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Everything You Need to Know About the CrossFit Open

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Photo: svetikd / Getty Images

If you've never heard of the CrossFit Open, you're about to. That's because the annual tournament—which has been dubbed the largest fitness competition on Earth—is kicking in to full (kettlebell) swing. Prepare for your feeds to be littered with cultish #CrossFitOpen pics and for every CrossFitter you know to be busy punishing (nay, celebrating) their bodies with challenging workouts.

And chances are you have a lot of questions unless you're a box regular: What exactly happens at the CrossFit Open? How hard are the workouts? And what's the point? (Related: What to Expect From Your First CrossFit Workout)

First, know that CrossFit, Inc. is currently undergoing some major changes. After the 2018 competitive season, Greg Glassman, CrossFit founder and chairman of the board, announced that he was planning to move CrossFit away from competition and toward health. "The miracle at the box is the health," Glassman said in an interview with Morning Chalk Up, a daily CrossFit newsletter. That means that the 2019 season is going to look slightly different than it has in years past. How, exactly, is still unclear, as CrossFit, Inc. has yet to release an official announcement (ugh).

With that in mind, we spoke to CrossFit experts to bring you our complete guide to the 2019 CrossFit Open.

What Is the CrossFit Open Exactly?

Between 2011 and 2018, the CrossFit Open was the first of four stages of competition before the CrossFit Games—a four-day event, usually in August, characterized by strong AF athletes from around the world competing to become the Fittest Woman or Man on Earth. (It's like the Olympics of CrossFit.) You may have seen them livestreamed online or watched the CrossFit Games on major television networks. (Check out how Lauren Fisher prepped for the 2018 Games.)

Anyone over the age of 14 could compete in the CrossFit Open by registering online and paying the $20 fee. Historically, it's been five weeks long and involved one workout per week. The workouts are named for their year and the order they appeared. (Ex: The third open workout in the 2018 season was 18.3, and the first workout this year will likely be called 19.1.)

The workout of the week was released via livestream on Thursday evenings (8 p.m. ET) and involved two athletes—usually former CrossFit Games athletes—performing the workout live. Everyone else participating in the open had until 8 p.m. ET on Monday to complete the workout and submit a score, which got verified with either video proof or sign-off from a certified CrossFit coach. (Related: 11 Things You Should Never Say to a CrossFit Addict)

There was an online leaderboard that grouped athletes according to their sex and age, allowing people from all over the world to see how they stacked up against each other and how much they've improved from previous years. All the workouts are scored differently but are generally based on the time it takes to complete the workout, the weight lifted, or the number of reps completed in a set time. At the close of the Open, 99.9 percent of the athletes go back to their typical WOD routine.

The top athletes, however, were invited to complete an online qualifier (usually in April) to help isolate the very best. Then the top 20 in each division got sent to Regionals in May, and the top five male and female athletes from each region went on to the Games. (See what top-notch CrossFit athletes are eating for breakfast before the CrossFit Games.)

The CrossFit Open 2019

With a plan to restructure the company and de-emphasize the Games (and that top 0.1 percent of athletes), Glassman has decided to change the structure of the competitive season to become less expensive, more sustainable, and ultimately, closer to CrossFit's core mission: To prepare you for the demands of a healthy, functional, independent life and provide a hedge against chronic disease and incapacity.

Here's what was known at the time of publication: The 2019 Open is still going to be five weeks long and open to anyone over the age of 14. It'll still give athletes from Thursday night through Monday night to complete the WODs—but there are going to be some changes too.

First, Regionals and Age Qualifiers (which were for teenagers and athletes over the age of 35) are out. Instead, at the end of the Open, the top 20 men and top 20 women qualify for the CrossFit Games. There will also be new sanctioned events, which allow athletes to travel and compete for a chance to skip the Open and go straight to the Games. But for the average Jane, that's pretty irrelevant.

Second, the Open itself is shifting its vibe to emphasize community and fun, not competition. How? Well, the workout announcements themselves are going to look different (but it's TBD exactly how different). There's also going to be a customized leaderboard that includes the ability to create your own communities using hashtags. And CrossFit is also trying to make an Intramural Open happen. Basically, IO (as I've lovingly nicknamed it) involves creating mini-teams within your box to help encourage camaraderie and teamwork. Sorry, no Blair-and-Serena-style rivalries here.

ICYWW, most coaches and box owners are thrilled for the change. "CrossFit wasn't started for the CrossFit Games. The CrossFit Games came out of athletes being really good at the sport, and from there arose the sport and competition," explains Kayla Tote, co-owner and head coach at CrossFit for the People (CFTP), in Albany, NY. "But the CrossFit methodology and mindset is that the box is like a community health center. The focus is on lifelong health and how well you move. This shift is CrossFit doing what they said from the beginning."

Oh and one more important thing: In 2019, there are going to be two Opens. (Don't worry, after 2019, the Open will only happen once a year). The first one will start in late February (as it has historically). This year it'll run from February 21 through March 25. The second—which will be used to determine who's going to the 2020 Games—will take place in October, where the Open will remain. 

Why You Should Sign Up for the CrossFit Open

If you're reading this, chances are you don't want to go to the Games—but you should sign up for the Open anyway.

According to CrossFit Games athlete, trainer, and the Fittest Woman In America in 2018, Kari Pearce: "The CrossFit Open isn't just for people that are Games-bound. It's a great way for everyone to test their fitness." The Open is a time of year when a lot of people hit one of their lifelong CrossFit Goals: a toe-to-bar, body-weight snatch, double-unders, handstand walk. (I for one, got my first muscle-up during the 2017 Open).

It also gives people a nice way to track their own fitness progress year over year, says Totes. Sometimes people opt out of signing up for the Open because they're worried about not performing well compared to other people. "This really isn't about beating other people, it's about doing the best that you can and tracking your own progress," she says.

You'll likely learn a lot about yourself in those five weeks. "The Open will expose strengths and weaknesses," explains Pearce. Maybe you'll realize that you're stronger than you thought, but your engine needs work. Or maybe you thought you weren't good at gymnastics but do really well in a workout with a lot of pull-ups. "This will give you a good baseline for the next year of training," she explains.

The Open is also a really great way to cement your fit fam. (Did you know that there are legit benefits to having a solid workout buddy?) "It's all about community. There's a lot of cheering," says Totes. "Yes, you yourself are doing the workouts, but you're also rooting for and in awe of what the other athletes in your box can do—and them with you." Basically, for five weeks your #fitfam gasses you the heck up. (Related: The Non-Fitness Reason You Should Work Out While Traveling)

How Hard Are the CrossFit Open Workouts?

Just as there are usually varsity and JV teams in high school sports, there are two divisions in the CrossFit Open: Rx and Scaled. "Rx—which stands for 'as prescribed'—is for more advanced athletes that can do all of the movements and have a good amount of strength. The other option is scaled, which includes lighter weights and movements that are less skill-based," explains Pearce. Theoretically, if you started CrossFit right now, you could jump right into the Open, as long as you scaled the workouts (with your coach's help) to meet your abilities.

"If you're planning on going to the Games, you have to do all of the workouts Rx," she says. Otherwise, the choice to Rx or scale is yours depending on your fitness level.

Totes recommends using the following rule to decide: "Can you do most or all of the movements and weight in this workout safely for at least 75 percent of the workout? If you can't do it safely, go scaled."

Pearce offers a similar sentiment: "You shouldn't try doing a deadlift workout where the prescribed weight is at or very near your one rep max when you have to perform multiple reps." Fair enough. (Related: What This Chiropractor and CrossFit Coach Had to Say About Jillian Michaels' Take On Kipping)

If you don't know which version of the WOD to do, you can always ask your coach, says Brett Wisler, CrossFit Level 1 instructor at Vintage CrossFit in Houston. "Your coach will help you be realistic about what you can do, and steer you towards a version of the workout that makes the most sense."

You won't know what the workouts for the 2019 Open are before you sign up. (In the meantime, you can try this beginner-friendly Crossfit workout at home with just a kettlebell or these 12 WODs that CrossFit trainers love—which could show up in the Open!)

Ready to chug the Kool-Aid? Find one of the best CrossFit boxes near you. Then register online and take a peek at the 2019 rulebook. (And hey, we won't judge you if you want a new pair of shoes to CrossFit in.)

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