You’re Probably a Human Specimen

By Colin Farrell

I was recently listening to the CrossFit Podcast episode with Chris Spealler, and something really struck a chord with me, especially as we continue our way through the 2018 CrossFit Games Open.

As many of you will surely not forget anytime soon, workout 18.1 was a beautiful triplet of toe-to-bar, dumbbell hang clean-and-jerk, and rowing for calories. I did okay with it. Or, well, I thought I did alright. Then I started to see some of the other scores roll in. Guys I thought I was as fit as or fitter than were absolutely crushing me. And then some athletes redid the workout, and it seemed to only get worse for me.

Despite my commitment to “one and done,” I sincerely contemplated doing it again, and for all the wrong reasons.

It is really, really easy to get caught up in the competition, stress out, monitor the leaderboard, and lose sight of why you started CrossFit in the first place. Until last Open season, I had become really burned out on The Open for that exact reason. As I was validating scores, I became more and more convinced that my fitness was in a really, really bad place. I had to snap out of it.

I did not re-do 18.1.

When listening to the aforementioned podcast, and I fail to remember in what context it was mentioned, Spealler said to one of the hosts as he was lamenting what he thought was a lack of fitness, “You know, comparatively speaking, you’re probably a human specimen.”

I do not want athletes at PCF to get into the habit of gauging their success or failure in terms of their accomplishments relative to others, but let’s at least put things in perspective.

It is really easy for me to think of myself as a slouch if I try to compare myself to Coach Gretchen, or her husband, or — really — a bunch of athletes and coaches at Patriot and Potomac CrossFit. If I start looking at other perennial Regionals and Games athletes, all of a sudden I look like a washed up, balding bum. But I know very few people who started CrossFit, or stick with CrossFit, based on their performance during The Open. That isn’t why we do this, that’s not why this is so much fun. Most of us are still engaged in constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement because it makes us healthier than we were and we enjoy the people around us at the gym.

Compared to the average person, especially compared to the average American, you are all probably human specimens. If you eat relatively well — meat and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar — and do CrossFit two-to-four times each week for a year you will probably be among the fittest human beings on earth. I don’t mean the fittest 0.001% (the Regionals and Games athletes), but I’d wager you’d be in the top 5-10% fittest and healthiest people on the planet. Again, I don’t want us to get into the habit of comparing ourselves to others in order to decide on whether or not we are fit, healthy, or successful. But, if you have to do it, compare yourself to the world at large.

You have all made a commitment to your health, a serious investment, and that needs to be celebrated. I’ve been really hung up on, in a good way, the following quotation from Coach Glassman:

    “We have a really elegant solution to the world’s most vexing problem, and we’ve disguised it as sport.”

Nutrition and exercise, the more we learn, seem to be the cure for (or a way to mitigate the effects of) a massive number of the world’s health problems, including everything from Type II Diabetes to Alzheimer’s. You have all committed yourself to a lifetime of really good and healthy living. You could come in dead last in every Open workout, and many of us will not do a single one of them as Rx’d. This is not a fact to get stressed out about or upset about. Do not let what you would consider a disappointing score on one event of the Open to ruin your experience in the coming weeks.

Focus on the positive, know that when you walk into the grocery store, walk into your office, or head over to the playground with your kids, that — compared to everyone around — you’re a goddamn human specimen.

18.1 Strategy + Tips



18.1 Strategy + Tips
By Colin Farrell

The workout…

AMRAP in 20 Minutes
8 Toe-to-Bar
10 One-Arm Dumbbell Hang Clean-and-Jerk, 5/side (50/35)
14/12 Calorie Row

It’s a long workout, but it goes by quickly. With rep schemes as small as 8-10-12/14, athletes will never be stuck on any one movement for too terribly long, comparatively speaking, and before you know it you’ll look at the clock and see there is only a few minutes to go. This workout was fun, and the new movement – the hang dumbbell clean – I think is a great introduction to the cannon of movements available for use during The Open. Now, how to tackle this.

This workout should a little something for everyone: larger and more powerful athletes should do well with the row and the hang power clean-and-jerks. Smaller, more gymnasty athletes should enjoy the manageable sets of toe-to-bar. The key is to play to your strengths and do damage control on the movements not suited to you as a particular athlete.

Things to keep in mind…

Know your limits on the toe-to-bar and keep your ego in check. With smaller sets, it’d be great to go unbroken if possible, but if toe-to-bar are something you’re not super proficient at break the 8 reps into 5s and 3s or two sets of 4s. You may hate to start the 2018 Open Season with a small set of 4 reps, then coming off the bar but if they are not something you’re proficient with, break them up from the get-go so you’re not down to singles and doubles by minute 15.

You are going unbroken on the dumbbell movements. Stronger athletes may be able to switch hands without putting the dumbbell down and complete all 10. Smaller athletes, put the dumbbell down after you are done on side, take a quick breath, and get right back on to the other side. Don’t forget to breath while completing these reps and be sure to press the weight directly over the center of your body… otherwise there are two negative outcomes: (1) it is a no-rep unless the dumbbell is directly over your shoulder and frontal plane and (2) it will fatigue your shoulders unnecessarily, making the toe-to-bar more difficult.

Lastly, with regards to the dumbbell work: use the hook grip through the hang clean portion of the movement. If you lose the hook grip after the dumbbell has met the shoulder, that’s fine. Just be sure to re-grip on the way back down.

The rowing intervals are short, really short. Even for a guy of my stature I was never on it for more than 45 seconds or so, and for one or two rounds was done in about 36 seconds. Given the low rep scheme, athletes can push hard on the row, skyrocket their heart rate, and end up only saving 4-10 seconds at the most. And, if your heart rate is that high, that time will be lost later in the workout. Your rowing pace should be just shy of “comfortable.” For larger, more powerful male athletes that means a ~1200 cal/hr pace. For stronger female athletes, probably somewhere in the department of 850-900 cal/hr. I made the mistake of pushing a little farther into the “uncomfortable” side and paid the price.

I would suggest, if you can, completing one or two rounds of this workout about 10 minutes before the official call of “3, 2, 1… Go!” to get a sense for how fast or slow you can go, and what it feels like to row at a comfortable pace. Set a goal to stay on that track with, and stick to it.

What I would have done differently…

I completed 8 full rounds plus 6 toe-to-bar.

I went too hard on the row and too slow on the toe-to-bar.  I’m 5’8” and only weigh about ~145# (I come from a long line of ectomorphs) and my calories/hour pace sat around 1350 for most of the workout. That was entirely too high and any time I saved going harder on the row was lost in more time catching my breath between movements or resting between sets.  For three or four sets in the middle of the workout I broke the toe-to-bar into sets of 5 and 3, and regretted it. I should have gone unbroken on those the whole time. For a guy with my particular skill set, I should have invested more of my efforts there and less on the rower.

Good luck everyone!


Maximizing Your Open: The Week Of


Maximizing your Open: The Week Of

By: Colin Farrell

The Open is just about upon us, ladies and gentlemen.  As a coach, a CrossFitter, and [sometimes] competitive athlete, it is one of my favorite times of the year.  We have a chance to test ourselves against our friends, other members here at PCF, against the whole world, and most importantly… we get to test ourselves against our former selves. This is where people get their first muscle-up, string double-unders together, or somehow break a squat clean PR in the middle of some heinous and awful workout.  

So, now that you have signed up for the Open and joined a team, here’s a pretty decent way to maximize your power output once you hear the call of “3, 2, 1…Go!”

At Potomac CrossFit we complete the Open Workouts on Saturdays, so we are working on that knowledge. For Patriot CrossFit athletes, back all of this up by a day, as the Open workouts will be programmed for Fridays:

Sunday: Go nuts, you’ve got plenty of time for recovery, but whatever you do don’t tear your hands. That is one thing you can’t always come back from within a calendar week.

Monday: Keep the strength and skill work relatively light/lower percentages and intensities (70% or less) and lower reps (8-15 working repetitions) and keep mechanics in mind more than intensity.  You cannot get stronger with one squat session the week the Open starts. Just worry about solid movement patterns and hitting full range of motion.

Tuesday & Wednesday: Treat the days’ strength or skill work similar to how you did the back on Monday.  If you are an Rx athlete, think about dropping to Level II for the MetCon. If you are a Level II athlete, knock it back to Level I.  Go hard, but just with less complex movements, shorter running and rowing distances, and lighter loads.

Thursday & Friday: Some athletes love a full day of rest before a big event (like an Open workout) others need the day before to still move around so as to not get too sore or sluggish. However, a rest day on Thursday or Friday is probably necessary if you’ve been working out for 3 or more days in a row. Based on what type of athlete you are, pick one and take it easy.  Whichever day (Thursday or Friday) is your “on” day, think of it as “just stay moving.” Intensity should be dialed back, worry about working your hips, ankles, and shoulders to full range of motion, do a little bit of pulling, a little bit of pressing, a little bit of squatting, and make your midline work a little bit.  Take the workout of the day and turn it into an EMOM to dial back the velocity/loading, force rest periods into the workout. These session should keep you fresh and moving, not send you home in need of an epsom salt bath.

Saturday: Game day! Everyone is different here (do I eat beforehand, do I not eat, etc.) Do some foam rolling the night before, wake up and do a little mobility work, arrive early to the gym to really get warmed up (time is usually very limited on Saturdays during the Open).

Good luck everyone! Now it’s time to prove your fitness. Have fun!


Get to Know Your Captains – Vilija Teel



Vilija Teel  | Captain, Team Patriot Service

What is something most PCF’ers don’t know about you? A secret talent? An embarrassing story?
I sing Lithuanian folklore.

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
December 2013 in Seoul, South Korea. The variability and high intensity of the workouts.

What has your past experience with The Open been like?
Absolutely positive experience. Love being able to see the rankings and see how I compare worldwide.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
The social interaction and mixing of athletes between both gyms.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
Just do it! I signed up for the 2014 Open, just two months into Crossfit and it was an amazing and empowering experience!

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!
Helen: 9:19
Deadlift: 300LB
Back Squat: 200LB

What is your favorite CrossFit movement? What is your least favorite?
Favorite: Power clean
Least Favorite: Any kind of snatch

Get to Know Your Captains – Samantha Birr


Samantha Birr | Captain, Team Patriot Courage

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started Crossfit in the summer of 2013 after graduating from college and moving to Miami Florida. Being new to the area I was looking for a fun way to meet people and get back in shape for year round beach season. The community aspect and ability to continually push and challenge yourself has made me stick around.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
I am looking forward to the added team element. Love a little friendly competition and I think it will be a great way to get to know more people in the PCF community.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
Just go for it! Don’t be intimidated to sign up. It’s really just about having fun and pushing your limits.

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!
Deadlift: 300
Crossfit Total: 595
New Years Resolution: Keep better track of these things

Favorite CrossFit movement:
Power Cleans
Least Favorite:

Get to Know Your Captains – The Donahoes


Chris & Monica met at Potomac CrossFit when they were quasi-randomly paired up to compete in a Friday Night Throwdown in February of 2016. They were married in January of 2018. Since the day both of them joined PCF they have been a tremendously positive influence on our community. After their nuptials, it is almost certain their love and positive attitudes will continue and exponentially grow.   

Chris & Monica Donahoe | Co-Captains, Team Potomac Freedom

What is something most PCF’ers don’t know about you? A secret talent? An embarrassing story?
C: I was homeschooled
M: I’m insanely scared of mice and possums. Snakes don’t bother me and I work with little kids, so I’m not usually grossed out. Regardless, I am TERRIFIED of mice and rats and anything small and furry with a tail.

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
C: I started Crossfit in August 2015 because I simply wanted to get back in shape. I stuck around because I met my wife.
M: I read about CF on a blog in 2010 when I lived overseas and wanted to check it out but didn’t have the opportunity to until I moved to North Carolina in 2013. I grew up dancing and have always needed exercise and movement to feel balanced. CrossFit keeps my mood up and stress level down. I also just love going to the gym to see my friends and coaches!

What has your past experience with The Open been like?
C: Always a fun test. I’m an accomplished C-student.
M: Encouraging, motivating, wonderful. I love the Open because it gives me something to focus on and get excited about at the end of February which is always a long, cold, dreary month. The Open brings people together. It pushes me to work harder and go the extra mile. I also love seeing people get excited. Enthusiasm is my favorite.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
M: It’s a lot of responsibility! PCF has been a huge part of my life the last couple years and I enjoy the community and all the new people I keep meeting.
C: Being named a co-captain with my new husband validates for me that PCF sees us as being positive people who are genuinely committed to the cause… fitness and community. I want to motivate others to value “the cause” as much as I do. CrossFit  isn’t about being super competitive, or a cool kid in a clique, or impressing others with how big of a sweat angel you can make. It’s about being brave and positive and emotionally vulnerable and making connections with other people based on your mutual understanding of how important it is to stay active and take care of yourself.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
C: Cheering Monica on!
M: Meeting new people! Potentially making team t-shirts! Being better than I was last year.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
C: We miss out if you sit out. Join the fun!
M: How much fun it always is! I would describe the hype around Thursday night workout announcements, strategizing with your friends, getting prepped, doing the workout with a judge (which I LOVE), completing the workouts and the amazing feeling you get when you know you couldn’t have pushed even one second further, going out for drinks after, comparing experiences, and then getting to do the whole thing again the next week!

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!



Favorite CrossFit movement?
C: Back Squat
M: Handstand Push-ups, Burpees

Least favorite?
C: Handstand push-up
M: High volume wallball

Get to Know Your Captains – John Schurtz


John Schurtz | Captain, Team Patriot Honor

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started CrossFit in early 2009 while serving in the Embassy in Beijing. I had known about it since 2002 when a Navy SEAL buddy told me about it. I thought he was crazy. Man I wish had started then.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
It means you guys are more desperate than I ever would’ve expected! I love Patriot and being a part of this community is one of the most positive experiences of my adult life. Anything I can do to contribute to the spirit I have come to depend on is a pleasure and an honor.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
I know there are people in our gym who will get their “first” of some movement they didn’t think they could do. Seen it before and it’s amazing every time.

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!
All my times and scores are middle of the road. I am not a strong athlete, but I can do things this year that I couldn’t do last year. Every year since 2009 has been that way.

Favorite CrossFit movement
: Burpees
Least favorite: Renegade Row Man-Makers

Get to Know Your Captains – Katelyn Thomas


Katelyn Thomas | Captain, Team Potomac Justice

What is something most PCF’ers don’t know about you? A secret talent? An embarrassing story?
I was the third runner up (third loser) in the Miss Pre Teen Virginia Beach Pageant

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started in 2015. CrossFit is the only exercise experience I have ever looked forward to and enjoyed. However, a majority of the time I am in quite a bit of pain. We are crazy people!

What has your past experience with The Open been like?
In 2016 I did most of the workouts scaled but did not officially register. In 2017 I registered and did two RX’d and three scaled. I actually did 16.4 twice, prescribed, because I wanted to get to the HSPUs. The open workouts made me push harder than I ever had before. It was nuts.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
One of my favorite things is watching people discover  and fall in love with Crossfit. I know I will have some people on my team that have never done the Open before and I know they will surprise themselves by how well they do.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
Hopefully seeing improvements upon last year’s open. However, I think I was in better shape last year so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if there are not dramatic improvements. I am looking to have fun and encourage my team.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
If you have done CrossFit  for even just a couple months, you will be able to do everything that is programmed. And if you come on Friday at Patriot or Saturday at Potomac, you will do the workout regardless, might as well sign up!

Some Stats on Katelyn…
Grace 4:53
Fran 8:41
Deadlift: 235#
OHS 125#
Press 95#
Clean #140
2k Row 8:35

Favorite CrossFit movement? Right now, it’s pistols.

Least favorite movement? Turkish Get-ups

Lose the Belt, Learn to Set your Spine

Lose the Belt, Learn to Set your Spine
By Colin Farrell

An athlete steps into the gym after a day at the office. She gets changed out of her work clothes and into her Lululemon and Reebok apparel, she laces up her Nike Metcon 3’s. She hops on a rower and starts getting warm before class starts, she does some work with a lacrosse ball, and then class starts. She completes the group warm-up and now it’s time do some front squatting.

She pulls on a pair of neoprene knee sleeves.
She changes out her shoes into a pair of Olympic-style lifting shoes.
She fishes her leather lifting belt out of her gym bag and tosses it on the floor by her squat rack.
She straps on her wrist wraps and pulls out her gymnastics grips as she may need them later during the workout, which has lots of toe-to-bar.

What the hell is all of this stuff? Newer athletes may, justifiably so, be confounded by all the “things” people have just to workout. What ever happened to sneakers, gym shorts, and a t-shirt?

There is a lengthier discussion to be had about each of these pieces of equipment, but I want to focus on one in particular: the lifting belt. Aside from Oly shoes, it is probably one of the most overused pieces of equipment by CrossFitters the world-over. Like lifters, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, gymnastics grips, KT tape, etc., a belt has its time and place and is–in many cases–appropriate to put to use.

However, if athletes are using the belt because they are incapable of securing their spine without one, that presents a serious issue. While CrossFit is a ton of fun, and many of us like to compete in The Sport of Fitness, the overwhelming majority of athletes do CrossFit so they are more capable of accomplishing tasks outside of the gym. We don’t just want to be the best at exercising. Last I checked, it is socially unacceptable to wear a lifting belt to the office, to your kid’s birthday party, or out to dinner. Additionally, you may not always have an opportunity to use the belt when you believe you need it.

You have to know how to set your spine. What that means is athletes must be able to organize their vertebrae in as safe a position as possible in relation to their hip and shoulder, and subsequently cinch the musculature around the spine (especially in the lumbar region, where athletes are most prone to overflex or over-extend) to protect it while moving. This task takes less than four seconds and can be done in four steps:

    Step 1: Stand with feet parallel and directly under your hips. With your hands to your sides, roll your thumbs outwards so your palms are facing forward. Pull your shoulders back into what most would term “good posture” (i.e. don’t slouch).
    Purpose: To ensure your spine is in a safe, neutral position, we need to ensure your shoulders and hips themselves are secure and set into a strong position. With your hip and shoulder set, your spine will have pulled into the most neutral position it can naturally achieve.
    Step 2: Squeeze your butt as hard as you possibly can..
    Purpose: When athletes squeeze their butt, the pelvis pushes slightly forward. This will aid in aligning the shoulder and and hip in a nice, neat stack with the spine connecting the two.
    Step 3:While still squeezing your butt, and maintaining the position outlined in Step 1, take a big deep breath in, and exhale as much as is possible. As soon as you have exhaled, flex and tighten every muscle in your core as much as you possibly can.
    Purpose: With your spine nicely aligned relative to the hip and shoulder, it’s time to cinch up all that musculature around it. Tightening up will effectively secure and protect the spine in a similar fashion as a weight belt would.
    Step 4:Hold your breath in, unclench your glutes, and commence lifting.
    Purpose: With the vertebrae fully secured, athletes can release their glutes and begin moving around. The spine is as secure as it can possibly be without a belt. While it would be nice to keep our glutes flexed at all times, there are some drawbacks: you’d look really funny moving around, you can’t squat with your glutes fully flexed, and it would be exhausting.

Commit these four steps to memory. Practice doing them. Make it so much a habit you do it without thinking about it.

You may have noticed that after Step 3 (when athletes exhale and cinch up their core, nice and tight), there was never an instruction to breath again. Naturally, you will eventually have to breath. If you are going for a new 1-rep max deadlift or squat, hold your breath after that exhale from start to finish. If you are doing a set of 7 heavy overhead squats, you will certainly have to breath before the set is done. If that is the case, take small, short, diaphragmatic breaths at the top of each rep. On the exhale, re-tighten and complete the next rep.

This four step process, mind you, is not just for lifting. Athletes at all times should maintain about 15-20% brace just while out and about, at work, walking around, etc. If you are out for a run, 40%. If you are going for a max-effort power clean, 100% braced. Hopefully you get the idea.

As mentioned above they absolutely have their time and place:

The following are good, general guidelines for when it is appropriate for a CrossFitter to strap on a lifting belt

  • When performing lifts at 85% or above of 1-repetition max, including all squatting, pressing, and pulling movements.
  • When in a competition setting or testing fitness, as opposed to building fitness (see Today, Why Are you Here?); situations may include:
    • -Completing heavy CrossFit Benchmark workouts (see Who The Hell is Fran?)
      -Competing with heavier barbells (whether it’s SuperFit, The Open, The Festivus Games or a Friday Night Throwdown)

    I would encourage newer athletes to not use a belt for at least the first year of their experience with CrossFit and the barbell lifts. Experienced athletes may be begin to dabble with such accessories, and there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with that. Each accessory has a purpose, athletes need to ensure they are using them as an aid at appropriate times, and not a crutch to lean one due to inefficiencies in mobility, strength, or skill.


    Starrett, Kelly, and Glen Cordoza. Becoming a Supple Leopard: the Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance. Victory Belt Publishing, 2015.

    January Benchmarks at Potomac


    January 3: Cindy or Mary

    January 4: 13.2

    January 6: Benchmark Hero

    January 8: Max Effort Lift + Open Workout

    January 9: Benchmark Girl

    January 12: Benchmark Girl

    January 13: Open Workout

    January 15: Benchmark Girl

    January 16: Max Effort Lift

    January 17: Max Effort Lift

    January 23: Max Effort Lift

    January 24: Benchmark Girl

    January 25: Max Effort Lift

    January 28: The CrossFit Total (make-up)