CrossFit Open Changes-What's It All Mean?

The 2019 CrossFit Open starts tonight (well the first 2019 Open).  There have been a ton of changes this year and everyone is wondering what it means for the sport.  I want to address some of the questions that I have been getting and tell you about how we are approaching the Open as an organization, as well as how I personally will be approaching it.

Let me give you a quick recap of what has happened. The CrossFit Games started in 2007 as a small competition on a ranch in Aromas, California, that quickly grew into a worldwide phenomenon.  In 2011 CrossFit added the online Open competition as the first stage in qualifying for the CrossFit Games.  If you finished well enough in the Open you would be invited to a Regional competition, which took place over three days.  If you performed well enough that weekend then you would be invited to compete at the CrossFit Games.  The competition continued to grow, and in 2018 over 400,000 people participated in the Open.  After the 2018 CrossFit Games in August, CrossFit announced a lot of changes to the Open.  Going along with many media team layoffs (over 100 as of now) CrossFit announced that they would no longer be putting on the regional competitions.  They would be outsourcing the qualifying competitions to "sanctionals" which would take place throughout the world. The Open would now be a direct qualifier for the CrossFit Games.  In order to qualify you would need to finish Top 20 in the world or finish first in your country.  If you do not do either of these then the only way you can qualify for the Games is through a Sanctional competition.  

So what's the big deal?  Why is everyone up in arms about it?  Well there are a couple of reasons.  The first is that many people competed with the sole goal of qualifying for Regionals.  With this no longer an option, there are thousands of competitors who no longer have something to try to qualify for.  It is serving to professionalize the sport.  The guy who might finish 500th in the world in the Open no longer has an avenue to express his fitness (outside of qualifying and traveling to sanctionals, which will require substantial resources).  This is not the main reason that most people are upset though.  The way the transition has been handled has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  With the lack of substantial information for months at a time, the layoffs, and the trivialization of competition and competitors, many people feel angry, let down, and that something that was thriving is now taken away from them.  I understand these feelings and the outrage, but I do not think that it means that we should be throwing our hands up in the air and saying forget it.  Let me give you a few things that we are thinking about during this Open.

1. This is a great opportunity for your gym's community.  This is the world's largest competition (for $20 a person you are getting a great deal) and it can be a great way for your gym to come together.  This year at our gyms we are doing an Intramural Open.  We have divided the participants up into teams and they will be competing for points throughout the Open.  This is a great opportunity for friendships to be formed and deepened, athletes to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, and for everyone to have a good time.  If you are participating in the Intramural Open or the Open in general then I would encourage you to have a good time.  Enjoy being a part of a team, working together towards a common goal, and deepening your relationships.  This is a great opportunity to get to know the people you see every day in the gym and I would encourage you to take advantage of it!

2. This is a restructuring of priorities.  For many people, qualifying for Regionals has been an all consuming focus for years.  The changes in the Open are a great opportunity to take a step back and see if it was worth it.  What were you doing it all for?  If you were doing it for the status of being a Regional athlete then you were probably doing it for the wrong reasons.  It might be a good wake up call for you.  If you were doing it because you loved the process and wanted to see how far you could push your capacity then nothing has changed.  How you express your fitness might look different now but the day to day stays the same.  If you fall in this category then I would encourage you to take a good hard look at yourself and see if you want to continue putting the work that you have been and making the sacrifices that you have.

3. We don't know how this will all turn out.  This could end up being a good thing for the sport of fitness.  No one knows yet.  What we do know is that it is different.  If you still want to continue competing in the sport then there are actually more opportunities to compete now, not fewer.  The Open is not as important for most, but there are other opportunities.  There are sanctionals all over the world that, if you want to travel, are a great opportunity to travel to and compete in, or at least watch.  With this you will also most likely see the rise of more local competitions.  Instead of using the Open as your measuring stick, I would encourage you to find a few competitions throughout the year that you can target to compete in.  Our competitive athletes have targeted competitions throughout the year that they want to compete in or try to qualify for and have changed their priorities to focus on these, as opposed to the Open.  If you can get a big group of people together to go to a competition then that will be a great opportunity to compete with your friends and have a good time.

4. The Open isn't that important anymore.  And that's a good thing.  From inconsistent judging, to dishonest scoring, to different standards at different gyms, to the ability to repeat workouts over and over, the Open has a lot of problems.  By de-emphasizing the Open this does away with these for the most part.  For most competitors this levels the playing field as the big competitions will be in person with the same standards, judging, rest between workouts, etc.  This makes it much better comparing yourself to others if you are trying to compete.  The on site competitions are a much better test of ones fitness than the Open.  

5. If you are thinking about redoing a workout at this point then I would highly encourage you to think about why.  What are you really repeating it for?  Your ego?  Unless you have a chance of finishing top 20 in the world, winning your country, or qualifying in a teen or masters category, then repeating workouts doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Sure you might get a few more reps the second time.  But what will you be giving up?  You will be much more likely to get injured.  You will not be able to train much outside of your repeats.  By the end of the Open you will probably have lost a little of your fitness if you are repeating all of the workouts.  You will also be much more likely to be burnt out, both mentally and physically.  Obsessing over the leaderboard and redoing workouts is a huge drain.  Five weeks of that could leave you wanting to take a month off, or more.  I would really encourage you to do the workouts once and be done with it.  Don't take it too seriously and enjoy the 5 weeks for what they are-a competition that, unless you are one of the best in the world, doesn't really mean anything at all.

6.  Don't skip the Open out of spite.  I know that a lot of people are angry.  But at the end of the day we can't control what other people do.  We can only control how we react and respond to it.  Don't miss out on something that can be a lot of fun and a great opportunity to deepen your relationships because you are angry.  If you commit to having a good time then I promise you that you will.

I want to finish with a personal note on how I will be approaching the Open this year.  I have done every Open so far, starting in 2011, and in every Open I have had the same goal.  Qualify for regionals, either as an individual (the first 6 years) or help my team qualify (the last 2 years).  This will be the first year that I do not have a goal to qualify for anything.  For the first time I am not dreading the Open.  I have always hated it because I put so much pressure on myself to perform.  This year is different.  I want to have a good time and help our community have a good time.  I will not be repeating the workouts, and I will not be spending much time on the leaderboard.  I have not been training very much and I know that I will not finish nearly as high as I have in the past (I have finished in the top 100 of the region every year but 1 since I started) and I have made my peace with it.  I know that it might be hard to keep my ego out of it once it gets going, especially after having trained myself for 8 years to do it one way, but I know that where I finish doesn't define me.  It doesn't matter at all, really.  I want to help our members have a good time, enjoy myself, and deepen my relationships.  In a year from now the Open won't matter at all, and I am trying to keep that in mind.  If you are similar to me then I would encourage you to approach it the same way.  Have fun.  Get a good workout.  Then move on.  Don't stress over something that doesn't matter all that much in the end.