Over the summer ESPN devoted a lot of their airtime to a new phenomenon known as the Crossfit Games. CrossFit is a fitness craze that has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so. The program consists of a participant following the CrossFit workout of the day (WOD) either at home or in a CrossFit specific gym known as a box (there are currently over 5,000 of these boxes in the U.S.), where a CrossFit-certified trainer leads groups through the workouts. Each workout includes various elements of physical exercise, with the idea being that people who participate in CrossFit should be well-rounded in their fitness levels.
The workouts typically include elements of interval training, olympic lifting, powerlifting, plyometrics, gymnastics, strongman and calisthenics. CrossFit has faced some criticism due to its intense nature. There have also been negative critiques regarding some boxes where the trainers are less qualified, where participants have injured themselves while performing high reps of technically complex lifts such as power cleans and snatches. Despite the criticism, CrossFit remains wildly popular and new boxes are popping up all around the United States and the world.
In recent years, television and entertainment giant ESPN as well as sports apparel giant Reebok have recognized the potential profit presented by the popularity of CrossFit. Specifically, there has been an increased commercial focus on the annual CrossFit Games, which have been held every summer since 2007. The Games’ rise in popularity has been astounding. In 2007, the prize money for the male and female champions was a paltry $500. This past year, the male and female champions Rich Froning Jr. and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet each took home $275,000.
Reebok, the primary sponsor of the Games which are known officially as the Reebok CrossFit Games, has pledged to increase the total every year by $200,000 until 2020. While the first place prize will remain at $275,000, the awards for finishers in the top twenty will expand. This was the first year when prizes were awarded for those who finished eleventh through twentieth (games.crossfit.com). Previously, only those who finished in the top ten received cash prizes. Since more athletes will be receiving prize money, we can expect a sharp increase in competitors over the next few years as more CrossFit athletes will decide to participate at the Games. This has the potential to increase the quality of the competition.
As in most sports, much of the money athletes receive comes from endorsement deals. Rich Froning Jr has reaped the benefits throughout his extraordinary CrossFit career. Froning has won the last four CrossFit Games, and as a result he has become the face of CrossFit. Sporting a muscular physique, Froning has found a great deal of success through modeling for his sponsors which include Rogue Fitness (an exercise equipment manufacturer), Reebok and BSN (a sports supplement company). It is estimated that Froning is worth over $2.5 million, making him by far the most successful CrossFit athlete to date (cnetworth.com). Froning’s success has granted him a place in Team USA competing in the CrossFit Team Events against Europe, Australia and Candada in November.
With regard to the Games themselves, athletes must complete a three-step journey. The first stage of the competition is the Open which runs for five weeks beginning in the spring. During this phase, a new CrossFit workout is released each week online. CrossFit athletes will have a week to record themselves performing the workouts in as fast a time as possible. The top performers from the Open round will then compete in Regionals where the best performers from the Open round will compete in one of seventeen regional tournaments over a three-day period. The top three male and female performers from each region will then compete in the Reebok CrossFit Games for cash prizes. CrossFit also has several Masters divisions for CrossFit athletes over forty years old (games.crossfit.com)
During the games, the athletes do not learn of the events they will compete in until just before the competition. The idea behind this rule is what separates the CrossFit Games from other fitness competitions. In powerlifting, olympic lifting, triathlons and strongman competitions, athletes know what they will have to do and will train accordingly. Since the CrossFit events are somewhat random, athletes must truly demonstrate the basic idea of CrossFit, in that they should be able to excel in all facets of fitness. CrossFit is about training individuals in a holistic manner, rather than having them focus on a specific aspect of fitness.
Clearly, the idea of CrossFit has resonated with many people around the world who are not necessarily trying to compete, but are rather focused on improving their health and increasing their fitness. I do find it somewhat contradictory that an organization that prides itself on not being specific to one sport hosts competitions that are specific to its method of training. This is not to say that the games or CrossFit in general are bad things, in fact I believe that CrossFit is a fantastic way for the average adult to get into fitness. It just seems strange that CrossFit, whose philosophy is to avoid specificity, should have athletes who are specific to CrossFit. Froning may be great at CrossFit, but he would lose a powerlifting competition that measures brute strength. Similarly, he would most likely lose a marathon, which tests pure endurance. I suppose that for people who enjoy CrossFit that is acceptable. CrossFit will turn someone into a jack-of-all fitness, rather than a master of any one area. As long as people are trying to get fit though, that is perfectly fine with me.