How to not die at your first CrossFit competition

My first kickboxing competition is a very bad memory.

I was 10 and terrified. My parents were there and it took place at my home club, back in Brussels. I started martial arts thanks to Jean-Claude Van Damme and trained at his gym, with his teacher. Suddenly that very place that I associated with dreams and excitement became crowded with people and fears. I lost my first and only match and have barely any recollection of it.

My second kickboxing competition is a very good memory.

I was 13 and still scared, but I won the national championship. But 17 years later, when I first competed in CrossFit, I found myself to be a 10-year-old again and performed really poorly. I am no Regionals' athlete, but here are 3 pieces of advice I wish I had deeply engrained within me before I went out on the competition floor for the first time - regardless of what sport.


Ha ha! Remember: if you don't breathe, you will eventually die. Literally and figuratively. Breathing, and knowing how and when to breathe, is a crucial part of working out. If you're competing for the first time, odds are that you're going to be stressed out, go too fast and gas out. Focusing on your breathing before, during and after your workouts will help you perform.

The live 14.5 Open announcement featured 5 current and past champions: Rich Froning, Sam Briggs, Annie Thorisdottir, Jason Khalipa and Graham Holmberg. Right out of the gate, Sam Briggs was like a bat out of hell. Everybody thought this workout was hers to lose... and that she did. Take a look at the replay and watch how Rich Froning paces himself.

From the very first set, he pauses at the top of every rep of his thrusters. That split second of rest where he quickly breathes sure made him slower in the first sets. Even his burpees felt sloppy, and it left everyone wondering: what's going on with the champ? But Rich knew better. Rich had a plan. Rich made sure he was breathing. And eventually, Rich went on to win 14.5.

As a rule of thumb in CrossFit, I would recommend people to always breathe at the top: the top of their thrusters (overhead), top of their squats, top of their burpees... If you're doing touch-and-go barbell movements (deadlifts, cleans, snatches), it applies too. But different people have different preferences, so practice different breathings patterns on different movements!

In any case, be like Rich: don't forget to breathe! Which leads us to our second point.


This is something I cannot stress enough. Even though I make sure to repeat it in every class, I see people doing this mistake all the time. They go for a huge first set, take a break and end up not being able to do a quarter of what they just did. No matter what happens, you should always be the one deciding when you want to break. In other words: never go to failure.

If you end up failing a rep, you're the only one to blame. Not the weights, not the movements, not the workout design. You. Either you don't know yourself well enough or you're too ambitious. Either way, the competition will expose that. When going into a workout, ask yourself: how many reps of that movement can I perform efficiently, a few times in a row with very little rest?

If you had to do 50 pull-ups or 50 front squats at 75% of your max, how many sets of how many reps would you do? Now ask yourself: if you had to row 50 calories and then do 50 pull-ups or 50 front squats, how fast would you row and how many sets of how many reps would you do? Your answer might differ. This is but one example of what to take into account. 

Take a workout like 16.4, try two different strategies and see how it impacts the result!


Taking a week to recover before a competition is not something you should consider. It's something you have to do, period. It's an essential part of the process that will allow you to to perform to the best of your abilities. Allow your body to recover, your muscles to repair, your hormone levels to return to normal and your central nervous system to rest.

A deload week doesn't mean you shouldn't train. But you should definitely take weights off the bar, do less sets, take more rest in between them and even take a few days off. It might make you feel restless after weeks of hard training, but take it as a chance to do some skill work or accessory exercises you don't normally have the time to do.


GUYS, GUYS, GUYS. Here's a secret: pre-competition meals are the best. The night before, eat a larger meal than you usually would. Make sure it has plenty of good fats and good carbs. Good fats: avocados, nuts, seeds, oil, etc. Good carbs: leafy greens, broccolis, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, etc. Add the protein that you like best, but nothing that will sit on your gut for too long - such as red meat.

3 HOURS BEFORE YOUR FIRST WORKOUT, you should get another good load of fats and carbs - which are the main sources of fuel burnt when using the glycolysis and aerobic systems. More on that here. I like to get a sweet fruit and nuts about an hour before the first WOD. If you're really serious about the whole thing, you can add creatine into the mix. It's one of the most researched supplements.

RIGHT AFTER YOUR WORKOUT, you should eat carbs and proteins. No fats. You don't want to delay the absorption of your macro and micro nutrients. You want to recover as fast as possible, and you do not want to be digesting when you're about to go into your second workout. A protein drink and some carrots or fruits should do the trick. Rinse and repeat based on how many events you have during the day!


You will visualise the first workout of your first CrossFit competition a hundred times before you finally get there. Even if you tell yourself (and others) that you're doing it for fun, we all envision ourselves performing to the best of our abilities. Inevitably, expectations lead to disappointments. And ultimately disappointments can be the best learning experiences.

You will be nervous, probably a bit tired, working out out of the comfort of your home box, at a higher intensity and higher volume. A CrossFit competition is a completely different deal than your daily CrossFit class. And it's good! The sport is about being ready for anything, right? Embrace the suck, be proud of yourself and learn from it. It will make you stronger.

Being on the floor is a humbling experience to say the least. Going through the same pain as your fellow competitors creates unique bonds. You might be going as an Individual, but it's a community-driven experience above everything else. Don't forget to cheer for the others, to have fun and to be proud of yourself for putting yourself out there.

Jonathan Nyst
September 27, 2017

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