OPTathlon 3.0 Review
Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking in San Diego at the OPTathlon 3.0. The OPTathlon is a three day event consisting of two days of lectures and a third day of a fitness competition.
The OPTathlon was created by James Fitzgerald, the winner of the first ever Crossfit games and the owner of Optimum Performance Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had the pleasure of getting to know James and Max El-hag, the assistant fitness coach at Optimum Performance Training, when I lived in Phoenix and I wrote an article about some of their approaches in my blog prior – Training Crossfit…The “Right” Way??.
What I like most about their approach is that they aren’t doing typical “Crossfit” and just killing people, but rather, they are testing people, using science, and developing a best practices model to train individuals to compete in a sport that requires you to pretty much be ready for anything.
The lectures were excellent all weekend and I especially enjoyed James’ brother, Michael’s lecture on training (Michael owns his own company in Calgary – CLICK HERE). I got to give two talks, one on stress and another on an outsiders view of how one may train for an event that is so varied in nature. It was a lot of fun and really got me thinking outside of the box (which is always a good thing).
The OPTathlon itself
Staying for the event on Sunday was a real treat and throughout the day I had at least half a dozen people (maybe more) come up to me and ask “What do you think so far?” since everyone knew I was not coming from a Crossfit background. Well, what I thought was that it looked pretty much like a testing day in any sort of college weight room. James’ OPTathlon is not like a typical Crossfit games with all the madness going on and in fact is more of a well rounded test of fitness and the athletes are aware of what the tests will be – because the tests don’t change (aside from the “wild card workout”) – from year to year. The tests are:
1. Clean and Jerk for max weight
2. Standing Triple Jump (3 attempts)
3. 500m row repeat (max effort 500m row; Rest 90sec; max effort 500m row)
4. Wild Card Workout (a sort of Crossfit workout although more tame than what you would see in a crossfit games and the exercise selection wasn’t something crazy like snatches for time. On this day the workout was 8 barbell squat and press (aka, Thrusters), 8 pull ups, and 8 squat thrusts, as many rounds as you can do in 8min)
5. Overhead shot throw for distance (3 attempts)
6. 3K run for time
It was actually a lot of fun to watch and honestly, if my clavicle wasn’t so messed up and didn’t get swollen and painful whenever I front squat or do cleans, I would have enjoyed participating in an event like this.
So What Did I REALLY Think?
I honestly thought it was great. The tests were sensible and they tested how well rounded one’s fitness is. Obviously it is difficult to be so middle ground in all categories across the board since the type of training that makes one successful in one event produces a certain molecular response and adaptation that would make them less successful at a different event. You could really see this during the competition where the guys who were putting up great numbers on the power clean were typically not your best finishers in the 3K run. Thus, the goal may not be to actually win all of the events but to rather just be near the top somewhere in all events and have a very well rounded profile. After all, James is using this test battery to try and determine who may potentially have success at the Crossfit Games (a talent ID of sorts) by looking at such well rounded capacities.
I think events like this can be a lot of fun for people to compete in and I appreciate the fact that the exercise selection is sensible and not putting anyone into dangerous positions by asking them to do things like high skill movements (IE, Olympic lifts) under high amounts of fatigue.
I do think that mixed modal training can be fun, challenging, and produce some interesting fitness adaptations. I do think that choosing the exercises appropriately for mixed modal training is the kicker and seems to be what most professionals have the hardest time with (choosing exercises that can get potentially dangerous, such as deadlifting for max reps or time, is not the best way to approach it in my book). In reality, mixed modal training is nothing new – it is just circuit training! For an athlete I think that we need to be careful with certain types of mixed modal training as doing such general work does not ensure that the peripheral tissues that are needed for their specific sport are going to be trained properly or adequately. There are times were this sort of training may be helpful and useful and there are times where something more specific will be necessary. As with everything, the application is what matters – choosing good exercises, choosing exercises that can be performed safely, choosing work to rest ratios and training protocols that enhance sports specific fitness, and choosing exercises that make the most for the athlete and the sport are going to be key.