The Tips You Need to Conquer CrossFit Open Workout 21.1

The first workout of the 2021 CrossFit Open was announced. Here's how to dominate it.

The 2021 CrossFit Open kicked-off on March 11, 2021, with Kari Pearce and Kristi Eramo O’Connell demonstrating the first workout of the CrossFit season — 21.1, Engine Vs. Skill. It is a two-move workout that is comprised of ascending reps of wall walks and double-unders. It’s a simple yet brutal concoction of movements that will test your shoulder strength, jump rope skill, and overall conditioning. For many, it’s the first step to qualifying for the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games.

Like any CrossFit workout, the devil is in the details. Double-unders appear easy, but your success depends on pacing and strategy. When it comes to wall walks — a common handstand walk regression — your ability to finish hinges on your form. Don’t sweat it (though, you will literally sweat buckets during this workout). Below, I outline tips and advice to help you conquer the first workout of the 2021 Open.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the full workout (RX’d):


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[Related: NOBULL is the Title Sponsor for the 2021 CrossFit Gmes]

CrossFit Open Workout 21.1

Here is what workout 21.1 — aka Engine Vs. Skill — consists of:

For time:

  • One wall walk
  • 10 double-unders
  • Three wall walks
  • 30 double-unders
  • Six wall walks
  • 60 double-unders
  • Nine wall walks
  • 90 double-unders
  • 15 wall walks
  • 150 double-unders
  • 21 wall walks
  • 210 double-unders

15-minute time cap.

That’s 605 total reps. Each athlete’s score will be their final time. If an athlete doesn’t finish within the time cap, the total number of reps completed before the time cap.

Check out BarBend’s coverage of the 21.1 announcement for the Scaled, Foundations, and Equipment-Free versions of this workout. 

21.1 Breakdown

With the 2021 CrossFit Games Open Season underway, Dave Castro starts us off the season in an interesting fashion. The double-under is a common movement that has been in every single Games and a brand new movement (wall walk) that has only been seen in random videos and the occasional workout programmed by coaches.

Double-unders are a staple in the CrossFit Open season. Usually, the random numbers programmed range from 30 at a time to sets of 100. Now they increase from 10 to 210 for a total of 550 double-unders if you finish the event.

[Related: Shutdown to Showdown: How to Prepare for the 2021 CrossFit Open]

The Frustration Factor

Double-unders are supposed to be a resting movement, especially if you’re one of the elite athletes. But for the everyday CrossFitter, it still ends up jacking up your heart rate. The other issue with double-unders is that they cause frustration, a frustration that is far and above that of any other CrossFit movement in the competitive arsenal.

Many people can get sets of 20, 30, or even 50 unbroken without any pressure. However, when they need to do a large set, they start failing at 10 or 15, get frustrated, and then struggled to get anything more than seven or eight reps. Because of the high volume of double-unders in this event, frustration will be a factor for many. This will be a case for some definite deep breathing during the event. 

There Will Be Tension

Physical tension that is.

Wall walks are a movement that was first seen on CrossFit’s website in 2011, with the sport’s big names back then doing it. That workout consisted of five rounds of 10 wall walks, 10 toes to bar, and 20 box jumps. Even though it has been used by many coaches as a modification for handstand walks due to either limited space or limited ability by the athlete, it’s rarely included as a competitive movement. But as Dave Castro usually does, he tests what we don’t do. The wall walk puts a lot of weight on the shoulder and wrist. For those athletes who aren’t ready for it,  they’re going to feel that tension over this 15-minute time frame.

Since it’s a fairly new movement, here are the movement standards for the wall walk: Start with your hands on the tape line that’s farther away from the wall and with your toes on the wall. Do a push-up, and then walk your body back until your hands are at the second tape line, which is approximately 10 inches away from the starting point. Walk back into position, do another push-up, and repeat. Your feet can’t touch the ground until your hands return to the start line. This makes it very easy to judge and much more accessible for people to get in and get the job done on that movement.

21.1 Workout Advice

For those that can do both of the movements, there are two main factors for this event — pacing in the first half of the event and shoulder fatigue throughout. Here are six tips to help you overcome both performance factors.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Pacing is always going to be an element in every event. That said, increasing ladders of ascending reps are notorious for drawing people into tempos that bury them in the middle of the event. The first three rounds are pretty easy and doable for the masses. Because of this, people will get in and go super fast in these three rounds. Yes, there is a tie-break after the double-unders, but that really isn’t important until you get to the middle or end rounds. 

The object in the first three rounds should be not to jack your heart rate up too much. Move smoothly and efficiently through the wall walks, position your rope so that transitions are effortless, and find a comfort level between the two movements.

Mind Your Hips to Mind Your Shoulders

Once you get into the deeper rounds, it’s time to focus on the individual movements and the time it takes to do those. For the wall walks, you want to take as much weight off of your shoulders as possible and keep the time under tension as short as possible. This means that you can afford to take a touch of rest between each rep so that you’re able to be more consistent throughout the entire set. This also means that, instead of holding a strict plank, you want to pike your hips when you step up and when you come down so that you can subtract some of the leg weight from your shoulders.


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[Related: Mat Fraser Announces His Retirement From Competitive CrossFit]

Align Your Joints for Wall Walks

What will also help with walk walks is keeping a tight midline and your hands directly under your shoulders so that you can stack the weight on the joints rather than sloppily shuffling your hands back to get to the tape. This rapid shoulder shuffle movement may be initially faster, but it will be a lot of wasted energy needed when the rep set for the wall walks increases. 

Stop-And-Go During Double-Unders

The way to work pacing for double-unders is to stop when you want to stop rather than when you need to stop. If you’re on your set of 90 reps and you’re only occasionally able to get to sets of 50 unbroken, then you should shoot for sets of 30 with a short break in between. This stop-and-go technique allows you to manage your frustration and your heart rate so that you can get through the next set of 30 without fatiguing.

You are already going to have fatigue from the wall walks, so pushing hard to get through an extra set of 10 reps for double-unders isn’t going to save you that much time. In fact, trying to go unbroken if you can’t will slow you down in the long run if you’re forced to break later due to fatigue.

Or…Go Unbroken But Be Chill About It

On the other hand, if you are a double-under ninja, your objective should be not to break up your sets but to stay relaxed throughout the entire set. Sure, you can speed up the tempo and beat somebody by five seconds, but logging ultra-fast reps will tire out your shoulders. Then, it’s likely you’ll slow down during the wall walk and effectively cancel out any time advantage you gained. Keep your heart rate down, your shoulders relaxed, and maintain a relaxed bounding jump so that you can get to the meat of the work, which will be the wall walks. 

Remember to Have Fun

Alright, this tip is a little corny, but please remember to enjoy yourself. With all of the different division options — Scaled, Foundations, Equipment-Free, and Adaptive — the Open is truly accessible to everyone. So everyone should have a blast doing this whether they think they’re a gymnastics ninja or not. So get out there and have some fun. And if you find yourself keeled over and fighting to find the will to finish, remember that it’s just 15 minutes of your day. 

Featured image: @karipearcecrossfit on Instagram/Photo by CrossFit Games