Mar 04

Dumbbell-apalooza; The CrossFit Open 2017

So… The Dave Castro (TDC) wasn’t shitting us when he said we’d need dumbbells. Two weeks of the CrossFit Open have brought two weeks of dumbbell focused workouts, leaving many of us asking if we will ever see our beloved barbells again?! (I’m not strong, but seriously, I can’t wait to get my hands on some 7ft steel…)


I got a fever, and the only prescription is more dumbbell. #crossfit

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Every year the CrossFit Open throws up something new for us to get stuck into, in the name of keeping things fun, interesting and “progressive”, TDC has made a habit of surprising us. Be it the rowers back in 2014, HSPU in 2015, or the bar muscle ups and overhead walking lunges in 2016, each year has seen an evolution of the CrossFit Open, and with it an evolution of how fitness is tested. But have these changes been necessary for the all inclusive search for the fittest on earth?


Back in about 2014, it’s fair to say that a large number of CrossFit gyms had at least one rower, as a result rowing probably didn’t crop up in many classes, and was omitted in favour of the more inclusive (and cheaper) mono-structural activity of running.

  • Could running realistically be included in the CrossFit Open? No.
  • Did several gyms have to rush out and buy extra rowers from Concept2? Yes.
  • Is rowing an essential activity to demonstrate at least one of the “10 physical skills“? Despite the rowing machine being an excellent tool for building cardiovascular endurance and stamina, no, it is not an essential activity.

Now, Concept2 may or may not have come out of 2014 smelling pretty damn sweet. I do not know, I haven’t looked that deep into it. But given the general furore around the sudden inclusion of the rowing machine in 2014, and box owners worldwide publicly stating that they had to part with some cash to buy more rowers, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who came out on top in this workout (technically Julie Abildgaard won).

Complex Gymnastic Movements

2015 saw the introduction of the scaled division and with it the introduction of more complex gymnastics movements. Handstand push ups made their debut 15.4. This inclusion was something that many people were expecting at the time, lots of athletes (even at my distinctly average level) were beginning to grasp the movement, and the scaled division gave TDC the green light to go and program  HSPU for the masses. Prior to 2015, ring muscle ups had always featured at the end of long Open workouts, athletes who couldn’t do muscle ups were unlikely to get that far. Yet in 15.3 TDC decided that we were going to be tackling ring muscle ups at the start of the workout. Once again the scaled divison giving him the power to justify his decision.

In 2016 TDC took it one further, taking the Open staple of ring muscle ups and adding a twist. Bar muscle ups were introduced for the first time

Were these changes perfect? Not quite, but a huge number of people went on to get their first few muscle ups in these workouts. Despite the new divisions, the feel good factor was high and the community spirit was thriving. We’ve seen a similar effect in this years workout, with people getting their first bar muscle ups and pull ups this time around. Cue lots of back slapping and motivational posts on Instagram, I’m not complaining.

The CrossFit Open bar muscle up movement standard.

Overhead Walking Lunges

Our David loves to push the boundaries, and after showcasing the walking lunges at the Games and Regionals in years gone by, it was time for us all to show what we could do. Not the most taxing movement in the world, but enough to test your core and mobility in a novel way. Whilst along with rowing I don’t necessarily think that a walking lunge is essential to testing those skills, it served its purpose of keeping things interesting.

The Dumbbells

TDC has gone full dumbbell… never go full dumbbell.

In all honesty, I expected to see dumbbells last year. Greg Glassman has been hyping up the benefits of training with two implements instead of one for some time now.

I have to agree with him, using dumbbells makes everything more taxing. Try completing Fran with two 20kg dumbbells as opposed to a 40kg barbell. Try suitcase deadlifts instead of barbell deadlifts. Try 17.1…

But, are they essential components to test the 10 physical skills? Is it really required, or just another gimmick to pay for? Looking at the list of physical skills I’ve picked out a handful that we can argue in favour of.

  • Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  • Balance – The ability to control the placement of the bodies centre of gravity in relation to its support base.
  • Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or a combination of muscular units, to apply force.

If you’re looking to test these three aspects of fitness, you have a fairly compelling argument for the inclusion of dumbbells. Dumbbells create more distinct movement patterns, requiring enhanced coordination to complete each rep. As a result of using dumbbells, your centre of gravity is different to your centre of gravity when using a barbell, thus testing your balance. Strength, 22.5kg dumbbells feel f***ing heavy!

Is It Worth It?

Yes, some gyms have had to hand over extra cash, some gyms have even had to complete Open workouts at neighbouring boxes. But it’s not like they’ve suddenly thrown in a Ski-Erg or peg board. CrossFit HQ have been telling us we need to be using dumbbells quite some time now. The workouts (usually a good benchmark of what to expect) have featured more and more dumbbells over the last year, and I would argue that as with the introduction of the rower, most gyms have at least one set.

For all my bitching and moaning in the gym about heavy dumbbells, they’ve made a difference this year. Exposed weaknesses, humbled me, and forced me to work hard – exactly what the CrossFit Open is all about.

Who knows what The Dave Castro and The CrossFit Games will come up with next… maybe we don’t want to know!


Header image taken from CrossFit Journal article “Dr. Tabata & the Dumbbell” – Issue 63.

About The Author

Hi, I'm Jordan, a 22 year old pharmacy student/CrossFit L1 trainer working at CrossFit Norwich in the UK. I've been coaching for over a year now, I'm always striving to learn more and applying it in the gym, I hope you enjoy reading my musings and thoughts.

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