The world's best fitness competitions: Taking training to the next level

Climb, lift, throw and carry your way to victory in these international fitness challenges
The world's best fitness competitions

Fitness is getting competitive – and events like the Crossfit Games are becoming serious spectator sports. But the beauty is that these competitions are accessible to everyone involved in functional fitness.

Functional fitness is a method of training where the body replicates movements that are, well, functional. What that means is that, instead of trying to improve the aesthetics of a muscle group – as in bodybuilding – exercises are used that benefit real-life actions. On a general level that can be anything from picking up a box or climbing stairs to reaching the performance of top athletes.

Where once functional fitness was a form of training that existed solely to make people fitter in some way, now it has become a sport in its own right, with people all over the world competing in tournaments to see how quickly and efficiently they can carry out the various workouts.

The most obvious example of these tournaments are those associated with CrossFit, many of which act as qualifying events for the CrossFit Games – probably the biggest event in the world of functional fitness.

Not all of them do though, with new independent events popping up all the time. Here we've picked a selection of our favourite barbell-swinging events from around the world. And if you've got the wellness travel bug, check out our guide to the best fitness retreats around the world.

Wodapalooza

The best functional fitness competitions around the world
Credit: Wodapalooza

Where: Miami, USA

When: 20-23 February 2020

There aren’t many functional fitness events as impressive as Wodapalooza – which isn’t surprising when you consider that not only is it one of the CrossFit sanctioned events, but it also takes place in the enormous open venue at Miami’s Bayfront Park.

The four-day festival is heavily focused on inclusivity, with divisions including teen, adaptive, scaled, masters, intermediate and Rx'd athletes. There’s also a one-day Olympic lifting competition as well as seminars, workshops and the chance to visit over 100 exhibitors over the duration of the festival.

Last year saw 1,590 athletes take part in the event itself, although those places have to be earned via the online qualification process or through application to the scaled competition – that’s unless you’re a top athlete and you get invited along to take part. Online qualifiers for individuals takes place from 3 October, or 12 November if you’re hoping to get in as part of a team.

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The Turf Games

Where: London, United Kingdom

When: TBC (the 2019 event was in June)

The London-born fitness event was designed as a way to bring people together in a team-based challenge. Now in its third year, it’s already become a landmark event for the fitness community, with gyms across the capital hosting a series of training events in the run-up to the main showdown.

The two-day event, which takes place across the grounds of a rugby stadium, is broken down into two divisions: elite and everyday athletes, both of which contain male, female and mixed teams of five. If you’re an elite, you’re looking at tougher workouts and an extra arena stage to deal with on the Friday. Lucky you.

Each team works their way through three arenas – four for the elites – before the top teams battle it out in a 'Winner Takes All' final in front of cheering fans. Workouts, as you’d imagine, cover a wide range of functional training movement, with each arena organised by London’s top fitness studios. So expect a variety of exercises that are really, really tough.

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The National Fitness Games

Where: London

When: TBC

If you're in the UK, the National Fitness Games is the competition to set your sights on. Originally hailing from Loughborough, the event has now spawned two more competitions in Surrey and Birmingham pulling in the crème de la crème of the functional athletes.

The competition sees teams of four battle it out across a series of zones: velocity, force, strength and endurance, with a set of workouts developed by some of the industry's top experts.

Taking place in some of the UK's best-equipped sports facilities, each competition is designed to be accessible, focussing on fitness and teamwork as opposed to technical movements. Exercises include staples like deadlifts, burpees, sled pushes, box jumps and, inevitably, some running.

2020 will mark the first individual event to hit the NFG roster. Entry isn't open yet but you can register your interest on the site, as well as find out about the events happening at the other locations.

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The Battle of Riga

The best functional fitness competitions around the world
Credit: The Battle of Riga

Where: Riga, Latvia

When: TBC (the 2019 event was in July)

The 2018 Battle of Riga not only saw some of the most gruelling functional challenges you’re ever likely to find, but they also threw in a section where you hammer out 100 calories on an assault bike before jumping into a pool for a max length swim. As functional workouts go, it doesn’t get more varied than that.

Qualifiers take place over two weeks in April and May, with athlete classes covering elites, sport, over 35s (men) and over 40s (men) – the elites battling it out for a €6,500 prize pot across the three best athletes in each gender group.

Fancy trying out the workouts from the 2018 event? Then you can find each of the six WODs, including the swim, on the event website.

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The Spanish Games

Where: Águilas, Spain

When: TBC (the 2019 event was in July)

Taking place in the middle of summer in Águilas, a town that sits in the south of Spain, means that things tend to get hot at the Spanish Games. Running over two days, the 2018 event saw an onslaught of tough challenges ranging from atlas balls and burpees in the sand to open water swimming and skipping with, erm, battle ropes.

The competition is broken down into mixed pairs, individual, teenager, master +35s, master +40 and master +45, with Rx and scaled options combined into each division. That means that although you don’t have to stick with Rx for the whole thing if you don’t want to, you'll get less points for doing a scaled option.

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Hyrox World Championship

The best functional fitness competitions around the world
Credit: Hyrox

Where: Berlin, Germany (qualifier events takes place around the world)

When: 4 April 2020

Hyrox is by far one of the most impressive fitness competitions we’ve seen. The sheer scale of the event, both on the day and in the number of qualifying sub-events that take place before it, is impressive to say the least – especially considering they take place all around the world.

The Berlin event is the final part of a 13-city series that sees individuals and teams competing for the opportunity to be best across all of them. The concept is beautifully simple, with participants running for 1km before completing a functional workout, repeating the format eight times with a different functional section until finally crossing the finish line. So, unlike some of the other competitions, the idea is that you’re in with a chance whether you’re a CrossFitter, a cyclist, a runner or anything else that might make you fit.

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Tribal Clash

Where: Cape Town, South Africa (there are other international events in the series)

When: 15-17 November 2019

The Tribal Clash event series takes place in five locations around the world, with the Cape Town event acting as the final of the series. Every one of them takes place next to the sea, which may give you some indication as to a general theme you might find with the competitions – that and the fact most of the pictures seem to feature a fair amount of water.

The three-day event is heavily focused on the concept of ‘primal fitness’, a training methodology similar to that used in CrossFit, but with an emphasis on outdoor experience, natural movement and a minimal use of specialist or expensive equipment. What are those movements? Well, according to the website, things like lifting, carrying, crawling, heaving, hauling, pushing, pulling, throwing, running, rowing, paddling, swimming, jumping and climbing. Probably time to start doing a bit more of that cross-training then.

The event is open to teams of six made up of three men and three women. There are no qualifying rounds and no categories based on ability. All you need to do is register in time and you’re in for the long haul.

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FITVILLE Aruba

The best functional fitness competitions around the world
Credit: FITVILLE

When: Aruba, The Caribbean

When: TBC (the 2019 event was in September)

Hailed as bringing together the fittest people on the island of Aruba, FITVILLE is a three day celebration of not only fitness but the island itself, featuring music, seminars, clinics, demonstrations, food and dancing. With 2,500 spectators attending the 2018 event, it's quickly becoming one of the most popular fitness tourist events on the island.

Now in its fourth year, the competition is set to grow even bigger, setting teams of two athletes against each other over the course of the three days. Classifications cover RXd, intermediate and scaled categories. A full list of the exercise benchmarks can be found at the event website.

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Battle Cancer

Where: London, UK (other series destinations across the world)

When: 19 October 2019

A mass-participation fitness competition that raises money for cancer charities across the world, Battle Cancer is a one-day, all-inclusive event for teams of four. Set in the enormous Olympia, it’s one of the largest competitions set up by the founders.

Workouts at Olympia and the other five locations around the world (Los Angeles, Dublin, Manchester, Berlin and Madrid) are the kind of WODs you’re likely to see in any CrossFit box, with a focus on team and partner movements. Things like synchro squats, partner deadlifts and object carries – so you’ll need to make sure your teamwork is on point. Obviously the events are held to raise money for cancer charities across the world, which means you're not only having fun, but you're doing a good thing as well.

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Grit Fitness Festival

The best functional fitness competitions around the world
Credit: Grit

Where: Hampton, USA

When: TBC (the 2019 event was in February)

Grit is a competition designed around effectively playing to the strengths of your team members, with power and/or Olympic lifting, endurance, gymnastics and plyometrics all thrown into the mix. Two-person teams of men, women and mixed or four-person teams of men or women battle it out across five WODs.

As well as the main Team Grit competition, there’s also Kid Grit – an individual functional fitness competition for kids ages 8-10 and 11-13, Teen Grit – a version for teenagers ages 14-15 or 16-17, Olympic Grit – an Olympic lifting competition for all ages and levels, and the popular OCR Grit mile, where participants take part in a one-mile run negotiating multiple obstacles and performing various functional fitness exercises.

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