4 Lessons Learned from CrossFit Games Athlete Mistakes

Most of us will never make it to The CrossFit Games…except maybe as spectators. While we can all relate to the pain of Fran or understand what it’s like to hit a massive PR in the Open, competing at the sport’s highest level is a physical and mental pressure cooker that can’t be replicated.

When athletes are under that much strain, mistakes happen. Unfortunately for the athletes, they can’t go back and undo a brain fart that happened in the middle of a WOD. Lucky for us, we can learn from their mistakes so we can get the most out of competition and training.

A photo posted by Brent Fikowski (@fikowski) on

1. Run, don’t jog, to the finish line.

Whether it’s a literal run to the finish line or just pushing through the last few reps of a workout, finishing strong is even more important than starting strong. Those last few reps or seconds could be the difference between qualifying for Regionals, making the podium at a local competition, or even just beating that really annoying guy at the gym. In Brent Fikowski‘s case, it was another competitor’s jog to the finish line that (sort of) cost him a spot on the podium at the 2016 Games.

During the final workout, the race for the bronze medal was between Fikowski and Patrick Vellner. Though Fikowski squarely beat Vellner in the event, he still needed a little help from Vellner and Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson in order to make the podium. Vellner kicked it into high gear and sprinted to the finish line. Guðmundsson jogged and placed just behind Vellner.

Had Guðmundsson sprinted and beat Vellner, Fikowski would have surpassed Vellner with enough points to just overtake third place. Of course, this was all out of Fikowski’s control, but it just goes to show that what an athlete does in the last moments can make a huge difference in the overall result.

2. Communicate with your judges.

Judging can be one of the most frustrating parts of a competition. And judging styles and standards carry a increasingly small but present amount of subjectivity. Other than exaggerating movement, there’s not much an athlete can do about standards. At some point, you too will get no repped. That said, communicating with your judge before the event starts can make a world of difference.

Like your reps counted out loud? Tell your judge. Can’t hear your reps? Tell your judge. Limited range of motion? Show your judge. Confused about a standard? Ask your judge to clarify. During WOD 4 of the Masters competition of the 2016 Games, athlete Mathew Wiebke found himself confused when his judge wasn’t counting his toes to bar reps out loud. There wasn’t anything he could do at the time, and Wiebke estimated that the confusion may have cost him a few seconds. The sprint WOD only lasted around 2 minutes, so those few seconds lost sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

A photo posted by Mathew Fraser (@mathewfras) on

3. Mix up your equipment and environment.

Even though CrossFit is all about constant variance, we are creatures of habit and will often use the same equipment during training. Everyone has their favorite barbell that spins just right, or their favorite muscle up station with the perfectly coarse rings. The problem is that in competition, everything is foreign. You end up with a brand new barbell that rips your hands and spins like mad and rings that are crazy slippery.

There’s no way to totally replicate competition scenarios, but you can help yourself by forcing yourself to mix up your equipment in training. Even little changes make a big difference. Try lowering or raising the height of rings, working out in different weather or at a different time of day. Even facing a the opposite direction when you lift can help you get used to performing well in different environments.

Mat Fraser attributed his 2016 success partly to constantly mixing up his training habits. Even though most of us don’t have the luxury of life revolving around training, that doesn’t mean we can’t suck it up every once and a while and head to a 6am class instead of a 6pm class. Will it suck? Absolutely…but your body will thank you when you’re doing an early morning competition and you know what your body feel like at that hour.

4. Hydrate with care.

This one was a hard lesson for everyone in the community to learn. We all watched as athletes were demolished by the heat during Murph at the 2015 CrossFit Games. That image of Kara Webb zig zagging to the finish line just never gets out of your head.

Though the 2015 Murph situation was a perfect storm of environmental and physical factors, it taught us regular folks a lot about hydration in hot weather. We know that HQ did their best to educate Games athletes on the dangers of dehydration, heat stroke, and excessive hydration, but everyday athletes may not have as much knowledge about the range of risks when working out in super hot weather.

The biggest thing we learned is that chugging a little extra water before you workout in extreme heat isn’t going to do much to protect you. Not only should athletes utilize the hydration stations during the event (even if it adds a few seconds to the finish time) proper hydration needs to occur for a few days before the big event as well.

Humans can sweat out three to four pints of fluid per hour when working out in extreme heat, so don’t think you’re exempt from hydration strategies just because you’re not doing Murph at noon in the middle of summer. If you suddenly find yourself working out in a hot climate in a gym with no air conditioning, make sure you’re paying attention to hydration, and study up on the the impact of too much as well as too little water.

Featured Image: Mathew Fraser (@mathewfras)