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2016 CrossFit Games Post-Mortem

The CrossFit Games have ended for another year. Along the way there were thrills, cheers, some tragedy, and all the drama of a great sporting event. The 2015 event was harshly criticized as being so demanding that it actually put participants in serious danger, and some did experience a potentially serious condition called rhabdomyolysis and various degrees of heat injury on top of the ‘normal’ hazards of top-level CrossFit. The Games of 2016, in contrast, have been praised for correcting the errors of the 2015 Games. This led me to wonder if it was true, so I dusted off the part of my brain where my statistics classes lay and did some (very) amateur analysis of 2015 vs. 2016.

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Caveats: (1) I’m not a professional statistician. (2) I only analyzed the men’s events and their weights. Women’s weights would be slightly lower, but other elements would be the same. (3) In order to get a value for bodyweight exercises, I assumed a 200# male, which would be roughly average. (4) It’s not easy finding units to make an apples-to-apples comparisons, for example how do you ‘convert’ double-unders to meters to compare them with their monostructural breatheren? I used 1:1.  (5)Total finishing time is for the winner of each event, so it’s faster than anyone actually went.  (6) Therefore, this is educated guesswork.

The CrossFit Games are always really, REALLY hard.

So, here we go, a little side-by-side:

Games Analysis 2015 vs 2016

So, what do we see?  Adding up all the 1st place times, there were only 8 minutes & 3 seconds difference in total time.  2016 had 34% more volume in monostructural efforts than 2015 (a total of 3,772m more) while 2015 had a 14% more lifting than 2016, at just under 50,000 pounds more. Both years featured the Hero WOD “Murph,” which was a focal point of critics in 2015. While the workout was the same, the 2015 version was held in the afternoon, when the heat index was 85 degrees. For 2016, Murph was held in the morning, at 75 degrees.

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What can we take away from this feast of numbers? First, that the numbers that first come to mind look surprisingly similar, so if we are to find differences, we need to look a little closer. 2015’s Snatch Speed Ladder was scored on a points system, which might skew the results, since I took the numbers from the official results pages. But the 2016 deadlift ladder was 1 attempt every 0:30 for 20 weights, so a maximum of 10:00. Probably not that far off the time for the Snatch Speed Ladders (athletes who made it all the way through did 1 rep each at 5 different weights for 3 sets).

Other differences can be subtle, and remind us of the need to do workouts exactly the same way, under the same conditions, in order to get true apples-to-apples comparisons.

While 3,772 meters of additional monostructural work is nothing to sneeze at, think of how long that takes to perform. Even Games athletes will need a minimum of 11:00 to cover that distance on foot (at 5:00/mile pace – fast for a Games athlete). When we think about CrossFit workouts, we know there’s a lot of lifting, and a fair bit of rest between lifts when it’s heavy enough or high enough volume. Since the two years had nearly identical total times, this gives you an idea of the difficulty of the lifting required in 2015, though comparing pig flips and snail pushes requires either a rough estimate or pretty heavy physics.


Murph Start

Other differences can be subtle, and remind us of the need to do workouts exactly the same way, under the same conditions, in order to get true apples-to-apples comparisons.  While both 2015 and 2016 editions featured “Murph”, not only was there a temperature difference, but in 2015 all athletes were required to perform the workout unsegmented. This means they had to do all 100 pull-ups before beginning pushups, and all pushups before beginning any squats. In 2016, they were required to do 5 rounds of 20 pullups, 40 pushups, and 60 squats. The additional muscle fatigue is as serious as it is real. It also increases the risk of rhabodomyolosis.

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I’ve done Murph both unsegmented and segmented. My unsegmented time was 12:00 slower than my worst segmented performance, at fairly similar levels of fitness. This difference is also reflected in the finishing times: the mens’ winner in 2015 needed 7:58 more time to finish the event than the 2016 winner. While Murph was the 3d event in 2015 and 5th in 2016, the athletes also had slightly more total time in competition at the start in 2015 (52:29 vs. 48:24). Murph was also done after a rest day in 2015, while 2016 did only the 500m ocean swim event the day before.

In conclusion, we can say this:

  1. The CrossFit Games are always really, REALLY hard.

  2. Weather and small differences in what’s required can tip the balance between badass and broken.

  3. Monostructural is a little “easier” than weighted or bodyweight metcons.

  4. The Games athletes are all a year fitter, and better able to handle what’s thrown at them.

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer