CrossFit Athletes Dominate IMG Academy Testing, Revisited

Men’s Fitness recently ran a feature on the IMG Academy’s Ignite program. As you can see in the excerpt below, the article claims that CrossFit “assigns its Workout of the Day mostly at random.”

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This is not true. It’s not clear where Men’s Fitness got this claim from. CrossFit is not random. CrossFit Director of Training Dave Castro explains how CrossFit is not random in the following video from a CrossFit Coach’s Prep Course:

My colleague Russell Berger also explained that CrossFit is not random to Mark Rippetoe on ESPN here. In this article, he also clarified why CrossFit is not random:

“Random” programming would almost certainly fail to produce the greatest work capacity, as true randomness contains clusters and groupings that might cause athletes to miss certain stimuli for long periods of time. For example, 30 randomly picked workouts might only include 1 heavy day and multiple long-distance runs, simply because it’s random. On the contrary, CrossFit programming requires intentionally tracking the variables of training and purposely modulating them to attain the broadest possible training stimulus.

The “randomness” charge switches the debate from measuring performance, to ascertaining intent. Instead of evaluating CrossFit through the empirical results achieved by its athletes, this line accuses CrossFit’s programmers of randomly assigning workouts. So instead of acknowledging the fitness level achieved at the CrossFit Games and CrossFit affiliates worldwide, they’re focusing on the murkier subject of what goes on in the minds of CrossFit programmers. When you can’t win a debate, change the subject.

After I read this article, I contacted Men’s Fitness and asked them to correct this inaccuracy. They did not respond, correct the article, or even to defend the claim. By the way, this is not uncommon in media. At CrossFit HQ when we let reporters know that they’ve written false information, they frequently refuse to correct their statements.

So if CrossFit’s Director of Training, and CrossFit’s L1 Seminar both teach that CrossFit is not random, where did Men’s Fitness get its idea from? The main source left seems to be the IMG Academy (which happens to be home to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s “first satellite laboratory.”)

If so, the IMG Academy should know better. On September 22, 2010, they published “CrossFit athletes dominate C360 testing” on their own website. IMG’s Combine 360 test is an overall test of athleticism that over 1000 athletes haven taken, including pro football, baseball, lacrosse, and track and field athletes. CrossFit sent some of its top performers to take the test: Lindsey Smith, Karianne Dickson, Miranda Oldroyd, Emily Beers, Heather Bergeron, Caity Henniger, Tanya Wagner, Kristan Clever, Patrick Burke, Spencer Hendel, David Millar, Pat Barber, Rob Orlando, Chris Spealler, Tommy Hackenbruck, Jared Davis, and Jason Khalipa.

CrossFit Games athlete Heather Bergeron at the IMG Academy in 2010.

CrossFit Games athlete Heather Bergeron at the IMG Academy in 2010.

The test includes Broad jump, Seated med-ball throw, Vertical jump, 5-10-5 drill,10-yard sprint, 20-yard sprint, Grip test, 300-yard shuttle, Sit and reach, and the 40-yard dash. IMG’s test also includes the evaluation of movement quality, mentality, sports specific skills, and nutrition.

The CrossFit athletes excelled at the Combine 360 test, as individuals and as a group. Jared Davis tied a D1 football player for the highest individual score ever, and Tommy Hackenbruck finished one point behind. So two of the three highest Combine 360 scorers ever were CrossFitters.

In his write-up of the test, Dave Castro noted that “The CrossFit group as a whole finished in the top 10 percent of all athletes tested.” You can watch a video of the testing in the CrossFit Journal here.

The CrossFit athletes achieved these results without preparing specifically for this test. But no, they did not train randomly. Their results indicate as much.

Jason Khalipa and Rob Orlando.

Jason Khalipa and Rob Orlando.

9 comments

  1. Eric

    So Crossfit says Crossfit isn’t random, well that settles that disagreement. Never mind what an unbiased journalist has to say.
    Crossfit also teaches that strict form pullups are to done before kipping is learned, how many boxes actually do this – 3 different Crossfit gyms I’ve tried all had people kipping but could do ZERO strict form pullups so maybe a one weekend coaches course and no effort to check up on how gyms are being run is an issue.
    Let’s see a bio on all of the athletes Crossfit sent for testing, willing to bet all they all where elite level at a real sport before Crossfit and that’s where they developed muscle and endurance. Crossfit doesn’t develop anything and for the elites they train in many (non-Crossfit) ways to excel at the Crossfit Games.

    • Russ Greene

      “Let’s see a bio on all of the athletes Crossfit sent for testing, willing to bet all they all where elite level at a real sport before Crossfit and that’s where they developed muscle and endurance.”

      Here’s the problem with that argument:

      Every athlete they were up against at IMG also had a high level of athletic talent. Elite sprinters, D1 football players, etc.

      The main difference between the CrossFit group and everyone else was training method, not talent.

      • Eric

        “Randomly Chose, Randomly Assigned” – source of quote, the Reebox Crossfit Nano 4.0 Ad featuring Rich Froning http://youtu.be/WU84erRORkQ?t=18s
        So where is the media and general public getting the impression that Crossfit is random- you and your partners ads!

        As for your reply, a football player, a sprinter or any athlete needs to excel at certain, specialized tasks, not overall fitness. What Crossfit has never shown is an average Joe coming in and training with Crossfit for 10 years and developing into an elite athlete because it just doesn’t work.

        You fail to address my point that you teach students are to be able to do strict pullups before kipping but that is rarely practiced at any box because you have zero quality control

      • Russ Greene

        That ad is describing a way to test fitness, not describing a training method to obtain fitness.

        I’m not sure what you mean by an “elite athlete,” but Jason Khalipa’s only competitive athletic background prior to CrossFit was high school sports, and he’s one of the CrossFit Games’ most consistent top performers. That’s just one example, of many.

        As for the affiliates, you describe their practices with a great deal of certainty. What percentage of CrossFit’s 11,000+ affiliates have you visited?

        The combination of CrossFit training and the CrossFit affiliate model have gotten so many women their first pull-ups, both strict and kipping, that the Marine Corps reconsidered their female PT requirements. That’s one testament, of many, to this model’s success. Further, “quality control” of CrossFit affiliates would necessarily standardize the training offered at CrossFit gyms, and thus prohibit innovation and experimentation.

  2. Common source of confusion… being ready for randomness is an outcome of a non-random training protocol.

    In most boxes there is a thoughtful – almost algorithmic – approach to programming that is decidedly not random.

    I see how someone mir fully in the crossfit game can walk away with this incorrect perception.

    It doesn’t matter how you argue it… random programming probably happens but it’s noise and not signal.

  3. Eric

    Please provide a study indicating that Jason Khalipa is just one example of many athletes that have done crossfit and developed into elite athletes. For your critics you demand they back up any claim with studies, I’d like to see you do the same, another example is Crossfit’s idea that Crossfit is more effective than natural bodybuilding for developing muscle, I’d like to see a study to back that up.

    • Russ Greene

      “What Crossfit has never shown is an average Joe coming in and training with Crossfit for 10 years and developing into an elite athlete because it just doesn’t work.”

      You made an absolute statement. I don’t need data to disprove it. In fact, it’s possible to disprove it with just one anecdote: Jason Khalipa.

      If I told you that the sky is always black, you could disprove my statement with just one example of a blue sky. It wouldn’t take a study.

      There are some CrossFit Games athletes with elite pre-CrossFit backgrounds, but the vast majority only reached elite accomplishment in anything after finding CrossFit. Quickly, look at Val Voboril, Rory Zambard, Rich Froning, Ben Smith, and Garret Fisher. None excelled at any sport before CrossFit.

      As for outside the CrossFit Games, one example is Ryan O’Rourke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rumfht3e2L8

      • Eric

        Jason Khaipa does not train with just Crossfit! Him and Rick Froning use train in a wide variety of ways including bodybuilding and powerlifting methods that are not part of Crossfit. They also train hours per day so the effectiveness of the WOD is highly questionable, you haven’t demonstrated a single person that comes in to Crossfit, does the prescribed workout and develops into anything.

        To your earlier point that – “Further, “quality control” of CrossFit affiliates would necessarily standardize the training offered at CrossFit gyms, and thus prohibit innovation and experimentation.” – is simply wrong! All quality assurance programs allow for variations, they do this by having deviations recorded and later analyzed to gauge the effectiveness. Please educate yourself on quality assurance and how these programs work before making comments.

  4. Russ Greene

    Eric,
    Please show me a single example of Rich Froning or Jason Khalipa using “bodybuilding” in their training. I’ve followed the sport since before they both got involved and have never seen that.

    Powerlifting movements (squat, deadlift, bench) are core components of CrossFit – as is going heavy on them.

    Quality control necessarily implies holding 11,000 affiliates to some singular standards over time, despite varying conditions and knowledge. It also implies that CrossFit HQ knows better than individual affiliates what’s a good way to run a CrossFit gym in South Africa or Chile.

    Further, a quality control program for 11,000 gyms would cost millions of dollars, requiring a large increase in the CrossFit licensing fee, currently $3,000. If this fee were to increase to the industry norm (ten times that or more), it would price most potential affiliate owners out and prevent them from improving lives through CrossFit.

    We’ve collected fitness data since 2007 using the CrossFit Games season. In 2014 we got 209,000 registrants to in an online assessment of fitness. Guess what we can conclude, without a doubt, from that data?

    More people than ever are getting fitter than ever before. There are athletes whose performances would have been world class 5 years ago who can’t qualify for Regionals. If we judge the CrossFit affiliate community by that standard – improved fitness, it’s an unprecedented success.

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