Monday, November 24, 2014

What to Expect from the 2015 Open

So I'm a little late on my annual "What to Expect" post this year, but you've still got about 3 months left before 15.1 is announced.  That means there's still plenty of time to fine-tune your game, work on your weaknesses and get yourself as prepared as possible for this year's Open.  To help you do that, this post gives you an overview of the type of programming you should expect to face.

For those familiar with my past "What to Expect" posts, nothing here should come as a major shock to you.  But I have updated the numbers based on what happened last year, and I've also got some thoughts on what might change this year due to the changes mentioned by Dave Castro following the CrossFit Invitational a few weeks ago.  For those of you who are new, this should be a good primer on what the first stage of the CrossFit Games competition is all about.  To be sure, it is quite different from what you may have seen on ESPN (hint: you probably won't be pushing any sleds or doing 315-lb. squat cleans for time).

The way this post will be laid out is the same as last year.  I'll pose some questions that many newbies might have, and I'll answer them as best I can based on the information we have from the 2011-2014 Opens.  As I have noted in the past, I won't be covering how you might want to train for the Open in this post, but rather what you should be training for.

Let's get started.


What movements will I need to do?

Fantastic question.  I like where your head is at.  Although the CrossFit Games is all about preparing for the "unknown and unknowable" (do they still use that tagline?), you can expect to face a small subset of movements in the Open.  By my count, there have been 52 different movements tested at the CrossFit Games finals, there have only been 15 tested in the Open.  The chart below shows how much value each of these movements has been given in the past four years, along with the best estimate of what might be to come this year.  All of the "best estimates" in this post give more weight to recent years, but they are influenced to some extent by all years dating back to 2011.


Last year's open had a little wider spread of movements than in the past, but still, you can see that historically, there are a few movements that are tested heavily again and again.  This year, you can expect about 60% of the points to come from six movements: snatch, burpee, thruster, pull-up, double-under and box jump.  Just in those six alone, you can see that there is a jumping theme.  All but the pull-up and thruster involve some sort of jump or explosive hip movement (and you could argue the thruster does, too, especially at higher weights).

It's also worth noting (for all you home-gym folks) that you may need a Concept 2 rower available to be able to compete in the Open.  From 2011-2013, nothing was required other than a barbell, weights, rings, a box and a pull-up bar, but in 2014 there was a workout that involved rowing.  This came as a surprise to many, but now that it's been done once, don't be caught off-guard if it happens again.

In the previous chart, there was also a "Subcategory" listed for each lift (I know a wall ball isn't actually KB or DB, but I put it in there because it's a lift that doesn't use a barbell). Grouping movements by the subcategory can be useful, because it reduces some of the noise and gives us an idea of the type of movements that will be used. For instance, cleans haven't actually been used that much in the Open the past three years, but I wouldn't recommend skipping them in training - the movement pattern is similar to that of a snatch, which is highly valued. Below is a table similar to the one above, but looking at subcategories instead of specific movements.



The big theme here has not changed since 2011.  The focus of the Open is on two things: Olympic-style lifts and basic bodyweight gymnastics. This is partly due to equipment restrictions in the Open, but partly due to the fact that HQ seems to really value those two types of movements when making the first cut of athletes.

For those wondering why I have a category for "Uncommon CrossFit Movements" that has 0% value each year, it's because that category contains things like sled pushes, sandbag carries and swimming that have appeared at the Games but are rarely seen at other levels of competition.


How heavy will the lifts be?

Two years ago, I came up with the concept of average relative weights last year as a way to understand this topic a bit better. There is more background in this post from 2013, but here's the concept: depending on the movement, a certain weight may be heavy, medium or light, so I have normalized the weights prescribed on each workout so that we can get a fairer indication of how "heavy" the lift was. After looking at the normalized loads that were prescribed in the past three years, I applied the average relative weight we've seen to the various lifts to show the average expected weights in this year's Open.


The above graph is useful, particularly for new competitors who'd like to get a feel for what they will have to handle in the Open workouts.  However, there are some other factors to consider:
  • These are only averages. The "heaviest" load required in the Open was a 165-lb. clean and jerk (squat clean and jerk technically), which is roughly equivalent to a 130-lb. snatch, a 290-lb. deadlift or a 145-lb. overhead squat. Last year, I said that HQ would likely never require something that heavy again, but with the scaled division being added this year, I actually think it is possible (but unlikely) to see something that heavy required in an Open workout this year.
  • Once in the each of the past three years, HQ has programmed workouts where the weight starts light (to allow everyone to participate) but gets progressively heavier.  Expect this to happen again in 2015.  For those looking to make the Regionals, you'll likely need to be able to comfortably move weights that are about 75% heavier than the loads shown above (for instance, 165-lb. snatch for men).
  • From 2011-2013, HQ never really went heavy on a "heavy" lift (like the deadlift), rather going with heavier loads on the Olympic lifts.  Last year in 13.3 (deadlift/box jump), they showed that you need to have plenty of weights on hand.  Anyone qualifying for Regionals would have needed to handle plenty of deadlifts at 315 for men or 225 for women.
The chart below illustrates the distribution of weights that have been used in the past.  For workouts where the weights got progressively heavier, the weight used for this chart was the average that would be lifted for a typical Regional-level athlete.  Above each bar on the chart, I've given some examples of the type of movement/loading combinations that would fall into that range.



What types of WODs will be programmed? Will there be any ridiculous chippers like 121201?

First of all, there will not be anything like that workout.  There should never be anything like that.  If you are a gym owner, do not program 20 different movements into one workout.  Please.

Anyway, HQ has made it clear that they believe couplets and triplets are the bread-and-butter, so I'm sorry if you're really awesome at "Filthy Fifty," because it's probably not getting programmed.  We did see a little more variety last year with 14.4 and 14.5, but still, it's going to be pretty straightforward.

In the past four years, we've seen 21 workouts:
  • 20 of them included either one, two or three movements.  One involved five movements.
  • All were metcons (no max-effort lifts)
  • 18 had a fixed time limit, and 2 had a time limit that could be extended if you completed a certain amount of work in the first time limit.  Only one has had a required amount of work.
  • All fixed-time workouts have been between 4 and 20 minutes.  Anyone competing at Regionals would have finished the "for time" workout in less than 15 minutes.
Is it impossible that a max-effort workout will be used this year?  No, not after seeing a few of those in the team series.  But I still wouldn't count on it.  Work on your metcons if you want to qualify for regionals.

The chart below helps to get a sense visually of what combinations of loading, duration and number of movements we have seen in the Open.  Each ball represents a workout, and the size of the ball indicates the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) of that workout. The LBEL is a metric that tells us not only how heavy the loads were, but what percentage of the workout was based on lifting. So if the workout had 135-lb. cleans and burpees, the average relative weight is 1.00 but the LBEL is 1.00x50% = 0.50.  The left-right arrows indicate the time domain was variable; the plus-symbol indicates the weight was variable.  In those cases, I've used the average time/load for Regional competitors.





You'll notice that as the workouts get longer, the weights tend to decrease and the number of movements tends to increase. This is also typically what we see in CrossFit programming on the main site and in most gyms. For instance, programming 7 minutes of burpees (Open 12.1) is torturous, but not unreasonable; programming 20 minutes of burpees is a recipe for Rhabdo.


Are past years really a good predictor of what's to come this year?

In many ways, they are.  We have not seen big shifts in the types of movements tested, and the loading has not drastically changed in the past four years of the Open (although it has been declining slowly each year).  There were a couple of curveballs last year with the 5-movement chipper (14.4) and the for-time workout (14.5), but those workouts were still not wildly different than what we had seen in 2011-2013.

That being said, the introduction of the scaled division this year could change things.  It's all speculation at this point, but as I said a few weeks ago, HQ may be more willing to push the required loading up a bit in the Rx division.  I'd also say that we could see some slightly more challenging movements (such as handstand push-ups).  That being said, I doubt that HQ is going to change the over ally feel of the Open dramatically.  The Open is likely still going to be a test of conditioning primarily, with a modest amount of strength required in order to move on.  The big weights will probably come into play more at the Regional level, and the truly unexpected movements and workouts will be reserved for the Games.

I hope that new and old athletes alike can get some value out of this.  As I've said before, I'm not going to tell you how to train, but I'll try to help you understand what you should be training for.


*Note that for this chart, I considered Open 11.1 a single-modality despite technically being a clean and jerk. Also, in calculating the LBEL for the snatch workouts with varying weights, I took the average weight lifted for someone who reached regionals. This reflects the fact that, while only 75 lbs. is required, for a regional-level athlete, they'll be moving somewhere around 130 lbs. on average throughout the workout.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quick Hits: What Impact Will Next Year's Games Season Changes Have?

In a surprise announcement following the conclusion of the 2014 CrossFit Invitational, Dave Castro unveiled some changes to next year's Games season.  The details are still a little sketchy, and it sounds like HQ may be leaving themselves a little wiggle room to change their minds, but on the surface, the changes seem pretty substantial.

There were three key changes that Castro mentioned:

  1. Add a scaled division to the Open
  2. Limit each of the current regions to somewhere around 20 athletes qualifying for the second level of competition (formerly "Regionals")
  3. Regions will then be combined (likely in pairs) to produce "Super-Regionals," each of which will qualify 5 athletes to the Games
First of all, I'll say that like many of the changes HQ has made in the past, I am initially skeptical.  That being said, many of those past controversial decisions (moving the Games from Aromas, partnering with Reebok, replacing in-person sectionals with the Open) have worked out well.  So I won't pass judgment just yet.

But that doesn't mean we can't start trying to assess what the impact will be (without labeling that impact "good" or "bad").  I'll address each of the three changes and what impact I believe they will have next season.


Add a scaled division to the Open
  • The reason has to be money, right?  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that.  But HQ is likely seeing that there is an untapped market of athletes looking to compete who may not have quite the capacity to handle the Open.  
  • That being said, I have to believe that market is not huge.  What I would expect is a lot of beginner-level athletes who would otherwise have entered the Open will switch to the scaled division.  I'm not sure there will be a ton of increased participation solely due to this division.  Measuring this will be tricky, to be sure.
  • For the Rx division, my guess is this means the loading could increase a bit, but what is more likely is that HQ will start workouts with heavier loads.  For instance, 14.3 was a heavy workout, but it started very light.  It wasn't until the third round that things even got close to a 1.00 relative weight.  I'd expect that workouts like 11.3 (AMRAP-5 of squat clean thrusters at 165/110) could be fair game again, as well as something like the snatch ladder in the Team Series, which started at 135/95.
  • I don't expect the types of movements tested to change much.  I believe HQ still wants the Open to be a test of conditioning with mostly basic movements.  They will leave the more advanced movements and extremely heavy loads to regionals and the Games.  Maybe we'll see some handstand push-ups thrown in, but I still wouldn't expect rope climbs or dumbbell snatch.

Limit regions to 20 qualifying spots out of the Open
  • Yikes.  The Open will be even more cutthroat this year, and absolutely only the very serious athletes will be contending for spots in the next stage of competition.  
  • My fear is that this further intensifies any potential judging problems.  Athletes are going to be pushing the boundaries on range-of-motion in order to get into that top 20, which means more likelihood of complaints from those who don't approve.  The good news is that HQ requires video for all qualifiers, so the evidence will be out there.
  • Here is the list of 2014 Games-qualifying athletes who would not have made it past the Open last year under this format:
    • Quinton Z Van Rooyen (Africa, 40th)
    • Tyson Takasaki (Canada West, 22nd)
    • Cody Anderson (North West, 45th)
    • Kenneth Leverich (Southern California, 31st)
    • Paul Tremblay, who competed on Team Canada at the Invitational, would have been right on the border in 20th.
    • Interestingly, no females would have missed the cut.  This is likely due to the fact that the women's field still doesn't have quite the depth of the men's field.
  • It will be interesting if this number varies by region.  Will 20 athletes still qualify from Africa? Will only 20 be allowed from the South East, which had nearly 5,900 athletes complete all five workouts last year?

Combine regions to make "Super-Regionals"
  • It seems this was done to address some of the issues that have arisen the past few years with some elite athletes from talent-rich regions missing out on the Games despite posting results that would have won many other regions (Graham Holmberg 2014, Nick Fory 2013, Kristine Andali 2014).  
  • The issue here is combining the right regions.  Sticking Northern California and Southern California together isn't going to make it any easier to get out, and putting South West and Latin America together would still make for a pretty weak Super-Regional.  However, it sounds like HQ wants to combine regions based on geography, so we still may end up with some of the same issues.
  • You could (and probably will) see some of the old regions not have any athletes qualify.  For instance, if Central East and North Central were combined last year, Kyle Kasperbauer would have been the only male North Central representative in the top 6 based on the Cross Regional Comparison (even after my adjustments for the week of competition, this would still be true).  Depending on how they combine the regions, we may not see any athletes from Asia, Africa or Latin America.
  • We will potentially see the loading and skill levels increased even further since the bottom half of each region has been weeded out.  However, I think any changes here will be modest, since HQ likely wants each level of competition to maintain its own identity.  I believe the Regionals are still a test of classic CrossFit movements tested at high loads and short-to-medium time frames.  I think HQ will leave the crazy stuff for the Games.
I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this.  I'm still planning on publishing my "What to Expect from the 2015 Open" post in the next few weeks, but there are certainly a few more unknowns than there have been the past two years.  It should be interesting, if nothing else!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Team Series Thoughts and Site Updates

The first edition of the CrossFit Games Team Series has come and gone, with Team Reebok East pulling off a somewhat surprising win.  One of the big questions coming into the Team Series was what the programming would look like, considering HQ had never put together anything like this before.  With scaled divisions being offered for the first time, how tough would the Rx division be?  Would things look like the Open, Regionals, Games or something entirely different?  With all 12 events in the books, let's take a look at how things shook out.

Loading

As far as the weights used, the Team Series fell somewhere between the Open and the Regional level.  For men, the load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) came out to 0.56 for men and 0.39 for women.  The heaviest Open to date was 2011, which came in at 0.51/0.35 (men/women), but typically it has been somewhere around 0.45/0.30.  The 2014 Regionals were in the same ballpark as the Team Series, at 0.58/0.36, but the Regionals have averaged 0.69/0.44 since 2011.  This year's Regionals were particularly low because lifting made up such a small portion (37%).

Weighted movements made up 51% of the Team Series, which is just about the average across all HQ competitions since 2011.  When weights were used in metcons, the average load was 0.87/0.59, which equates to about a 115/80-lb. clean-and-jerk, a 210/140-lb. deadliest and a 90/60-lb. snatch.  These are by no means hefty weights, and in fact, they are quite close to the historical averages for the Open and well below the averages for the Regionals.  But what differentiated the Team Series was the addition of two max-strength events, something we've yet to see in the Open.  These are a big reason that the Team Series seemed to have a bit more emphasis on strength than the Open.






Types of Movements

With 12 events, we did see a pretty good variety of different movements tested, much more so than a typical Open.  In all, 17 movements were tested, including at least one movement from each of the seven subcategories I typically use ("Uncommon CrossFit Movements" were not used, which makes sense due to logistics).  The largest focus, not surprisingly, was on Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts, which comprised 44% of the points, including 14% on snatch and 12% on front squat.  The 44% actually ties for the most emphasis on any one of these subcategories in any HQ competition, tying the 2011 Open, when Oly lifts also made up that same portion.

Aside from the Olympic lifts, we did see that Basic Gymnastics (24%) were not used as much as in the Open (36% average), but more than Regionals (18%).  We also saw Powerlifting-Style Barbell Lifts make up 13%, which is higher than the historical average for the Open (6%), Regionals (10%) and the Games (3% since 2011).  That was due in large part to a 2-rep max bench press, which is actually the first time bench press has ever been used in an HQ competition.  No wonder Camille said the last time she maxed on bench press was "in a dream."







Time Domains

This one is hard to assess because the team setting often makes it difficult to compare the length of an event in this competition to, say, an event from the Open.  There is often plenty of built-in rest throughout some of these team chippers that a 20-minute team workout with four athletes working together might not feel any more grueling than an 8-10 minute Open workout.  All-in-all, the focus in the Team Series seemed to be more on power output over short time frames and being able recover quickly, rather than the ability to grind out long workouts and keep a steady pace.

Overall

The team series, to me, seemed like a nice blend of the inclusiveness of the Open with the heavier, more challenging movements of the Regionals.  Athletes who had the ability to go heavy or excel at some more challenging gymnastic movements were able to do so, but anyone who is capable of finishing all the Open events would be able to complete the Team Series workouts (provided they had capable teammates).  Although some of the events were a little bland (still can't believe they opened with that dull 14.1/11.1 remake), there were some pleasant surprises that kept things interesting (such as the burpee-box jump/squat clean ascending ladder).

Are there kinks to be worked out?  Certainly.  I also don't think the Team Series will ever be quite as popular as the Open.  I think the feel of the Team Series is necessarily going to be more low-key than the Open due to its position on the calendar.  But that doesn't mean there isn't a place for something like this.  Hopefully HQ will continue to refine what they have and make this an annual event worth looking forward to for the masses.



Site Updates

The Team Series was the first open HQ competition since 2009 that I haven't been a part of (I even competed back in the "Sectionals" back in 2010).  The Open will almost certainly be the second competition I sit out.  The day after last season's Open, I injured my back deadlifting, my second back injury in 6 months.  I have taken things very slow coming back from this one, and opted to skip the Team Series despite feeling 75-80% healthy.  However, in my recovery from the back injury, I looked into some lingering hip pain and found that I had a pretty significant hip impingement and labral tear (the impingement is genetic and was bound to flare up at some point). I will be having surgery to repair the tear and clean up the impingement soon, but that means a recovery time of 4-6 months.

I've also been studying for my latest (and hopefully last) actuarial exam, which I just took last week (results still pending).  All this combined with dealing with a one-year-old baby have made it challenging to make time for the web site.

I say this not because I plan to retire this site or give up on CrossFit.  Rather, I hope that you can continue to bear with me over the next few months if updates are not quite so frequent (though I don't plan to go dormant).  My hope is that in time, I can be back to CrossFitting and blogging on a much more consistent basis.

In the meantime, get your SWAG's ready - the Open is only 3 months away!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Closer Look at the 2014 Games Programming

Today's post will basically put a bow on the 2014 CrossFit Games season.  What's that, you say?  Didn't the Games end 2 months ago?  Haven't we moved onto the Team Series already?  Isn't the 2014 Games season in the distant past?  NO!  It's not over until I say it's over, and since I've been too busy to wrap it up until now, it's not over yet!

Sorry.  Anyway...

Like last year, I'll break things down based on the five goals I think that should be driving the programming of the Games, in order of importance:
  1. Ensure that the fittest athletes win the overall championship
  2. Make the competition as fair as possible for all athletes involved
  3. Test events across broad time and modal domains (i.e., stay in keeping with CrossFit's general definition of fitness)
  4. Balance the time and modal domains so that no elements are weighted too heavily
  5. Make the event enjoyable for the spectators
For each goal, there will be some brief discussion and analysis, and I'll conclude by pointing out suggestions for improvement, because simply identifying the problems only gets us halfway there. Additionally, I'll point out things that I felt worked out particularly well.  For those who've been following this site for a while, this is basically the same way I broke things down at the end of last season.

So let's get started.

1. Ensure that the fittest athletes win the overall championship

I'll start by saying that I do think the two fittest athletes won the titles this year.  Rich Froning came through when it counted, and despite looking more human than in years past, I think there is no doubt that he deserved his fourth straight title.  Camille was ridiculously consistent the whole season, and her combination of Olympic lifting prowess and gymnastic ability is pretty much unrivaled.  Also, as discussed in this post from August, several different scoring systems would have produced the same champions.

That being said, if we're being honest, we have to acknowledge that Sam Briggs realistically could have won the Games if she qualified.  She dominated the Open, and aside from one event (an extremely specialized event at that), she was among the best in the world at Regionals.  While maybe not the most skilled, I feel she has the best conditioning in the world.  Looking at the programming that came out at the Games I think she would have fared well, but it would not have been easy for her.

Looking at the 36 events she competed in during 2013 and 2014, she's only finished outside the top 20 worldwide in 7 of them: 2013 Regional Event 2 (3-RM OHS), 2013 Games Zigzag Sprint, 2013 Games Clean & Jerk, 2014 Open Event 2 (C2B and OHS), 2014 Regional Event 1 (max hang squat snatch), 2014 Regional Event 2 (max HS walk) and 2014 Regional Event 7 (pull-ups and heavy OHS).  The theme here is heavy Olympic lifts and extremely short time domains.  Other than that, she's at the very top of the world.

Applying that to this year's Games, she potentially would have struggled on the 1-RM OHS, the Clean Speed Ladder, the Midline March (due to HS walks) and Thick and Quick.  Other than that, I'd expect her to be top 10 in basically everything else.  Would that have been enough to win?  It's hard to say.

How We Can Do Better: Avoid programming extremely volatile events at Regionals (like a single attempt at a HS walk).  Remember, the goal is to find the fittest athletes for the Games, not just to see who can avoid screwing up (this isn't American Ninja Warrior).  Also, I hope the qualification system gets tweaked to allow more athletes from the elite regions to make it (Central East men, for instance).
Credit Where Credit is Due: The Games test was not overly grueling this year (see discussion in my last post), and while we did have a couple of top contenders fall out due to injury (Kara Webb and Anna Tunnicliffe), it seemed like most of the athletes were competing at their best the entire week.


2. Make the competition as fair as possible for all athletes involved

I think HQ learned from the mistakes of 2013 as they programmed the Open this year.   Judging was pretty straightforward on every event in the Open, and really judging wasn't a major issue throughout the season.  To me, that's a huge key for this sport moving forward.  The less we can have spectators talking about the judging, the better.

I also like the improvements in the way ties were handled at the Games.  We saw very few big logjams the way we did in the in Cinco 1 and 2 in 2013.  All the athletes were able to separate themselves throughout the field on every event.

How We Can Do Better: Though I personally liked the workout, the inclusion of a rower in Open Event 4 goes against the fact that HQ has consistently said that the Open is for anyone in the world.  Rowers are far more expensive than the other pieces of equipment that have been required in previous years.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Judging is becoming less and less of a factor throughout Open, Regionals and Games.  Also, there were fewer massive ties in the standings at the Games.


3. Test events across broad time and modal domains (i.e., stay in keeping with CrossFit's general definition of fitness)

Like last year, let's start by looking at a list of all the movements used this season, along with the movement subcategory I've placed each one into. I realize the subcategories are subjective, and an argument could be made to shift a few movements around or create a new subcategory. In general, I think this is a decent organizational scheme (and I've used it in the past), but I'm open to suggestions.


As we've seen in recent years, the season as a whole is testing a very wide variety of movements.  This year saw 27 different movements, compared with 29 last year.  The only movements that did not appear at all this year that have appeared in at least two other seasons are: bike, KB swing, wall climb-over and push-up. I don't think leaving those out are too much of a concern.

Another key goal is to hit a wide variety of time domains and weight loads. Below are charts showing the distribution of the times and the relative weight loads (for men) throughout the entire 2013 and 2014 seasons. The explanation behind the relative weight loads can be found here.  Two notes: 1) some of the Regional and Games movements had to be estimated because I don't have any data on them (such as weighted overhead lunge and pig flips); 2) the time domains for workouts that weren't AMRAP were rough estimates of the average finishing times.


What was lacking this year, as discussed previously, were the extremely long events.  There were no events beyond 45 minutes this season, and there were twice as many sub-5:00 events as last year.  You'll also notice that there were a smaller number of lifts in all of the ranges except the very low (0.4-0.8) and the very high (2.4+).  Part of this is just the fact that there were more lifts last season, though that was not the case at the Games.  We have previously noted that the Regionals were particularly bodyweight-focused this season, but the Games made up for that by being particularly heavy.

How We Can Do Better: I'd like to see us go really long at least once (though probably not more than once).
Credit Where Credit is Due: The season really didn't miss out on much.  It's really not likely that an athlete could finish well these days with a hole in any area of their fitness.


4. Balance the time and modal domains so that no elements are weighted too heavily

Based on the subcategories of movements I've defined above, below is a breakdown of movements in each segment of the 2014 Games Season. As in the past, these percentages are based on the importance each movement was given in each workout, not simply the number of times the movement occurred (so an OHS in the 1 RM at the Games was worth more than the OHS in Open 14.2).


We see this year that there was consistently focus on the Olympic lifts at all phases of the competition, but we saw changes in the other categories.  Pure conditioning (running/rowing/double-unders) increased in value steadily throughout, whereas high skill gymnastics increased dramatically after the Open.  Conversely, basic gymnastics decreased in value steadily and was not much of a factor in the Games.  As is typical, we didn't see many of the uncommon CrossFit movements until the Games.

In my opinion, the Olympic lifts were maybe a touch overvalued (a third of the competition seems like a bit much).  Also, I'd like to see the three phases of competition be a little more similar, so that you don't have athletes qualifying for the Games without being competent in a particular area, only to be exposed at the Games.  For instance, we continue to see running have little value until the Games, which means we may be letting in athletes who are poor runners.  Of course, those athletes won't win the Games anyway, but you may be keeping out athletes who would have been better Games performers.

That being said, there's no such thing as perfect balance here.  We know the Open can't have a ton of high skill gymnastics movements, and we know that Open-style workouts might not be spectator-friendly at the Games.  You could also argue that powerlifting-style lifts are undervalued, but I'm of the opinion that the Olympic lifts are a much better test, and HQ seems to agree, so I doubt we will see that change.  I don't see any glaring problems in the chart above, so that's good news.

As far as time domains, I think there was pretty good balance, even though a bit more weight was given to shorter workouts than in years past.  Like I mentioned previously, I can't complain too much about this, because it seems to keep the athletes fresher throughout the Games.  As long as HQ continues to throw in a few nasty workouts in the 15-25 minute range, plus one or two really long ones, I think that's sufficient.

Another way to see if we're not weighting one area too much is to look at the rank correlations between the events. If the rankings for two separate events are highly correlated, it indicates that we may be over-emphasizing one particular area.  As I did last year, I focused only on the Games, since it's not really a problem if we test the same thing in two different competitions since the scoring resets each time.  It's the overemphasis within the same competition that's a problem.

The chart below shows all the combinations of men's events at the Games, excluding the finals, since the entire field did not compete.


The cells highlighted yellow had a correlation above 50%, and the cells in red had a correlation below 0% (for some reason, the "-" sometimes doesn't come through well on the picture, but those are negative numbers).  Only two combinations had a correlation above 50%, and one of those were the two sprint sleds (each of which were worth only 50 points, so this actually isn't really a problem that they're highly correlated).  The other combination was event 2 (1-RM OHS) and event 9 (clean speed ladder) - this shouldn't be surprising.

For women, the results were similar, although there were also high correlations between Event 1 (The Beach) and Event 3 (Triple-3) and between Event 2 (1-RM OHS) and Event 6 (21-15-9).  Not sure about the OHS/21-15-9 combination, but the other one also makes sense intuitively since both events are very long.

It's also interesting to note the negative correlations, most notably the -31% correlation between Event 3 (Triple-3) and Event 9 (Clean Speed Ladder).  Women showed a -14% correlation here as well.

All in all, this is similar to what we saw last year, but probably a bit more balanced.  Between men and women, there were 6 correlations above 50%, compared to 8 last year, and as mentioned, 2 of those (sprint sled events for men and women) were only given half-weight.  

How We Can Do BetterI've said it before, but it bears repeating: We need to test running earlier in the season (and more than just 50-yard jogs between rope climbs).  Also, I'd prefer we lighten up just a bit on the Olympic lifting emphasis.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Things were really balanced overall, and cross-correlations between events at the Games were lower, indicating we weren't testing the same things a bunch of different times.


5. Make the event enjoyable for the spectators

I was lucky enough to attend the Games in person for the third straight year (thank you to my lovely wife), and I can say without a doubt that they are improving the spectator experience each year.  I was originally concerned about the fact that the morning and afternoon events would all be in the soccer stadium, but I think they made it work.  There's still no doubt that the tennis stadium is the more exciting venue, but the issue there is that you can't fit as many athletes in each heat, so the sheer number of heats tends to make things drag on.  In the soccer stadium, they were able to keep most events to 3 heats, which really is a big improvement over 4 heats.  Not to mention that all the silver ticket holders get to watch those events as well.

Another change was that the team events were all done in the morning prior to any individual events, so it really separated that out from the individual competition.  While some of the teams may disagree, I liked this move because it shortened the breaks between individual events.  Some of the team events can really drag on, and while the top heats are often exciting, the majority of fans probably don't want to sit through tons of the team competition if they don't have to.  And of course, those who do want to watch can show up in the morning and get great seats.

I think ultimately, the Games are going to have to have all of the events in the soccer stadium, or some other large venue.  There is simply too much demand to continue limiting the Gold tickets to only 10,000 fans.  From my understanding, they sold out in a matter of minutes this year, and even some people who were logged in prior to the tickets going on sale could not get them.  Let's hope HQ can find a way to satisfy the demand while still keeping the event as exciting as possible for those who do get tickets.

How We Can Do Better: Do not let Swizz Beatz perform again.  In fact, replace the musical act completely with those crazy gladiator dudes.
Credit Where Credit is Due: The experience continues to improve each year.  The views in the soccer stadium were improved, there were fewer lulls in the action and the spectators were more engaged than in previous years.  The conclusion of that men's Push-Pull event with Bridges narrowly holding off Froning was still the highlight of the weekend for me.


And now... the 2014 CrossFit Games season is in the books.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The 2014 Games Were Heavier, Higher-Skill and Shorter Than Recent Years

Welcome back for another relatively quick one.  Today I'm going to hit a few highlights of the analysis I've done on the programming at this year's Games.

As the title would suggest, the big point here is that this year's Games were heavy and high-skill. Conversely, in comparison to prior years, they weren't as much about stamina, endurance and generally managing fatigue.

Let's consider the first point.  The chart below shows two key loading metrics for men for all eight CrossFit Games.  For those unfamiliar with these metrics, start here.


The load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) is always the first place I look when evaluating how "heavy" a competition was.  It gives us an indication of both the loads that were used as well as how often lifts were prescribed.  The LBEL at this year's Games was 0.89; the next-highest was 0.73 back in 2009.

The high LBEL in 2009 was based partly on the fact that there were two max-effort events out of eight total.  In metcons, the loadings were actually quite light at that time.  But in 2014, the met cons were heavy as well.  The average relative weight in metcons was 1.43; the next-highest was 1.36 in 2013.  For context, a 1.43 relative weight is equivalent to a 193-lb. clean, a 146-lb. snatch and a 343-lb. deadlift.  These are average weights used in metcons; the days of the bodyweight specialist competing at the CrossFit Games are over.

The women's numbers tell a similar story.  The LBEL was 0.62, about 30% higher than the previous high of 0.48 in 2009.  The average relative weight in met cons was 1.01, significantly higher than the next-highest (0.88 in 2013).  The 1.01 is on par with the men's loads from 2007-2010.

Not only were the Games programmed heavy, but the athletes are just flat-out getting stronger.  The chart below shows the relative weights achieved during the max-effort lifts in the Games historically. These represent the average across the entire field (except in 2007, when I limited the field to the non-scaled participants only).


Not only was the men's average of 2.71 in the overhead squat well above the previous high of 2.36, but the women's average of 1.80 is higher than the men achieved in the CrossFit Total in 2007 and the Jerk in 2010 (granted, that lift occurred within 90 seconds of the Pyramid Helen workout).

Now, as far as the high-skill comment, consider the types of movements that were emphasized at the Games.  I generally categorize movements into seven broad groups: Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts, Basic Gymnastics, Pure Conditioning, High Skill Gymnastics, Powerlifting-Style Barbell Lifts, KB/DB Lifts and Uncommon CrossFit Movements (sled pulls, object carries, etc.).  The two that require the most technical ability are High Skill Gymnastics (such as muscle-ups and HSPU) and Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts.

This season, Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts accounted for 32% of the total points, which is second all-time (2008 they were worth 38%).  The High Skill Gymnastics movements accounted for 17%, which was only topped once (2010).  Combined, those two groups accounted for 49%, which is second all-time.  The only year with a greater emphasis was 2010, which actually included the incredibly challenging ring HSPU.  Still, the sheer volume of high-skill movements required of athletes was far higher this year.  The muscle-up biathlon included 45 muscle-ups; in 2010, "Amanda" was crushing about half the field with just 21 muscle-ups.  The ring HSPU were tough in 2010, but were they more challenging than the 10-inch strict deficit HSPU this year?  Remember, women were only required to do regular HSPU back in 2010, and only 28 of them.  These days, 28 regular HSPU is nothing for the elite women's athletes.

On the flip side, this Games had much less volume than recent years.  The chart below shows the longest event (based on winning time), the approximate average length of all events (including finals) and the approximate total time that athletes competed, dating back to 2011.  It's clear that this year was much less grueling than the past two seasons, and it was very similar to 2011 (including starting with a ~40-minute beach workout).


The theme of this year's Games was strength and skill, not stamina.  Why?  Well, I have to believe television had something to do with it.  This year's events were more spectator-friendly across the board, and they may set the stage for future seasons in which every event is broadcast on cable (ESPN won't be showing a 90-minute rowing workout, that's for sure).  People don't like to watch events that take forever, but they do like to watch people lift heavy stuff and generally perform feats of strength and skill that make you say "I could never do that."

My hope is that the Games can continue to be spectator-friendly without losing the events with that "suck factor" that we in the community know and love.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rich Froning's Comeback Could Have Been Even More Amazing (and more scoring system thoughts)

Today will be the first in a series of posts breaking down the 2014 CrossFit Games in more detail.  In the past, I have combined a lot of thoughts into one or two longer posts reviewing the Games (in particular, the programming).  However, this year, due to time constraints from my work and personal life, I'm planning to get the analysis out there in smaller doses, otherwise it might be another month before my next post.  And in fact, this might be the best way to handle things going forward, but we will have to see.  Anyway, let's get moving.

Unlike the past two seasons, Rich Froning did not enter the final day of competition with a commanding lead.  In fact, he didn't even enter the final event with a commanding lead.  All it would have taken was a fifth-place finish by Froning and a first-place finish by Mathew Fraser on Double Grace for Froning to finish runner-up this season.  But what you may not have realized is that it could have been even tighter.

In the Open and the Regionals, the scoring system is simple: add up your placements across all events, and the lowest cumulative total wins.  At the Games, however, the scoring system changes to use a scoring table that translates each placement into a point value.  The athlete with the highest point total wins.  I've written plenty about this in the past (start here if you're interested), but the key difference is this: in the Games scoring system, there is a greater reward for finishes at the very top, and less punishment for finishes near the bottom.  The reason is that the point differential between high places is much higher (5 points between 1st and 2nd) than between lower places (1 point between 30th and 31st).

So you know that small lead Froning had going into the final event?  Well, under the regional scoring system*, he would actually have been trailing going into that event... BY 8 POINTS!  And he would have made that deficit up, because he won the event while Fraser took 11th.  I think it is safe to say that would have been the most dramatic finish to the Games we have seen (I guess Khalipa in 2008 was similar, but there were like 100 people watching, so...).

One reason the scoring would have been so close under this system is that Fraser's performance was remarkably consistent.  His lowest finish was 23rd.  All other athletes had at least one finish 26th or below, and Froning finished lower than 26th twice.  But Fraser also only won one event and had four top 5 finishes.  Froning, on the other hand, won four events and finished second one other time.

I also looked at how the scoring would have turned out under two other scoring systems:
  • Normal distribution scoring table - Similar to the Games scoring table, but the points are allocated 0-100 in a normal distribution.  See my article here for more information.
  • Standard deviation scoring** - This is based on the actual results in each event, rather than just the placement. Points are awarded based on how many standard deviations above or below average an athlete is on each event. More background on that in the article I referenced early on in this post.
Here is how the top 5 would have shaken our for men and women using all four of these systems (including the current system):










As far as the winners go, we would not have seen any changes.  Clearly, Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet were the fittest individuals this year.  Generally, what you can observe here is that the athletes doing well in the standard deviation and normal distribution system had some really outstanding performances, whereas the athletes doing well in the regional scoring system were the most consistent.

What is also nice about the standard deviation system is that it can tell us a little more about how each event played out.  For each event, I had to calculate both the mean result and the standard deviation in order to get these rankings.  That allowed me to see a few other things:

  • Which events had the most tightly bunched fields (and the most widely spread fields)?
  • Were there significant differences between men and women in how tightly scores were bunched on events?
  • Which individual event performances were most dominant?
To measure the spread of the field in each event, I looked at the coefficient of variation, which is the standard deviation divided by the mean.  For instance, the mean weight lifted for women event 2 was 213.6 and the standard deviation was 22.1 pounds, so the coefficient of variation was 10%.  The higher this value, the wider the spread was in the results.  And remember, if the spread is wider, the better you have to be in order to generate a great score under the standard deviation system.

To see which individual event performances were most dominant, I looked at the winning score on each event.  Typically, this score was between 1.5 and 2.75 standard deviations above the mean; this is in the right ballpark if we assume a normal distribution, because there would be about a 7% chance of getting a result of 1.5 standard deviations above the mean and a 0.3% chance of getting a result of 2.75 standard deviations above the mean.

The chart below shows both the winning score (bars) and the coefficient of variation (line) for each event.  Note that the Clean Speed Ladder is omitted because there it was a tournament-style event and does not convert easily to the standard deviations system.  For my calculations of points on the Clean Speed Ladder, I used a normal distribution assumption and applied points based on the rankings in this event.


The largest win was Neal Maddox's 3.43 in the Sprint Sled 1; a normal distribution would say this should occur about 1-in-3,000 times.  For those who watched the Games, this performance was quite impressive.  Maddox looked like he was pushing a toy sled compared to everyone else.  Also, don't sleep on Nate Schrader's result in the Sprint Carry.  It may not have appeared quite as impressive because the field was so tightly bunched (only a 9% coefficient of variation, compared to 23% on Sprint Sled 1).

The most tightly bunched event was the Triple-3 for both men (7%) and women (5%).  The Sprint Carry was next (9% men, 7% women).  The event with the largest spread was Thick-n-Quick, at 53% for men and 41% for women.  Remember, Froning won this event in 1:40 (4.2 reps per minute), while some athletes only finished 2 reps (0.5 reps per minute).

The lesson, as always: Rich Froning is a machine.



*All of the alternate scoring scenarios here assume that the sprint sled events would each be worth half value.
**In order to do this, I had to convert all time-based events from a time score to a rate of speed score (reps per minute, for example).  There are lots of intricacies to this, so another individual calculating these may have used slightly different assumptions.  The main takeaways would be the same here, I think.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Initial Games and Pick 'Em Observations

Only a few days removed from the conclusion of the 2014 CrossFit Games, I haven't quite had time and energy to completely digest what took place.  Trust me, there is more analysis to come dealing the Games from a variety of angles, but for now, let's start with some quick observations.
  • I had the good fortune of being able to attend the Games in person (thanks to my wife for the birthday surprise!), so I can't comment on the quality of the TV product, but the intensity in-person for the prime-time events was top-notch.  In particular, the conclusion of the Saturday night event ("Push Pull") was probably the most exciting individual event I've witnessed.  The crowd's reaction when Froning took the lead, when it looked for the first time all weekend that the real Rich Froning had arrived, was powerful.  But for Josh Bridges to go unbroken on the last set of handstand push-ups and then hold off Froning on the final sled drag was really something special.
  • One of the underrated moments of the in-person experience came as we were leaving the venue Saturday night and a buzz went through the departing crowd as the JumboTron showed the updated men's overall standings with Froning out front for the first time since Friday morning.  You really got the sense that the spectators were fans, not just CrossFitters there to support the athlete from their local box.
  • Also super-cool was the "Fra-ser" chant in a small but vocal section of the crowd before the men's final.  Don't get me wrong, Froning was still the clear fan favorite, but this was a neat moment to hear the support for the underdog.
  • The Muscle-up Biathlon was also a pretty thrilling event, both for the men and women.  For the women in particular, the race between Camille and Julie Foucher (still in contention for the title at that point) was pretty nuts.  And I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but when Foucher was no-repped at the end of her round of 12, I heard the first real booing at a CrossFit event.  People friggin' LOVE Julie Foucher, and they HATE no-reps.
  • Now let's get to some numbers.  Based on the CFG Analysis predictions, Cassidy Lance finishing in the top 10 was the third-longest shot to come through dating back to the 2012 Games.  I had her with a 2.3% chance of reaching the top 10.  The only two longer shots were Anne Tunnicliffe in 2013 (2.2% chance of top 10) and Kyle Kasperbauer in 2012 (1.2% chance of podium).  There were really no major long-shots on the men's side this year.  Jason Khalipa for podium had the lowest chances at 9.1%.
  • The winner of the pool was JesseM with 134.7 points.  He had some great picks, including 6 points on Lauren Fisher to finish top 10. However, he had far from the ideal set of picks.  That would have been the following:
    • 1 Rich Froning win
    • 1 Jason Khalipa podium
    • 1 Tommy Hackenbruck top 10
    • 1 Camille Leblanc-Bazinet
    • 1 Annie Thorisdottir podium
    • 15 Cassidy Lance top 10
    • Total score of 688.7!
  • I wrote a piece a couple weeks ago in which I mentioned that prior Games experience was worth approximately 4-5 spots at the Games.  The results from this season were consistent with that.  It seems fair to say that the advantage of having experience at the Games is real.
  • Despite not including the impact of past experience in my model, the calibration of my predictions turned out to be pretty solid again this year.  Now with three years of data, below is a chart showing the calibration of my top 10 predictions.



















Over the next few weeks, I'll be breaking the Games down in more depth, in particular digging more into the programming, how it compares to years past and what it might tell us about the future.  That's it for today, so good luck in your training, and I'll see you back soon.