There's Nothing New Under the Sun

In four years of participating in the CrossFit Games season I’ve never heard as much fussing about a set of workouts than I have with the current set of Regional workouts. I have to admit, when these workouts were announced it took me a few days to get my head around and process them.   The workouts are very high skill, less heavy weight and barbell work than we’ve seen in prior Regionals. My general guideline is to not react emotionally to competition workouts. You can’t change/control/influence them, all you can do is develop a plan of attack. This year someone mentioned to me how excited I should be about the snatch and handstand walk, knowing those workouts would be strong for me. I disagree, whether it’s a strength or weakness, you have to maintain focus on performing on game day. The phrase that always pops into my head is one I learned watching “A Few Good Men.” Kevin Bacon’s character, a Navy lawyer, references representing his client “without passion or prejudice.” This is how I like to approach competition programming. Obviously there are events that look more/less fun, but when it comes to performing I don’t really want to have an opinion.  Just do the work.

2014 CrossFit Games Regionals
2014 CrossFit Games Regionals

It’s hard as an athlete in CrossFit to chase what is to some extent, a moving target. I’ve had the conversation with myself about whether I want to pursue CrossFit’s definition of “Fittest on Earth.” I’ve made a decision to try to increase my aerobic capacity, for example, rather then ignore that weakness and foster the power and explosiveness that comes more naturally to me. Once you decide to compete in the Games, you’ve accepted the challenge to become well rounded, prepared for the unexpected, and ideally, impervious to variety in programming. That’s part of why I do it, to confront the challenges.

The specific event in this year’s Regional program that has raised the most controversy is the max distance handstand walk. This is a movement that first appeared in CrossFit Games competition almost three years ago (2011 Games), and has appeared in two of the last three CrossFit Games. We are used to seeing surprise workouts and new elements at the Games (the handstand walk in 2011, Killer Kage, the pig, the pool/bar muscle up), but I don’t think you can argue the 2014 Regional handstand walk was a surprise.


“Walking on the hands is a fantastic tool for developing handstand balance and accuracy…you want to be able to walk 100 yards without falling.” Greg Glassman, October 2002


2011 CrossFit Games
2011 CrossFit Games


Gymnasts are seeing a great deal of  success this year, but that isn’t new. The 2012 women’s Games podium was made up of all former gymnasts. People who have put the work in on gymnastics movements are being rewarded- just as softball players were rewarded during the 2011 softball throw, endurance athletes on 2012 Camp Pendleton I & II, football players on the 2013 Zig Zag sprint, and swimmers in the pool/ocean swims.   What I think is happening, more than an issue with the programming, is that the field is so deep and so talented that even one slip up is incredibly difficult to recover from within 7 workouts.

Training for the 2012 CrossFit Games, in which handstand walks did not appear
Training for the 2012 CrossFit Games, in which handstand walks did not appear

The reason it took me more time than usual to process the the 2014 Regional program is because I had allowed myself to become complacent and make assumptions about what certain phases of the CrossFit Games season will look like. I love that we’re seeing something different. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to improve. This community is about getting better, being the best versions of ourselves. Not coming up with reasons why we can’t do something.

In the end the program is the program and there are a finite number of “Proven” spots for tons of incredibly talented athletes. The math is clear.

2013 CrossFit Games
2013 CrossFit Games

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • I was thinking about the amount of “backlash” the programming had received. Especially in regions where the expected podiums fell short. It’s about being able to perform consistently well, regardless of what is programmed. Sure, the max handstand walk can be one that could go either way, either you are on, or you’re not, one stumble and you’re done… but that is the beauty of CrossFit. I enjoyed watching the regionals, and look forward to seeing the games. I love your attitude on competition, you can’t change the program, so get on board with it and go. Keep at it girl!

  • Thanks for the comment Hope. I think that’s been a huge part of it, people expect to see the usual suspects on the podium. I guess if they’re not up there some see it as indication of a flawed program.

    • While I can admit I admire and love our CrossFit athletes of years past who have valiantly competed… the new kids coming up are incredibly talented and dedicated. One of the things I enjoy most is seeing that “strengths” will only get you so far in placement for one event… it’s the consistency for every movement over all events that crowns the champ. Good luck at Games Elisabeth! We’ll be cheering for you!

  • Terrific article Elisabeth. You are spot on, crossfit is supposed to be varied, difficult and unpredictable just like the average persons life. Crossfit has taught me that everyone has a weakness. What separates us from other training regimes is rather than disguise our faults, we are taught to celebrate your awareness of them and then crush them! Good luck in the games!!! Crossfit Instinct will be rooting for you.

  • Thank you for writing this. Absolutely on point. The ability to face any challenge is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from CrossFit and to see a lot of people not get it, and for them to even say that certain athletes are at an unfair advantage because of this year’s programming, absolutely bugs me. Best of luck of the rest of the Games, we’ll be watching from Singapore and rooting for you till the end!

  • Excellent article on what Cross-Fit is really about. Cross-Fit reminds me a bit about the training one does in Martial Arts. If one is taking a Martial Art to learn how to defend yourself, you must train in many different ways because you never know when, how, or type of environment an attack on oneself can occur. You have to be ready for anything. An attack could happen on ice, in the rain, on a sunny day, in a dimly lit alley, uneven terrain or a crowded train station. If you always train barefoot on a carpet, you will not be prepared for the real world.

  • That was Kevin Bacon’s Captain Jack Ross character who said, “I represent the United States without passion or prejudice.”

    Sorry, I watch that film several times a week.

  • When I first started watching the games I didn’t understand why someone who may have taken first place in some events could fall behind someone who hadn’t taken first in any event. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a couple of years now, and I finally understand their definition of “fittest” is that better you are good at everything than great at just a couple things. It makes perfect sense. During difficult WODs with a time cap, my coaches often say they’d rather see us get through as many elements as possible than only do the RX reps for a couple of them, so if we have doubts about being able to RX in the time allotted, cut the reps in half, and then start over if you have time. They want to see us develop a well rounded skill set.

  • When you give 1/7 of the points to a specialty skill event, like the handstand walk, the programming is not testing gpp. The handstand walk should have been averaged with the hang snatch, for example, to balance the score. This is not effective programming to determine the best gpp athlete. It is as biased as the 1/2 marathon row. I am a swimmer. I would love to have 1/7 of the points for a swim event. Say, a 1000m swim for time. It would only take a relatively skilled simmer less than 15 minutes, but most other would sink. But would that test GPP in that event? No. So, what you will see at the games this year is smaller, gymnastic skilled athletes that do not represent true gpp. Leaving out balanced gpp competitors.

    • Greg, very well written and analytic comment. But I’ll respectfully write a rebuttal to what you’ve written. >>> Way before there was Crossfit, there was the Chicago Bears Walter Payton, he’d walk the length of the football field on his hands no problem, and he could throw a football 100 yards as well which very few can do. He’d do fast multiple reps with 400# on bench easily. And of course he’d sprint up that steep legendary hill for hours every day every summer all summer long. Those who tried to sprint it with him puked, literally. Prototype of the “well rounded” athlete, he could do it all. Played every game of every season in his long career because he was never injured, he was never injured because his training was intense, varied, balanced. He was only 200#, 28# waist and we all remember him mowing down huge opponents who often smply could not tackle him. I’d love to see Walter Payton at his prime train just one year CF style, he’d probably be on the podium at regionals headed to the Games. About the handstand walk favoring the smaller lighter athlete; Elizabeth is probably taller and heavier than the average female regional athlete yet she owned that event. Rope climbs ? One of the best rope climbs in mens regionals belongs to a former basketball player not a gymnast who destroyed that event, Elijah M I think, Many other examples. And I’m wondering if Elisabeth feels that the depth of talent in the ’14 regionals is greater than ever before ? Seems like especially the women at the elite level are improving in strength and everything else by leaps and bounds.

  • Thats what crossfit is about, being prepared for anything and everything. crossfit doesnt and never has catered for one particular type of athlete and there abilities, you have to be well rounded in everything. im glad the regionals have shaken things up a bit, lets not fall into the trap of “oh but he/she is past champion and they should be in.”

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