A Guide to Open Gym

Open gym is a great chance to work on your skills, squeeze in a workout when you don’t have a full hour, or focus on a niche area of fitness for a period of time. Open gym can also be where you fitness goes to die. I’m as guilty as the next guy on that last point.

Open gym reminds me of all the ways I’ve wasted my time and gotten nowhere closer to my end goal.

  • Trying to do my own graphic design…ugh.
  • Diagnosing myself with 11 rare diseases. Thanks WebMD.
  • Drafting my own legal documents…not exactly air-tight.

In each of these examples, I relied on my own perceived expertise to circumvent the advice, service, or council of professionals that literally dedicate their entire lives to the practice of one niche thing. In what universe could I do a better job than the experts?

Open gym can be a lot like WebMD. Hell, you have Instagram right? Pretty much anything you’d ever need to know about body mechanics, programming, and physiology can be found right in your feed… or maybe not.

I was at Kelly Starrett’s Movement and Mobility seminar several years ago. An attendee asked: “what’s the best cue for an early arm bend on the snatch?” Kelly quickly replied: “A cue is a historical event, not a mechanical event. A cue represents the relationship between athlete and coach and is delivered at the time the athlete is ready to receive it.”

As an athlete develops, their coach will allow certain mechanical faults to remain while correcting others. In the example of the snatch, it’s not until an athlete sets up properly that we can address bar path. It’s not until bar path is consistent that we can address torso angle. It’s not until we address torso positioning that we can address arm bend. It’s not until we address arm bend that we can go back and address arm positioning as it relates to the hip.

In short: WHAT you do matters very little compared to HOW YOU DO IT. 

The reps, sets, and workout on the whiteboard are insignificant compared to how you approach the workout. Programming means nothing without intent. WHY > HOW > WHAT

How does this relate to Open Gym? At the beginning of the post I mentioned that Open Gym has the potential to be the place where fitness goes to die. This happens when what you do takes precedence over how and why you do it.

Ever thought any of the following?

  • Didn’t do any lifting today. Better get some in.
  • Didn’t do enough cardio today. Better get some in.
  • Didn’t do “abs” today. Better do some crunches.

You get the idea. This represents reactive training. Reactive training prioritizes what over how and why. I can’t remember who first said this, but my favorite quote in strength training is: “Lifting weights won’t make you stronger. Recovering from lifting weights will make you stronger.” You can see how a reactive approach violates this physiological principle.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t utilize Open Gym. It’s an amazing tool to get some “me time”, work on a specific skill, or focus on a more biased approach to fitness. Follow this guide to maximize your time and fitness. I’ve broken the guide into athlete types to help you identify who you are.

I like to do competitions and feel I need some extra work.

Excellent! We program a daily piece of extra work that can be found here: http://crossfitmemorialhill.com/wod We recommend you do the daily WOD with a group first, and then do the extra piece. Nothing beats the competitiveness of a group class. Find your rabbit and go hard on the WOD, recover for 5-10 minutes, and hit the extra work in Open Gym.

I want to get my first ________.

I have a 5 minute rule for acquiring new skills – spend 5 minutes a day (no more, no less) until you’ve acquired the new skill. We have a Pull-Up Program, Muscle-Up Progressions, and other drills to help you nail down your skill. Spend your 5 minutes before or after class. Don’t overdo your practice sessions though – it’ll lead to fatigue, poor practice reps, and frustration.

I’d like to focus on _______ for a period of time.

Training for a marathon, doing a strength bloc, or doing gymnastics for a period of time are all great pursuits. Go into your venture knowing that other areas will suffer, however. Specialists inevitably will have consequences to specialty – body composition change, changes to your metabolism, and affected gains in other areas. We have pre-written programs for pretty much any area of focus. Just reach out to your Crew Captain and they’ll walk you through it.

My schedule is crazy today.

We get it. Sometimes you only have a quick 1/2 hour to squeeze in a workout. Get in here and get it done! Our recommendation is that you follow these guidelines if you don’t have the time to do a class:

  • Do the lifestyle track
  • Keep the weight light
  • Keep the gymnastics very basic
  • Hop on the Assault Bike for 5 minutes, then hit your WOD
  • Take a cold shower after

We didn’t work ______ today.

This is probably the biggest hurdle for people seeking improved fitness – reactive training. Over the course of 2 weeks of programmed group class you will have done enough “leg work,” “ab work,” pressing, and pulling to achieve world-class fitness. Randomly moving weight around will certainly diminish any gains you realized in programmed work. Again, we have plenty of plans and programs available to you if you want to focus on any particular area of fitness.

Takeaway: Open Gym is an excellent tool to grow and maintain incredible amounts of fitness. It’s a great way to squeeze in the day’s WOD quickly and efficiently. It’s also a great place to work through any prehab or rehab assigned by your Physical Therapist. Don’t let it be the place where your fitness dies – have a plan, prioritize the day’s WOD within its intent, and look to your coaches for guidance.