was numb for the first half of the run. Once that numbness wore off, I was in a LOT of discomfort. One part of that event I will never forget is that my brother, James, passed me while I was on all fours crawling up the back hill. I was thinking to myself, my god this hill is really shitty. Following this, I would proceed to slide down that same hill on my butt while other competitors were coming up the hill.
Watching the 2016 Games footage of this event brought back all those memories and feelings. However, this year the route looked a lot more challenging/dangerous compared to what we experienced. I am not sure if you can compare the times from 2009 to 2016, but they are somewhat similar.
Running is the most foundational aspect of fitness. To me, if you can’t run, you cannot be fit. That is a biased statement, but running/moving on your feet is foundational to basically every sport that you love. The intensity and distances may vary, but the modality does not. With running, you can assess capacity in all energy systems. From the various times/distances, you can also assess movement, mobility, speed, power, endurance, etc. Running is beautiful and I am glad that they utilize it in the Games programming every year in several events. Each year at the Games, the programming definitely tests running and places a high value on being a competent runner in all distances.
Running on a track is one thing, running through terrain that you do not know, with 79 other competitors is a totally different thing. Simply put, it is MUCH harder and way less comfortable. Add the heat of the California sun and the dusty nature of the route and you have a very challenging event, both mentally and physically.
The most impressive performance for me in this event was Mat Fraser. I knew he was a good runner for these distances based on his 2014 and 2015 performances. However, for him to beat out Josh Bridges was incredible. Brent Fikowski finished 3rd on this event and that guy can run. For Fraser to beat him by over 2 minutes is beyond impressive. I can imagine that Fikowsi’s larger frame made it hard to keep up with Fraser and Bridges.
Event 2 – Ranch Deadlift Ladder
- Main Energy System Tested – ATP-CP Potential and Recovery
- Main Characteristics – Hip Strength and Power, Grip Strength, Torso Strength
Back in 2009, the Deadlift Ladder only went up to 505lbs for Men and 375lbs for Women because the organizers did not believe anyone would be able to go through all 20 bars or so, on a 20-30 second interval, starting at 205lbs/315lbs. Truth be told, I am sure many exercise scientists at the time did not think it would be possible for people to hit PR’s in this format, following a 7k trail run. But, you know what, that was the beauty of CrossFit® and the beauty of this sport and what can be accomplished in competition. Personally, this event immediately changed my view on training. Having an Exercise Science degree myself, I also did not think it would be possible to hit a PR on this event. I did not hit a PR, but I did tie it.
Here are some of the individuals that competed in both the 2009 and 2016 Games. This is an incredible feat by these people. This sport has changed and evolved so much since then, to be able to keep pace with that advancement over the years is incredible.
- Spencer Hendel – 2009 = 505lbs, 2016 = 565lbs
- Ben Smith – 2009 = 455lbs, 2016 = 505lbs
- Annie Thorrisdottir – 2009 = 305lbs, 2016 = 375lbs
- Rebecca Voigt – 2009 = 275lbs, 2016 = 365lbs
- Stacie Tovar – 2009 = 275lbs, 2016 = 355lbs
- Christy Phillips/Adkins – 2009 = 295lbs, 2016 = 345lbs
For Males in 2009, hitting a 495lb Deadlift would have given you 17th position. In 2016, it would have given you 28th position. 40th position in 2009 was a 435lb Deadlift. 40th position in 2016 was a 465lb Deadlift. For Females in 2009, 315lbs would give you 9th. In 2016, that same lift would give you 34th. From the leaderboard, it appears that the 2016 female field as a whole is much better at deadlifting compared to the 2009 field. However, the same cannot be said of the male field. They are better on average, but not to the same extent as the females. I also wonder if any athletes intentionally “sandbagged” this event?
A 1 rep max Deadlift is a fantastic test. There is no where to hide. As well, being able to cycle the moderately heavy loads at Regionals for 3 rounds (405lbs and 275lbs respectively) does NOT translate into having a great 1 rep max deadlift. Honestly, I would have expected the 2016 male field of competitors to have done better on this event compared to the 2009 field. However, back in 2009, training the deadlift on a regular basis was considered normal for everyone. Back then, training the snatch and clean and jerk on a regular basis was not. Times have changed.
Back in 2009, for the Men, 1st place on the max Snatch event on the second day of competition was 240lbs. If they did that event in 2016, last place would be more than 240lbs. For the Women, 1st was 145lbs. That would also be last place in 2016. As you can see, on average, the max deadlift amongst Games Athletes (from 2009 to 2016) has not progressed to the same degree that Snatching and Clean and Jerking has.
The most impressive performance for me in this event was both Brooke Wells and Sam Dancer as they put up some ridiculous numbers (415lbs and 615lbs respectively) and no one was really close to them (20 and 30lbs behind respectively. Of note, the eventual champions, Katrin and Mat, each had BY FAR their worst finishes on this event. CrossFit® is a sport that rewards knee flexion power/strength more than hinging power/strength (think Snatch/Clean and Jerk vs. Deadlifting). Although, Tia-Claire Toomey finished 3rd on the Deadlift ladder and finished 2nd overall. Maybe she would be considered an outlier? Last year’s champion for the Men, Ben Smith, also had one of his lowest finishes here. Alex Vigneault finished 6th on the 7k Run and 2nd on the Deadlift. That is well rounded.
Event 3 – Ranch Mini Chipper
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Adaptability
To me, this event was by far the least interesting event of all 15 scored events. I like the idea of using the med ball the entire way through the event, but the med ball could have been used in a better way, as could the hill run. If they wanted to make the 3rd event of the day a great test like the previous 2 were, they should have just done the Hill Sprint event from the 2009 Games. Many people, myself included, consider that to be one the most painful events they have ever done. That event was pure pain. It was also very exciting for the spectators. However, I assume that would have conflicted with the Sunday morning “Suicide Sprint” event given that it would have been a sprinting based event.
This year’s “Mini Chipper” was slow, and uneventful. I was not at the Ranch to watch the event, so it is hard to get an accurate feeling of how the event played out. However, from the footage HQ posted to YouTube of the last men’s heat from the day it was not exactly exciting. This footage also showed some of the earlier heats, which from a viewers standpoint, did not show much hustle up that hill at the end of the event. I figured they would all be gutting it out as soon as they got off the GHD, but that was not the case for many.
Lastly, I do not like GHD Sit-ups as a modality to be included in testing. Adding a med ball component does not make this situation any better, it makes it much worse. All in all, this event was pretty lack lustre.
The most impressive performance for me was by Brent Fikowski as he won the event for the Men, and he attacked the hill run portion, which is what gave him the win.
Event 4 – Ocean Swim
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Proficiency in Swimming, Strategy, Confidence
What I mean by “confidence” is that in order to have a chance at finishing high, in all likelihood you would have to get to the front of the pack from the start. You have to be confident that you can run hard from the starting line to the water, enter the water quickly, then be able to continue on without issue following the preceding high effort run. For someone like myself, who is not a good swimmer, I would not be sprinting to the water. I would have enough trouble finishing the 500m Swim on its own, I would not want to risk making the situation worse due to poor strategy.
I did like the fact they really tested swimming and only swimming. Even though there was a running component with entering and exiting the ocean, this was still mainly a test of swimming. However, ocean swimming is a LOT different than swimming in a lap pool. I found this out the hard way when I went to Hermosa Beach on the Monday before the Games to do some swimming with my athlete. My first entry to the ocean was terrible as I got drilled by a wave and swallowed a lot of salt water.
This was the first time at the Games that there has been a swimming only scored event. In 2011, the swim was combined in a variation of Murph. In 2012, the swim was followed by biking, which was then followed by a run. In 2013, the swim was in a pool and was combined with bar muscle-ups. In 2014, the swim was combined with thrusters and burpees. In 2015, the swim was combined with a paddle board and a chin rash.
I still feel that other modalities can and should be included ahead of swimming when searching for the Fittest on Earth. Swimming is definitely something that can be included in that process, but other modalities – like an actually long event (this year’s longest event was Murph, with a time cap of 50 minutes) – involved carrying of some sort, scaling hills/climbing of some sort, etc. I know that logistics fits into this, I am just telling you my point of view. Also, swimming in the ocean is not exactly “inclusive” for many athletes, especially ones living in my area (Calgary, Alberta). However, those wishing to excel at the Games level should come to expect that they will need to be comfortable with swimming in the Ocean. Not to mention, the swimming events always look great.
Event 5 – Murph
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power, ATP-CP Recovery
- Main Characteristics – Will, Pacing, Limb Length, Stamina
I am happy that the organizers decided to place Murph earlier in the day, compared to the 2015 version. If I remember correctly, this year the Women’s heat went at 7 am and was done before 8 am, and the Men’s heat went at 8 am and was done before 9 am. If I had to guess, I would say the temperature was probably 10 degrees celsius cooler at that time of day compared to when they did Murph at 12 pm/1pm in 2015. This made a huge difference in performance and recovery.
The layout of the event this year made the event faster too. Performing 5 rounds of 20 Pull-ups/40 Push-ups/60 Air Squats is faster than performing 100 Pull-ups/200 Push-ups/300 Air Squats. The top time for the Women was about 2:30 min faster than 2015. The top time for the Men was about 4 minutes faster than 2015. As well, if you look through those that did Murph in 2015 and 2016, you will see that many individuals were noticeably faster than in 2015.
Regardless of how things changed from 2015, this event is gruelling. The sheer number of full range of motion muscular contractions in the span of 35-45 minutes for most competitors is astounding. This is the type of event where only those who train for CrossFit® will be good at it. The 7k trail run, there are lots of people (i.e. non-CrossFitters) that can beat Games Athletes at that event. The Deadlift, there are also lots of people that would beat them on that too. There are probably a lot of people who can do both better than they can. However, there is probably no one outside of those on that field on Friday morning that can do the 7k Run, the Deadlift, and the Murph to that level. That is a huge separator for Games Athletes. They are able to work with a very high cardiac output in a very high muscular endurance environment (i.e. Double DT is also like this). There is nobody better at this type of performance than Games Athletes. This is where you can see people walk into your gym that are both very strong (i.e. great Deadlift) and very good runners (i.e. fast 7k trail run) that will absolutely meltdown in an event like Murph. They simply have not developed the ability to endure (i.e. get oxygen into the area, get blood moving in and out, deliver/remove the necessities, etc.).
One thing that was apparent during the Murph was how much of an advantage you had by being short. If you are a good runner too, then you probably finished really high (i.e. Josh Bridges, Mat Fraser). If you are a good runner, but were born with the deformity of being taller than 5’6″, you probably struggled (i.e. Brent Fikowski). Also of note is how much variation there is on movement standards. Many people were placing their hands and feet what could be considered excessively wide in an effort to shorten the range of motion on the push-ups and squats. In the Regionals this year, and many years before, there was a standard hand width in which you had to place your hands for Handstand Push-ups (34″ max hand width). I feel there should be some effort made to standardize this for push-ups and air squats too. Otherwise, this happens…go here and watch for 20 seconds and you will see the difference between what could be considered normal width for squats and push-ups, then you can see what could be considered excessive. With that said, those movement standards are completely within the rules, so there is nothing wrong with it.
The most impressive performances on the Men’s side was by Alex Vigneault. He is one of the taller athletes in the field and he put up a very impressive 13th overall on this event. For the Women, I have to go with Kara Webb. She did so much better on this event compared to 2015, both in terms of performance and in her ability to manage it. I can imagine she was proud of her effort and the redemption she obtained.
Side note – The Men’s times, on average, were faster than the Women’s times mainly due to the Running portion and the Push-ups.
Event 6 – Clean Pyramid
- Main Energy System Tested – ATP-CP Potential Recovery
- Main Characteristics – Pacing, Squatting Strength and Speed, Efficiency, Recovery
When this event was released my pick to win was Kara Webb. After seeing her absolutely destroy Open 16.2, with no one close to her, I couldn’t see any Women match her on this one. Given how Women are generally slightly better at working with sub maximal loading compared to Men, I also guessed that in general, the Women would put up the fastest times. Kara did end up with the fastest time overall for the Men and the Women – 17 Women finished the event under 8 minutes, while only 13 Men finished under 8 minutes. Part of this has to do with the difference in height, but a lot of has to do with differences in muscle physiology. Contrary to my thinking, more Men did finish the event under the time cap than Women. The loading for the Woman was maybe a touch too high compared to the Men, which lessened the effect.
One characteristic that is very important to success in this event, and many events that require moderate/heavy load squatting, is the actual speed of contraction the athletes are capable of. Compare how fast someone like Mat Fraser can squat 66-90% of his max Front Squat to someone like Brent Fikoswki with the same relative %’s. Compare how fast Kara Webb can squat 66-90% of her max Front Squat to someone like Annie Thorrisdottir or Samantha Briggs with the same relative %’s. Squatting strength is important, but speed within that strength also plays a role.
This is another type of event that no one can beat Games Athletes on. Their ability to recover between sub maximal efforts of lifting is unparalleled. The driver for this ability is the aerobic system. Training, movement efficiency, squatting strength, and squatting speed also play a large role in performing great on this event. Easy examples of this is Josh Bridges and Mat Fraser. The main difference between the two is squatting strength and squatting speed. Hence, Mat finished 2nd and Josh finished 24th. Out of curiosity, I would like to see an Olympic Weightlifting Champion in a comparable weight category attempt to beat Kara Webb’s time.
The ability to recover between events is especially important here, especially after Murph. Nutrition throughout the year and during the Games week is critical in this process, but what is most important in this process is the athlete’s training and fitness. You can’t eat your way to handling an event like Murph without actually putting in the work. This could be a much longer discussion of the value of proper aerobic training in this sport, but suffice to say that with proper training and development the athlete will be able to handle more training volume, this will allow them to train more, which will provide them with the ability to recover during certain aspects of the event (i.e. between each rep on the cleans), between events and throughout the entire Games week.
The most impressive performance for me was Kara Webb on the Women’s side, partly because I picked her to win, but partly because she was incredible. Lastly, the reason I selected her was because she made her final rep at 215lbs look light as hell.
Event 7 – Double DT
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Pacing, Grip Strength and Endurance, Posterior Chain Endurance
When the fans decided Heavy DT over Double DT as part of the 2015 Games on the Friday night, I was relieved. I thought that after what had taken place that day in 2015, the Murph at mid-day, Double DT could have pushed competitors over the edge (i.e. more cases like Annie Thorrisdottir, Kara Webb, Maddy Myers). I was thinking that there are just simply too many reps and too much intensity for one day. When Double DT was announced this year, as a result of what was chosen last year, I was not as concerned. Placing the Murph on the early AM really made a difference.
There were many different strategies and many different movement variations too. The main thing to see from the winner of events like this is pacing, consistency and composure. They start the event at a pace they know they can maintain, or can come pretty close to maintaining. Their reps look the same from round to round, until basically the end if they try to push it. Their breaks per round are the same each time, with a similar rest time for each break. And, if they get a bit behind in the early rounds, they don’t really worry too much and do something stupid like “try to catch up”. They allow the event to come to them, so to speak.
The fastest Women’s time for this event was 9:25. The fastest Men’s time for this event was 11:37. A time of 11:37 would have given you 13th place on the Women’s side. Again, part of this difference in time between the Men and Women is simply height, which means a different range of motion per repetition. But, a large part is that Women are generally better at this type of work, when the loading is arranged comparatively.
If you look through the event footage you will see a very common thing amongst several competitors…rounded back deadlifting. Amongst these particular Games Athletes, you can see this occur at basically any weight. Look back to the Regionals this year at the heavy Deadlift posture of these same individuals used in the Running/GHD Sit-up/Deadlift event.
Having a rounded back during repetitive hinging does not slow you down in the event, for many, it probably is faster that way. However, what it can lead to over time is you having to sit in seats watching as you have been sidelined from injury. You have to think of these types of back issues (likely disc related) as not being an acute issue, meaning that it likely was not the time you actually got hurt that was the problem. It was all the poor hinging movements and dysfunction that came before the event. You could wear 3 weightlifting belts if you want, it is not going to matter. This is a training and neurological issue that needs to be addressed in the most appropriate way for the individual.
In 2015, Mat Fraser finished 2nd on Heavy DT. In 2016, he finished 2nd on Double DT. In 2015, Katrin Davidsdottir finished 2nd on Heavy DT. In 2016, she finished 1st. There are a lot of the same names in the top 10 in both 2015 and 2016 on the DT variation events.
The most impressive performance to me was by Samuel Kwant. To beat Mat Fraser in an event like this is incredible. I was most surprised with Tia-Claire Toomey’s performance on this event. She finished 22nd. She moves well, she is good at lifting heavy barbells, but apparently she was not that good with high rep, low load bars. In 2015, she finished 31st on the Heavy DT.
Event 8 – Climbing Snail
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Pacing, Adaptability, Leg Stamina, Upper Body Pulling Strength
That berm run just looks difficult. In a matter of a minute, the athletes run from the grassy field of the soccer stadium to overlooking the soccer field as they run across the concrete path before coming down the other side. The elevation gain must be around 100ft from the bottom to the top. That makes for some fatigued legs each trip up and down. Every year at the Games that a berm run is included into an event, you can see who wants to win, and who is okay with finishing where they finish. The climb up the stairs, then up the rest of the incline and across the path is probably where events like this are won and lost. If you are capable of maintaining a good pace and pushing through the leg fatigue, you will do well. If you give into it and either slow your pace drastically or begin walking, you will not do well.
The adaptability component in this event came in a few ways. In the smallest manner, it was in the way the athlete had to run around the berm. In previous years, the athletes would run clockwise around the berm. This year, they ran counter clockwise. Nothing too important, just something to consider. The next serving of adaptability came from the rope climbs. The ropes were very short compared to normal which made the athletes have to do a combo of legless rope climbing and then rope climbing using your legs. Trying to get your legs set on a rope that is flipping around on you is quite the challenge, one in which many athletes were challenged by. The main course of adaptability came with the introduction of the Snail. This thing looked tough!
The beauty of the Games is that they have the resources to include incredible pieces of equipment like this. Pieces of equipment that more often than not, no one has ever used before. The first time the athletes made it to the Snail was quite interesting. You were able to see them trying to figure out what to do with it, and working to find the most efficient way to move the huge cylinder. I don’t know what the Snail was filled with, but it was probably this.
Generally, any event that provides the opportunity for the spectators to easily see who is in the lead based simply on who is in front of who are generally the most exciting events. This event accomplished that. When you have to look to the scoreboard to see who is in the lead, the excitement kind of dwindles. Over the years, the organizers have made the Games events themselves more entertaining while also generally adhering to trying to focus on the task at hand. That being, finding the fittest person.
Event 9 – The Separator
- Main Energy System Tested – ATP-CP Potential and Recovery
- Main Characteristics – Upper Body Pressing Strength, Squatting Stamina, Your Judge
Ring HSPU’s are pretty fun to both watch and to perform. They are hard as hell too. Are they a good movement to be included in testing? I say no. The standard of movement is not well defined. This is quite evident based on the judging difficulty associated with this event. And, they will be THE determining factor in basically any event they are included in. If a single modality is so critical to the event it should probably be its own event.
The best aspect of this event was that the organizers designed it differently for the Men and the Women. If it had not been adjusted, the event would have been a complete fail for the Women’s side. I remember back in 2013 when the Friday night event for the individuals was “Legless”. It was the first time Legless Rope Climbs had been in the Games. The design was the same for the Men and the Women. The result, only 2 out of 39 Women finished under the time cap, while 33 Men finished under the time cap. It was a very boring event to watch, and also did not differentiate amongst the women very well, kind of the like the Pegboard event from last year when 25 Women finished tied for 13th position (achieved 0 pegboard ascents). The need to have a different design for the Men and the Women on events like this is because Men have greater relative upper body strength than Women. This difference is most obvious in strict-ish gymnastic movements (i.e. Strict HSPU, Strict Ring Dips, Push-ups, Legless Rope Climbs, etc.).
All I was thinking during this event was “what the hell is with all the squatting?” As if there wasn’t enough squatting at various loads already (i.e. Wall Balls in Ranch Mini Chipper, Air Squats in Murph, Clean Ladder). The layout of the squatting (Back Squat – Front Squat – Overhead Squat) made me think that the entire point was to have the athletes perform the Overhead Squats when there arms and legs were crushed. The loading on the Back Squatting and Front Squatting was not particularly heavy for these athletes, but the accumulation of everything going into the Overhead Squats would add a real challenge to those 21 reps. The last time there was a Back Squat in competition was at the 2012 Regionals and the event also went Back Squat, then Front Squat, then Overhead Squat…using MUCH lower loads.
The most impressive part of this event was seeing 17 women finish the event under the time cap. Many also came very close to finishing the event. Overall, this was a very impressive performance on the Women’s side.
Event 10 – 100%
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Pacing, Agility, Jumping Prowess, Grunt Strength, Achilles Tendon Resiliency
This type of an event was a great way to finish Saturday’s competition. The event prior was a slower and more technical event. This event was neither of those. It was a great race, especially once the athletes made it to the DBall. There was a lot of energy from the crowd as they knew it would be a tight finish. The event really came down to the athlete’s proficiency with the DBall Cleans. If you were able to keep your wits about you and were able to keep the cycle time of the cleans really fast, then you likely did very well. The box jump overs were obviously important to the event, but it really was about getting through those 40 reps in a good time, without being too tired. Go too fast and accumulate too much fatigue on the 40 box jump overs and you would quickly see yourself getting passed on the 20 cleans.
The DBall Clean is a really simple movement at the loads used. Simple, but not easy. Some athletes performed a deadlift with the ball, re-gripped it, then rolled it over the shoulder. Some athletes just ripped it off the floor and over the shoulder, which is the faster strategy if you can keep moving. The larger athlete would have an advantage on this movement simply based on the size of the body moving the ball.
Thankfully only 1 athlete was seriously injured during the box jump overs. Unfortunately, Alethea Boon injured her achilles tendon during the box jump overs. This movement has been beaten to death for its potential dangers. The number of individuals who end up with a partial or complete achilles tear every year continues to grow. I am well aware that basically every sport has some inherent injury risk. That is not a problem. If there is no injury risk in the sport, then the sport is likely pretty boring. And, compared to some sports, the injury risk in CrossFit® is REALLY low. However, to me that does not mean that you should not try to make things better. Especially when a simple adjustment can make all the difference. For example, if you make the standard that you have to jump all the way over the box each rep, then you will likely remove any chance of athletes rebounding because each rep likely requires a walk-in or lead up to make the rep. Bottom line, if options are available to reduce the risk of injury to the athletes, it should at least be considered.
The biggest issue with having the rebounding movement featured at the level of the Games is that it likely means more individuals will place it into their year round training. In case you have not noticed, the training will be dictated by the testing imposed. Meaning, if rebounding box jumps just stop being programmed into either the Open, Regionals or Games then you will see less people doing them in preparation for competition. Also, of course none of the Games Athletes are being forced to rebound, they could just step down off the box to be safe. For these athletes competing, stepping down is not an option, unless you want to finish last. The goal is to achieve the fastest time.
Brent Fikowski had the most outstanding performance and also had an outstanding celebration where he likely kicked a fan in the front row. Brent used the grip it and rip it technique with the DBall and used it very well. I remember hearing the announcers say that they couldn’t believe that a guy like Brent had won the sprint event. The reason Brent won the sprint event is because it wasn’t a sprint event, it was an endurance event.
Event 11 – Handstand Walk
- Main Energy System Tested – Unknown
- Main Characteristics – Balance, Shoulder/Pressing Endurance, Movement Stamina
Thankfully, the event was only given 50 points. However, by making the event worth 50 points, that means it is equally important to fitness as the next event: the Suicide Sprint. What modality do you think is more valuable as a test of fitness, walking on your hands or sprinting? If you answered “walking on your hands”…step away from the kool-aid. With that said, this was a fun event to watch – it was very exciting towards the end, especially when some athletes were beginning to show signs of fatigue near the finish line and were able to gut it out and finish the event.
Handstand walking is definitely a challenging skill to master and these athletes definitely make it look a lot easier than it actually is. And, handstand walking on grass is not the same as on rubber flooring. Handstand walking on the grass, especially when there are divots on the field, is hard. Lastly, I can appreciate why handstand walking is included in the Regionals and Games every year. It is definitely a skill that the average gym go’er would look at and think, “these people are nuts”.
Placing this event 1st in the sequence of these 3 events was a smart decision. Event 11 is the most technical and skillful. Event 12 is all about speed and power. Event 13 is just a grind. This was the best order for the events to appear to allow for the best performances by the athletes. If the events went in the opposite direction, it would not have been as great.
Once again, there are a lot of different techniques being used in this event. Some athletes have a very tight and upright body position with most of the movement happening at the shoulders. Other athletes have a very extended body posture with no leg movement. Then other athletes have a very extended body posture with lots of leg movement. I would assume most gymnastics coaches would suggest the tight/upright body posture for many reasons. However, these athletes need to do what is going to give them the best score at the time.
The most impressive performance on this event was Katrin Davidsdottir. Not only because she had the fastest time, for Men and Women, but she just looked like she was going to win that event, no matter what. I think she was the only Women to perform the event unbroken as well. Not only was it unbroken, but she also hit a lane marker, managed to stay upright, then proceeded up to continue. If you watch this video you will see it and if you look closely to the middle of the frame you can see Annie Thorrisdottir walking into Karie Pierce’s lane, then walking sideways and backwards into her own lane, then continuing on. Wow!
Event 12 – Suicide Sprint
- Main Energy System Tested – Anaerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Speed, Power, Agility
Great event. Like Event 11, great to watch, exciting, especially at the finish. Although, this event was not as exciting as Sprint Course 1 and 2 from 2015. The 2015 events were much shorter than this one, which could be what made it more exciting. Regardless, having sprinting involved in the Games is great. None of the competitors are particularly fast in comparison to sprinters you would see at the Olympics. But, it is great to see who is fastest amongst the group. You would have to assume that had Dan Bailey been in the field that he would have won the event quite handily. Roy Gamboa ended up winning the event which did not surprise me. The previous night watching him warm-up the rebounding box jumps for the “100%” event back in the warm-up area was awesome. He looked like he was floating over the box and his ground contact time was minimal on the reps. Great to watch.
Mat Fraser provided the most impressive performance on this event with his 2nd place finish. This guy won the 7k trail run, Josh Bridges finished 2nd on that event. Josh finished 34th on this event. Mat finished 2nd. That dude can run.
Event 13 – The Plow
- Main Energy System Tested – Unknown
- Main Characteristics – Grip Strength/Endurance, Postural Strength
I thought this event was going go a lot differently. Anytime a sled of some kind is used as a stand alone event it is very exciting to me. It is exciting because it will be fun to watch and you will likely see carnage at the finish line. This event did not provide the “carnage” I was hoping for it to be like back in 2014 when the Sled Event left basically everyone completely ruined. Just watch the 2nd time the athletes had to push that sled down the field. The battle between Hackenbruck and Khalipa was epic. This plow pull looked more like the athletes got into a pace they could manage and they went from there. I can’t say for sure, as I have never used an implement like that, but it appeared that there was way less leg fatigue as a result of this implement compared to the sled push from 2014.
Even though this was the 3rd event in a back to back to back sequence, the previous events did not seem to negatively effect this event too much. You would have to ask the individual athletes themselves to get an accurate representation of how much fatigue had been accumulated by this event, but knowing how well these athlete can recover I would doubt they were very fatigued by the time this event rolled around.
Like the Handstand Walk event, Katrin acted as if she was going to win this event. She took off from the rest of her heat and never let up. Although, Briggs almost caught up to her at the end. Katrin’s intensity and willingness to suffer was astounding. She wanted it more than anyone else.
Event 14 – Rope Chipper
- Main Energy System Tested – Aerobic Power
- Main Characteristics – Adaptability, Grip, Height
This was my favourite event of the entire 2016 Games. In fact, I think it should have been the final event simply because it was so exciting. Visually, the layout of the event was fantastic. It just looked great. For this single event, they had a total of 20 SkiErgs, 20 Rowing Ergs, 10 AirBikes, 10 Pulling Sleds and 80 Heavy Jump Ropes. The design of this event was also great. The number of reps on the Double Unders, distances chosen for the SkiErg, Rower, AirBike and load used for the Sled Pull made the event a success. In 2015, the Rower and the AirBike were used as part of the final 2 events. In my opinion, they were not used as well in 2015.
The double under and rope pull portions were definitely the most important portions of the event. If you were not good at those portions, you would have finished poorly on this event. It seemed as though the larger athletes had an advantage on an event like this. Larger athletes are better suited for modalities like the SkiErg, Rower, AirBike and Sled Pulls.
Normally for these level of athletes, 50/40 double unders at a time are pretty insignificant. However, with the addition of the heavy rope with heavy handles, those numbers were right on the money. Too many reps per round of double unders and you ruin the event. Too few reps of double unders and you don’t allow for separation amongst those that can and can’t skip proficiently.
The best part of this event was watching the battle between the Top 3 Women: Katrin, Tia and Sara. Tia beat the other two women to the rope pull by about 20 seconds. Katrin and Sara ended up beating Tia by about 15 seconds on the event. Tia was 35 seconds slower than the other two on the rope pull portion alone. Tia is the smallest of the three Women by 15-20lbs (based on what is listed on the Games site). That was a huge turning point for Tia, if she could have held on for the win in this event she most assuredly would have won the Games this year.
Event 15 – Redemption
- Main Energy System Tested – ATP-Potential and Recovery
- Main Characteristics – Upper Body Pulling Strength/Endurance, Do you own a pegboard?
While sitting in the Soccer Stadium before this event was announced a friend asked me what I thought the final event was going to be. I said that I thought it was going to be a Pegboard Fran. I asked him what he thought the event was going to be and he said “I like your pick, I’m getting on that bandwagon”. That was a pretty good guess. This event was designed like an upgrade from the 2016 Regional final event, with the Legless Rope Climbs and Thrusters. The 6 total pegboard reps are much harder and longer to complete than 6 legless rope climbs. The 45 Thrusters @ 135lbs/95lbs are much harder and longer to complete than the 45 Thrusters @ 95lbs/65lbs.
Overall, this was not a great event to end 2016 Games. However, this year did have a better ending that last year. Personally, I think the 2015 Games had the least entertaining ending of any previous years. It was not exciting for a large majority of it, especially on the women’s side of the competition. I much prefer the ending in 2014 that saw a fast rope climb and overhead squat event followed by a double Grace finish followed by Froning flying off on a bald eagle and into the record books with “Legend” status. It was the type of event that if you wanted to finish first, you could go after it. With this event, you had to do the opposite, make sure you don’t screw up.
This event resembled the “Separator” event in that the one gymnastic component dictated most of the event. If you are really great at the pegboard, but suck at thrusters with the slightly heavier weight, you would do just fine…hell, you could even win the event. If you suck at the pegboard,but can thruster more weight than this guy, you are screwed.
In 2016, the athletes performed much better on the pegboard compared to 2015, especially the Women. In 2015, 25 of 37 Women did not achieve 1 successful pegboard ascent. In 2016, 2 of 39 Women did not achieve 1 successful pegboard ascent. The pegboard component is there to make you fail. If you try to complete the reps too fast, you will fail. This is similar to the legless rope climbs, if you try to push it and you fail a rep in an event, you are pretty much screwed. The pegboard is an even more extreme version of this. One thing to mention with the pegboard design is that I think they should remove the middle column of holes. This would standardize the movement.
As you can see here, Katrin was able to make her way up the board by barely bending her arms. She used this strategy frequently in the event. Lucky for her, that middle column of holes were there. Pulling strength must be a weakness for Katrin. I would assume this based on her struggle with this modality and her 24th place finish on the Legless Rope Climb and Thruster final event from Regionals (unless she got a no rep on one of those Rope Climbs).
Now onto the 2017 Games season! I for one I am very much looking forward to it, both as a Coach and a competitor.