How I Won the CrossFit OPEN

Brent Tiesma

All right that’s not true. I wasn’t even close! Yet, I did win in a BIG way. This year, I went from 182nd in Canada East to 43rd overall and finished 4th within the gym (from 27th the year previously). More importantly, in all my years of doing CrossFit this was the first time I showed a drastic improvement in the sport of fitness. Crazy to think that this time last year I could barely string kipping T2B’s together. Not bad for a 44 year old.


So how did I make this crazy progress and how can you, too? Well, 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 and how I process things between the ears.  Here’s some take aways from my year that hopefully can serve you, too.  



First and foremost I got comfortable with sucking in front of others. For a long time I hated not being able to do Rx movements and looking foolish trying to learn them. So much so that I shied away from doing them and guess what? I never got better. EVER. If you’ve read the book ‘Ego is the Enemy’ you’d know that my Ego was doing me a big disservice.  I’m not sure how the shift came about but last year I was finally okay with admitting that I couldn’t do a majority of the movements, looking foolish in front of others while doing progression drills and moving at my own pace. Once accepted all this and let go, my gains came fast and hard. Go figure. What’s even better, is that I became less moody and reactive and rather than going CrossFit MIA for my typical 4-6 months a year, I trained consistently over the year for the first time ever. That alone had a tremendous impact on my progress. 



I know we all know this but it’s worth saying it again, life rewards those who are consistent even on the smallest of scale. For me, I started by staying after class for 5-10min to work on my skills. For the first 4 weeks, I worked on nothing but false grip bar hangs and bar kips.  Which means, after a month I had hours accumulated of hanging from the bar and working on swinging. This small change in my training and approached made a bigger difference than had I added another training day.



Rather than doing everything all at once I picked my areas of focus. I made a list of things I wanted to learn and worked my way down the list. I watched every YouTube video there was on the movement, I read blogs, articles and asked my coaches. I even kept a log where I jotted down movement notes, progressions, wins and challenges. Even though I wasn’t in the gym everyday I was focused on the movement daily.



I’m a big believer that things happen once the brain has had enough time or the opportunity to figure things out. Enter Double Unders. I doubt anyone struggled as much as I did with this movement. I practiced and practiced with little to no improvement for such a long time. Finally, when I got my hands on a jump rope that allowed me to slow the mechanics down enough everything clicked (thank you CrossRope) and within weeks I could DU with the best of them. It also helps that I get regular chiropractic adjustments so my brain body connection is always on point.



One aspect that I love about CrossFit is that we’re striving to do the common uncommonly well -- Which means movement quality trumps everything else.  Sometimes this makes progress feel slow compared to those rushing to learn all the skills. Like being passed by a high flying Porsche on the highway, know that you’ll see them again a number of km’s down the road getting a speeding ticket. Just stay focused on you, where you are and what you're doing. That's about all you have control over anyways.



Committed to virtuosity means less about results and more about progress. Which means, I didn’t put a timeline on when I had to master something by. I never said, "I have to learn Kipping Toes 2 Bar by the end of April". What would happen to my motivation and drive if April came and went and I had no T2B to show for it? Instead my goals are more about creating positive habits and going with the flow--  I’ll work on my KT2B 10 min after class for the next 4 weeks and then retest. If I haven't showed a significant improvement I'll either change my approach or give my brain a break and move on to something else. It also means 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.



I’ve been fortunate that we’ve got great coaches at West London CrossFit and I have access to some great ones online, which means, someone was always available double check my form when I needed it. However, I also recorded a lot of my own training, played it back and carefully reviewed it before moving on. I think this another HUGE piece as to why I improved quickly. I got immediate feedback, internally processed it and strove to do those movements better each and every time. It always shocked me how I’d think in my head that I was doing something so amazingly well and then when I watched it back was shocked by just how poorly I was actually performing it.



In his book 'The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*CK', blogger Mark Mason talks about the dangers of creating negative feedback loops, which means that saying "I'll never be able to do a Muscle Ups", then trying a Muscle Up and failing reinforces the belief that you'll never be able to do one! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this kind of thinking doesn't lead to your "happy place". That magical mind set you want to find if you want to make any kind of lasting progress. Fortunately, I focused on staying positive and keeping things light while I was working on skills that previously I thought I would never be able to do (especially DU's). Obviously, thinking "I'll never figure out DU's" while I was trying to learn them wasn't going to help me much in learning them. 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 3 times and go to your happy place. I did and now I can DU!!


Those are some of the things I did differently last year that had a significant impact on my performance at this year's CrossFit OPEN. Not everyday was perfect but it doesn’t have to be. In the end it's awesome working towards being a better you, learning things you never thought you'd ever be able to do, being fitter than you ever were and being a part of this amazing CrossFit community. That’s something I appreciate now more than I ever did in years past and that’s #winning in my books!


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