How to Program Fitness Training After The CrossFit Open

How to Program Fitness Training After The CrossFit Open

Programming For Your Athletes After The CrossFit Open

How to set your athletes and clients up for long-term success with QUALITY training principles

The CrossFit Open has come to a close. For many CrossFit athletes, it’s the end of the season and the start of their annual journey towards their full athletic potential. However, this can be a confusing and difficult time of year for fitness coaches in which athlete enthusiasm and retention drop precipitously.

Though many athletes are resolved in their determination to improve their fitness for the next CrossFit Open, few coaches understand the basic steps needed to support and guide them. Specifically, a lot of fitness coaches lack confidence around subject matters related to:

  • Program design
  • Athlete consultation
  • Physical assessment

A basic comprehension of these three subjects is critical to the success of any coach. For the purposes of this blog, we want to give you insight into how you can apply these three concepts simply to improve your athlete’s progression towards their competitive ambitions.

Here are the four steps you should take with your athlete’s after the CrossFit Open to ensure their continued growth and development.

1. Allow Your Athletes to Rest

“The first step for a coach is knowing exactly what the athlete needs in terms of recovery.”Director of Coaching Mike Lee

There’s a pervasive culture in many gyms that praise the mindless ‘grind’ mentality. As a result, much of the conversation surrounding the sport revolves around intense training every day rather than a focused effort on recovery.

Recovery is vital to an athlete. It’s simply impossible for the human body to sustain high levels of effort indefinitely. The Crossfit Open is an intense, five week long journey, not a five day event as it may seem to many. The amount of stress this event places on both the mind and body before and after each workout is considerable and needs to be factored into the design of an athlete’s rest period. And, you need to remember that your athletes and clients likely trained (maybe overtrained) a great deal leading up to the five week Open as well. That training is also stressful and needs to be incorporated in the recovery consideration.

We recommend you allow your athletes the chance to recover and rest following the 2018 CrossFit Open. This could potentially mean finding some way to ‘force’ them to get out of the gym and do something unrelated to training. The time spent out of the gym varies from athlete to athlete or client to client and depends on their overall exertion in the CrossFit Open.


However, the ‘grind’ mentality can be difficult to manage. You will often have athletes who are unwilling to take rests because they believe doing so will weaken them irreparably and cause them to lose valuable training time. If this happens to be the case, you can program rest days disguised as training. For example, instead of programming a mile run for time, maybe you program a two-mile jog at a very easy and manageable pace. In this way, you will still be able to ensure the athlete gets the required rest while keeping them content with their own physical progression.

Take a look at some of this recovery work disguised as training below. It should give you some idea of how to structure a post-Open training schedule which emphasizes recovery.

Tennil Reed Training after the open

As you can see, the overall theme is easy movement and recovery work. However some of it is structured and disguised as ‘work’ like the ten minutes of skill work. This keep the athlete active and moving without tiring them out excessively.

Having the athlete jump back into the ‘grind’ mentality immediately after the Open can potentially lead to burnout. If this should happen, the athlete will start to become less consistent with your programming. If the athlete begins to become less consistent, they will lose faith in your coaching ability and will likely leave your services.

Overall, the purpose of an emphasis on recovery after the CrossFit Open is to guarantee the athlete consistently tackles and obeys their training program effectively in the long run. It also presents an opportunity for the athlete to reflect on their progression and what they want to focus on next.

“One of the most important elements of the recovery period is that it gives the athlete a chance to reflect and learn. Without reflection, it’s doubtful that the athlete will make any improvements in the following training year.”OPEX HQ Coach Matt Connolly

2. Speak With Your Athletes

Open and honest communication between the athlete and the coach is critical to the success of both individuals. It’s especially important to have a conversation with clients or athletes who’ve made the CrossFit Open a specific benchmark in their fitness journey. Conversations surrounding their performance in events like the CrossFit Open can provide valuable insight to the coach about the athlete’s shifting priorities, ambitions, and goals.

“Your consultation should give you enough information to connect them to whatever their goal is from a coaching perspective.”Director of Coaching Mike Lee

Don’t allow the conversation to become shallow with too much emphasis placed on metrics relative to their CrossFit Open performance. The purpose of any coach/athlete consultation is to connect with the human being on an interpersonal level so that you can better understand what drives them.

You can do so by asking questions. However, you need to ask the right type of questions in order to get the best response and deepen the conversation. Try asking the athlete “How did you perceive you did this year?” instead of “How well did you do this year?” This type of question provides the astute coach with valuable insight into how the athlete thinks about their own athletic performance. This is something bare numbers can’t tell you.

“Coaches are too excited to talk about their client’s power clean personal record and not getting deep enough with a client to create the connection necessary for them to be honest about why they want to improve in the CrossFit Open.”Director Coaching Mike Lee

Remember that an athlete’s goal often changes. If you aren’t paying attention you may miss out on their developing interests. This leads the athlete to have low consistency with your training program because it hasn’t evolved to meet them where they are at or what they want. If this happens, you will quickly lose that athlete.

The framework of any coach/athlete relationship is built on three things: competency, caring, and consistency. In our coaching consultation program, we call it the Triangle of Trust. It is the careful balance of these three things that creates a truly powerful and productive relationship between the coach and the athlete.

Take a look at the triangle below along with its definitions and see if you are adhering to the principles of a sound relationship with your athletes.


Merriam-Webster defines competency as “having requisite or adequate ability or qualities” and “having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way.”

Competent coaches aren’t just intelligent and book smart, they put theories into action. However, they also respect the limitations of their knowledge and experience to produce results for their athletes. In what ways have you demonstrated that you are competent in your abilities to your athlete?


Every human wants to feel loved, respected, and appreciated for who they are. This is an undeniable fact. It’s your job as a coach to deliver that to the athlete as a fitness coach.

However, there is such a thing as caring too much. Coaches who care too much usually don’t set personal boundaries on their time or privacy and eventually grow to resent their choice of career and their athletes. Demonstrate you care, but don’t let that care consume your view of self.

Have you demonstrated your commitment to the relationship with your athlete? Have you shown that you care about their goals and ambitions?


The best coaches are true to their word and respect their athletes time. A consistent coach is one who always shows up on time, delivers exactly what they said they would, and provides feedback in a way that lets the athlete know the coach is taking care of them.

Are you following through with what you say? Are you making promises that you can’t keep? How have you demonstrated your consistency to your athletes?

3. Assessment

An assessment, if conducted correctly, provides the coach with a current status update as to the level of fitness of the athlete. Assessments should be conducted in regular intervals throughout the year to determine whether or not your program is actually working correctly and producing results.

One of the benefits of having a athlete in the CrossFit Open is that it provides an excellent benchmark if the athletes goal relates to their performance in the competition. If this happens to be the case, you should have all the information you need to construct the next phase of the athlete’s programming.

You should be requesting videos of their performance in each of the five workouts in the CrossFit Open and asking them about how they perceived their performance in the CrossFit Open. It could shed some light on some nagging mobility or strength issues that are holding them back from even greater leaps of athletic achievement.

For example, take a look at one of the workouts your athletes and clients did in the 2018 CrossFit Open. Recall that 18.3 was:

Two Rounds for Time
Time Cap: 14 Minutes

100 Double-Unders
20 Overhead Squats

100 Double-Unders
12 Ring Muscle-Ups

100 Double-Unders
20 Dumbbell Snatches

100 Double-Unders
12 Bar Muscle-Ups

Men perform 115-lb. Overhead Squat, 50-lb. DB Snatches
Women perform 80-lb. Overhead Squat, 35-lb. DB Snatches

This workout demanded a great deal of upper body muscle endurance and excellent double-under technique in order to perform well. If your athlete didn’t perform well in this workout, you already know what the athlete needs to work on next and what to prioritize. In this case, the athlete would need more double-under skill work, more double-under training volume, as well as some upper body muscle endurance work leading into the CrossFit Games.

Dissecting each of the CrossFit Open workouts with a keen eye will provide you with the exact direction you need to take the programming of your athletes. One thing you should avoid doing at all cost is retesting too soon after the CrossFit Open. It’s simply unnecessary and a waste of time and energy on the athlete’s behalf as well as your own. You should have all the information you need to determine what ‘fitness characteristics’ need to be improved moving forward.

4. Chart Their Path Forward With a Well Designed Program

“A lot of time coaches over-complicate the planning process. They get too intricate with the characteristics that need to improve that they forget to go back to the goal.”Director of Coaching Mike Lee

Designing the fitness program of the athlete is the last step, not the first as many novice coaches would believe. The program should take into account the consultation and assessment of the athlete. Essentially, the consultation and the assessment provide the ingredients necessary to fabricate the full training program after the end of the CrossFit Open season.

Programming should always follow a set of guidelines that determines its overall structure. Rather than slap random movements together in a random pattern, we ensure that each of our athletes have an accumulation phase, an intensification phase, a pre-competition phase, a competition phase, and a deload phase.

An Accumulation Phase of training typically has a higher amount of volume with lower intensity and weight. All the movements selected are relevant but they aren’t specific. For example, instead of having the athlete do an Olympic clean, the coach may program bent over rows with a dumbbell instead. Think of these phases as bodybuilding in nature.

An Intensification Phase of training typically has a lower amount of volume with a higher intensity and weight. All the movements selected are specific to the CrossFit sport. This is where your traditional movements like wall-balls and burpees come into play as the athlete begins to dial up intensity in preparation for the CrossFit Open.

A Pre-Competition Phase of training reflects the true nature of the Sport of Fitness. It’s chaotic, with a great deal of volume at heavy weights.

A Competition Phase is exactly what it’s name implies. In the case of the CrossFit Open, this means the programming that surrounds each of the five events in the Open. Though it may be chaotic in nature, it’s completely by design and intentional to reflect the Sport of Fitness.

A Deload Phase is the phase your athletes should currently be in now if they competed or participated in the CrossFit Open. It’s marked by lower volume and intensity to allow the athlete a chance to adapt to the previous training and recover. In CrossFit, it’s very typical to see a lot of coaches and gyms skip this phase entirely in order to fit in with the ‘100% effort every day’ crowd that CrossFit HQ encourages.

Phases of training

Take a look at an example of how training might be structured for a athlete with a CrossFit Open related goal with these principles in mind.

April 6th – 12th

Deload Phase. The athlete is completely off and away from the gym and focused on recovery and blood flow.

April 13th – April 20th

Accumulation Phase #1
Accumulation phase one is a little bit of training with low intensity and volume.

April 21st – April 25th

Intensity Phase # 1

April 24th – May 11th

Testing #1

May 11 – July 15th

Accumulation Phase #2 . The coach should build the athlete’s base of support in the squat, deadlift and press. After that is accomplished you can build the olympic snatch and clean. Accumulation phase 2 is mechanical and structural work with easy aerobic work. Use low percentages in olympic work with no maxes. Ideally it should be up to 77-80% max in anything for skill based work to allow the athlete to adapt and grow.Strength work should become a base support for the athlete. Ensure the athlete has a balanced structure to build volume. This means that you use movement patterns like the: squat, push upper, pull lower, pull upper, Repeating these movement patterns consistently will help the athlete accumulate volume and ensure adaptations are created.

July 10th – July 15th

SHORT Intensification Phase #2

July 16th – July 20th

Peak into Testing Phase #2

July 16th – 23rd



July 10th – July 15th

SHORT Intensification Phase #2

July 16th – July 20th

Peak into Testing Phase #2

July 16th – 23rd


July 24th – August 8th

Accumulation Phase #3

August 8th – August 23rd

Intensification Phase #3

Intensification phase three includes mixed aerobic power work of various time domains. Coaches should add grinder aerobic and alatic work twice a week for a muscle endurance build. The last two weeks of this phase involves lactic endurance sets twice per week to prepare the athlete to physically peak.

August 24th through Sept 8th

Testing Phase #3

Sept 9th – 12th


Sept 13th to Mid October

Accumulation phase #4

The coach should continue to add volume from the first accumulation phase. This phase involves higher total and percentage work based on their one rep maxes. The coach should also consider adding some static work and holds to replace the AM aerobic sessions. Ideally this phase should be structured in way that emphasizes squatting, upper pulling, and bending upper push twice a week. November Intensification Phase #4 This phase involves maximum snatch and clean attempts once per week in addition to heavy squats and bench press sessions once or twice a week. The last two weeks of november are sport style type training sessions with an emphasis on ‘for time’ workouts. The athlete takes the last three days off in november. December into first week of Jan Accumulation Phase # 4 This phase is very similar to phase one. However, it differs in that this phase involves a bit more work and intensity than the first one. January – February Sports Specific Phase #1 This is where your traditional CrossFit sport training comes into full swing, about three months before the start of the CrossFit Open.

Despite how simple this all may seem, taking these four steps after the conclusion of the CrossFit Open with your athletes and athletes will set them up for an excellent training year.

Learn more about programming specifically for the sport of competitive Functional Fitness with James FitzGerald’s latest course Mixed Modal.


CrossFit® is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. OPEX Fitness’s uses of the CrossFit® mark are not endorsed by nor approved by CrossFit, Inc., and OPEX Fitness is in no way affiliated with nor endorsed by CrossFit, Inc.

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