What We Expect to See in Semifinals Programming

May 5, 202315 min read

Contributions by J.R. Howell and Taylor Self Image Credit: Athlete's Eye 

Semifinals are fast approaching, and a hot topic, as always when major competitions, especially a qualifying stage to the CrossFit Games is upon us, is the programming. 

What can we expect to see and why? 

We’ve got programming experts J.R. Howell and Taylor Self offering their insights, in addition to Brian. 

2023 Open and Quarterfinals

Athletes have already had to prove themselves in two stages of competition to earn the right to compete at an individual Semifinal in their competitive region of the world. We’ve stripped down our analysis of each event at each stage of competition to one or two “limiters” for the athletes competing at Semis, and additionally have included the time domains for each workout. 

These serve as general guidelines for evaluating what we’ve already tested, and therefore helps point towards what would be appropriate to test at the next, and last, qualifying stage before the Games this summer.

2023 OPEN
LimiterRMU (rowing)capacity1 RMSnatch
Time Domain14:0015:00squat + press8-10 minutes
TestTest 1Test 2Test 3Test 4Test 5
LimiterGym pressingCapacity or crossoversC&J (mod heavy)capacity / coregrip
Time Domain6-10 minutes12:004-6 minutes20:004-7 minutes

What Brian Wants to See at SFs:

*Note: each of these were written independently, so any overlap was not discussed beforehand.

  1. More than 6 tests: It’s a three day competition, and the ability for the athletes to perform difficult tasks, recover, and do it again is critical to test. Additionally, we have examples from 2021 that show how big of an impact one additional data point can have on a qualifying test (unfortunately that work from that year is behind a paywall on another site). 
  2. Back to Back Workouts (or an interval style workout similar to what the Age Group SFs had): This is a unique way to test recoverability and also can be a clever opportunity for a programmer to test interference in a myriad of ways.
  3. Actual Running: No treadmills of any kind, no shuttle runs, let’s actually see them run. You know they will have to at the Games and I feel they should have to at least once before getting there. 
  4. Something long (25+ minutes): Personally, I just think there’s something different that happens when you go long. We know there will be 1-2 tests of this length or in some cases much longer at the Games, and I believe that having a test like this in the first half of the competition at Semifinals is critical.
  5. Test Strength in an Increasing Weight Format: In general, this is one of my favorite styles of workouts regardless of format. It creates barriers to entry at different intervals within the same test, but it also lends itself to athletes setting PRs, getting massive cheers from the crowd, and in many instances doing things that they may have never done in any other environment. We haven’t seen this yet this season, it would be a treat to get it at Semis. 

What J.R. Expects to see at Semifinals:

From the programming sample size we’ve been provided over the last 2 years (yes…2. For those that may not know, Boz has been responsible for programming back as far as the 2021 Quarterfinals). While there are some overlap between the formats, I expect the following trends to continue:

1.  “Moving submaximal loads at maximum intensity”

You must be strong to do well in the sport of CrossFit. We all know this. But aside from the 2022 Barbell Complex at Semifinals and Sandbag Ladder in the 2023 CrossFit Games, when strength capacity has been tested, it has been administered with accompanying high heart rates. 

  • 2022 AG Semis Test 3-Snatch Ladder w/rest 
  • 2022 AG Semis Test 5-1RM CJ (Death By WB) 
  • “Back Nine”-9 reps consisting of Yoke, FS & DL 
  • Shuttle To OH”-STOH @300/200
  • 23.2a 1RM Thruster (post BPU + SR)
  • 23.3 Snatch ladder (225/155 post HS var+DU)
  • 2023 Age Group Quarters 1RM Clean (post A10) 
  • 2023 AG Snatch 225/155 (post Row/DU/SR)

2. “Work. Rest. Work Some More.”

The use of interval-based workouts in training has become a mainstay in most high level programs for years as it serves as a way to govern intensity while preventing movement deterioration. But until the format made its competition debut in 2017 on the form of “2223 Intervals,” the set up was less often thought of when programming major competitions. In the brief history of Adrian’s tenure, we see his affinity for this workout style, as it pushes the intensity, negates the athlete’s ability to dictate the pace, and values execution in such short working windows. 

  • 2022 AG Semifinals Test 5-Death By Wall Balls 
  • 2022 LCQ W1 BMU/Thruster (2 on/2 off/2 on) 
  • 2023 CFG “Shuttle To Overhead”
  • 2023 CFG “Rinse & Repeat”
  • 2023 CFG “Hat Trick” 
  • 2023 AG Semis Test 3A-7-5-3 DL/PC/STOH (2/1) 

3. “Returning To Second Wave Adaptation”

If there’s one subliminal message the CrossFit community at-large has heard from Bozman’s in his early incumbency, it’s the importance of virtuosity. While the notion of mastering the basics can be discerned in his programming at all levels, Bozman has spoken about the importance of the athletes striving for “second wave adaptation” in their training, a phenomena first written about by Greg Glassman in the early years. 

Simply put, this idea  refers to the carryover an athlete experiences when doing one thing, drives adaptation in another area. For example, the pursuit of a 3-minute L-Sit hold can cause one’s 1RM Deadlift to go up, without focusing on it due to trunk strength gains. Likewise, Bozman reminds athletes that what we should try to avoid is “third wave adaptation” where we find ourselves focusing on improving something by the smallest margins that don’t serve to better other aspects of fitness. This would be like training to have a 610# Deadlift if your Deadlift max is already 600#. 

While Adrian understands the history of the sport arguably better than anyone, he doesn’t mince words when communicating the issue with athletes training movements solely for how they think they will be tested in competition. Training movements in as many different variations as you can come up with will only drive adaptation in the movement itself and beyond. Where athletes have trained HSPU facing away for years, he has made us face the wall. Where dips had been relegated to the rings, he put the Games athletes on parallel bars. And where the jump rope was seen as a double under machine, he asked for unbroken single unders and crossover doubles. Will we see the rings used for push ups or ring rows? Will athletes navigate a Plyo box with hands or clear it completely? Will the crossover double under trickle down to Semifinals? While everyone has been practicing them will he ask for triple unders? Time will tell. 

  • 2022 CFG “Skill Speed Medley”
  • 2022 CFG “Elizabeth Elevated” (Parallel bar traverse)
  • 2022 CFG “Up And Over” (various surmounts) 
  • 2022 CFG “Echo Press” (Wall Facing deficit HSPU)
  • 2023 Quarterfinals Test 1 (WFHSPU)
  • 2023 Quarterfinals Test 3 (crossovers) 
  • 2023 AG Quarterfinals Test 2 (Wall Facing HSPU/GHD/BJ)

What Taylor Self Thinks the 2023 Semifinals Need

We need to see 6-7 tests, and 7-8 scored events.

We need a test of strength, but not a single modality test or a max lift. For the same reason we don’t test a one mile run for time or 30 ring muscle ups alone at the Semifinal level. If we have a breadth of test that can accommodate for a balance of single modality tests, then a max lift is great, otherwise it is not.

We need a long workout that is 18 minutes or more. This would be a good place to involve monostructural elements but doesn’t have to involve monostructural elements. This would be a good place to run. I agree with Brian in his hopes to see actual running, not including treadmills or shuttle runs, however, this would be a perfect place to use the new rogue runner, Additionally it is in a long test where CrossFit can  reintroduce the weight vest at the semifinal level. Incorporating a gymnastics kipping pull-up or chest to bar, along with a ring push-up and an air squat would make for a Murph-esque event which would test the long time domain beautifully. 

We need a short test that is in the 2-3 minute range for the relevant athletes. I would like to see heavier overhead squats and potentially a legless rope climb or ring muscle up here. 

We need one or two 5-9 minute events.

Burpees. Something painful. Dumbbell thrusters. This is a good place for a heavy test/strength test. Think “Back 9” From the 2022 CrossFit Games

We need one or two 10-14 minute events.

Kettlebells and/or heavy sandbag with crossovers, triple unders etc… would fit well here. A chipper of sorts involving the sandbag or kettlebells and an ascending or descending rep scheme of increasing OR decreasing difficulty of gymnastics skills which Boz has shown an affinity to three times so far this season. Once in the open and twice in quarterfinals.

Gymnastic skills need to be tested. I would like to see pegboards and parallette handstand push-ups. Both movements are visually pleasing to spectators and are highly challenging to athletes. Strict ring muscle ups, kipping pull-ups, handstand obstacle course and a loaded pistol squat would be welcome elements for a good test as well. 

I expect to see some of the following themes and concepts in this year’s semifinals programming. Several of these have been discussed by Boz at length and several are ideas J.R. has discussed when looking at Boz’s tendencies. 

  1. Time caps, gateways within workouts or unbroken movement distinctions to determine the athlete’s pace and intensity. Boz does not like the idea of gaming workouts. He wants effort. This can be seen in workouts like Jackie Pro, 23.3, and LCQ workout with the 2km row with max distance handstand walk before the time cap. He wants to FORCE intensity. 
  2. Minimum Effective Dose. This is discussed at length on some of Boz’s “varied not random” podcasts with Pat Sherwood. How to get the most with the least. Think about execution, movement efficiency and quality over volume. Quarterfinals had very little in the way of high volume gymnastics skills, but the placing of them and the speed required of them gave them their weight of importance relative to the workouts themselves. 
  3. Trunk flexion. Boz discusses this in detail, and I expect to see uncommonly trained or old school variations of trunk flexion such as the L-sit, Knees to elbow etc…
  4. Formats such as death by, or schemes such as the 10 down to 1

If you want our “deep dive” into these topics and more when it comes to this year’s Semifinal Programming, check out this episode of The Real Sevan Podcast  .

How do you vote?

36 People voted this article. 36 Upvotes - 0 Downvotes.

Brian Friend

Brian stumbled upon CrossFit in the Fall of 2013. He has been a writer, data analyst, content creator, commentator, and broadcast coordinator. He's worked at a majority of the largest CrossFit competitions over the last three seasons, is a regular guest on the Sevan Podcast, and has been amongst the leading sports analysts in the sport in recent years. He has a passion for advancing the sport of CrossFit, and spreading the CrossFit methodology, by living it out in both his personal and professional life.


What do you think?

Show comments / Leave a comment

Leave a reply