CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive 16.5: feeling good, pay no attention to the red line

shoulder press

The final workout of the 2016 CrossFit Open is over, and as many of you know, it was a grueling repeat of a past workout (14.5). Many of my fellow athletes at Impavidus Gym were around the first time the Open combined thrusters & burpees together, and much to our delight they smashed their previous performances. As for me however, it was my first exposure to such a workout, as well as the WheelWOD adaptation. To recall, the Rx edition of 16.5 is:

21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time

  • thrusters (95/65lbs)
  • bar-facing-burpees

The adaptation that WheelWOD came up with cuts no corners:

21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time

  • strict shoulder press (75/45lbs)
  • Push-up box-over (8 inch platform); to explain, a push-up, a hand walk over a platform, and then back into a push-up

After seeing this workout adaptation, I don’t want to say that I wasn’t too worried, but…I wasn’t too worried. I knew that for the first time in the 2016 Games I could do both movements reasonably well. I can press 75lbs without difficulty, as it is often programmed into our WOD’s at Impavidus. I am also relatively agile moving my body through space, even though I had never done this specific movement (but certainly ask me about the obstacle courses my old coaches at CrossFit Nassau used to create for me sometime!). It was simply going to be a matter of constant movement.

I always game plan the workout the Friday morning that it is announced, and spent a few minutes with Impavidus owner and head Coach Conan about how to do it well in preparation for my workout on Sunday, which coincidentally was Easter Sunday. His primary piece of advice?

You’re strong enough to do this workout, but it’s a lot of reps. You have to stay away from the REDLINE.

What pray tell is the redline? It is easiest understood in car engines. The redline refers to “the maximum engine speed at which an internal combustion engine or traction motor and its components are designed to operate without causing damage to the components themselves or other parts of the engine.”

In fitnesss-speak, it is your optimal output before your muscles start to fail. Essentially, Conan’s words of advice to me were to stay far, far away from that zone early on, even if you know you can do more reps, because if you don’t, your engine is going to break down, and once it is broken, you can’t fix it during the workout.

Right, got it, coach! Let’s do this.

Round 1: 21 reps of strict press, 21 reps of push-up over box.

21 reps up! 21 reps down! Unbroken! I’m going to finish this workout in like 8 minutes!


Then my body hit the floor for the push-ups, and I felt something I wasn’t expecting. Instability in my shoulders. My shoulder and chest platform serve as the core that everything else is built upon. They were wobbling on me. In round 1.


When I finished with the 21 floor reps and went back to the bar, I knew I had made a mistake.

I didn’t heed the redline. And more importantly, I had never taken the time in my workout preparations to even learn where my redline was. I was barely 4 minutes into the workout and all of my momentum, not to mention confidence, was gone. The 18 presses became a struggle, breaking them up first into thirds and then into doubles. The plate platform that I was supposed to be hopping across like a pommel horse was suddenly a life raft that I just wanted to hug and not let go.

The last, most discouraging element to what happens when you breach the redline is that the problems don’t really manifest themselves until the very end. My personal time after the 12 repetition round was a respectable 12 minutes – that is, I had completed 66 of the 84 total reps in 12 minutes. Nearly 80% of the workout was DONE! And yet, because I had driven my tachometer into the red so quickly, the final 18 reps were excruciatingly slow, especially the shoulder press. In fact, when I got to the final two rounds, I was overcome; I started repeatedly failing on my shoulder press reps, unable to even get singles. In the end, the rounds that should have been the quickest took the longest, with the final 3 reps taking over 2 minutes alone.

When all was said and done, I debriefed with my Coach, and the first thing he told me was, “You didn’t stay away from the redline, did you?” No, I didn’t.

But then he said, “As a coach, I would have told you to drop that weight in the 1st round. But since I was your judge in the event, I had to let you go without any coaching, and whatever happens, happens.”

I considered this statement and then realized that in the long run, my coach had done me a favor. Had he told me to drop the weight early on, I would have simply placed my workout in his hands, never really thinking about what it means to manage your energy when you’re in the grinder. But instead, he let me make the mistake, and I felt the repercussions…oh, how I felt them/still feeling them…and when I immediately realized what I had done, I knew I would never make that mistake again. I would learn to respect the redline.

If you think this was a sad moment for me though, you are mistaken.

Here is what I ultimately took away from my 16.5 workout on Easter Sunday.

“The minute you feel like you’re the only one going through it … you’re losing.” —Austin Malleolo

The CrossFit Open is many things, but one thing that is easy to forget is that they are designed to exist within community. To be sure some athletes, either by choice or situation, must go at it alone. But for the vast majority, the goal is to share in the experience and the suffering.

What this 16.5 workout communicated to me loud and clear was that my coach, the owner of the gym, was willing to come out on Easter Sunday and help me set up, video record, and judge my workout. And not just him – his entire family! They were all there to help and encourage and just be around each other. Powerful community.

The second message received is from my other coach and friend Jason Kitchens, who willingly did the Rx workout along side of me. He is able-bodied and had already done 16.5 for his own records, but was still willing to get in the chair (and out of the chair) and go through the movements along with me. He’s a phenomenal athlete, so it is no small thing for my own confidence to go through this 15-20 minute workout and see him struggling with the movements the same way I was. And in my final lesson, I could see Jason knew where his redline was, where I had not. He finished ahead of me in large part because he knew how to manage his energy better than I did.

In the end, despite my struggles, 16.5 was my best workout of the Open. I finished 6th the WheelWOD workout of 16.5, my highest score throughout the 5 weeks.

I’ll have more thoughts in a final Open post-mortem, but for now, today, I can rest knowing that I finished the WheelWOD CrossFit Open in the Rx division.

ParaWOD adaptation: From burpee to chirpee

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 11.51.37 PM

One of the big challenges for the adaptive athlete is to figure out how standard Crossfit movements, such as dead lifts or air squats, can be translated into an adaptive movement. One of the goals of this site has been to find that elusive bridge so that the adaptive athlete can participate in normal Crossfit classes.

In our workout session today, we came up with what I think is a great substitution for one of Crossfit’s staple movements, the burpee. For the uninitiated, this is what the standard burpee looks like:

We have tinkered in the past with using various up-and-down movements to approximate the burpee, but none have really felt right. Getting into and out of the wheelchair from the floor (or a “chair get-up”) involves the right kind of movement, but requires much more strength and muscle control than you’d want for a movement that is supposed to be primarily cardiovascular. By contrast, the dip movement is easier, but almost too easy because the entire body movement aspect is missing.

My coaches at Crossfit Impavidus may have figured out just the right mix between the two. Combining the body movement of getting into and out of the chair with the vertical aspect of the dip movement, we have the chair burpee, or “The Chirpee.” (I know I’m kind of stealing this lesser-used term from another movement; we’ll just roll with it)

Instead of straight dips, the movement begins and ends in the chair with only one dip per repetition. This transition creates both the challenge of controlling your body so you don’t move too quickly, but also a brief pause of rest so that the muscles don’t burn out too quickly. The result is a movement that has high cardiovascular potential and muscle control but without the fatigue. Even better, you can adjust the dip station height to whatever you need in order to get into a vertical position.

Once again, this movement is a great life skill for wheelchair users, since we are often challenged with getting in and out of our chairs to transfer to vehicles, restaurant booths, bathrooms, etc.

Thanks to Coaches Conan, Traci, and Mike for creating this movement, and for Coach Traci’s video handiwork!