19.4 Strategy

Over the course of several years of the Open, my analyses have always been lacking one important thing: a 4 mile run.

In 2019, however, these analyses have proven to lack another key element: a cohesively displayed performance from an athlete to record and analyze. Our luck has not changed: the feed tanked and I couldn’t get a rerun to work, and thus was left with a scant few snatches and burpees (from Canadian superstar and megahunk Pat Vellner) upon which to base my recommendations.

And so, with relatively little information (I can tell you that Pat’s first two rounds of snatches were each 17-18 seconds, and his burpees 24-25 seconds), we shall plunge together into the great unknown to determine the most viable strategy for you in 19.4. Fortunately for us, burpees aren’t complicated.


3 Rounds For Time:
10 Snatches, 95#/65#
12 Bar Facing Burpees
3:00 REST
3 Rounds For Time:
10 Bar Muscle-Ups
12 Bar Facing Burpees
—————12:00 CAP—————

Analysis & Output Management

Although we don’t have a performance to break down here, we do have something interesting to investigate: the first ever mandatory rest in an Open workout.

Our task is to determine how that rest should impact the way you approach the first couplet of the workout. More specifically, the question is: how hard does the rest allow you to push the pace on the snatch/burpee portion of the event, given that you’ll have a full three minutes to recover for the muscle-up/burpee portion of the event?

My short answer is: not much. Three minutes is a fairly long period of time for your heart rate to come down and for relatively large muscle groups (quads, glutes, hamstrings, chest, etc) to recover from their role in the couplet. Localized fatigue in the shoulders, on the other hand, may not be significantly reduced – and at the end of three minutes, no matter how tired your shoulders are, you’ve got some bar muscle-ups to do. Those bar muscle-ups are the most valuable reps in the workout, so our strategy will be based on the assumption that mitigating shoulder fatigue during the first couplet – even at the expense of a somewhat slower performance – is a primary aim which will allow you to complete the workout in the fastest overall time possible.


Are 95#/65# snatches for sets of 10 an easy task for you? If so, fantastic, move along to the next section.

Now, wait a second. That’s extremely vague. What do I mean, exactly, by “an easy task”?

In short, you should be able to perform these snatches with a relatively low powered extension, a small drop under the bar, and no grinding-to-lockout with the upper body. If you reach the point where any of those things is forced to change, you need to break the set. If you find yourself needing to substantially increase the effort of your hip/knee extension, pulling lower and lower under the bar, or slowly upright-rowing the bar through the final phase of the pull, you’ve crossed a line and need to reign it in. Ideally, you should be able to pay close attention to each individual rep and cut off such an event at the pass.

The cost of allowing yourself to hit that wall is much higher than the reward, especially since the snatches are likely the least impactful movement for your overall score. Select your sets to allow crisp, snappy reps all the way through, even if that means going to singles. As always, keep rests strict and controlled (on the clock, not in your head.)

Finally, if you are stringing reps together – whether two or ten – focus on being smooth, not fast. You aren’t going to make up a lot of time here, so seek to build a controlled, consistent rhythm which allows you to keep the same mechanics all the way through. I strongly advocate a power snatch over a muscle snatch. Even dropping just a couple of inches under the bar has the potential to meaningfully mitigate shoulder fatigue, which, again, is a key element of effective pacing for this workout, and is unlikely to add more than a few seconds to your overall time.

Bar Muscle-Up

Among the three movements in 19.4, the Bar Muscle-Up is by far the highest reward-per-rep, meaning that each bar muscle-up is likely to represent more (perhaps significantly more) spots on the leaderboard than each snatch or burpee. It’s also the highest risk-per-rep, because it’s the only movement in the workout which is susceptible to actual failure (that is, it is entirely possible to fail to complete a rep after it’s been initiated, as opposed to the snatch and burpee, where you won’t fail reps, you’ll just slow down.)

This confluence of characteristics – highest risk and highest reward – is the guiding light for our strategy on bar muscle-ups. As with the snatches, your golden rule is to avoid mechanical compensation. In other words, if you start displaying significant technical changes as you go, you’re in danger of overreaching. Particular signs that you’re approaching that point include (but aren’t limited to) increasingly larger tap swings (especially if accompanied by a loss of rhythm/control in the attempt to produce more power), chicken-winging (i.e. turning one elbow over the bar before the other, rather than simultaneously), abnormally low catches in the turnover, and grinding through the turnover. If you feel yourself moving in the direction of any of these – stop!

Your directives are much the same as for the snatch: submaximal, controlled sets, disciplined rests, and a careful eye on mechanics as your guideline for fatigue. Unlike the snatch, however, failure/missed reps are a real possibility here, so missing the mark on your pace has both acute and chronic effects, whereas the effects of falling off pace or pushing too hard on the snatch are (in almost all cases) only chronic. The challenge here is to go faster by going slower – easier said than done, but hey…this stuff isn’t easy.

Bar Facing Burpee

Ah, yes. Everyone’s favorite.

The burpees are unique in 19.4 in that they’re the only movement of the three which makes a repeat appearance, totaling 72 reps overall. Between the nature of the movement and the volume, these are likely to be the greatest contributor to both systemic and local fatigue.

All in all, this seems to suggest a conservative approach to the bar facing burpee. Moreso than the power snatch, this is a movement on which you are unlikely to “win” 19.4, but you could very well “lose” it. With that said, there’s no room to go slow here, as both couplets are still fast in the grand scheme of things.

In the context of this workout, the burpee is likely to be the movement on which you lose your pace. This is because (1) burpees suck and slowing down feels rather nice, and (2) it’s much easier to fall off your pace per rep, because every rep of bar facing burpees has at least a moment where you are neither quite working, nor quite resting (the instant or instants, in which you are landing and/or turning around). Therefore, it is even more critical that your rests are intentional and disciplined. On the clock. Not in your head.

It’s more difficult to use mechanical measures as a proxy for fatigue here, since the burpee is a bit of a sloppy movement anyway – particularly when you’re trying to go fast and avoid shoulder fatigue. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes during your warm-up to think about how you sequence your breathing during burpees. Where do you inhale? Where do you exhale? How much breath do you take in? You should be breathing more like you do when you run than when you lift. Just because the burpee isn’t a “high skill” movement in the sense we usually use the phrase doesn’t mean you can’t get an advantage by thinking more closely about how you move.

A final note on pacing: throughout this analysis, I’ve advocated for a smooth, conservative approach which allows you to maintain consistency. It is important to bear in mind that this is relative to the nature of the workout itself, and the nature of the workout is fast. Even if you aren’t an elite athlete, these are speedy couplets, and you’re going to have to move at a pace commensurate with the nature of the workout. There is going to be some pain here – your job is to ride the challenging line of suffering enough, but not too much.


  1. EMOM 12, alternating:

    a) 10 Power Snatch, 65#/45# - focus on building the smooth, controlled rhythm described above

    b) 8 Perfect Burpees

    c) 10 Tap Swings on Pullup Bar – focus on creating a gradually larger swing without losing tension or rhythm

  2. Every 0:30 x 6: 0:10 Power Snatches, 95#/65#

  3. Every 0:30 x 6: 0:10 Bar Facing Burpees

  4. Every 0:30 x 4: 0:10 Bar Muscle-Ups

    Use your rate of fatigue (subjective assessment) on each movement to build a strategy, selecting your initial reps/set and rests between sets.