Like everything this year, the 2021 Open is going to look different. But, much like years past, it’s worth getting excited about. With options to compete at your home gym, at home with equipment (or without any equipment), the 2021 virtual-emphasis CrossFit Open takes all comers from any competition space. This includes CrossFit Games veterans who are also still adjusting to bringing the heat in virtual competitions.
We chatted with six-time Games veterans Noah Ohlsen and Kristin Holte about their best tips to dominate the virtual Open — and most any remote competition. Read on for their winning strategies.
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Gather Your Best Cheering Squad
While we may still be a ways away from gathering in large groups, the benefit of a virtual Open is you can have your closest friends and family nearby for moral support. Ohlsen noticed a shift starting with last year’s Rogue Invitational, his first virtual competition, in how much of a difference having loved ones made.
“I pretty much never see my friends and family during the actual CrossFit Games until it’s over,” Ohlsen said. “Even in the warmup area you maybe get your coach back there with you.”
But for the virtual competitions?
“You can have whoever the heck you want with you!” Ohlsen exclaims. “So this year, through all these virtual competitions, my friends and family are literally right there with me before and after the workouts, and that’s been really special and unique.”
While warm fuzzies are likely not quantifiable for performance, a home crowd advantage is. A cheering squad can increase the odds of athletic success, even when controlling for location advantage. A recent study of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, who both play in the Staples Center, showed the designated home team had a 20 percent higher likelihood of winning. (1)
Hand-Pick Your Judge
There’s maybe nothing more frustrating in an Open workout than getting no-repped. It eats up time, kills your momentum, and can affect your mental state for the rest of the workout. While sometimes it’s inevitable, Holte says getting on the same page with your judge before the competition can clear up communication issues that can lead to no-reps. Virtual competitions clear an additional barrier by giving athletes more freedom to select a judge ahead of time.
“(When) you know the judge you will have beforehand, you can agree on the standards so there is less confusion and no reps during the competition,” Holte says.
Don’t Forget the Dog
For many, the family includes four-legged friends. Ohlsen’s followers know his golden retriever, Max, is a big part of his training squad.
“Max is my all-time training partner,” Ohlsen said. “No matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it, he’s there with me.”
And studies show having animals around can reduce anxiety, relieve stress, and even improve pain management.(2) You’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete who would turn down those positive effects during competition time.
“Being able to have Max by my side when I’m doing a virtual competition makes it just like another training day, so that gives me kind of that next level of comfort,” Ohlsen says. “I’d never be able to bring him to an in-person competition, but during these virtual ones he’s laying right there by my side so it makes it a little extra special.”
Set Your Own Stage
Holte and Ohlsen both brought up getting your Open environment and equipment just the way you want it. With six Games appearances each, they know the feeling of walking onto the competition floor unsure of what to expect — and both appreciate the flexibility of setting things up just the way they like it.
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“For the virtual comp, the venue is known, it’s probably your home gym so you know the set up, the equipment and the environment,” Holte says. “That can make it safer and less stressful for a lot of athletes.”
Ohlsen laughed as he recalled an athlete at his home gym who had a very particular competition workout setup, including perfectly angled fans and a box placed just “so.” Don’t lie, you know someone like this (and if you don’t, it’s probably you).
“You can get as crazy as you want in your setup because there’s no one there to tell you otherwise,” Ohlsen adds.
Time Your Workout to Your Routine
You’ve likely classified yourself before as a “night owl” or “early bird,” and while this was likely based on feel, there’s a science to your intuition. Your chronotype, your body’s biological clock tendencies, can determine when you’ll have the most energy and mental focus during the day. This is likely also your ideal time to hit peak performance. Studies show late chronotypes have compromised performance early in the morning compared to early chronotypes. (3)
But an even better predictor of your ideal time to hit an Open workout is whenever you’re used to hitting any workout. Again, the research is there: Regardless of an athlete’s preferred circadian rhythm, studies show performance is best when an athlete exercises at the time of day they usually train – even if they’ve had to adapt to it. (4)
And that’s Ohlsen’s plan.
“I traditionally train (starting at) 10 a.m….on a normal day, so I’ll probably keep it somewhere in that window because that’s what my body is accustomed to,” he says.
Keeping the same training routine means sleep and nutrition, the foundations of the fitness pyramid, can also stay in rhythm, eliminating performance-thwarting variables.
“For a virtual competition I am able to sleep in my own bed and eat the food that I am used to from training,” Holte said. “That definitely makes the whole competition setting easier because that is all known and something I don’t have to spend energy thinking about.”
While many non-Games athletes wouldn’t usually travel far for the Open, more options to compete from home rather than a gym means you can do things on your schedule on competition day. And you should.
“Being able to roll out of bed and…takes away extenuating circumstances, there’s no traffic, you can take your time and do your own thing,” Ohlsen says.
Don’t Forget to Warm Up
Compared to other competitions, which have set start times to dictate your schedule, the Open this year doesn’t. So, you’re completely on your own time. Ohlsen parallel this with what it’s like competing at the Games
“At the Games it’s so serious,” Ohlsen says. “You’re in the warm-up area sometimes an hour and a half before it starts, then 30 minutes before the event you’re corralled.”
Without the rigidity of a competition setting dictating a schedule, it can be easy to skip typical “steps” in preparation for a workout. But doing so is a quick path to injury.
Instead of skipping the warm-up step, think of this as your time for personalized body preparation. Stretch out and mobilize any trouble spots, walk through some light reps of weighted movements and don’t let your first box jump be after the start buzzer. Holte appreciates the time fluidity virtual competition can allow.
“In a virtual comp you can warm up as you like and just be ready a few minutes before you start,” she says.
Go in with a Plan — and a Plan B
Jump ropes break. Judges call no-reps. Muscles cramp. Bike chains come off. CrossFit is all about the unknown and unknowable, and while this often refers to the workout announcements themselves, even the most thoughtful athlete comes across an obstacle mid-workout. While some of these obstacles are tough luck, others can be anticipated.
Some athletes are likely to tear their hands in a workout that includes high repetitions of pull-ups or muscle-ups. While you can do everything you can to avoid it — coming off the bar in manageable sets, using chalk sparingly — sometimes you also have to plan for it. Do you change your grip when it happens? Have someone ready with tape? Put on grips? Whatever it is, have a plan and be ready for action.
“Do everything you can to be prepared before you start the workout,” Holte says. “Analyze the workout, visualize the workout, and make a plan A and plan B for how you will attack the workout. Then, you execute to the best of your abilities.”
“And don’t forget to have fun with it,” she adds.
How to Qualify for the 2021 CrossFit Games
The structure of this year’s CrossFit season is pretty different compared to year’s past. The main difference is that there will be a three-step qualification process, including the Open, the Quarterfinals, the Semifinals, and a Last-Chance Qualifier for athletes who finished within three spots of a Games qualifying position.
This year’s qualification system is a three-phase, continent-based system that includes the Open, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and a Last-Chance Qualifier. CrossFit will recognize North America, Europe, Oceania, Asia, South America, Africa. The top 10% of athletes (25% of teams and 10% worldwide for age-group competitors) during the Open will move on to the Quarterfinals. For a full rundown, check out BarBend‘s video:
[Related: 2021 CrossFit GamesQualifiers — What Athletes & Fans Need to Know]
- Boudreaux CJ, Sanders SD, Walia B. A Natural Experiment to Determine the Crowd Effect Upon Home Court Advantage. Journal of Sports Economics. 2017;18(7):737-749. doi:10.1177/1527002515595842
- Beetz A, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Julius H, Kotrschal K. Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Front Psychol. 2012;3:234. Published 2012 Jul 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
- Facer-Childs ER, Boiling S, Balanos GM. The effects of time of day and chronotype on cognitive and physical performance in healthy volunteers. Sports Med Open. 2018;4(1):47. Published 2018 Oct 24. doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0162-z
- Chtourou H, Souissi N. The effect of training at a specific time of day: a review. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul;26(7):1984-2005. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825770a7. PMID: 22531613.
Featured image: @nohlsen on Instagram