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Is The World Getting Fitter Or Is The World Just Getting Better At CrossFit?

For the most part, I’ll be asking more questions than I’ll be answering in this post. Part of the reason for that is my own ignorance, and the other, quite bluntly, is a cop-out. You may be able to empathize with me after reading this.


The question I’d like to pose is an interesting one: Is the world getting fitter or is it just getting better at CrossFit? Dare I ask if those are the same thing?

I don’t really lean either way and, to be honest, I’m not sure if either answer means anything bad or good, but simply asking the question does stir a few thoughts.

For instance, I’m certain that each year the Reebok CrossFit Games crowns the Fittest on Earth, at least if we define fitness as capacity across broad time and modal domains. Furthermore, I can say that without taking anything away from the capacity of athletes in sports with more heritage than CrossFit, which is the perfect transition into my first point.

CrossFit is new. In the same way that an athlete new to any sport sees gains in the beginning that are far and away greater than the gains after 10 or 20 years of experience, the capacity of the athlete who wins the Games is growing dramatically. A prospective powerlifter will PR by 20 kilos every few months in each of his or her lifts in the outset, while after a decade of mastery he or she would kill for a kilo of improvement. In that way, the capacity of the 2008 CrossFit Games winner might not be enough to earn a berth in Regionals this year.

By that logic, the population is definitely getting more fit. But how do we know if people are just getting better at the test? Can something as simple as a modality that quantifies and breeds human performance have such an effect on human output as to claim that, in the six years of the CrossFit Games, human capacity has grown that much? I know the CrossFit haters’ eyes just rolled so far back in their heads that they may explode, but I’d like to ask the question. You can’t deny that there are probably more human beings on Earth today with a more-than-double-bodyweight deadlift and a sub-20-minute 5K than in any other time in history. But does that mean anything?

Aja Barto’s run of the snatch ladder in last year’s regional competition was the first time I really stepped back and said, “Wow.” Five years ago, you couldn’t find a human being on Earth with the capacity to do that. Does it beg the question that teaching Pyrros Dimas double-unders would change that? I don’t know the answer.

Men and women have been swimming the 100-meter, snatching barbells and running marathons for hundreds of years. The best performances in these categories of specialists barely inches forward, if at all, each year. While today’s “Fittest on Earth” performances put to shame the fittest performances of just two years ago, I start to wonder if there is a difference between CrossFit the test of fitness and CrossFit the developer of fitness.

I imagine we are about 10 years from where the sport is really going, which is a place shared by other sports. Will the 2020 CrossFit Games by the numbers look like a level playing field where it’s anyone’s game? By then, will the population find equilibrium like that of other sports? Is there a certain balance of human strength, endurance, stamina, speed, power, balance, coordination, accuracy, agility and flexibility? Or is the human body too powerful for that?

I’d like to hear what you think. Until then, I say we all should keep pushing forward to be better than yesterday.

— Logan Gelbrich