ParaWOD 16.2: The struggle is real


Over the last few years, I have avidly watched the CrossFit Games with my wife. I think because you’re literally watching the best of the best during the final competition, it is easy to miss the level of ‘elite’ that is on constant display. It is only until you try it for yourself where you begin to see the chasm between your own abilities and those athletes who are vying to contend for the championship. For example, you watch a guy like Dan Bailey roll through 16.2 and it gives you a radically superficial belief in yourself that, “Hey, I think getting into round 5 is a realistic goal for me.”

And then you start the workout.

The CrossFit Open is perhaps the only thing I’ve encountered in life that is both empowering and humbling at the same time, and 16.2 was no different.

For your recollection, the official 16.2 workout is thus:

  1. 25 toes-to-bars
  2. 50 double-unders
  3. 15 squat cleans, 135 / 85 lb

Time cap: 4 minutes.

If you finish that round, you get another 4 minutes to do the same number of T2B and DU’s, then your squat clean weight goes up while the reps go down.

The Rx adaptation by WheelWOD is thus:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 12 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 55lbs (Male) /35lbs (Female)

If completed before 4 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 10 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 65lbs (Male) /40lbs (Female)

If completed before 8 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to:

  1. 15 (Male) / 7 (Female) Hanging Chair raises
  2. 50 (2-4-1) Battle ropes = 100 singles
  3. 8 Barbell Cleans from Floor, 75lbs (Male) /45lbs (Female)

And the weight keeps going up while the reps go down, all the way up to 20 minutes.

As I watched the WheelWOD demo, two things occurred to me.

  1. I’ve never done two of those movements (hanging chair raise, barbell cleans from floor);
  2. I can totally get into the 3rd round of this.

Why my confidence was so high, I have no idea. The hanging chair raise requires a group of muscles that I simply don’t have – abdominal and hip control. Furthermore, the barbell clean started at the weight I usually finish at – 55 lbs. Why I thought I could not only do 12 reps of that, but also include 2 more rounds afterward, well, chalk it up to the adrenaline and/or lack of sleep. Oddly enough, the one thing I didn’t worry about too much was the battle ropes.

Which brings us to the workout.

Let’s start with the positives. After practicing the movement one time, I discovered that I can actually do the hanging chair raise. Thanks to Impavidus Gym and their amazing gymnastics coach Tracey Kloes, over the past few weeks I’ve acquired much greater shoulder and torso movement, which allowed me to create a kipping motion that enabled me to do this movement.


My ability to do this movement is a 100% victory for this workout. As a paraplegic with somewhere around a T5 or T6 injury, I shouldn’t be able to do this. Yet with the focus on gymnastic movement and shoulder mobility, this turned into the easiest movement for me during the workout. Things were looking up.

Until the battle ropes. Oh my.

Perhaps it was my own hubris, but I wasn’t worried about those. It may be only because I had actually done them before, so I knew what was expected. Well, I was wrong on both counts, because I hadn’t done them to the degree that this workout requires, nor did I really understand what to expect. The battle ropes were my undoing.

Sometimes, you have to deal with your equipment limitations. Our gym has plenty of climbing ropes, but no actual ‘battle ropes.’ So I have no idea whether the gear I was using were appropriate for the movement or not. What I do know is, in order to meet the 20′ rope requirement, I had to tie two ropes together, and this made the movement incredibly difficult and fatiguing, as the knot in the rope added additional weight to the movement as well as affected the physics transfer of energy. The result was not only that too much time was taken, but I had little energy left for the clean movement.

As I mentioned, the starting weight of 55lbs is usually the weight I stop at during normal CrossFit classes. The reason why is that I have no muscle control over my lower back or any hip extension. The movement is purely a pull from my lap and the hope to get the barbell high enough to bring my elbows underneath.

With the energy and time I had left, I only got 4 reps on this final round.

Afterward, my coaches talked to me a bit about the purpose of the Open – for the vast majority of us, its purpose is to test us. How can we handle a workout going in cold? With no preparation? For new and different movements? How can it test us in the areas where we aren’t prepared? Where will we surprise ourselves?

With that in mind, as frustrating as the latter two movements were for me in 16.2, the first one is a revelation. Not only that, but all three movements will change my workouts going forward. The toe-to-bar will become the chair raise, double-unders will become battle ropes, and the clean will always start from the floor.

Much thanks to Impavidus Gym and Coaches Doug Naquin, Jason Kitchens, and the dashing Brad Bunde for all of their help.

On to 16.3!


ParaWOD: how to clean it and jerk it, big wheelie style


It has been a while since my last post here at ParaWOD, but I assure you it is not because I haven’t been working out; rather, it has more to do with the fact that the workouts have mostly involved things I’ve already written about, and in this space I’m more concerned about adapting new ideas and new movements.

One of the movements that is a clear challenge for wheelchair users is Olympic lifting. Dead lifts, snatch, power cleans, and clean & jerk are all movements that require some thought into modification. To be sure, you can always switch from barbells to kettlebells and do it one arm at a time, and that’s great. However, there is something distinctive about moving the barbell that has impact on the totality of your body strength, balance, and core stability, so we encourage it whenever possible.

The biggest challenge comes out of the clean movement which, if you watch the normal movement, you can see that we don’t have the ability to do about 75% of what is going on. There is simply no approximation for getting the drive and mobility that comes from the legs and lower back. Furthermore, if you lack control over your abdominal muscles, as is the case with me, that weight is going to tend to pull you forward, instead of you pulling the weight back and up.

What I’ve been working on with my coaches at Crossfit Impavidus is to start the bar from boxes that are approximately level with my legs in a seated position. Rolling the bar forward on the box, I then use my extended arms, shoulders, and what control I have over my torso to reverse the tension and pull the bar back toward my waist, which goes right into an upward pulling motion.

Here is my attempt at a reasonably heavy for me weight of 55lbs:

The natural tendency, especially with lighter weights, is to use an overhand curling motion to get the weight up to your chin. However, this is not the clean movement we want; instead, the bar needs to come up the chest and into the shelf your shoulders make when your elbows go up. This shelf gives you a moment to pause, check your grip, and then ‘jerk’ the weight, or press it over your head, which should be the easiest part of the entire combination.

The biggest encouragement I can offer to you is that these combinations of body movements are the hardest for anyone to master, regardless of adaptability/scalability. You have to train your muscle memory to work in a specific sequence, even if you’re strong enough to power up the weight with just your arms. Practice the pulling movement again and again, working to pull as hard and as high as possible so that the weight goes up and you can naturally curl your elbows underneath. Getting the movement right will ultimately allow you to master the heavier weights, as well as make your Crossfit classmates envious of your wheelchair-bound power-lifting effervescence. Which is nice.

Many thanks to Impavidus coach Doug for his training!

ParaWOD Benchmark #4: Elizabeth


We’re nearing the end of Benchmark Week at Crossfit Impavidus, and today’s benchmark was another new one for me, but very adaptable.


21-15-9 reps of:
Clean 135 pounds
Ring dips

For this workout, the clean movement is going to be the most difficult for someone who is sitting down. I’ve written in the past that you can accomplish this with kettlebells, either one arm at a time or with both. Another adaptation we can do is with the barbell, starting with it resting on your knees and pulling it up in the clean motion until you can bring your elbows underneath. This is a new movement for me, but I wanted to stick as close to the RX workout as possible.

21-15-9 reps of:
Clean 135 pounds = barbell clean (33lbs)
Ring dips = ring dips, and yes, we do it strict

The clean is going to be a challenging motion with the bar if you lack core muscle control, as I do. As the weight increases, consider either a torso strap or having a spotter hold you in place. Also consider that since the weight is starting on your knees to be careful not to load it up too heavily. Instead, consider placing the weight on boxes to keep your knees free from damage.

Here is my motion-in-progress, as I learn how to get used to this movement. The key for me is to keep the bar as close to the torso as possible in a pulling motion, getting it as high as possible before pivoting the elbows underneath. The tendency will be to just want to flip it up in an inverted curling position, but that’s not the motion we want.

To get a better look at what the clean motion looks like by someone much stronger and more advanced than I, watch Zach Ruhl’s clean + press movement to see how he gets the bar into position.

For the ring dips, if you can get up into position out of the chair, you will experience the most benefit of the ring movement because of how the rings force you to activate all of your stabilizer muscles. If this motion is too difficult, a dip station or matador is an easy replacement.

I finished the workout in 4:39, a solid starting benchmark, but next time, the weight must go up!

Thanks to Coach Lori for her video work!