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Testing Fitness as Sport by Tony Budding - CrossFit Journal

Testing Fitness as Sport

By Tony Budding

In CrossFit Games

September 08, 2010

PDF Article

The CrossFit Games are the ultimate test of fitness. Tony Budding shares some of the theory behind the structure of the 2010 Games.

CrossFit is both a training modality and a sport. As a training modality, we can improve the real-world physical capacity of folks from any walk of life. As a sport, we can compete for fun, or we can compete for the title of “fittest.” The CrossFit Games are the world championships of our sport, so we title the winners the Fittest on Earth.

Using a single CrossFit workout as a sport is pretty simple. Put the names up on the whiteboard. Allow scaling, which is a form of handicapping, or not. Pre-register any excuses, or not. Set the terms of the workout and go. The winner is he or she who finishes first, with the most rounds and reps, or who lifts the most weight.

Combining multiple workouts into an integrated CrossFit competition is more complicated. Because every workout is different, combining them in a fair way is rarely a simple, straightforward process. We’ve been experimenting with this in the Games for four years now. This article is a philosophical look into what it means to test fitness as a sport.

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23 Comments on “Testing Fitness as Sport”


wrote …

Tony, great article! The event was mind-blowing fro start to finish. I love the removing of the single modality / specialist WODs like just a long run or just trying to establish a 1RM. Fitness was most certainly tested and every athlete that stepped into that arena should be proud of their hard work. All of you were a pleasure to watch compete. Thanks!


I like that this has been published and the analysis and thoughtful explanation of choices is great.

I agree with your contention about the ropes, mats and fear. I also agree with many of your contentions about the cognitive side of fitness: intelligence, knowing your capacities and being able to think/work stuff out on the fly.

Nice article Tony! I really enjoyed reading these insights.


wrote …

Very insightful. The programming, structure of competition, venue, judges, athletes, etc., for this year's Games were all top notch. Obviously, a lot of thought and careful planning went in to this year's Games.

Not sure if I agree with the complaints about the Games being more of a test of the best Crossfitter than a test of the world's fittest athlete. Not only because of the points Tony made, but isn't the best Crossfitter also the world's fittest athlete?


wrote …

This was a great article Tony. Thank you. I was wondering if any of the workouts of the 2010 games had unexpected results(different from what you thought the outcome would be)much in the same way the deadlift event (following the run)of the 2009 games.


wrote …

Great article! My only concern is with the sandbag/wheelbarrow event. It seems an event like that can have a alot more room for luck. If one athlete just happens to grab the correct combinations of bags per barrow or steps he may finish faster, not because of work capacity but because of a gamble. Not that it wouldve changed any of the results from these games that had some truly elite test of fitness but just my personal thoughts.


wrote …

Thanks for the article. You had me until the end, when arguing for a mathematical flaw in the scoring. While true that it did not affect the *podium* places this year, it did affect the overall placement. Only 4 of 16 males' final rank would stayed the same with the correction (differing by up to 3 places). A few reps/seconds here and there, and the podium rank could have been affected. It is not hard to imagine a future in which the top x finishers receive some compensation commensurate with their place (like golf, tennis, car racing, running, beach volleyball ... pretty much every pro sport in the US). Getting the (full) correct result is part of sports -- it's why there is so much outrage over blown referee calls. I hope next year's games don't include a mathematical scoring flaw the organizers know about.


wrote …

Thanks for the explanation, Tony! We appreciate hearing how you came up with the events.

I still, however, am in the camp that feels there should have been one or two more single modality events, particularly a strength event. While mixed modalities is often a component of real world tasks, single modalities also come up frequently in real life, and this frequency should be reflected in a balanced fitness test.

After all, sometimes people legitimately have to JUST run someplace quickly, or JUST move something heavy, probably more often than they have to do one right after the other. We need to test our readiness for these tasks as well.


wrote …

In regards to the scoring system and wether it was flawed or not:

Would Rich Fronning Jr still have placed 2nd if the Rope Climb WOD was one of the first three events and he received a score of 40+?
Would a bumping of Rich down have allowed Austin on the podium?

I think the scoring system isn't flawed, it the organization of cuts that's flawed. If you're looking to compare an athlete to his peers across broad times and modal domains, all the athletes need to receive a score across all broad times and modal domains.


wrote …

So what Tony is saying is that glaring weaknesses are less important on day 2 than day 1, and less important on day 3 than day 2.

That makes no sense, but essentially that's what you are putting forward to defend your scoring system.

No scoring system is perfect, but there are a lot that don't suck. Why can't you pick one of those, instead of consistently picking one that does suck? If you want the games to get as big as possible, you need a scoring system that doesn't make the casual fan scratch their heads and wonder why they are wasting their time.


wrote …

That is a very thought provoking article. Thank you!

It still isn't clear what exactly you're trying to measure with the Games. I'm not sure how it differs in from the goals of the decathlon ("world's greatest athlete" ). Also, if the event gets a major face lift every year, everything from the events to the scoring, how does one compare things year to year?

Regarding event selection, if you want to be prepared for anything, and you have the Hopper model, "varied if not random", GPP, etc., I think one improvement would be to literally create workouts randomly far ahead of contest time, with the possibility of the same workout appearing more than once. If you want to control the randomness by balancing across categories (gymnastics, weightlifting, 10 general skills, etc., and rep schemes) this can be done too by random sampling within categories. There's certainly enough movements and/or workouts to select from.

I also think the fittest person in the world should be able to defend their person, so I'd vote for adding a self defense component to the Games. Note that this doesn't necessarily mean sparring with someone, although it could realized like that.



wrote …

Great work Tony. It's amazing to see how far the Games have come and exciting to think of what is in store for next year.


wrote …


Great article. I don't always agree with you but there is no doubt you always present a very good argument to support your stance and that usually means I have to reassess my stance if I have disagreed.

The games are definitely going in the right direction



Ben Liuzzi wrote …

Interesting article and thanks for posting it.

One point regarding the final event, specifically this: "We had to have movement standards and combinations that could be easily described and judged and quickly understood by tired athletes". I think it was done quite well, but if used again I would like to see it explained more clearly and the athletes given 20secs or so to confirm with their individual judges what is required.

Language barriers, misunderstandings and rushed descriptions shouldn't take away from athlete's ability to do well in a workout. Having a moment to confirm with the judges will minimize the likelihood of these problems, and wouldn't take away from the spectacle of the event or change the stimulus.



wrote …

Excellent article which highlights the intelligence put into this years games.

I have previously made the argument that certain specific technical skills (ring muscles ups, double unders) lead to the games proving the world's fittest crossfiter instead of the world's fittest person.

After seeing how many of the top athletes had never practiced some of the movements (i.e. ring hspu, pistols)I realized that my previous ideas just underestimated the world's best athletes. A top notch athlete will most likely already possess the physical capacities to complete even a strange new movement, at least with a modicum of profficiency.


wrote …

This is a nice article, but I have some issues with it.

First, Froning is mega-fit (no denying that) but he lacked rope climbing skill. So did Mikko Salo. If that event is first, there is a possibility that they come in 40th. Tony's article said Froning and Salo never finished worse than 16th....well there were only 16 people climbing the rope. Yes, it still depends on how every other competitor fairs at rope climbing, but Budding's statement is accurate but deceptive.

Second, while discussing Ring HSPU Tony said "In other words, the athletes who were best at regular or parallette handstand push-ups should also be best at the ring variety." Is there any evidence to this support this statement? There was an attempt to make them appear similar to other HSPU but that doesn't allow that conclusion without data.

Third, while I'm discussing Ring HSPU. The judges have a challenging job, but counting reps of upside down participants must have been the hardest. I felt that certain reps weren't counted and others were counted too early. From a viewers perspective, the definition of a completed rep was very subjective. When going overhead with a bar, judges can look at straight arms and an "ear coming in front of the arm/shoulder" (from the side). This is reiterated. I'm going from memory, but I remember some of the athletes not being required to finish the rep in that same overhead position - while others were. They locked out their arms - but if they were standing on their feet holding a bar, the bar would have been inches in front of their face - not in that legit overhead position.

Fourth, it would be great if there was an effective way of implementing proportional scoring. So that if you 3 athletes dominate the pack in one event, their scores demonstrate that. But as mentioned in the article, you can't just weight all the events equally.

Fifth, I like the bit about combinations instead of single modality tests.

The Games overall are fantastic. Arguing these issues is merely a minor side thing that really doesn't take away from their goodness! Well done to everyone involved.

Thanks for the read, Tony.


wrote …

Thanks for this paper. I've followed the last three games. In 2009, I was hitting refresh on twitter in 2009 and in 2010 I was watching them live in HD on my couch. Amazing leap - congrats! My wife and I are already looking forward to watching next year!

A few things from your article that made me wonder.

I know coordination, balance etc. are in the definition of fitness, but couldn't the high skill movements reward the individuals with high skill yet lower work capacity? If the WOD was 5 rounds of 5 Lutz jumps and 5 push-ups and only one person knows how to skate, do we know anything about their fitness based on the results of that WOD? Keep in mind I love the high skill events and everything in that category had been on the mainsite so I don't think they were unfair - I am just pushing on the title of world's fittest v. best crossfitter.

Do you have any data on the dangers of matting? Do you think a rock climber would be safer without securing a safety line because they would make more intelligent choices? Isn't a couple of the standard crossfit mantras that you don't learn to drive fast without crashing into a few walls and that men will do anything for points?

I know this is uncontroversial and well-trodden ground, but, regarding functional movements, I still have trouble thinking of way a human can move that is not functional. I can't see how kettlebell swings are more functional (or prehistoric) than curls, as an example. Yes, KB swings recruit more muscles, larger range of motion etc., but both seem appropriate, depending on the context, to accomplish a specific purpose.


wrote …

In my opinion there should not be cuts. By moving events around you can come up with different results. Who knows how well previously cut athletes would have performed in day 2 or day 3 events. I may be wrong but it seems the cuts are only for logistical reasons...give them all a chance to be tested even if it takes longer. In contrast the Olympics take 12+ days. I know the Games are not meant to be the Olympics but shouldn't the "Fitness Olympics" be a thorough test. Regardless of my opinion the Crossfit Games are so exciting I was glued to my computer screen the whole time! I merely offer food for thought.

Thank you for all the great articles and knowledge you provide on a daily basis!


wrote …

Great article. The scoring system seems odd, but clearly the alternatives were carefully considered and this one came out the winner. As for cuts and the order of events, is there any doubt that Salo or Froning would've climbed the ropes really quickly (without using legs) if that were the first event? It seems like much of the criticism is from those who had hoped that the "strength bias" training would be validated in these Games. It was perhaps not fully appreciated by some that gymnastics are a significant part of Crossfit.


wrote …

Somewhat off topic I suppose, but what about changing the athlete selection process for the games? There were some complaints about "stacked regionals" where only 3 of the athletes could move on to the games (similar arguments about affiliate teams).

What if you rewarded regions that produced the highest finishers at the games by giving them more slots the next year? For example, if the Southeast Region has more top 10 finishers than the Northeast then they would get an extra slot at next year's games. There's a variety of ways to implement such a selection process, and yes it is backward looking, but I believe it would reward regions that have the best athletes and the best events used to qualify their athletes...


wrote …

Even though I acknowledge that the games competitors are amazingly fit, I don't agree with the title "fittest in the world" based on the overwhelming advantage shorter athletes have with the current modalities tested. Power output is the best way to evaluate fitness but the majority of the wods don't test power. Power = work / time. Distance is a component of work so if two athletes move the same load in the same amount of time the taller or longer limbed athlete will have produced more power. Any amrap or ttc wod biases the shorter athlete rep after rep. I realize it's not an easy problem to deal with but until it is the "fittest" will likely not top 6' (maybe 6'2")


wrote …

Well articulated and informative article. I have to disagree with not using mats. Allow me to use this analogy as it is a topic I know well. Most modern aircraft have autopilots. An autopilot is designed to reduce the workload of the pilot in order to concentrate on other tasks, thus making the flight safer. Constantly using an autopilot to fly the aircraft will degrade the skill of flying. The benefits of using autopilot however, reduce the number of close calls or minor mishaps. If you can reduce the number of close calls, you reduce the number of fatal ones as well. This theory (Bird & Germain) is well documented in the safety community. Using mats, like any other safety device, must come with training and knowledge, not unlike the autopilot analogy. Early use of the auto pilot definitely contributed to many errors; however, training has made it a formidable safety tool. Having a mat may have increased (big maybe with no evidence) the number of minor injuries but this would be because of improper implementation and improper procedures, not having the mat itself. Rubber flooring would not stop a serious injury if a fall occurred from 15 feet. I bet if one person would have fallen and been seriously injured, that event would be gone from next year or there would be mats in place next time. This kind of thinking happens all too often in communities that have inherent risks. People identify the need and others cry too expensive, too complicated or too accommodating. When someone gets seriously injured or dies, all of a sudden the need is fulfilled with money and equipment. There really is no defense for not having available safeguards in place.


wrote …

Many of the complaints re: the rope climb safety issue revolved around the timing of the rope climb. While there are always inherent dangers to a rope climb, it seems that reversing the order of the final 3 events would have been the more prudent thing to do.
Single modalities are fine in these events as long as they're balanced with a single modality that counters it. The first two events of last years Games were a perfect example of that.


replied to comment from Max Attack

Max, Your comment on two single modalities events equalling one multi-modality event was my gut reaction to the article. But that seemed to be contra-indicated in the article, albeit without explanation. I would be interested to hear more from Tony or others on this.

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