OPEN 20.4

Week 4 of the CrossFit Open has arrived and many of you are rejoicing that a heavy workout has finally arrived! This is a chipper style workout but it’s really all about the barbell and testing your ability to perform heavy clean and jerks under fatigue.


We have another movement new to the Open this week; single leg  squats, aka pistols.  If pistols are a new movement for you, with a bit of warm up progression, this could be the moment to get your first and knock out some reps!  While pistols movement may be a sticking point for some, the real beast of this workout is the increasingly heavy clean and jerks.

The clean and jerks open with a modest weight but as the rounds increase, the weight climbs and climbs.  Thankfully every 3rd round, the reps decrease by 5. Most people can look at this workout and have a pretty good idea how far they will make it based on current clean and jerk strength.

The best strategy will depend on what bar you believe you can get to or your ability to perform pistols. I’ll discuss a few different ways to attack this workout, but first let’s talk about the movements.



Box Jumps

The box jumps may be performed in several different variations. Stepping up or down is allowed and may be done in conjunction with jumping either direction. Whether you jump up, step up, step down or rebound, pick a method that is sustainable for the 90 reps ahead of you. If you have not performed rebounding box jumps recently or are a masters athlete, I’d recommend against rebounding to minimize any potential for an Achilles tendon strain.  I think for many athletes, jumping up and stepping down is a great option, does not add much time over rebounding, and will allow you to control your breathing.

Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you are reaching full extension on top of the box, not in the air. It’s important that the box must not be angled and using the hand to push off the leg is not allowed.  Only your feet may make contact with the box.

Do your judge a favor and show an obvious full extension at the top. Lastly, try to move through the box jumps at a nice pace; there’s no need to over-exert yourself going into the clean and jerks.


Clean & Jerks

This workout is all about the clean and jerk. These will test your strength under fatigue and ability to keep the midline stable. You should have an idea of what weight will be your sticking point.

Even if you think you can make it to the 4th or 5th bar, I’d like you to consider starting with singles. They may seem way to easy early on and you will be tempted to bang out some big sets.  But quick singles will save your grip, legs and core for when things get heavy. Just make sure you follow the bar on the way down and pick it right up. Don’t walk away from the bar at any point when you break the clean and jerks up.

You should also perform power cleans as long as possible before moving to squat cleans to preserve your legs for the pistols and heavier cleans.

Any form of the clean and jerk is allowed such as push press, split jerk, squat clean, split clean etc., as long as the bar makes contact with the shoulders (no snatches and no hang cleans).  At the top of the position, feet must be in line with the bar locked out and the bar over or slightly behind the center of the body.

Wrap your thumps with some stretchy tape and remember to use your hook grip.




Single leg squats are new to the Open with this workout.  Unfortunately, many generalized programs neglect sufficient single leg work. If it’s been a while since you performed pistols or today is your first attempt at them, proper warm up and progressions are vital.

Even if pistols are in your arsenal it’s going to take some solid clean and jerks to get there, and if you can handle the weight, there’s potentially 90 pistols to tackle.

Wearing oly shoes can really help maintain good positioning with the pistols and provide stability when the clean and jerks get heavier. Unless you have a hybrid lifting shoe or are performing all step up and step downs on the box,  I’d recommend waiting to put your oly shoes on until you reach pistols or when the cleans and jerk get heavy, whichever comes first.

A weightlifting belt could also be beneficial to maintain midline stability with the pistols and clean and jerks.

When you start and finish each pistol, the hips and knee of the working leg must be fully extended.  You may hold onto the non-working leg for support but nothing besides the working foot is allowed to touch the ground. Also make sure you alternated legs every rep and your hip crease is below the top of the working legs knee while in the bottom position.



Your going to need to manage your engine early if you plan to make it to the heavier weights. If you can get at least one rep of a clean and jerk in a later round, your tie break time will not matter anywhere near as much as the extra reps will.

On the other hand, let’s say you know you absolutely can not hit the 3rd or 4th weight or are hoping to perform some pistols but finishing 30 may not happen. In this case, you should really go hard and push the pace until you complete your last full set of box jumps or pistols (that will be your tie-break time).

Try to conserve energy during the box jumps and pistols to maximize your potential for completing reps.  When you reach that finally heavy weight, it’s ok to compete reps EMOM or every 30 seconds if it means making the reps. Every failed rep is wasted energy output, so make them count!



This workout will require you to dig deep and require full CNS output.  Hopefully you got a big meal with lots of carbs in last night if you are doing 20.4 today. This one is best done later in the day and NOT fasted. Consume a meal with plenty of carbs and lean protein a couple hours prior to your heat.



Let’s start by getting the blood flowing throughout your body. I recommend 10 minutes of cardio at a steady pace that you can hold a conversation at. The rower is ideal, as it will engage and warm the hip drive and pull needed in the workout.

Prioritize warming up your hips, ankles, calves, shoulders and quads. With a foam roller, roll out your lower back, quads and calves.  Spend some time with a lacrosse ball to open up your shoulder girdle.

Grab an ab mat and spend one minute in both the lower and upper position of a couch stretch against a wall, on each leg.

Having your ankles and calves loose will really help for the box jumps and pistols. Sit in the bottom of a squat and shift weight over each ankle to stretch the front of the ankle. Stretch the back of the ankle and calf with your foot against a rack. Next perform  heel and toe walks followed by some explosive jumps to get the hips firing.

Get your wrists loose to help the clean catch. Try some general wrist warm up movements followed by a couple short sets of plank and handstand holds. Next get a barbell into the front rack position with a full grip and alternate driving each elbow up, maintaining that grip.

Let’s work on a few pistol progressions. Start with banded pistols or holding a rack.  Once you get the movement pattern down, try some pistols holding a 10 pound plate in front of you.  Lastly perform a few strict pistols but not enough to fatigue.

Alright, on to a specific warm up and then it’s time to crush the workout! You need to get comfortable feeling the weight under strain but not necessarily touch the final weight you’ll hit in the workout. The opening rounds will get you warm, so let’s not overdo it here.

Perform the following:

8 Minute EMOM 

  • 20 seconds of box jumps
  • 5 C&J @40% of 1rm
  • 20 seconds of box jumps
  • 5 C&J @55%
  • 20 seconds of box jumps
  • 3 C&J @70%
  • 20 seconds of box jumps
  • 3 C&J @85%




This is one you probably won’t want to redo and unless something goes really wrong, and most likely will not benefit much from taking it to that pain cave again, so give it all your effort today!

Get some liquid carbs and protein in soon after 20.4 and have a big meal of complex carbs and lean protein a couple hours later.

Time to give this beast your best and then there’s only one more open workout to go!


Now crush it like no other!!


-Nick Alexander