In CrossFit Games

July 27, 2011

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Tony Leyland examines what makes the ideal CrossFit athlete.

Many of us want to know what makes an elite CrossFit athlete in terms of physical attributes, and as the Reebok CrossFit Games approach, more questions arise.

What type of athlete can win the Games?

What factors will determine the winner?

I am indeed going to be silly enough to attempt to discuss the factors that will determine the winner on July 31. In Part 1, I’ll look at the physical, mechanical and technical factors that go into selecting a winner, and in Part 2, I’ll consider the physiological and intangible factors.

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13 Comments on “Who Will Win the Games?—Part 1”


wrote …

I agree with your theoretical physical premise.But these conclusions are strained by not only the skills/events but more importantly the order and timing in which they executed. Recovery and heart are the great equalizer. Therefore favorites have to include Froning Salo Spealor Smith. Not seeing any rookies in the top 5.

Consider 2009, where the first three events 4mile run, deadlift ladder, and 200m weighted hill run in a 7 hr span maybe overtaxed the legs, but recovery took center stage. And day 2 saw some great names fall out of the competition.

2010 was largely void of endurance, most wods were short technical with long rest between events, the exception being the last 3 event finale.

With Reebok in the house, Dave Castro's imagination w the venue, and money on the line; size, strength, experience, endurance will all count. My expectation is that this years Games will attempt the broadest tests to date w wods of extended length and multple disciplines. I suspect you will see swimming, distance running, short running rowing all combined w clever combinations of work. Id like to see a continuation of Oly wod, if not Snatch(great theatre), maybe a max overhead squat. Finish w an obstacle course.

Regardless it is going to be a great weekend of competition


wrote …

Part 2 of this article discusses the physiology (should be up tomorrow). I agree with you Carter, recovery is likely to be a BIG factor.


wrote …

Austin Malleolo. hands down.


wrote …

My top 5 Predictions (in any order)



wrote …

Great analysis and I really enjoyed this article but I have to completely disagree with running favoring taller athletes. The increased stride length is offset by decreased turnover so there is no advantage in that regard. Weight is the major issue and being that taller people will generally carry more, they are generally at a disadvantage. Elite male distance runners are not tall at all, most are between 5'3 and 5"10. The women are comparatively similar in height.

I would really like to see some kind of throwing or swimming incorporated to even things out a bit. Gymnastics clearly favors the shorter athlete, as does running and lifting anything for time or reps. Box jumps, rowing and potentially any 1RM lifting favor the taller athlete. I'm not so sure about wall balls either because the taller athlete is forced to go through a longer ROM in the squat (if it were just throwing the ball to a target then it would be a clear advantage to be taller).

All that being said there is a 6'5" guy that qualified and I never thought that would happen.


replied to comment from quentin mcgilvery

I don't think I said said running favoured taller athletes. I agree with you Quentin that elite runners are not tall -- they are above all else light. All the specialized endurance guys are pretty lean -- the Schleck brothers (2nd and 3rd in the Tour de France) are about 6'1" and 145lbs -- scary!

1RM lifting doesn't favour the taller athlete. In the powerlifting world these very specialized athletes are short, stocky and heavily muscled. In CrossFit where you have to be more mobile the taller athletes tend to have more muscle mass compared to the smaller guys like Spealler and Bridges, so these taller athletes may do better on a 1RM max. But compared to the specialized Power lifter the slightly taller CrossFit elite are not ideally proportioned. But those specialized Powerlifters cannot run, row, pull-up, etc. etc. even close to athletes like Khalipa

The best thruster ladder result was by Danny Nichols who is 6’......... but he is also 230 lb. which is too big to be an individual contender. I believe he is competing in the team event.


wrote …

Cool concept for an article.

Two things, I thought being taller is an advantage in a move like the deadlift. Longer limbs gives longer levers. Furthermore, the hips can start in a more 'open' position and be closer to the point of maximal muscle overlap. (But mostly, I think the levers help.) Being shorter requires the bar to travel less but it's harder to pick up the weight to begin with. Powerlifters are big and tall not "short and stocky".

Second, your size of the winning athlete prediction was vaguely academic. Between 5'6 and 5'11 and 155 to 195. That's a vast group of people! Sure, making a bold prediction like 5'8 and a half at 184 is more likely to be wrong, but telling me 'nearly every competitor' other than the tall and short will win isn't telling me anything.

I look forward to part 2. Recovery is huge. And I haven't done any research on it, but it feels like something that varies significantly from person to person - regardless of their ability to perform on one single event.


wrote …

Ocean swim just revealed as the part of the first event...this is interesting but obviously favors anyone with a swim background and more specifically someone who has experience in open water. This event will be exciting and interesting but not necessarily do anything to reveal who is the fittest. Too technical of an event that anyone without ocean access could not have trained for at all. This is likely most of the field which gives a select few a huge advantage they may not reflect actually being the fitter athlete. Throwing highly technical sports into the CrossFit games I think hurts its claim to crown the fittest. Swimming, cross country skiing, kayaking, etc are all great tests of fitness...but only after the skills are developed. Being the best of a bunch of below average swimmers isnt much to brag about it? But it will be fun to watch!


replied to comment from Matt Solomon

Thats for the comments Matt. Longer limbs give better leverage to the weight -- so a disadvantage. The insertion point of your tendon into the bone is the lever arm for the muscles and this is in fact another unknown between competitors.

I should have emphasizes the trade off required for powerlifters. You can argue that at 5'11" Robert Wilkerson is not short ...... but he weighs over 400 lbs! Donnie Thompson is 5'10" and about 275 lbs. In the world of elite athletes these are not particularly tall men. Just huge with squats over 1000 lbs.

I hope between the two articles I am telling you something. :) Giving that wide a range simply emphasizes there are too many variables other than height and weight.

And speaking of those variables -- as Kyle says, by throwing in a 210 m swim they have made technique (specifically swim technique) a big factor in event number 1.


wrote …

Great article, looking forward to part 2. Guess I am screwed at 6' 250...oh yeah being 45 doesn't help either haha just kidding, I have no delusions of making the games, just do it for my health. But really enjoy watching the elites and it is cool to see some of the theory behind the performances.


wrote …

I am glad I discussed technique being a factor! Elements of the WODs released so far are quite technical. Individual event 2 results are going to be largely determined by good technique. Throwing is a fundamental movement pattern so a very valid skill to assess.


wrote …


You write, "To a some degree, it’s going to depend on what comes out of the hopper. Even 10 WODs deliberately picked to challenge all 10 physical skills will throw a slight advantage to one athlete compared to another. If we then picked 10
different WODs (again trying to challenge all 10 physical skills), we might have a different winner."

If this is true, can it accurately be claimed that the Games identifies the fittest woman and man?

Interested in your thoughts. . .


replied to comment from Thomas Davenport

Hi Thomas

Thanks for the good question. I think CrossFit can make that claim in the sense that there is such a wide spread of skills and fitness components tested. But if you read Part 2 of my article, I state that it is possible the "fittest" man or women who should have won may not have tapered properly and starts the games slightly fatigued. So my point is that the events picked is one variable that will be a factor. As the sport grows and athletes and coaches learn more and more the top athletes get closer and closer and little things can make a big difference. Less than optimal recovery nutrition for example.

The other unarguable point CrossFit can make to support that claim, "is what other sport even comes close to testing all aspects of human physical performance?"

As the games have evolved I think this variable is less of a factor -- in 2007 and 2008 what came out of the hopper was a more significant factor. Last year much less so -- and this year i think we are seeing an even broader spectrum of activities.

Cheers, Tony

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