Affiliate R&D: Running The Open At Your Box

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The benefits to an individual taking part in the CrossFit Games Open are undeniable: learning how to push beyond the pain, becoming acquainted with the competition side of CrossFit, setting personal records for movements you never thought possible. Gyms can reap similar benefits by putting on an Open event at their gym. The format established by HQ gives boxes the opportunity to take advantage of the buzz surrounding the Open in order to help them develop a more solidified community. In our experience, the boxes with the best community are usually the most successful.

In light of the upcoming Open we thought it appropriate, as part of our Affiliate R&D series, to find out how the Beyond The Whiteboard community deals with the event. Are CrossFit boxes taking advantage of the CrossFit Games Open each year? If so, what exactly are they doing? We surveyed our gyms about their approaches to the Open to learn more.

The Results

52 verified CrossFit Affiliate owners responded to our Open survey. Here’s what they had to say:

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Survey Takeaways

We were a little surprised, and excited, to see that so many Affiliates promote the Open so heavily. Over 90% of the Affiliates surveyed said they promote the Open moderately or heavily. Below are some of the highlights from the survey.

  • 84% of these Affiliates hold an Open Event each week.
  • The majority of Open Events take place on Friday evenings, with Saturday mornings in a close second.
  • Don’t feel badly if less than 50% of your members decide to do the Open, you’re not alone.
  • 50% provide food and/or alcohol at their Open Events, 50% don’t provide anything.
  • 74% run the Open in a heat format, rather than a normal class format.
  • 96% said that their Open Events positively impact the community at their gym.
  • 77% plan to have less than 5 people at their gym take the judges course.
  • 83% plan to let regular members judge each other.
  • 90% said it’s worth it for other gyms to offer Open Events.

We also asked owners if they had any advice for Affiliate owners thinking about running an Open Event at their gym. Most of the advice was positive, but there were some more sober suggestions as well. Here are some of the responses in support of making a big deal of the Open:

“Get together with other gyms for some local throwdowns.”

“[We’ve partnered] with other gyms in the area to co-host open workouts…”

“Stop wondering and just dive in. You’ll figure it out and it is a real fun event. [Your] athletes will get sucked into the spectacle of the games as the Open progresses. Totally worth the little bit of extra work.”

“Emphasis should be on safety and community. With the addition of the scaled division, it should be easier to keep members from trying to do movements or weights they are not ready for.”

“We just encourage all of our athletes to participate and talk it up. It really excites everyone and energizes the community.”

“Encourage everyone to register. We emphasize the community aspect, [over] the competition. A vast majority of our members are everyday people and would be turned off if we just pushed the competition side of the Open. From there, people tend to buy into the challenge of the Open.”

“Encourage everyone at every level”

“Keep it fun.”

“It’s a really great way to get your members more involved in CrossFit and it’s a great way to get members to know each other. [They’ll get to] feel closer and more like a family than a gym.”

“Do it, it creates a ton of energy and buzz for your affiliate, but don’t pressure all members, some are just not competitive”

“Building up the community to be able to compare results within the box is one thing. But being able to compare worldwide is a completely different and potentially more inspiring of a basis for comparison.”

Here are some words of caution when thinking about your Open event:

“The Open has become very competitive the past few years. With standards now that must be filmed to move on to Regionals it would make it very difficult to have the heavy hitters there competing. My experience is that Open Events have lead to more complaints than community togetherness. Advice. Have your Judge’s work 1 maybe 2 heats only. They can become bored and miss clearly bad reps or miss their count very easily which only hurts the athlete. Your judges need to be confident enough to “no rep” a complete stranger as well. If there is an announcer, make sure everyone, EVERYONE, can hear them clearly. Nothing worse than being in a strange box and not [knowing] how much time you have left.”

“We pushed a lot of people to sign up last year that got DQ’d, and it made them upset. So this year we’re not pushing.”

“We are always GLAD when it comes to an end as it totally disrupts life at the box, from programming, scheduling the Open WOD’s, people wanting to re-do their scores, late attendees trying to come in on a day we are not planning to do the Open. Usually way more of a pain in the a$$ than anything, although it is still fun in a peculiar sort of way… we all like suffering together I guess, but the owners feel the pinch the most, UGH!”

“Don’t forget [about] the members who are not interested in the Open”


Our Experiences

In addition to starting Beyond The Whiteboard, we’ve also been operating a CrossFit Affiliate since 2007. That means we’ve been around since the early days of non-qualification for the CrossFit Games, the 2010 “sectionals” experience, and each of the Open years. Along the way we’ve accumulated tons of experience in organizing and running community events at our Box. The Open is one of our biggest events each year. By no means is our method the “best” way or the “only” way, but our weekly Open events have worked very well for us over the years in terms of structure, logistics, and community building. We thought we’d share that method.

Why Do It?

Before diving into the ins and outs of running an Open event at your box it’s important to understand why you might want to consider doing so. An obvious answer is that Open events can help to develop community. Any excuse to get together with like-minded people spawns trust, loyalty, and bonds. The stronger those elements are the more likely members are going to enjoy their overall experience at a box. It also gives members an opportunity to meet members from different time slots. For example, “6 AMers” get to meet “4 PMers”. More connections leads to a more unified gym, which can go a long way towards building a box-wide identity.

The Open is also an opportunity for members to fall in love with CrossFit. Many members, we find, learn more about CrossFit, its culture, its movement standards, its community, during the Open than they have a chance to during the rest of the year. Some will discover a passion for competing. Others will establish goals around specific movements and weaknesses. The more a member loves CrossFit the more they are likely to stay an active, positive member of your gym.

Structure

It isn’t just enough to simply have an Open event at your gym, though. It must be structured in such a way that members enjoy the experience, and are excited to take part. The culture at our gym is one of competition. Year round we encourage members to partake in local CrossFit competitions, our own competitions, and to compete each and every day against themselves and one another during the daily WOD. It all culminates in incredible excitement and anticipation for the CrossFit Games Open each year. As a result, our Open events are typically pretty packed, which makes it even more important to stay as structured as possible. Timely events are the best events.

When?

We devote every Saturday morning of the CrossFit Games Open to performing the Open workouts. Normal group classes on Saturdays (for the rest of the year) run from 8am to Noon. We keep that same time schedule (for consistency’s sake), but we remove the group class component. Members can make their way to the gym at any point between the start time and the end time to complete their workout.

Note: Not everyone can make it Saturday mornings during those times. We also offer special exceptions for certain people on Friday, Sunday, and Monday. They must be pre-scheduled with a trainer. 

How?

Regular group classes are replaced with a continuous heat schedule. Upon arriving at the gym members sign up for heat times that have been written on the board. Heats are dispersed based on the length of the workout and the desired down time between heats. Assuming an 8:20 start time, a 5 minute buffer between heats, and a 10 minute AMRAP, you might set your heats up as follows:

  • 8:20, 8:35, 8:50, 9:05, etc.

A group of athletes will be run through the workout every 15 minutes. The exact number of athletes per heat depends on judges, spacing, equipment, and desired end time.

Warm-up

We don’t run an organized warm-up for members during Open Saturdays. Because the heat system is pretty much non-stop, athletes are expected to warm-up on their own. Many athletes, especially the “competitors”, prefer it this way as each has his/her own rituals they like to go through on “game day”. Some like to take their time. Those particular athletes will show up to the gym and sign up for a heat up to an hour later. Others like to show up and warm-up quickly in order to get the Open workout over and done with.

Judges

We require each of our coaches/trainers (6 people) to pass the Online Judges Course. Those 6 coaches/trainers, along with a select few members willing to volunteer their time for the day, will judge every member during the 4 hour time span. There are pros and cons to this approach. An obvious con is that it takes a toll on the judges. 4 hours is a long time to run 200+ people through a workout, especially when you consider the monotony of counting the same reps and the same movements over and over again. A 5 minute buffer between heats just isn’t enough time to maintain sanity 2 hours in. In an effort to combat the monotony, we try to give our judges as many breaks as possible throughout. That’s where the additional volunteers become useful.

A pro to having our coaches do a majority of the judging is adherence to the competition spirit. Our coaches are strong enforcers of the standards set forth by each Open workout. As a result, more “no reps” are handed out. Why is that a positive thing? We feel it sets the tone for full range of motion by members throughout the year. It’s an awesome learning tool, and, as a result, we couldn’t be happier with how our members have been moving day in and day out. In addition, being sticklers on standards also gives members looking to compete at other local competitions some insights on what to expect.

While having members judge each other may make more sense from a logistical standpoint (83% of surveyed gyms seem to agree), we find that members are less likely to enforce the appropriate standards. Lack of enforcement of the standards leads to poor movement and bad habits for the rest of the year.

Dealing With Regional Hopefuls

The requirement that regional hopefuls be filmed and counted by official judges adds a certain degree of difficulty to the event, but by no means is it a deal breaker. The Open is a great opportunity to showcase the regional hopefuls as part of the community building aspect. Casual members may become more invested in the Open experience because they personally know someone “good” fighting to advance to the next stages.  When possible, have those competitors participate in the event just like everyone else. People will stick around to watch. Having said that, we tend to have our competitors show up near the end of the scheduled Open times (usually 11am-Noon). In addition to finding it easier to do the videos all at once, having the competitors work out after everyone else serves as a climactic, fitting end to the day’s festivities.

The Atmosphere

Our members work hard all year in preparation for the Open, so we try and make each of the Saturday events as awesome as possible. That means providing an atmosphere and environment worthy of the event. Our Open Saturdays consist of lots of food and good/loud music. Typically, those two components, when combined with an appropriate class structure, are all you need to turn a mediocre event into an awesome event. I was surprised to see that 50% of surveyed gyms didn’t have any additional offerings to help set the Open events apart from typical workout sessions.

Food

Each of our Open events are potluck style. Members bring in their favorite Paleo/Zone carbs and fats. Protein is always taken care of by the gym.  A giant table of free food is a great way to keep people hanging out, even long after they’ve completed their Open workout. Members bond over their workout experiences and they get a chance to meet members from different class times.

Music

This is an easy one. Keep it loud and keep it playing non-stop. It also helps to set the tone by lowering the volume during rest periods and raising it during heat times. When the music goes up everyone in the gym knows athletes are about to throw down. It’s an easy way to get the excitement going.

What You’ll Need

If you’re interested in employing a similar structure to your Open events, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Judges – You’ll want at least 5.
  • Food – Bring the protein. You can pick up some chicken/steak from a local eatery. Rotisserie chickens from a supermarket also work really well.
  • Music – Put a killer playlist together. Pandora/Spotify work, but you’ll still get the occasional slow-jam that pops up. Having to switch songs mid-workout is no fun for the athletes trying to stay focused.
  • A Heat Schedule – Write it on a whiteboard and have members sign up for a time.
  • Athletes – Talk about the Open year round. Don’t wait until the final month before it starts. Get the excitement going early and often. The more people to take part, the better.

Member Reactions

Like the 90% of surveyed gyms that agreed it’s worth it to hold Open events, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback from our members regarding our Open events. Are they more work for those running the gym? Absolutely. In this case though, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The positives include:

  • Exposing members to a competition style format for the first time. In many cases, members become motivated to participate in other competitions throughout the year.
  • People from different class times get to meet each other. The more cohesive a gym is, the better.
  • After each Open members develop goals for the ensuing year.
  • The Open is usually rife with Personal Records! People are more motivated than ever during the events. So much so that they push themselves to get their first reps of toes-to-bar, chest-to-bar pull-ups, muscles-ups, etc. What’s more, often times it’s members helping other members that spur the personal records.

Utilize the results from the survey, as well as our personal experiences, to help build your own unique Open experience.  If you’re still on the fence about holding an Open event at your gym, I think this quote from one of our users says it best:

“Stop wondering and just dive in. You’ll figure it out and it is a real fun event and your athletes will get sucked into the spectacle of the games as the Open progresses. Totally worth the little bit of extra work.”