CrossFit Open 2016 adaptive 16.3: best effort yet

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During the first two weeks of the 2016 CrossFit Open, I have been presented with challenging movements that I’ve never done before. I did them the best that I could, but knew that without any practice in them, my body was fighting a learning curve as well as the strength and skill involved in the movements. For 16.3, it was the first workout where I actually felt like my body had some familiarity with each of the adaptive movements prescribed by WheelWOD‘s adaptation. Because of this, I was able to dedicate most of my focus on the thing that is hardest for me while not worrying too much about the things that are easier.

If you recall, the Rx workout for 16.3 is:

7 minute AMRAP

  • 10 power snatch (75/55)
  • 3 bar muscle-ups

The WheelWOD adaptation is:

  • 10 power snatch (55/35)
  • 3 chest-to-bar pull-ups
  • 3 ring dips

I admit that when I first saw 16.3 revealed I was worried that WheelWOD, instead of assigning the bar muscle-up, which is only attainable by the most elite of wheelie athletes, would instead substitute the ring muscle-up, which while much more attainable, is still a bear.

Fortunately, the adaptation involved the breaking apart of the two muscle-up components – the pull and the push. The chest-to-bar wouldn’t be easy without the use of a kip, but at least it was reachable if I took my time.

The hardest part, similar to 16.2, would of course be the power snatch. In 16.2, I barely got into the power clean due to my struggles in the first few minutes of the workout. This time, I’d be starting things off with the snatch. But just like with the clean, the hardest part for me is to generate enough pull on the bar without the availability of abdominal muscles or hip drive. Furthermore, I had only started learning the snatch six months ago, and it was always at lighter weight (35lbs, 45lbs), and starting off of 30″ boxes. How would I do starting from the floor, and at a weight I had never really tried before?

No time like the present to start trying!

As you can see, my motion from floor to overhead is slow. Each rep took approximately 10-15 seconds, which means that the entire 10 rep set took anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 full minutes. As I look across the leaderboard for the WheelWOD competition, it is easy to see that the men and women who can do this movement the best are the ones with the best scores.

For me, pulling up the bar, repositioning my hips, and then pulling the bar as far as I could to get my elbows under it was a strain on my upper body abilities. That said, prior to this workout I had never done reps at 55lbs before. So while I was slow on this movement, which probably cost me at least another round, the weight itself was a personal record (“PR”). And as the debonair and affable Coach Brad Bunde said afterward, “You just did 30 reps at your PR weight. That’s really good.”

After the snatch came the semi-difficult move, the chest-to-bar pull-up. The key with this movement for this workout is that the bar has to actually touch your chest anywhere from the collarbone down. While I know I can get up high enough with the pull-up, actually creating contact might cause problems. And in fact it did, as in the first set, I rose up high enough but failed to touch the bar. No rep.

However, CrossFit competition is, by and large, a workout regimen of range of motion and not pure technique. With that in mind, I quickly solved my problem:

Switching from a pull-up (mostly back muscles, but pulls you at an angle) to a chin-up (mostly biceps, which burn out much faster), I was easily able to pull the bar into my chest and move on.

Moving on to…the ring dip.

The ring dip is one of the easiest movements I can do, and here is a great opportunity to express my love for all things rings. My assertion is simple – if you have limited range of motion in your legs, there may not be a better workout tool for you than getting strong on the rings. It will train you more in your strength, stability, balance, and explosive power than any other tool available.

In the end, I’m still hovering around the same spot I’ve been across the WheelWOD leaderboard, but for the first time I am satisfied with my 2016 submission. I can’t wait for what’s next.

(As an aside, this has been a phenomenal week for the CrossFit Open at Impavidus Gym. The Rx programming which involved the bar muscle-up had a lot of athletes questioning their ability to get past a score of 10. And yet, every single day, I saw groups of coaches and athletes clustered around the rigs, working through the muscle-up progression. In the end, we had so many people defeat the bar muscle-up for the very first time, and is such a joy to watch. It is what makes our gym and so many other CrossFit gyms so special. And hats off to the Games’ programmer Dave Castro, who has endured his fair share of criticism in the past. He programmed a tough workout in 16.3, but whether intentionally or not, created an environment where many athletes saw victory over a difficult movement for the very first time.)

Many thanks to all of the people who helped me with this workout – Kim Evers, Ariana Tkachuk, Brad Bunde, Colleen Taylor, and Doug Naquin. 

ParaWOD Benchmark #5: Cindy takes a bite of me


We have reached the end of Benchmark Week at Crossfit Impavidus, and we end it on a doozy. The entire week, we have focused on speed with limited repetitions:

  1. Fran (4:46)
  2. Annie (11:11)
  3. Jeremy (5:55)
  4. Elizabeth (4:39)

But not for #5. This one goes for 20 minutes, as many rounds as possible (AMRAP).


Complete as many rounds in 20 minutes as you can of:
5 Pull-ups
10 Push-ups
15 Air Squats

While I had trouble finding what the record is exactly for this workout, the Internet tells me that it is somewhere in the vicinity of 38 or 39 rounds, which means that the record holder is cycling through this sequence twice nearly every minute. I figured that setting my sights on one cycle per minute would be a good place to start, since I’ve never tried this one before.

The adaptation for Cindy is straightforward, but we need to figure out a replacement for the air squats. Medicine ball crunches are my typical go-to for this adaptation since they can be done quickly.

5 Pull-ups = Pull-ups, and yes we do it strict
10 Push-ups = Push-ups with raised legs for maximum depth
15 Air Squats = medicine ball crunches (14lbs)

More importantly however, the challenge for the adaptive athlete is to be able to go from one movement to the next quickly so there is minimal downtime. Once you have spent some time getting comfortable with the movements that Crossfit requires, the transition is the element that warrants the most attention.

I solved this problem for Cindy by doing everything from the floor. We set up a stacked mat below a barbell on the rig. The bar would be the pull-up bar and I would attempt the pull-ups from a sitting position on the mat. After the pull-ups, I could easily transition to push-ups with my knees raised on the mat, and then finally pivot again to my back to do the crunches.

(Side note – one small thing I do for these types of workouts is I take off my sneakers. It prevents my feet from getting caught and stuck while I slide around from position to position.)

Here is a video that we took to demonstrate how we created a self-contained station that allows for this fast transition from one movement to another:

I finished this benchmark attempt at 17 rounds + 5 + 10, falling short of my 20 round goal but having a better understanding of the workout. I believe that the one mistake I made that held me back is that I should have used a lighter medicine ball (10lbs) because the air squat movement isn’t about moving weight, but full range of motion. By mid-rounds, I definitely felt like I was moving weight, not simply moving myself, and this movement slowed me down.

Also, my 10 year old daughter knocked out 18 full rounds, so I definitely have something to shoot for!

Great benchmark week at Crossfit Impavidus. Now, let’s do better!

ParaWOD: Fran for everyone


In the basking glow of the 2015 Crossfit Games, my gym Crossfit Impavidus is using this subsequent week as the Week of Benchmarks.

First up, everybody’s favorite speed workout, FRAN.


  1. Thrusters (95lbs)
  2. Pull-ups (chest to bar)

What is great about this workout is that within my own family, now my wife, my 10 year old daughter, and I can all do it at various levels of scaling. My wife completed the workout as prescribed (RX), my daughter did jumping pull-ups and light weight for thrusters, and my modification is this:

  1. Thrusters = shoulder press (65lbs)
  2. Pull-ups = Pull-ups, and yes, we do it strict

Here is a short video of me doing the middle round of my pull-ups:

As you can see, I had my coach hold my feet straight in front of me in order to keep them from swinging and landing awkwardly, which is a concern when I am trying to do so many, so quickly.

My final time of 4:46 was approximately 2 minutes faster than the last time I attempted this workout, which tells me that the next time I attempt it I need to make it a bit harder. I will accomplish this by going up in the weight for the press. While I still don’t think I can do the 45 presses at the RX weight of 95lbs, I should be able to go up to at least 75lbs on my next attempt.

Thanks to Crossfit Impavidus and Coach Traci for helping me set my new PR on Fran!

ParaWOD hearts Helen

ParaWOD had to go on a bit of a vacation as I recently relocated from NJ and my beloved Crossfit Nassau to Northern VA. CFN is the gym that took a risk on me as an adaptive athlete, and through their coaching and encouragement it gave me the confidence to not only improve my quality of life through the workout regiment, but also to create this very site.

My new gym, Crossfit Impavidus, is a worthy successor. Every coach I’ve worked with is excited to see where we can take things next.

And today, the place where we took things was the WOD called HELEN.

This workout is a great one for para-athletes because it is easily adaptive and scalable.’

3 Rounds for Time

  • 400m Sprint
  • 21 Kettlebell Swings (24kg)
  • 12 Pull-ups


  • 400m sprint = 400m sprint. If you don’t have a good chair for moving quickly, consider doing a row for 200m.
  • 21 KB Swings = 21 KB Swings. If you are in a sitting position, your range of motion will be limited. Try to get the KB as far down in front of you as possible, and then raise it up using your deltoids. You won’t have the kick that comes from your hips, but at the very least you will get most of the range of motion.
  • 12 Pull-ups = 12 Pull-ups. Do it strict!

Coach Anna spotted me on the KB swings so I could keep my balance, but for everything else, it was straight-forward. Better yet, this was a great workout for my 10 year old daughter to do as well. We both scaled it, and she managed to finish ahead of me. But we both finished under 15 minutes, which means that this will be a great workout to do again and today’s work serves as a solid benchmark.

Thanks to Coach Anna and Crossfit Impavidus!

Memorial Day: “MURPH” Hero WOD

Hero WOD: “Murph”


It is an annual tradition at Crossfit Nassau to do a special workout on Memorial Day. This annual workout is known to many as “Murph,” which represents two big ideas:

1) The recognition and memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. From the official Crossfit site:

This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he’d named it “Body Armor”. From here on it will be referred to as “Murph” in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is.

Murphy, nicknamed “The Protector,” was awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice in Afghanistan, the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive such an honor since Vietnam. He was the leader of Operation Red Wings, the counter-insurgent mission that claimed the lives of Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Murphy himself. The mission’s only surviving member is Marcus Luttrell, who commemorated the mission in his book, “Lone Survivor,” which was made into a movie last year.

2) The second big idea is that the athletes who choose to participate in Murph get to share, in some very small way, both the memory of this fallen warrior as well as gain an idea of the warrior spirit. Doing a simple workout of course can never emulate that true embodiment, but by choosing to share in a common exercise, especially with fellow athletes, the individual can run next to the memory of a big idea, at least for a little while, allowing it to take hold of yourself so that when you think of the protectors of our nation, you think on it a little more deeply and with greater purpose.

The Workout

(You’d better pre-hydrate for this one)

For time:
1 mile Run
100 Pull-ups
200 Push-ups
300 Squats
1 mile Run

Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you’ve got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.


  • 1 mile run = do it!
  • 100 pull-ups = do it! And do it strict (bar or ring-rows), because you’re a para-athlete!
  • 200 push-ups = do it!
  • 300 squats = requires something that can be done in high volume. medicine ball crunches will do nicely (10lbs)
  • 1 mile run = do it!

The use of a whiteboard is strongly suggested, because if you partition these sets, by midway your brain is going to be scrambled trying to keep track of everything.

For myself, I am cognizant of how much time I lose during movement transitions, so this time I broke it all down into 10 sets:

10 rounds of:

  • 10 pull-ups
  • 20 push-ups
  • 30 crunches

In the end, I averaged about 3 minutes per middle round. Coupled with the mile run before (8 minutes) and after (10 minutes), my total time came to 48 minutes to complete the WOD, an improvement by about 7 minutes from the first time I attempted it 2 years ago.

Remember, the goal is to take this massive workout, figure it out, and make it work. Better yet, find some friends and do it as a team, embodying on some small level the ethos of Murph and his SEAL teammates.

5/22/15 WOD: floor press EMOM, rowing into the weekend

Today’s workout was a focus on continuous, controlled exertion, followed by a 4 round, 3 station WOD.


Volume: 10 min EMOM Pistols

Conditioning: 4 rounds AFAP
250m Row
14 Empty Bar Thrusters
7 Pull Ups


Since I cannot do pistols and have yet to figure out a good approximation for it, we swapped in the bench/floor press (in the words of coach Tyler, “bench more!”). I did a 135lb press for 3-5 reps at a time every minute, on the minute (EMOM), for 10 minutes. Remember to focus on controlled decline and then explosive exertion while using proper bench technique.

Conditioning Adaptation

250m Row = 250m Row
14 Empty Bar Thrusters = 14lb wall ball
7 Pull Ups = 7 strict pull ups

The row is going to be slower than the rest of the group, since I don’t get full leg extension or the power that comes from the legs. For the other two movements, my goal was to do them unbroken, which I accomplished with the exception of the last set of pull-ups, which I had to break down into reps of 4 and 3.

Many thanks to Joe “3/4 Mountain” Villegas for his training and photography.

May 1, 2015 WOD: rows, shoulder press, wall ball, pull-ups


Today’s WOD was a packed affair, but there were lots of good movements that a para-athlete can either do or swap out to make it adaptable:

Strength/ Volume
A. 1-arm Row
B. KB Windmills


10min AMRAP @ 80-90%:
3 Front Squat (wt = Monday’s BS load for 6 reps)
9 Air Squat
15 Box Jump with step down
21 Abmat Sit Ups

rest 7min

10min AMRAP @ 80-90%:
Deadlift x 7 (same weight as FS)
KBS x 14
Double Unders x 21


Phase 1

The 1 arm KB row can be tricky if you don’t have abdominal support, which I personally lack. You can either brace yourself by holding on to something sturdy (like the rig) or you can get a bench or a box and use your off-hand to support yourself. Try both a kettlebell and a dumbbell and choose the one that gives you the greatest range of motion so that you don’t bang into your chair and possibly damage your wheels (or break a spoke, which is what I did!).

The KB windmill movement will be a challenge. This is what it looks like:

From a sitting position, and without lower abdominal muscle control, it is going to be very difficult. The best way to go is to use a light weight and practice the movement going down as far as possible while still being able to return to an upright position. This movement can have real life application, because the better you can do this movement in a chair, the greater your mobility and core strength will be.

Phase 2

A number of the movements in these two AMRAPs will need to be modified, so instead, focus on the goal, which is two successive 10 minute workouts that involve constant work with no rest. Also, it is good to add in movement in and out of the chair, which always has practical application, especially when you are fatigued and need to be able to move your body.

AMRAP 1 (10 minutes)

  1. 3 KB shoulder presses (either simultaneously, or switch arms)
  2. 9 hand release push-ups
  3. 12 medicine ball crunches (heavy – 14 lbs)

7 minutes of rest to set up the next phase

AMRAP 2 (10 minutes)

  1. 5 strict pull-ups
  2. 12 wall balls (10 lbs)
  3. 15 medicine ball crunches (light – 10 lbs)

April 20, 2015 WOD: Press/pull superset, rowing, push-ups, crawling

Today’s WOD was the following:

Strength: superset the following…
A1. Shoulder Press – Men 4-5 reps, Women 6-8 reps
A2. Pull Ups- 5 sets@2012; 2-3 (weighted if you can)

Conditioning: one round for time…
-50 cal row
-40 HR Pushups
-30m farmer’s walk – 2pd/h
-20 Deadlift – Heavy (70-80% 1RM based on experience)
-10 burpee + big barrier jump

Phase 1

Shoulder press requires no modification. You can do this either with a barbell or with dumbbells/kettlebell.  The goal in this today’s workout was lighter weight, fast explosiveness on the way up, and 2 second decline during the negative portion on the way down. I worked to a weight of 95 lbs for these sets.

Pull-ups do not require modification as long as you have access to a reachable bar or rings. The goal in today’s was to make it difficult by using slow, deliberate motions, and adding weight if possible. I personally opted to use rings with a strict false grip (which you can see in the logo) because I am always trying to strengthen my false grip and explosive power in order to contribute to muscle-ups.

Phase 2

Instead of making this a one round for time, we adjusted it so that it was an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) within 12 minutes.


  1. 50 cal row to 20 cal row
  2. 40 hand release push-ups to 30 hand release push-ups
  3. Deadlift eliminated
  4. burpee + barrier jump to crawl + barrier climb

The last one, the crawl + barrier climb, is a lot more difficult than you might imagine, especially if you are beyond pre-teen years. Actually moving your body when you’re carrying dead weight gets very fatiguing very quickly, and puts a lot of stress on the wrists and shoulders. Which makes it a great workout because it is one of the few things that elevates the heart rate and keeps it in the zone. We set up a mat about 10 yards long with a stacked mat in the middle. Getting from one end to the other is tough enough, but then having to actually climb up and over an elevated obstacle takes it over the top. Needless to say, this can be a pretty important life skill for wheelchair bound athletes in case they ever find themselves without one.

(It also helps to have a gym and coaches who remove all sense of personal embarrassment you might feel dragging yourself across the floor. In the beginning, I didn’t like the crawl because, well, I was crawling. But then my coach said, “I’m the coach, so you have to trust in what I’m asking you to do. And if anybody else in the gym has an issue with that, I’ll throw them out.”)

I completed a full 2 rounds within the 12 minutes.