crossfit sport

CrossFit, the new sport of fitness, crowns the fittest athletes in the world. This competition, the CrossFit Games, is an international competition consisting of 3 days with sporadic events including power lifting, Olympic lifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, running, rowing and some other hard to place movements like rope climbing, kettle bells, and “burpees”. As this sport gains more and more attention, the questions begin to come up, is CrossFit a legitimate sport? If so, how does it measure up?

What follows is a hypothetical argument I will give to show why CrossFit is not only a legitamate sport but the superior sport. This is purely a thought experiment and created in hopes to think about CrossFit in a different way and open up discussion about its legitimacy as a sport. As I know this will be up for serious debate, I’ll leave you to decide!

The first step is to define “Superior”. Once the final event has been won for the questioned sport (super bowl, World Series, the CrossFit games, etc…) who has the most to show in terms of the title they won, what they had to do to get there, what kind of commitment is required from them, and its “carry over” into everyday life. In other words, what’s required to win, what they win, and its carry over into everyday life.

Note: this is simply my definition of superior. I believe this definition makes the most sense for comparing athletes of a sport.  Of course, this can vary from person to person, in which case the argument would be slightly different.

Now I will attempt to show why other sports don’t quite measure up (I am completely open to argue, so if I am missing something come back at me!).

  • Team Sports- These are the first to knock of the list. Being on a team takes less pressure off any one person then an individual sport.  In a team sport your priority is your “position” or “part” rather than the “whole”.  Catchers in baseball for instance train to catch (and to hit if needed) not first base, or pitching. In individual sports you train to be the “whole”. Any one weak asset will show in your placement.  In team sports your “screw ups” can be taken up by others “good plays” and the effort as a whole is what it takes to win. Competing solo means your screw ups will screw you up. It means any weakness shows and inexperience in any of the domains necessary to win will beat you down in placement. There’s simply more pressure and more stress on any one person competing alone then on a team. Quick example of this is doing a WOD in CrossFit, then doing a partner or team version, the stress and nerves are almost immediately lifted.
  • Individual sport- Now we need to knock off other individual sports. First, the “carry over” effect into everyday life is minimal. For sports like tennis, skiing, figure skating, etc., there is hardly any carry over. How good you are in the sport is all your skill allows you to do. For instance, expert tennis players have no carry over to everyday life, other than reactions times which are no more contributing then say construction workers strength. Second, what they claim to hold when they win their competition means nothing outside of their sport. Best figure skater in the world means nothing outside of figure skating. Third, they have “seasons” where their games are held allowing an “off-season” for rest and recovery. Seasons don’t exist in CrossFit and the other differences will soon be made clear.


Note: If you noticed I haven’t mentioned gymnastics, running, weight lifting and Olympic lifting in the above category it’s because all of the above are “parts” to CrossFit as a whole. CrossFit incorporates all of the above into its sport. How can a part be more superior to the whole?


  • MMA- This is the only exception to the above category. This is the closest sport to CrossFit. First, it is a combination of many other sports from wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu etc. It is on the athlete how they combine these elements and how they use them against their opponent. The movements of these athletes are functional and do have a carry over into everyday life. Not to mention fighting itself is functional. It is also a sport where much is required in terms of commitment. There is no particular “season” and diet and physical ability is crucial. One wrong step and it could mean you getting your lights knocked out. If one opponent isn’t “on” in terms of diet, physical ability and skill, he will lose.

So How Does MMA Differ from CrossFit, and How Is CrossFit Superior?


First, the carry over effect is much greater. Yes, MMA and some other sports make you strong and fast but CrossFitters specifically train to run, jump, squat, pull, push and lift. CrossFit is created based on universal motor recruitment patterns; or movements that are seen everywhere in everyday life, from running after a criminal (law enforcement) taking out the garbage, lifting your luggage above your head, or running out of a burning building while jumping over wreckage and carrying someone on your shoulder.

Second, the title is much more pronounced. CrossFitters who win the games are crowned the fittest athletes in the world, meaning they are the best in the world at doing the unknown and unknowable with tremendous speed, agility, strength, coordination, balance, and mental fortitude. Unlike MMA there are no weight classes. When you win you are the best in the world, not the best up to a certain weight limit.

In MMA you are told of your opponent months before the fight. Allowing you to watch tapes and study who you are going to fight—in other words you can prepare. In CrossFit you don’t know the events until that day. The amount of events, what the events are and how much time you will have in between is completely unknown. The vast quantity of events over the course of 3 days also puts elements like recovery into play.

In most sports (especially team) coaches are provided. Training programs, nutrition outlines and day by day programming are laid out in front of you. At the very least you make a solid income for being a great player. Even in MMA or the UFC you can make some dam good money for doing what you do. In CrossFit, this doesn’t exist (yet). Those who compete do so because of the passion. We do it because it’s what we do and what we love. This also makes it more complex. Training, diet, integration of all elements involved is up to us, not the million dollar coach paid for by the team.

Taking all of this into account, is CrossFit a legitimate sport? Is it superior? What do you think?



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  • Ken

    I love doing Crossfit and the general physical skills and capacity that I have gained from it. As far as an individual training program, there are no other widespread conditioning programs that I know of that produce the general strength and conditioning benefits of Crossfit. When compared to triathlon training, marathon training, Les Mills group classes at tradition gyms, yoga, bodybuilding, P90x, Pilates, and traditional team sports of basketball, baseball, football and soccer, the strengths, skills, and endurance developed in the Crossfit paradigm are very broad. The above mentioned activities are narrower in their focus than Crossfit but does that mean that Crossfit is superior? Well, it seems that as a general training program to get people the results they want which are traditionally and somewhat in order fat loss, muscle gain, higher energy levels, increased mobility, better blood values, and injury prevention, making the argument that Crossfit is superior holds some sway but ultimately it is a matter of the opinion of the person. The superior training program is the one achieves the goals the fastest.

    But is Crossfit a “superior” sport? You summarized superior as: “… what’s required to win, what they win, and its carry over into everyday life.” This isn’t a definition of superior. Superior is defined as “higher in rank, status, or quality.” Sport is defined as “physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.” But what makes a sport superior? Is it individual athleticism? Is it the combined athleticism of a team? Is it sports viewership per event or viewership for the sport as a whole? Is it the popularity of the sport? Is the activity that gives people the best crossover physical fitness or longevity? Or is the activity that people have the most fun playing or the most fun watching?
    For instance, The Tour de France is the most watched sporting event in the world but it is on almost every day for 3 weeks each summer. The Super Bowl is the most watch sport in the America but for only 4-5 hours once per year. Can you say one is better than the other? The World Cup has huge viewership but many only watch their favorite 1 or 2 teams so it doesn’t get the total number of viewers that the Tour de France gets but that is not to say that the World Cup is less popular worldwide. I would dare say that the World Cup is more popular than the Tour de France even though it does not attract as many viewers. Then there is Formula 1 racing where each event has hundreds of millions of viewer worldwide. Some people don’t even consider racing cars a sport!
    The bottom line is that to say any sport is superior to another is trying to turn something that is a matter of opinion into a matter of fact. The Crossfit Games are brand new and Crossfit is currently at viral growth which I believe to be unsustainable. It could become an international sport that grows every year or it could be a fad that disappears into television history just like American Gladiators. Remember that show? It was once wildly popular and those with the best overall combination of strengths did the best. It was not so different from the Crossfit Games if you think about it!

    • Devin

      Hey Ken! Thanks for the comment completely appreciate it! I will attempt to stay with you here!

      So if we properly define superior, I still do believe the argument stands. Status and rank would refer to the “title” won at the end of the competition. “Quality” would then have to be defined because it is very vague, however I believe “quality” in this sense would be what the sport incorporates as a whole. “Quality” would also have to relate to the body of the sport, or the athletes.The argument then turns into the same basic principles, what they win (title/status/whats entailed), and the quality of the athletes. We would then have to compare CrossFit athletes to other athletes of a different sport, hence the above argument. We would then see things like the carry over, the abilities of the athletes and other arguments I posted above.

      I do not believe that the amount of viewers vary the quality of the sport in any way. For instance, its obvious that an 800lb dead-lift is superior to a 400lb dead-lift but if only 2 people see you lift 800 as apposed to the 10 that see you lift 400 does that mean a 400lb dead-lift is thus superior? I don’t think so.

      What do you think?

  • Nowell Kenneth

    I think the argument is a little confusing. I also think that comparing The Crossfit Games as a sport in terms of superiority needs to have that element of popularity, fun, viewership, longevity and growth rate. Lets do a quick thought experiment with Crossfit and few other sports (i.e. international soccer and baseball) and rank each one in a category.

    Popularity: 1 soccer, 2 baseball, 3 Crossfit
    Fun to watch: 1 Crossfit, 2 soccer, 3 baseball (although many think watching others work out is boring and would rank it dead last)
    Viewership: 1 soccer 2 baseball 3 Crossfit
    Athleticism 1 Crossfit 2 soccer 3 baseball
    longevity 1 soccer 2 baseball 3 crossfit
    growth rate 1 crossfit 2 soccer 3 baseball
    Fanaticism 1 SOCCER 2 Baseball 3 crossfit

    Of course we could add many other categories and in the above example Crossfit stacks up pretty well. There is a huge element of emotionality to sport which often trumps athleticism. For instance, soccer fans will burn a stadium to the ground and threaten the loosing players with death in some countries. Those fans love it and quantifying that is hard if not impossible. Crossfit is a new sport that people are excited about and is experiencing huge growth but it has not proven itself anything beyond a fad as of yet. Sure, they made it on ESPN this year but months after they were done more as exposition novelty programming than anything. In my opinion, the sports that have the combination of having withstood the test of time and having high rates of popularity and viewership would be the winner of the superiority contest.

    BUT…(not done yet)

    Comparing sport to sport in terms of superiority, Crossfit may or may not stand up but do think that comparing Crossfit athletes to other athletes, the argument could be made for athletic superiority. Most sports are full of specialist and team sports have specialist within a specialty. The physical abilities of a wide receiver and a defensive lineman can hardly be compared. The Crossfit athlete could walk into many sports and hold their own.

    Anyway, its been cool thinking about all of this. Good blog!


    • Devin Ford

      Hey Ken!

      I agree that for a sport’s “success” in terms of money or popularity relies heavily on viewership, growth rate and longevity. However, I disagree that these make the athletes abilities more or less superior.

      Perhaps “superior athleticism” would be the term we would most agree on. Personally I look at the superior sport as in the superiority of the body of the sport, or athletes. Great point here! In terms of athleticism CrossFit is the superior sport.

      I do agree with what you have mapped out with the categories, and totally agree with the emotionalism to a sport. As for the fad, that very well may be true but I know for myself and I am sure its the same with you, won’t be stopping CrossFit anytime soon! Its that dedication and commitment that got CrossFit to be a sport to begin with.

      Great comments, please, keep em coming!!

  • Tom

    Better question is how is crossfit both a sport and a training method?

    • Devin Ford

      That’s an interesting point! I have thought of that myself. It’s as if the sport is how good you are at training? 

      • Mjs012

        I’m at work so I do not have the time to provide an adequate response. In short this post is a fine example of the arrogance and ignorance inherent in the crossfit community. Peices like this perpetuate the alianation of crossfit a viable training methodology that can be adapted to meet the needs of any athlete competing in any sport. That is what will happen if we continue to insist that crossfit is far superior to any other training methodology in the absence of emperically derived data to support our claims. Crossfit is general physical preparation that can enhance sport specific skill developement and application of sport specific skill. Comparing sports is an absurd thing to do. Did you happen to see the softball through in the games? How about the swimming?