What Are the CrossFit Games?

By James T. Cains

The CrossFit Games are a hugely popular and incredibly intense fitness competition that endeavors to crown “the fittest man and the fittest woman in the world.” The Games are so popular that over 200,000 athletes signed up for the Open competition (a five-week qualifying stage in which participants from all over the world submit their scores online), with over 1,500 men and women advancing to regional competitions. From the Regionals, about 100 finalists compete in the actual Games.

But what is CrossFit? Glad you asked.

What is the CrossFit program?

CrossFit is an intense, multi-discipline exercise program that combines all different kinds of exercises into varied fitness routines. CrossFit trains 10 fundamental physical qualities: Cardio/respiratory endurance, strength, stamina, power, flexibility, speed, agility, coordination, accuracy, and balance.

Often when people exercise, they focus on one or two activities, such as running or weight lifting or swimming. CrossFitters, however, seek to create exercise routines that include a variety of activities, called Workouts of the Day (WODs). For example, in Monday’s WOD, you might do 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 10 burpees (completing as many repetitions as possible in a given amount of time). In Tuesday’s WOD, you might do 15 sit-ups, 10 deadlifts, and run 100 meters (again, with as many repetitions as possible in a given timeframe). The goal is to do a variety of workouts that cross disciplines so that you can become as fit as possible.

The CrossFit Games ramp up this philosophy to extreme levels, though — three to four days of intense competition and four grueling WODs per day, with strict and aggressive repetitions and time limits.

For an introduction to CrossFit, check out this CrossFit For Dummies video.

A brief history of the CrossFit Games

The CrossFit Games have grown from a small, local competition to a worldwide event. Here’s how:

  • 2007: The first CrossFit Games were held on a ranch in northern California and saw 70 CrossFit athletes compete for a $500 prize.

  • 2008: The number of competing athletes grew to 300.

  • 2009: The Games went global, with regional competitions across the world sending 150 finalists to compete in the Games. These Games also saw the first separate team competition, in which 100 teams competed for the Affiliate Cup.

  • 2010: The Games moved to a larger venue in Los Angeles. Another level of qualifying was added: Sectionals, the winners of which would go to the Regionals. After Regionals, 86 finalists competed in the Games, which awarded a first prize of $25,000.

  • 2011: Reebok initiated a 10-year sponsorship of the Games, which allowed the prize money to significantly increase — male and female individual winners took home $250,000 each. 2011was also the first year the Games were televised on ESPN. The CrossFit Games also added the Open competition (replacing the Sectionals), which attracted over 26,000 athletes worldwide. The Open competition sent the highest scorers to the Regionals, and then the regional winners would go to the games to compete for the title of “Fittest on Earth.” This was the first year that Rich Froning, Jr., and Annie Thorisdottir would win the individual men’s and women’s championships.

  • 2012: Over 86,000 athletes competed in the Open competition in 2012. From the Open, the 60 fittest individual athletes and 30 fittest teams from each region competed in the regional competitions. From there, each of the 17 regions sent the top 3 men, 3 women, and 3 teams to the games. In 2012, the Games also sprang a major surprise on the finalists: Before the Games officially began, an extra day of competition was added, which was held at the U.S. Marine base, Camp Pendleton. Froning and Thorisdottir repeated as the individual champions.

  • 2013: The popularity of the games continued to increase dramatically, and more than 138,000 athletes participated in the Open competition. Froning became three-time men’s champion; however, Thorisdottir had to withdraw due to injury, and Sam Briggs won the women’s championship.

  • 2014: Over 200,000 athletes participated in the Open completion. Froning became four-time men’s champion, and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet won the women’s championship. Returning two-time champion Thorisdottir came in second place in the women’s competition.

How to participate and qualify in the CrossFit Games

Signing up to participate in the CrossFit Games is easy. Just go to the CrossFit Games website, create a new account (or log in with your existing account if you’re a returning participant), and answer a few questions geared toward placing you in the correct division and region. Then you can register to participate in the Open completion. Registration for the Open costs $20 for residents of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. For the rest of the world, registration is $10.

Qualifying for the CrossFit Games is another story. That’s where the real work begins, and you have to be super-fit to do the workouts. Open athletes compete in five workouts over a five-week period, and they post their scores online. The workouts are posted online and must be followed to the letter and validated. There are two ways to validate your workout:

  • Work out at a CrossFit-affiliated gym and have a person judge your workout and submit your scores online.

  • Upload a video of your workout as evidence of the scores you post online.

Competitors can make as many attempts as necessary to get the best score, as long as the score for each week’s workout is submitted by the end of the week. Then, at the close of the Open competition, the best-performing 48 men, 48 women, and 30 teams from each of 17 worldwide regions will be invited to the regional competitions.

Upcoming CrossFit Games schedule

The dates for the upcoming games are posted on the CrossFit Games website, but here are general timeframes for each of the three stages:

  1. The Open competition begins in late February and spans five weeks.

  2. The Regionals take place in May over a three-day period.

  3. The Games themselves take place in August over a three- to four-day time period.

So you have plenty of training time between the three stages. However, the workouts that competitors perform during these stages are not posted online until the time of the competition to maintain the element of surprise.