How I Won The 2017 CrossFit® Open at 44 Years Old

Brent here - one of the WODprep Coaches. Just to clarify, I didn’t win the CrossFit® Open (Mat Fraser & Sara Sigmundsdóttir did). However, I did win the Open on a very personal level, and it’s something any of us can achieve. 

CrossFit Open Tips

In 2017, I finished 43rd overall in Canada East. That's down from 182nd the year prior. I finished 4th in my box, down from 27th the year before. This put me in the top 5% worldwide.


How did I make such a big leap in the course of one year? It might surprise you, but my results didn’t come from adding tons of days, volume, or weight to my training. Rather, it all came from a shift in my approach between the ears. I’d like to share some CrossFit Open tips and takeaways that can serve you well as we dive into this 2019 season.
how to do well in the crossfit open

For me, this was the the best year over year improvement since starting CrossFit® all the way back in 2011. As I’m sure you know, most people's significant gains come in earlier years. Not me. Probably because the strides I made after the 2016 Open were mental as much as physical.

For the 2016 Open, I couldn’t string together 3 kipping Toes To Bar without losing my rhythm. Those double kips killed my core and my hands. Also, my double unders capped out at 5 in a row. Painful

CrossFit Open Tip #1: Adopt A Beginner's Mindset

First, I learned to get comfortable with messing up in front of my classmates and coaches. Under-performing was crippling me. For no other reason than saving myself from embarrassment.

I hated not being able to do Rx movements. I’m sure a lot of you reading this can relate to that. A big roadblock that came up was looking foolish trying to learn new movements. It was an issue to the extent that I shied away from doing them at all. Guess what? I never got better. Ever.

If you’ve read the book Ego is the Enemy then you would know that my ego was doing me a big disservice here. I’m not sure when or how the shift came about. But sometime after the 2016 Open, I became better at admitting I couldn’t do a majority of the movements. I decided it was okay to look foolish in front of others. I committed to doing progression drills and moving at my own pace.

Once I accepted all this and let go, my gains came fast and hard. Go figure.

This newfound humility made me less moody and reactive. In the past, I'd take a week long hiatus from CrossFit after enough frustration. Leading up to the 2017 Open, I trained consistently through the year for the first time ever. All the while, consistently working on my struggles before, during, or after class. That one adjustment alone had a tremendous impact on my progress.

Tip #2: Pay Attention to the Small Things

Life rewards those who are consistent even on the smallest of scale.

I started by staying after class for 5-10 minutes to work on my skills. For the first four weeks, I worked on nothing but false grip bar hangs and beat swings. Which means, after a month I had accumulated hours of hanging from the bar and working on swinging. This small change in my approach made a huge difference. Instead of throwing in an extra training day, all I needed was a few minutes of focused work at the end of class.

So ask yourself: Do you have 5-10 minutes after class, a few days a week? That’s all you need to work on a single skill that’s giving you issues; whether it’s double unders, or bar muscle ups.

Crossfit Open Tips

CrossFit Open Tip #3: Make a Plan

Rather than trying to do it all at once, I selected a single area of focus. I made a list of things I wanted to learn and worked my way down the list.

On off days, I watched every WODprep YouTube video there was on the movement. I also read blogs, articles and asked my coaches for advice.

Then I’d apply what I learned during a training session. I kept a log where I jotted down notes, progressions, wins and challenges. I kept my challenge at the top of mind.

Tip #4: Slow it Down

Things fall into place once the mind has had enough time and information to figure it out.

Enter Double Unders.

Double unders were the toughest movement for me to learn. I spent years trying to teach myself through research and deliberate practice. Nothing worked. In 2016, enough was enough - I needed a Coach. Fortunately, my inflection point came just as WODprep launched their 8 week Double Under program.

That’s right, I’m a Double Unders Unleashed Graduate! My artillery now consisted of weekly programming and drills. I also had access to a Private Facebook Group with athletes going through the same struggles I faced. After a lot of practice, personal video analysis and a recommended weighted rope, I broke free of my life PR of 5 DU and can now Double Under with the best of them.

Tip #5: Stay Focused on Yourself

Movement quality trumps everything else. 

Paying special attention to foundational movement quality can make progress feel slow. Especially for those rushing to learn all the skills at once. It’s like being passed by a speedster on the highway. At first you’re impressed. Take a second to reflect. Deep down you know that you’ll see them again down the road getting a speeding ticket.

Keep this CrossFit Open tip in mind... stay focused on where you are and what you're doing. That's about all you have control over anyways.

Top CrossFit Open tips 2019

CrossFit Open Tip #6: Patience

Commitment to virtuosity means less about results and more about progress.

I didn’t put a timeline on when I had to master something. I never said, "I have to learn Kipping Toes to Bar by the end of April". What would happen to my motivation and drive if May rolled around and I still couldn’t string Toes To Bar together?

My goals were more about creating positive habits and going with the flow. I worked on my Toes To Bar 10 minutes after each class for 4 weeks and then retested. If I didn’t show a significant improvement, then I would change my approach or move on to another skill.

This also means that I’m not afraid to explore new things or take an extra day off here and there if I’m not feeling it. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all. For this Coach Ben loves the book Chop Wood Carry Water.

Tip #7: Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

I’ve been fortunate that I have some great coaches at my local CrossFit. I also have access to some great coaches online. This means that someone was always available to double check my form when I needed it.

I would record a lot of my training. I played it back for myself and carefully reviewed it before moving on. I was shocked by how good I felt while recording, but how bad it looked during playback. 

WODprep’s Voice Over Video Athlete Analysis helped me tremendously. The in-depth analysis in slow motion combined with the cues provided allowed me to internalize the room for improvement.

Keep this tip in mind going into the Open, and if you're struggling with a particular movement, set your phone up in front of you, and see if you can spot where you're going wrong. 

CrossFit Open Tip #8: Find Your Happy Place

The person who says he can and the person who says he can’t are both right.

In his book 'The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*CK', Mark Manson talks about the dangers of creating negative feedback loops. If you say "I'll never be able to do a Muscle Up", then try a Muscle Up and fail, it will reinforce the belief that you'll never be able to do one!

how to do well in the 2019 crossfit open
I focused on staying positive. I kept things light while I was working on skills that seemed impossible to achieve (especially DU's). Thinking "I'll never figure out Double Unders" while I was trying to learn them wasn't going to help.

Remember, we get to do this stuff. It's FUN. It's making you a BETTER version of yourself.  So, take a deep breath, tap your heels three times and go to your happy place. I did and with some practice, I can finally double under!
Moving Forward

Realize not every day is perfect, and it doesn’t have to be.

Working towards being a better version of your is an awesome feeling. This new outlook allowed me to learning things I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m more fit now than I ever was. Being a part of this amazing CrossFit® community is a wonderful experience. It’s something I appreciate now more than ever. That’s why I’m winning in my book!

I hope my story helps give you some perspective as we rapidly approach this year’s Open. Enjoy it. Respect the process. Explore what your body can do as an athlete. Realize that not every day - or workout - will be perfect by any means. The Open sets up a great environment to analyze where you stand versus where you want to be. When it’s over, you can plan your goals for next year.

As always, WODprep is here for you if you have any questions. We hope these CrossFit Open tips set you up for success this year!

Comment below and let us know what your goals are for the 2021 Open. 

Now let’s get after it!

  • Brent – you are inspiring me and helping me on the same path – I totally relate and appreciate this blog the most of any I’ve read!!!

    • Thanks, Matthew! I wish I could pinpoint when that approach changed in me but I guess it’s something like growing up. You just wake up one morning and you’re taller than you used to be ; )

  • So pumped that you wrote this, man. Great mindset, thoughts, etc. Really excited to see where this year takes you and the rest of the WODprep community!

    • Thanks, Ben. One thing that’s cool is that this ‘mindset transformation’ totally came from within. Change always has to start with you and a choice.

  • Loved this and your message! I struggle the most with mindset – I know what I am able to do and I work really hard to get better. So when I under-perform (in my opinion), I end up being really hard on myself and I have the hardest time getting over my “failures.” That’s definitely something I want to change! As for my goals, last year I did 2 Open workouts at Rx, this year I would like to do at least 3!

    • That’s awesome Courtney! Comparing yourself to the field can often dictate that feeling of underperforming (though not always). Coach Ben made a good point on a recent Open Coaching Call and that’s don’t constantly check the scoreboard since your rank will never go up from the time you enter it — only down. Let me know how many workouts you Rx this year. Best of luck!

  • What a great read! I lost my confidence last year in the open with T2B and they have been off ever since. I’ve taken them back to scratch now so reading this makes me feel like there is hope they will return down the line.
    Your advice and articles are super!

    • Carly, thanks for the comment! Losing your confidence in a movement can be rough but again, could also be the best thing that could happen to you. By toiling away at the drills and getting your TTB back could really improve your confidence with other movements, too. That’s what learning kipping TTB did for me ; ) Of course, WODprep has a pretty sweet TTB course if you ever needed more help getting there.

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