The CrossFit Games: Everything you need to know about the ultimate fitness competition

The indispensable guide to the who, where, what and why of being the ‘Fittest on Earth’
​What is the CrossFit Games?

Explaining the CrossFit Games to anyone that sits outside of the close-knit community is a difficult task. To an outsider, flicking the TV channel over and stumbling across the tournament, it can be a strange experience.

The yearly contest known as the CrossFit games is the culmination of a selection process that begins months earlier, with the details of both that and the event itself a carefully kept secret until just hours before.

Athletes perform what appears to be a random selection of exercises as people in front hold clipboards and frantically mark down points. In the foreground a ridiculously powerful looking athlete bangs out heavy deadlift reps while in the background another is swinging up and down on a horizontal bar.

Is it a gym? Is it a sport? It’s difficult to tell. But one thing is for sure, these people are amazingly fit and the contest that they’re taking part in is a serious business.

It isn’t until you’ve become immersed in the CrossFit world that things start to take shape. The acronyms, the scoring systems and the sheer scope of exercises that can and do appear in the yearly tournament suddenly become much clearer. Like any sport, there’s a learning curve, but few are quite so steep.

Note: This information relates to the 2019 CrossFit open

The history of the CrossFit Games

What is the CrossFit Games?
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Back in 2007, the inaugural games took place at the family ranch of CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro in Aromas, California. The low-key affair saw around 70 athletes meet up for three workouts over the course of two days. Afterward, they had a barbecue.

As CrossFit workouts go, day one was a relatively simple set of exercises made of the sort of movements you’ll find in any CrossFit box, with a 5k trail run thrown in at the end. Day two comprised of nothing more than a 1 rep max competition over three specific movements.

As both the brand and the competition have grown enormously over the next 12 years, the Games is now almost unrecognisable against its modest origins. For a clear comparison of how the event has developed over time, you only need to compare this video from 2007 with this event from 2018 – and we’re not just talking about the music.

Where is it? In 2019 the event will take place for the third year in a row in Madison, Wisconsin.

When is it? In 2019 the Games run from 29 July to 4 August

How can you take part in the Games?

There are currently three routes to bagging a spot at the CrossFit Games: become a national champion in the CrossFit Open, be among the top 20 men or women worldwide in the Open or win a Sanctionals event.

The CrossFit Open

What is the CrossFit Games?
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

The Crossfit Open is a series of five workouts completed over five weeks. Anyone in the world can take part as long as you’re registered via the CrossFit website and app. Each person carries out exactly the same workout within a specified time period once the exercises have been released. In order to have your score on that round validated, you’ll either need to do it in front of a registered CrossFit marker (done via your affiliated CrossFit gym) or film yourself doing it and upload the video.

The workout announcements in 2019 took place on a Friday, allowing any registered athlete to complete it and submit their score by 5pm (Pacific time) the following Monday.

The Open also accounts for RXd and Scaled athletes. This means that there are two levels of workout that can be completed. RX is defined as the total level of weights or reps that should be completed by an athlete, and Scaled as a lower version of those workouts. Although to be in the highest rank of Open athletes you’re very unlikely to attain a high enough score through scaled workouts.

For more information on the Open rules, click here.

CrossFit Sanctionals

What is the CrossFit Games?
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

As CrossFit has developed around the world, so have competitive events around the community. The Sanctionals are those events associated with CrossFit where the first placed male and female competitors are invited to take place in the CrossFit Games. It’s also the only way for teams to compete at the Games.

There are currently 15 Sanctional events around the world, with locations in Dubai, Brazil, Iceland and Asia amongst the list. Each has their own format for the competition. A full list can be found here.

What happens at the games?

What is the CrossFit Games?
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Once the qualifying methods are complete, the leading athletes head to Madison, Wisconsin for five days of competitions covering an enormous range of functional movements. At one end of the scale you'll find the kind of things you’re likely to see in any CrossFit box around the world, with athletes competing to lift the most weight, perform the most reps and finish the fastest. At the other end you'll find almost anything, with previous competitions including open water swimming, trail running, cycling, hammering a metal box across a floor and completing an obstacle course whilst doing a handstand walk.

How is it scored?

What is the CrossFit Games?
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

To anyone turning on to the CrossFit games the scoring can initially be a tricky thing to follow. Athletes are awarded points relative to their position in each specific event. So regardless of how much they lift, or how fast they complete an individual section of the Games, it’s only scored in relation to how well everyone else did. Each of these events is scored up to 100 points with a decreasing amount of that total awarded dependent on the finishing position. At the end of all the events, the scores are compiled to see who’s at the top. Simple.

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