The One Strategy Guide for CrossFit Open 15.5 To Rule Them All

Xi XiaNews

As it did last year, the CrossFit Open closes with an event done for time.

First Thoughts & General Comments

This might be my favorite Open workout ever.

It is very balanced as far as height advantage goes – better to be taller on the rower, better to be shorter on the thrusters. The reps are not excessive. It is low skill (not that testing skills is bad!), and there won’t be any “traffic jams” at certain scores on the leaderboard. Far more people will be able to do it as prescribed than the previous workouts. And for the advanced, it is one of the best examples of a true “pure” test of their conditioning. I love this workout.

Make no mistake though, it’s a bruiser, as all the Open workouts have been. Our Competition Programming will include some fun recovery workouts this coming week. After that, we’ll head into two weeks of testing. This is a great time to jump in so that your numbers can be taken into account while we’re constructing a program that fits the needs of the group for 2016.

Movement Considerations


For those of us that have been around CrossFit for a long time, we’ve gotten to see the impressive progression of technique among its athletes. CrossFit athletes these days are amazing olympic lifters, with impeccable gymnastic efficiency, and even great running form.

Somehow, rowing got left behind! While some row beautifully, far too many athletes have rowing form that borders on offensive to the senses.

While it’s going to be difficult to correct ingrained form during a high intensity workout done for time, it’s at least good to be aware of certain issues. By far the biggest flaw I see in rowing form is folks hinging at the hip far too late in the recovery.

You stroke back, and then on the way forward, the order of action should be this: arms come forward, hinge forward at the hips, and then the legs bend. Instead, for many it is this: arm come forward, legs bend, body flexes over knees.

There are several reasons why this is bad (hyperflexed back, anyone?), but as far as getting points goes, it simply makes it tougher to reach forward and get a big long pull out of the chain each time.

If you lean after your knees have bent, you will have a much tougher time getting your arms as far forward as you would otherwise, at least without assuming a posture that resembles a crouching monkey. Okay, rant over.

Beyond major form overhauls, which as I said might best be left for another day if it is a huge adjustment to make, there are a few little things you can do to help you on the rower.

First, practice getting in and out of it. Yes, it’s silly, but it absolutely sucks to be frantically trying to get your foot in the rower while the person next to you slides right in and has already been rowing for 10 seconds by the time you get going.

Second, play around with your damper setting in your warm-up. In general, shorter pieces (and I would count 72 calories as a short piece) benefit from a higher damper setting. Finally, if you’re able, clean the inside of your rower! All sorts of lint and dirt gets accumulated in there, and can affect the drag factor.

As a final note, your judge IS allowed to reset your rower – so let them do so (and make sure they know that you want them to). The best time will be right as you finish your thrusters, or when you have maybe 3 left (if they can manage to watch you and reset it at the same time. Do not reset it before your thrusters, or it could shut off before you get back to it.


Let’s get this out of the way now – wear your weightlifting shoes. There is literally no reason not to if you own some.

Be sure to start each set with a squat clean straight into a thruster. It may seem like power cleaning it and then descending into the squat isn’t that much slower, but if that takes you 2-3 extra seconds, and you break up each thruster set into two, that’s potentially 24 seconds and 40,923,409 places on the leaderboard you could lose.

The thruster is kind of an odd movement, because while most would normally want to front squat with their fingertips on the bar, it is exceedingly difficult to press overhead that way. The solution is to take a half-grip on the bar – it is not all the way in your palm, but not all the way on your fingers.

Do this as well as you can while still maintaining elevated elbows in the squat and contact of the bar on your shoulders. If this movement and position is a problem for you, I strongly recommend the advanced strategy of “mobilizing the crap out of your front rack position” prior to the workout.

Do not make your arms do more work than they have to. Make sure that your hands are outside the width of your shoulders; any narrower will make the movement more difficult. Also, avoid pressing too early. You want to wait until the last possible second to press the bar overhead. If you are starting your press while you are still rising, you will not benefit completely from the power of your legs and hips.


Most CrossFitters are relatively familiar with rowing for meters, less so for calories. Rowing for calories is not quite the same as rowing for meters.

This is an AWESOME article from CTown CrossFit explaining that in detail: Rowing For Distance Versus Rowing For Calories

What you can take out of the article is that there are substantial benefits when rowing for calories to going just a *bit* harder than you might normally, as more power increases your calorie rate exponentially, as opposed to linearly as when going for meters.

For reference (there are more listed in the article), here are some paces in meters and how they compare to calories:
2:40/500 meters = 582 Cals/Hr = 9.7 cals per minute

2:20/500 meters = 713 Cals/Hr = 11.9 cals per minute

2:00/500 meters = 956 Cals/Hr = 15.9 cals per minute

1:51/500 meters = 1178 Cals/Hr = 19.6 cals per minute

1:40/500 meters = 1343 Cals/Hr = 22.4 cals per minute

1:38/500 meters = 1595 Cals/Hr = 26.6 cals per minute

(Notice how a 2 second drop in pace meant over 4 more calories per minute)

This is not to say that you should go all out on the row! The first time I ever rowed in a workout was during Fight Gone Bad, and my first station was the rower. I went as hard as I possibly could in that first minute, and paid the price for the rest of the workout. I remember vividly turning to my judge, and saying something along the lines of, “Oh, that was stupid…”

The lesson is, don’t be like me.

Use the chart above to pick a pace you think will be sustainable. A general recommendation, is to find a calorie rate that is approximately equivalent to your best 2k pace. There is of course some room to move around that, but that is your starting point. Understand that for most people, this will drop off until possibly the last round, but it should not drop off significantly. The warm-up will be a great time to determine your pace – see below for how to go about that.

For the thrusters, there will be huge variation amongst individuals as to breaks during sets. If you can do Fran unbroken, you probably CAN do all the sets without breaking, but it might not be smart to. If you know you can’t do Fran without breaking up the thrusters, you will definitely be breaking these up no matter what.

Here are some ideas based on the make-ups of several different athletes:

Example 1: Can do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k in under 6:50 for a male, under 7:30 for a woman. Do the thrusters unbroken.

– This person has the strength and muscular endurance, along with the aerobic capacity to handle this.

Example 2: Can do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k between 6:51 & 7:20 for a male, between 7:31-7:50 for a female. Break them up as: 17+10, 13+8, 15, 9.

– This person has the strength and muscular endurance, but would burn out too quickly with unbroken reps.

Example 3: Can do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k in 7:21 or greater for a male, 7:50 or greater for a female. Break them up as: 12+9+6, 8+7+6, 8+7, 9.

– This person has the strength and muscular endurance, but needs to substantially break up the reps to avoid redlining.

Example 4: Cannot do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k in under 6:50 for a male, under 7:30 for a woman. Break them up as: 12+9+6, 8+7+6, 8+7, 9.

– This person lacks a bit of strength & muscular engine, but has a big enough engine to recover between sets. Keep in the mind that “breaking up the thrusters in Fran” could mean a million things, so this is very general.

Example 5: Cannot do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k between 6:51 & 7:20 for a male, between 7:31-7:50 for a female. Break them up as: 9+7+6+5, 7+6+5+3, 6+5+4, 5+4.

– This person lacks the strength and muscular endurance, and has to be careful about avoiding redlining too early.

Example 6: Cannot do all Thrusters in Fran unbroken, Rows 2k in 7:21 or greater for a male, 7:50 or greater for a female. Break them up as: 7+6+5+5+4, 6+5+4+3+3, 5+4+3+3, 4+3+2

– This person lacks lacks the strength and muscular endurance, and will have to work very hard to avoid redlining. Breaking up the reps early and often is strongly recommended.


10 minutes Easy Aerobic Work

– Jog, Bike, Row, etc.


5-10 minutes Active Joint Range of Motion Work

– Prioritize squatting motions, front rack and overhead ROM, posterior chain.


Set monitor to Calories:

Row 10 Calories at Easy Pace

Rest 1 minute

Row 10 Calories at Faster Pace

Rest 1 minute

Row 10 Calories at “Game Time” pace

Rest 1 minute

Row 10 Calories at “Game Time” pace again

– On the second Game Time set, adjust your pace accordingly.


Build to a moderate single Thruster in 5 sets or less

– No more than 10 reps total, should take no more than 7 minutes to complete. Just hit something solid and move on.


5 Calories at Game Pace

5 Thrusters 95/65#

Rest 1 min x 3 sets


Rest 5-10 minutes before starting the workout


Additional Notes

Things NOT to do after your final Open event:

– Scour the leaderboard every second of every day.

– Be a harsh critic of yourself.

– Jump right back in to intense training the day after.

– Go on a food binge that makes the guy from Man vs. Food say, “Maybe you should dial it back a bit.”


Things to do after your final Open event:

– Check the leaderboard once on Tuesday or Wednesday.

– Pat yourself on the back for sticking out a truly grueling 5 weeks.

– Take a recovery week or two, and then carefully plot out your training for the next year (or let someone do it for you – like in our Competition program!)

– Have a donut or some ice cream and savor the hell out of it!