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March 27, 2015

A Recap of 15.5 + Some Tips From the Pros

Written by Damect Dominguez

Last night, the biggest news from the live announcement of 15.5 was this: no burpees. In fact, no burpees at all in the 2015 Open—a first in the history of the competition. Who would have predicted that?

Before Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Sam Briggs and Annie Thorisdottir—the three most recent victors of the CrossFit Games—took to the competition floor, CrossFit paid homage to the champions that came before them. Jolie Gentry (2007), Caity Matter-Henniger (2008), Tanya Wanger (2009) and Kristin Clever (2010) were all in attendance to see the three biggest names in the women’s game throwdown at CrossFit Max Effort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

But before this all-international affair could get underway, we had to find out what the workout would be. Everyone was expecting burpees. Everyone was expecting a chipper. We got neither.

Dave Castro: “27, 27. 21, 21. 15, 15. 9, 9. Calories on a rower. Thrusters. For time is 15.5.”

And that’s it. No pomp and circumstance, no shiny distractions or crazy surprises—well, save for the exclusion of burpees of course. CrossFit Games host Rory McKernan perfectly summed up the mood of all in attendance at CrossFit Max Effort—not to mention the thousands more watching online—when he said, “Hey, at least there’s no burpees! One thing’s for certain, this is going to hurt. But this is the last workout, the end is in sight, let’s put our heads down and get there.”

Right you are Rory, right you are.


27-21-15-9 reps for time of:
Row (calories)

Men use 95 lb.
Women use 65 lb.

An interesting note to the format of 15.5 is that each time you return to the rower you or your judge must reset the monitor to zero before rowing.

As the workout got underway, Annie Thorisdottir set a fast pace on the rower, completing the round of 27 calories in 1:13. Briggs was a couple of seconds behind her, while Bazinet—the shortest of the three—was some way behind, getting off the rower at the 1:37 mark. But while Bazinet’s short stature may have been a hindrance on the rower, one would assume that her short range of motion would allow her to catch up on the thrusters. While the Canadian moved at a lightning-quick pace on her first set of 65lb. thrusters, it wasn’t enough to surpass Briggs and Thorisdottir, who both went unbroken and returned to the rower to crank out another set of 21 calories. It was during this second round of work that Briggs took the lead. Maintaining a steady pace and calm demeanor, the 33-year-old Brit diligently motored on, finishing her work at the 3:30 mark. Thorisdottir joined her on the thrusters a few moments later, but surprisingly Bazinet was way behind in 3rd, coming to the barbell a full 18 reps behind Briggs. In fact, the 2014 champion appeared to be struggling on the movement far more than her competitors.

But in truth, nothing was going to stop Briggs. The 2013 Games champion displayed the motor that she is so renowned for, barely slowing down in the rounds of 15 and 9 as she destroyed 15.5, finishing with a blistering time of 7 minutes flat. Thorisdottir, who flashed her patented Iceland Annie smile as she finished the last few reps of the nine thrusters, finished with a time of 7:29. As the two former champions congratulated each other, they turned to support Bazinet, who came through to finish in 7:51.

15.5 Final

Sam Briggs: 07:00
Annie Thorisdottir 07:29
Camille Leblanc-Bazinet: 07:51

And just like that, the last live announcement of the 2015 CrossFit Open was complete. But Dave Castro, in his infinite wisdom, left us with one last piece of advice during the Cool Down show before he departed into the Vegas night.

“The challenge here isn’t the two movements. The challenge is in between the ears. And this test, more than anything else, is designed to be a mental challenge. You can always row harder—but are you going to? You can always hold on to the bar for a few more reps—but are you going to?”

At the time of writing, the current leaders for 15.1 are:

Sam Briggs (7:00)
Alex Ranieri (05:38)

Tips from the Pros
Talayna Fortunato
1. Don’t fear the pain, just know that it’s going to hurt. When the pain does say hello, say, “Hi, I knew I’d find you here” and then just use it as a guide from then on to help you pace.

2. Properly pacing the rounds should feel like 80% 85% 90% and then 100%.

3. WARM UP!!! Getting yourself to a heart rate in your warm up that you plan on working at during the workout is imperative! If you don’t you will get smacked in the face much harder. I suggest 5-10 intervals of a 10-calorie row and 5-10 thrusters.

4. Don’t give up free time. Meaning: practice transitioning in and out of the rower quickly and have your judge practice resetting your rower back to zero for you each time.

5. Plan on breaking the thrusters unless you can do an unbroken Fran without having to think twice about it. There are all sorts of ways to break them, just be cognizant of your exertion percentage and stay on pace.

6. Go hard and finish strong! This is the last one!

Shane Farmer,

Rudy Nielsen

Nicole Carroll

Each Open workout this year required some element of technical skill that might have been a limiting factor. One that likely slowed most of us down and saved us from supreme metabolic pain. But not this one. Not here.

Workout 15.5 is all about engine, stamina and, ultimately, mental toughness!

The ladies last night made it look like a sprint, but it might not look that way for us. We’ll probably need to find a little pacing strategy.

In general, blowing it out at 100 percent on the row would be unwise. Smarter is to be patient into the catch and then drive hard through the heels and legs at the beginning of your stroke. Use a slightly higher damper setting (drag). This gives you more calorie credit for each stroke. It would be worth playing with the damper ahead of time. Find which drag factor, at what intensity, works best for you.

Two of the videos in my playlist include some great info on damper, drag and rowing for calories.

With calories, it does pay to get the job done as fast as possible. At a higher damper setting, your flywheel meets more air resistance, making it harder to spin and stay spinning. You want to keep it spinning as fast as possible for max credit. The problem is this comes at a cost. Find a pace—or one will likely find you—that is efficient and sustainable. You do not want to be completely wrecked for what comes next: thrusters.

For the thrusters, we get to use the exact same muscle groups! But with the added pleasure of the overhead push. My hunch is you’re really not going to want to pick up the bar right away. But you must.

Here is where the mental toughness is required.

Often we’ve got more in the tank than we think and if we just get started, we can surprise ourselves with a decent set as we settle in.

The bottom line for this one is pushing through even when your lungs and legs are screaming. Remember to find places to breathe—the return on the row, top of the thruster and any transitions or rest. These are two very similar movements. They pay dividends for those who do them right and punish those who violate their core-to-extremity-movement patterns.

Two more videos in my playlist will help before “3, 2, 1, go.”

This workout is a perfect end to this year’s Open season. It is an opportunity for everyone to have a strong finish. Leave it all on the table. Walk away knowing you gave it all you had to give.

Good luck!

About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

1 thought on “A Recap of 15.5 + Some Tips From the Pros”

  1. This workout is all about heart! Keep pushing even when everything in your body is telling you stop.
    15.5 took me back to my first CrossFit workout I ever completed, both left me on the floor in the foetal position wondering what happened? And after I could move again, I wanted more:)
    Good luck everyone


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