What Are the CrossFit Games?

By Kaitlin Bitz Candelaria | July 16, 2016
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So, you started CrossFit as a New Year’s resolution this year. You’ve just gotten used to saying snatch without blushing and you’re still trying to remember the ridiculous number of acronyms and now all anyone in your gym is talking about is the Open…um what? Does CrossFit come with a textbook?

I started my CrossFit journey in January 2014 and felt similarly confused. However, being the firm believer of “fake it till you make it” that I am, I never asked what the Open was for fear of looking stupid.

Now, I’m about to sign up for the Open for the second year in a row and it is seriously something I have been looking forward to all year. As my coach likes to say, amazing things happen during the Open and I don’t want you to miss out on that opportunity because you don’t understand the CrossFit process.

The CrossFit Process: The Open

The CrossFit Open begins in late February each year and anyone (anyone who’s willing to pay to play, that is) can register for the Open. It costs $20 to register and in return, you’ll be able to see where you rank among hundreds of thousands of other CrossFitters, including your own gym.

For five weeks, CrossFit HQ will release a new Open workout on live television each Thursday night. Athletes have until Monday night to complete the workouts and enter their score. Athletes who are seriously entertaining the idea of advancing to the next round (a.k.a. not me) will video their workouts so that judges can evaluate and legitimize them.
Dave Castro, CrossFit HQ’s co-director of training and Games director. Castro is the mastermind behind the Open and each of its brutal components. Here, he is pictured at CrossFit Max Effort during the 15.5 announcement. (c) CrossFit, Inc.

Each week, the workouts get progressively tougher, ending with ridiculously nasty WODs like the calorie row/thruster combo we saw in 2015 or the equally devastating thruster/burpee combo we saw in 2014. This is purposeful — the Open serves to weed out competitors and less than 0.05 percent of the competitors will go on to the next stage of competition. It was introduced in 2011 and has grown exponentially since then, with a little over 25,000 people competing in the first year and more than 270,000 people competing in 2015. For a full history of Open workouts and winners, check out our Open page.

In 2015, CrossFit HQ also introduced a scaled division, making the Open more accessible to athletes of different levels. Although scaled athletes are not competing to move on to Regionals (most of us are very aware we’re not at that level, trust me), they are still given the chance to compete against one another whereas in years past, they would be eliminated once they hit a movement or a weight they could not perform in the Open. Now, they’re able to compete in the scaled division until they come against a scaled movement they cannot complete.


(c) CrossFit, Inc.

The fittest of the fit go head to head in the Open to qualify for a spot at Regionals. CrossFit HQ divides the world into 17 regions — 10 of which are in the United States. Those 17 regions feed into the eight competitions that make up Regionals, stretching over three weekends in May. Only 40 people — 20 men and 20 women — from the United States will go on to compete at Regionals. They will be joined by 30 men and 30 women from the Europe/Australia region and 10 men and 10 women from the Latin America/Asia/Africa region. Athletes compete in eight different events meant to test them athletically in every way possible over three days.

What are The CrossFit Games?

The next stage of competition is the Big Kahuna — the hallowed CrossFit Games in Carson, California. Only the top five male and female athletes from each regional competition will earn their golden ticket to the Games, which take place in late July.

Calling the Games a CrossFit competition is like calling Rich Froning athletic — it simply doesn’t do it justice. The CrossFit Games are a tribute to Roman days of old, where athletes go head to head in a stadium-style arena in grueling workouts that are sometimes enough to put even the fittest veterans over the edge. Going into its tenth year, the Games are known for tough WODs and surprises that throw even Games-level athletes for a loop, whether it’s an ocean swim, carrying logs or the infamous peg board that threw many athletes off in the last event of 2015.

Annie Thorisdottir during the ocean event at the 2015 Games. (c) CrossFit, Inc.

Individual athletes compete over the course of five days in 13 events that leave them drained both mentally and physically. However, at the conclusion, a new Fittest Man on Earth and Fittest Woman on Earth are crowned. And after resting for a few weeks, believe it or not Games competitors start the training cycle all over and begin training again for the next Open.

2015 Fittest Woman on Earth, Katrin Davidsdottir. (c) CrossFit, Inc.

Teams at the CrossFit Games

Individuals aren’t the only ones competing for a title in the CrossFit games. The brutish teams of beastly men and women competing together at the CrossFit games in the team division also begin their process of qualifying for the Games by registering for the Open.

To work together as a team, at least three men and at least three women must register as individuals for the Open. These six (or more) individuals must have worked out together or within the same general physical vicinity for at least two months leading up the Open.

Once they’ve registered their team in the Open, they will compete just like everyone else. Their scores for each event will then be combined and put up against the scores of other teams who have registered to determine who will advance to Regionals.

15 American and Canadian teams will join 20 teams from the Europe/Australia region and 10 teams from the Latin America/Asia/Africa region to compete at Regionals, with only five teams from each of the eight Regional competitions advancing on to the Games. For more information on how teams are created and the many rules for competing on a team, check out the official rulebook.

(c) CrossFit, Inc.

Masters and Teens at the CrossFit Games

Although people of all ages participate, compete and generally kick ass in CrossFit, it isn’t fair to ask men and women in their 60s to compete with 21 and 22-year-olds in the Games. There are five Masters’ divisions to compete in starting in the Open.

Ages 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59 and 60+ will compete against each other in the Open. The top 200 athletes in each age division worldwide will be invited to compete at the Masters’ Qualifier, which takes place over five days in late April. The top 20 competitors at the Qualifier will then be invited on to participate in the Games.

With CrossFit’s popularity soaring through the roof, it’s natural that kids and younger siblings also want to participate. Starting last year, athletes ages 14-15 and 16-17 have the opportunity to compete for a shot at the Games as well, with the top 10 female and male performers in the Open worldwide automatically being invited to the Games.

Cathie St. Andrews, 2015 Games Athlete. (c) CrossFit, Inc.

CrossFit Invitational and CrossFit Liftoff

Despite the Open, Regionals and the monumental CrossFit Games, the CrossFit community, which provides both athletes and spectators, is still hungry for more as they grow by the hundreds of thousands each year. In 2012, the CrossFit Invitational was introduced as a friendly competition between teams representing USA, Canada, Europe and the Pacific.

In 2015, CrossFit Liftoff was introduced as an Open-style competition (you can do it wherever, whenever as long as there’s a video to validate) to show where athletes stacked up against one another when it came to Olympic lifts.

So Why Do the CrossFit Open?

Even CrossFit celebrities and past Games winners like Rich Froning and Camille LeBlanc-Bazinet have to re-qualify through the Open each year. It is literally any man or woman’s game when it comes to the CrossFit Open.

However, if you’re someone like me who has about as much of a chance as making it to the Games as you do of winning the lottery, the Open is still such a fun and unique opportunity to grow as an athlete and to really celebrate and get to know the community around CrossFit.

Every year, my gym hosts “Friday Night Lights” during the Open, where we will all do the workout together and then grill out or go bowling. It’s not only my favorite time of year because of how much fun it is to compete in the Open, but also because I get to see and workout with my gym friends that don’t necessarily go to the same classes as me as well as their spouses and kids.

Me as a judge during the 2015 CrossFit Open. Photo courtesy of More Than WODs

See, that’s really the secret behind CrossFit’s success. The changed lives and reshaped bodies are what attract people, but it’s the community that sucks you in and makes you come back for more. It’s certainly not the wall balls!

Is your gym doing anything special for the Open? How are you celebrating?

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