Breaking the Game: Will CrossFit’s Benchmark Ladies Stand the Test of Time?

This idea has swirled in my head since the day, years ago, when Dave Castro did his virtual “Fran” experiment.
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CrossFit Fran

This idea has swirled in my head since the day, years ago, when Dave Castro did his virtual “Fran” experiment. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Castro has several athletes take on various “virtual” versions of Fran.

If my memory serves me correctly, one man did PVC thrusters and pull-ups, another did empty barbell thrusters and jumping pull-ups, and a third man did PVC thrusters and jumping pull-ups.

Though it sounds goofy, Castro had a great idea. He was trying to answer the question: “How fast can Fran be done?” In theory, he was trying to see into the future. Given the specific ranges of motion, would we one day see a 90-second Fran time if an athlete was fit enough? Using these test subjects, Castro sought to answer that question by moving through the same (or similar) ranges of motion at the highest speeds possible.

I think the fastest “Virtual Fran” was 1:36.

This experiment aside, my mind began swirling. Will CrossFit see a day when the entire field of Games athletes have rendered the famous benchmark girls obsolete?

Before you all mash your keyboard with hate mail to me, hear me out. Yes, Fran is both a good test and a good developer of glycolytic capacity even if you and all of your friends turn in a time of 1:55 every time you do it. Maybe that won’t change.

My question, however, is whether or not there is a future in CrossFit where “Jackie” isn’t good enough of a test simply because the margins for first through twentieth place are so small in competition? No one can argue with the fact that Fran’s 95-pound thrusters were a bit arbitrary upon selection.

Will the gruesome effectiveness of the CrossFit ladies stand the test of time, even at the highest levels? Or will a broad improvement of fitness across the population one day make Rx+ the only conceivable option to determine who’s fitter than who?

— Logan Gelbrich
@functionalcoach