Ben Smith has competed in the CrossFit Games 10 times. While he’s proud to have worn the title of Fittest Man on Earth, he also wears the titles of gym owner and coach with pride. Ahead of the 2019 CrossFit Open, Smith is bringing his coaching to the community at large. Here are his five tips for those who will be participating in the Open for the first time this year.
The first CrossFit Games Open took place in 2011. At that point, I had already been doing CrossFit for a few years. I had already made it as my workout of choice and was performing multiple CrossFit workouts every day. I was confident in my CrossFit abilities. But I remember when the Open was first announced, I was nervous. Even with the confidence I was gaining from my time in the gym, the Open was something new to me. Like with most new things in life, the Open can be viewed from a perspective of fear or of excitement. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew my mindset and how I approached this would matter significantly.
This year will be my ninth year participating in the Open. I have not missed an Open since that first one in 2011. The workouts are different each time but I’ve become experienced with the format and learned how to better approach Open workouts.
As a gym owner, though, every year means new members at my gym taking part in their first Open—people who don’t yet have this experience and are unsure with what’s about to happen. It always reminds me of those nerves I felt my first year. It definitely can feel daunting. But, it doesn’t have to be perceived that way. The experience you’re about to have will far outweigh the nerves and hesitation you’re feeling right now.
If this will be your first year #InTheOpen, this is my advice to you!
1. STOP VIEWING SCALED WORKOUTS WITH NEGATIVITY. EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN STARTING POINT.
Every year, people make the same excuses about why they can’t sign up for the Open. Most of the time these excuses have to do with the fact they don’t think they’re ready or they don’t know how to do certain movements yet. The first thing I tell my members who say this is that the Open workout is going to be the class workout on Friday so if they want to come to the gym on a Friday, they’re going to do the Open workout whether they’ve signed up or not. The next thing I remind them is that the workouts are scalable. CrossFit is infinitely scalable, so of course the Open workouts can be scaled to accommodate all abilities. There’s even a scaled division and scaled leaderboard now.
As a coach, I think the hardest thing to teach people is how to feel ok with scaling a workout—be it an Open workout or a regular class workout. We all have a little bit of an ego in us but the only way you’ll ever get good at CrossFit is if you check that ego and allow yourself to start from the bottom. Build a good base and take the time to learn good technique because then you’ll be setting yourself up to make consistent progress. Scaling is not a negative thing in any way. There’s maturity that comes with knowing when it’s smart of you to scale. You are showing that you want to get better and are willing to take the steps necessary to get there. There’s no shame in that so don’t make it your excuse for not participating.
2. DON’T SET EXPECTATIONS. APPROACH THE OPEN WITH AN ‘OPEN’ MINDSET.
Show up to the Open workouts with a positive attitude. That is the only thing your coaches expect from you. Set no expectations for yourself other than that.
I know this probably sounds weird. But if this will be your first year doing the Open, just by showing up for all five of the workouts, you will learn and grow so much. Instead of stressing yourself out with unnecessary expectations, actually enjoy the Open. Practice having a positive mindset. Practice having the resilience to show back up the next week even if you thought the workout the week before was the hardest thing you’ve ever done. See the bigger picture. Take in how cool it is to be part of this community. Next year, you’ll have this past year’s performance to compare to and set expectations around.
3. IF YOUR GYM HOSTS EVENTS DURING THE OPEN, ATTEND THEM.
Our gym, CrossFit Krypton, has grown in recent years. Many CrossFit gyms have with the rise of CrossFit’s popularity. It’s great, but it also means that at a lot of gyms, every member no longer knows every single other member like they might have in the early days of CrossFit. There are people who come to class just in the morning, another group that comes just at night, and oftentimes, those groups don’t mix. The Open turns that on its head. During the Open, the community within an affiliate comes together in ways that we don’t often get do to during the year.
Many gyms will hold a Friday Night Lights where as many members as possible come together to all do the Open workout at the same time every Friday night for five weeks. Another thing we do at my gym is split up into teams. Each coach has a team for the Open and we have our own in-house leaderboard and make it this friendly competition to see which team does the best by the end of the Open. I look forward to that every year. If your gym puts on events like this during the Open, sign up for them! Go to them! You’re going to meet new people who might work out in classes you’ve never gone to. You’re going to really see how big your gym’s community is. Everybody is there for the same reasons—because you’re people prioritizing your fitness and health and trying to make yourselves better. Don’t be surprised if some of the people you meet become fast friends for this reason.
4. ACTUALLY LOOK AT THE LEADERBOARD. COMPETITION CAN PUSH YOU TO NEW LIMITS.
After you complete an Open workout, you will go to Games.CrossFit.com and log your score. Your score is then entered into the online leaderboard where you can see the scores of every other person in the world participating in the Open. I like to remind people that the leaderboard is not just for elite athletes. Everybody, including first time Open participants, should look at the leaderboard. The leaderboard gives you the ability to see where you’re sitting within the world. You don’t get to do that any other time of the year in CrossFit.
We’re used to comparing ourselves to the people in our gym. You know how you perform in comparison to the guy who works out next to you every day, but it’s cool to see how you stack up against others in your state, country and age group. Competition is good. We all need competition to make ourselves better. It’s healthy and it can be a motivator. Plus, I always like to look at the leaderboard and reflect on how many people around the world are doing these same workouts as me. It’s so cool that hundreds of thousands of people are doing the exact same workout every Friday.
5. USE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE OPEN TO SET GOALS FOR THE NEXT YEAR OF TRAINING.
Often during the Open, we see people get new skills. Whether you want to get your first pull-up or first toe-to-bar or first muscle-up, the Open creates this spirit and this challenge to get there. That’s one thing we all really love as a coaches. It’s so rewarding to see athletes who have been showing up consistently attain new skills. It reinvigorates their energy to keep coming to class and keep working hard. So why stop there?
I try to help athletes take advantage of these new accomplishments and use them as a way to set their sights on the next goal. Let’s say you get your first chest-to-bar pull-up in the Open, I would immediately start talking to you about getting your first bar muscle-up. Every movement can be built on. Mastering one gives you that belief you can get the next. The Open creates so many of those moments you can build on. Things accomplished or not accomplished in the Open should help you set your goals for the next year. You did this, so by next year’s Open, let’s focus on trying to be able to do that.