Crossfit Workouts

CrossFit Open’s Toughest and Most Iconic Workouts

Following the start of the 2023 CrossFit Open last week, Muscle and Health winds back the clock and unearths the most badass workouts from its 12-year history.

The CrossFit community gathered around tv screens and phones last week, awaiting the announcement of the first workout of the 2023 CrossFit Open. Screened live from Madrid, the reveal of a 14-minute chipper containing a 60-calorie row and 20 muscle-ups signaled the start of another year of competition.

An ever-growing beast and one of the world’s most significant sporting events, the CrossFit Open attracts participants of all levels from 175 countries, allowing the cream of the crop to qualify for the ultimate prize – a place in the CrossFit Games.

Since the first edition of the Open in 2011, there has been a consistent and rapid rise in popularity within the community. 2011 attracted a now measly-looking 26,000 participants compared to the 293,805 who took part in 2022. That’s a staggering increase of 1030%, an average of 94% increase every year.

With excitement levels at an all-time high within CrossFit, Muscle and Health was keen to look back into the history books at some of the most memorable and nostalgic workouts.

What is the CrossFit Open?

The CrossFit Open is an online competition held by CrossFit HQ over several weeks, usually lasting between three to six weeks. Each CrossFit workout is released online every Thursday and broadcast live from a different location, with some of CrossFit’s most recognizable faces appearing.

Those participating in the Open have until 5 pm Monday to complete the workout and post their best score online. The beauty of the Open is that it’s not restricted to the sport’s elite – anyone can take part.

Those with a passion for CrossFit are encouraged to get involved and record their efforts, and these workouts can be done from anywhere: home, your office, garage, your local gym or where there is any free space.

In 2023, each workout will have three scales depending on the level of the athlete.

Rx’d – The prescribed workout at face value gives the experienced CrossFit athlete a higher ranking with a good sense of their level from past workouts.

Scaled – A scaled version of the workout that suits athletes with moderate experience who struggle with particular movements.

Foundations – A further scaled version of the workout for beginners and those new to the sport but looking to get a score on the board. So is Crossfit good for you? let’s find out.

What does an Open CrossFit workout look like?

This is tough to answer with the amount of variation in CrossFit. The baseline of a workout can usually be summarised by a combination of strength and aerobic movements performed at a high intensity. But workouts vary from Open to Open and incorporate different movements and requirements from the athlete.

First, it’s essential to understand some of the different types of workouts within CrossFit, which have all made appearances at the Open.


This stands for “every minute on the minute”. Start a running clock and do a set number of reps at regular intervals, typically (but not necessarily, despite the name) at the start of each minute. The EMOM workout scrutinizes your powers of recovery.


“As many rounds as possible”. Complete a given exercise combination as often as possible within a given time. It’s a battle of mind over searing muscle.


“Rounds for time” means completing a given number of rounds of a circuit as fast as possible. The short rest periods help develop long-lasting muscle endurance.


A one-round series of exercises, usually with high reps, to be completed in the fastest time possible. A high-volume, muscle-building grind.


One or more movements, increasing or decreasing the workload over time.


Do eight rounds of high-intensity intervals, alternating 20 seconds of effort with 10 seconds of rest. A fat-eviscerating finisher.

While it’s impossible to predict what’s to come, there are some essential statisticians’ insights from previous editions to identify recurring and almost guaranteed movements within an Open workout.

Between 2011 and 2019, five movements appeared at every edition of the Open, they are: 

  • Toes to bar
  • Muscle-ups
  • Thrusters
  • Chest to bar pull-ups
  • Double-unders

Safe to say, these are the movements you need to fine-tune.

Snatches, wall balls and burpees also feature heavily, with an 89% hit rate in the same timeframe, while you’re unlikely to be smashing out the push-ups and dumbbell squats, both of which have a 13% appearance figure.

So what does a CrossFit Open workout look like? You can never truly know what to expect, but keep an eye on the trends and stick to the fundamental movements, and you will be prepared for whatever comes your way.

The most sickening and iconic CrossFit Open workouts

Iconic is ‘relating to or of the nature of an icon; regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.’ 

This collection of workouts demands great respect and represents what the Open is all about.

It’s time to venture to the dark corners of the mind, a place that may seem impossible to illuminate amongst a sea of demons, all wishing for you to contemplate the importance of just one more rep.

Dave Castro, the Open’s ringmaster for nearly a decade, once said, “If you’re doing CrossFit at its intended intensity, every single workout should bring you to your dark place.”

Workout 12.1

Complete as many reps as possible in 7 minutes of:


Crossfit Toughest Workouts

Death by simplicity. One movement which sends shivers down the spine of most of the CrossFit community, the first workout of 2012, was a punishing seven-minute slog of burpees.

Back in 2012, there was no scaled version or separate standards for men and women. Just a seven-minute slog of bodies hitting the floor and getting back up again.

Athletes were free to step or jump, and both hands had to touch a target six inches above their max reach. That’s it. A judge’s dream.

Seven minutes will feel like seven hours.

Workout 15.5

For time: 


Row for calories



Men use 95lbs

Women use 65lbs

Every second counts in this workout. Your score will be the time it takes to complete all 144 repetitions, with this workout having no time cap.

Pacing is vital in this mentally draining challenge, with the relatively light load deceptively creeping up with every repetition.

If you need evidence as to why this one makes a list, watch ‘Froning. Fraser. 15.5’. Rich Froning, four-time Fittest Man on Earth, upon collapsing to the floor after completing the session, uttered these words:

I’m not doing that again. I don’t care what someone comes in with. I am not doing that again.”

Good luck.

Workout 17.1

For time:

10 dumbbell snatches (50/35 lb.)

15 burpee box jump-overs (24/20 in.)

20 dumbbell snatches

15 burpee box jump-overs

30 dumbbell snatches

15 burpee box jump-overs

40 dumbbell snatches

15 burpee box jump-overs

50 dumbbell snatches

15 burpee box jump-overs

Crossfit Exercises

There was a sense of inevitability in 2017 when the first workout of the Open was announced, with a dominant focus on dumbbell snatches. A month before the announcement, Dave Castro encouraged box owners worldwide to stock up on…you guessed it. Dumbbells.

The warning was there, and the workout which followed was punishing to say the least, with a total of 150 snatches in an ascending ladder being complimented by 15 burpee box jump-overs.

The form will suffer the longer this workout continues to make your lower back scream in resentment. The standard required both dumbbell heads to touch the floor, meaning you were guaranteed to walk like an OAP for the foreseeable days.

Workout 20.1

10 rounds for time of:

8 ground-to-overheads (95/65 lb.)

10 bar-facing burpees

bar-facing burpees

Time cap: 15 minutes

This is a burner. Puke-inducing. The key to getting through this burning workout is consistency, attempting to maintain a similar pace for each movement. Ideally, your movements in round one should be mirrored in round ten, and one round must be completed every 90 seconds to finish within the time cap.

With only two elements to focus on, it’s vital to nail down a smooth and seamless technique to maximize time and efficiency. For the ground-to-overheads, you could opt for snatches or clean-and-jerk routes. Both have pros and cons, but the ultimate aim is to go unbroken.

Having touched upon burpees earlier, there isn’t much to say about the other cog of this workout. Go slower than your mind wants to go. And hang on!

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