Is there an ideal height (and weight) for an elite CrossFit athlete?
This was the question that initiated my search. A search that resulted in this seemingly anticlimactic conclusion:
Average is best!
Synonyms for the word ‘average’ include: common, mediocre, ordinary, so-so standard, tolerable, undistinguished and unexceptional. Generally speaking, being referred to as ‘average’ isn’t exactly a compliment. But it’s what will ultimately give you your best chance at qualifying for the CrossFit Games, said Seth Page—founder and owner of the popular Misfit Athletics in Portland, Maine and the coach of CrossFit Games athletes Jordan Cook, Travis Williams and Alexis Johnson and Blonyx Athlete Cameron Willson.
Seth Page of Misfit Athletics, working with athletes at Misfit Camp.
“Being of average height, weight, and limb length is generally best for elite CrossFit athletes,” Page reiterated.
Recently, CrossFit Inc. released the average heights and weights for men and women who competed at the 2016 Regional competitions, as well as those who qualified for this summer’s CrossFit Games.
Regionals and Games athlete height averages haven’t changed much in the past few years, but weight averages have gone up a bit, especially when we look at the years prior 2012. The average women’s weight at the CrossFit Games in 2009, for example was 137 lb., compared to 140 lb. in 2014, and 143 lb. in 2016.
Surprise, surprise, Rich Froning is 5'9" and weighs in at 198 lb.
On the men’s side, the average CrossFit Games athlete weight in 2009 was 184 lb. compared to 189 lb. in 2014 and 194 lb. this year.
The above numbers also more or less represent the average heights in the regular population in the western world—where the majority of CrossFit athletes reside. In the US, the UK and Canada, the average height of women is 5'5" and the average height of men is 5'9".
When it comes to weight, the same is moderately true, at least when it comes to men’s weight: The average men’s weight in the regular population in the United States is 194 lb., while in the UK, it’s 185 lb. However, average worldwide female weights are considerably higher in the regular population than in the CrossFit world—164 lb. in the United States and 152 lb. in the UK.
One simple explanation for the bigger discrepancy—between an elite level CrossFit athlete and the rest of the population—when comparing men to women can be attributed to natural body composition and the obesity epidemic, Page said.
That being said, Page added he wouldn’t be surprised if this gap on the women’s side narrows as the sport of CrossFit continues to evolve. It has already started to, he said. (Remember the 2009 CrossFit Games average was 137 lb. compared to 143 lb. this year).
“CrossFit women’s weight has increased over the last years. It could be that the athletic build doesn’t come as naturally for women, but as the sport evolves, we’re seeing weights increase a bit, and this is also reflected in performance numbers. Women are becoming bigger and stronger while increasing their capacity for competition. We could see weight get bigger,” Page said.
Why is average best for CrossFit?
Seth’s explanation for why CrossFit athletes’ averages reflect regular population averages is quite simple:
“My first thought is that when you have as large of a pool as we do in the (CrossFit Games) Open these days, the average athlete size for women and men will basically just represent the average size of men and women in the (western world) in general,” Page said.
The second has to do with the broad demands of the sport of CrossFit:
CrossFit is a sport that expects its athletes to be able to do a little bit of everything. It has often been said that to excel at CrossFit, you don’t need to be the best at anything: You don’t even need to win an event. Because of this, being too tall or too short will provide inevitable disadvantages on certain events, Page said.
So because of its very nature—a nature that essentially punishes the specialist, or the ‘outlier’, so to speak—it makes sense that being average is your best chance to be able to handle the diversity.
There's nothing similar about a pegboard climb and a sandbag carry (and throw)
“The average is more often than not going to be the winner because they’ll be able to handle both sides of the coin—the events that favour shorter athletes and shorter limbs, and the events that favour longer athletes and longer levers. And, as we evolve in the sport, the discrepancy between the athletes will start to narrow more and more, and the average athletes will start rising to the top as the pool of athletes continues to increase,” he said.
Page added that thinks the more the sport of CrossFit develops, the more true it will be that the best CrossFit athletes will be of average size when compared with each other, and of average size when compared to the rest of the western world’s population.
“I haven’t done anything scientific necessarily. These are just my observations,” he said.
Time to do some research!
So, I decided to get just a bit scientific to put his hypothesis to the test:
While Page was predicting the future, I decided to see if it applies to the past.
(To do this, I looked at height only, as athletes’ weights have likely changed in the past 4 years, whereas their heights have presumably remained constant. I also had to assume nobody is lying about their height on their CrossFit Games profiles.
I looked through the last four years of CrossFit Games athletes—from 2013 to 2016— to discover how many outliers have qualified for the CrossFit Games. If Page is right, then you would expect to see fewer outliers with each passing year. In other words, the better the athlete, the more likely they are to be of average height.
I considered an outlier to be, on the women’s, side less than 5’3” or taller than 5’7,”—in other words, athletes who are more than 2 inches away from the average of 5’5”. For the men, I considered less than 5’7” and greater than 5’11” to be an outlier (again, athletes who are more than 2 inches away from the average of 5’9”).
Here are the results:
The number of outliers, for both men and women have decreased from 2013-2014 CrossFit Games to 2015-2016.
Both men’s and women’s data from the last 4 years serve to strengthen Page’s theory that suggests that as the sport progresses, the likelihood of outliers qualifying for the CrossFit Games decreases. Now let's compare regional outliers versus Games outliers.
Camille Leblanc-Bazinet has seen tremendous success in CrossFit, winning the Games in 2014, despite being an outlier in height.
Male Outliers at Regionals Versus the Games in 2016
If average is best, then one could argue there should be fewer outliers at the CrossFit Games than at Regionals, (in terms of percentage of the field) as only the most worthy candidates qualify for the Games. IF average is NOT the best, on the other hand, then the distribution of heights should be about the same at Regionals and the Games. Let’s see how things panned out this year:
2016 CrossFit Games Male Outliers Include:
8 out of 40 competitors competing this summer are outliers: 20% are outliers, while 80% fall within 2 inches of the average. 2016 CrossFit Games outliers ARE:
Josh Bridges: 5’5”
Brent Fikowski: 6’1”
Rasmus Anderson: 6’0”
Khan Porter: 6’0”
Spencer Hendel: 6’2”
Garret Fisher: 6’1”
Lukas Hoberg: 6’0”
Joseph Guesnier: 6’0”
Brent Fikowski, winner of West Regionals 2016 and an 'outlier' at 6'1"
Let’s compare this to Regionals’ athletes. A full list of the 2016 regionals outliers can be found here.
At Regionals, 80 out of 327 male regionals athletes this year were outliers, meaning 24% of athletes at regionals were outliers (compared to 20% of Games qualifiers), while 76% fell within two inches of average.
Between Regionals and the Games, the percentage of outliers becomes even lower.
Again, the ‘Average is best’ theory is supported!
Games Podium Finishes in Relation to the Average
Let’s take a look at the evolution of the sport. The questions is, as CrossFit has become more competitive since 2010, has the podium at the Games has seen less and less outliers?
The answer is YES!
In 2009, when the sport was still brand new and less competitive, there were two outliers on the men’s podium: Tommy Hackenbruck at 6’1” and Moe Kelsey at 6’2.” By 2011, there was only one: Josh Bridges at 5’5”.
Hackenbruck—a well-known outlier
And in the last four years—2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, there hasn’t been a single outlier on the podium on the men’s side of the competition. NOT A SINGLE OUTLIER HAS MEDALED since 2011.
Is it then safe to say that if you want to get to the podium as a male athlete in Carson in a couple weeks, you cannot be less than 5’7” or more than 5’11?
Or will Josh Bridges prove the theory wrong in 2016?
Bridges was the last outlier to podium back in 2011. Can he do it again this year in a much more competitive field?