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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The 2014 Games Were Heavier, Higher-Skill and Shorter Than Recent Years

Welcome back for another relatively quick one.  Today I'm going to hit a few highlights of the analysis I've done on the programming at this year's Games.

As the title would suggest, the big point here is that this year's Games were heavy and high-skill. Conversely, in comparison to prior years, they weren't as much about stamina, endurance and generally managing fatigue.

Let's consider the first point.  The chart below shows two key loading metrics for men for all eight CrossFit Games.  For those unfamiliar with these metrics, start here.

The load-based emphasis on lifting (LBEL) is always the first place I look when evaluating how "heavy" a competition was.  It gives us an indication of both the loads that were used as well as how often lifts were prescribed.  The LBEL at this year's Games was 0.89; the next-highest was 0.73 back in 2009.

The high LBEL in 2009 was based partly on the fact that there were two max-effort events out of eight total.  In metcons, the loadings were actually quite light at that time.  But in 2014, the met cons were heavy as well.  The average relative weight in metcons was 1.43; the next-highest was 1.36 in 2013.  For context, a 1.43 relative weight is equivalent to a 193-lb. clean, a 146-lb. snatch and a 343-lb. deadlift.  These are average weights used in metcons; the days of the bodyweight specialist competing at the CrossFit Games are over.

The women's numbers tell a similar story.  The LBEL was 0.62, about 30% higher than the previous high of 0.48 in 2009.  The average relative weight in met cons was 1.01, significantly higher than the next-highest (0.88 in 2013).  The 1.01 is on par with the men's loads from 2007-2010.

Not only were the Games programmed heavy, but the athletes are just flat-out getting stronger.  The chart below shows the relative weights achieved during the max-effort lifts in the Games historically. These represent the average across the entire field (except in 2007, when I limited the field to the non-scaled participants only).

Not only was the men's average of 2.71 in the overhead squat well above the previous high of 2.36, but the women's average of 1.80 is higher than the men achieved in the CrossFit Total in 2007 and the Jerk in 2010 (granted, that lift occurred within 90 seconds of the Pyramid Helen workout).

Now, as far as the high-skill comment, consider the types of movements that were emphasized at the Games.  I generally categorize movements into seven broad groups: Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts, Basic Gymnastics, Pure Conditioning, High Skill Gymnastics, Powerlifting-Style Barbell Lifts, KB/DB Lifts and Uncommon CrossFit Movements (sled pulls, object carries, etc.).  The two that require the most technical ability are High Skill Gymnastics (such as muscle-ups and HSPU) and Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts.

This season, Olympic-Style Barbell Lifts accounted for 32% of the total points, which is second all-time (2008 they were worth 38%).  The High Skill Gymnastics movements accounted for 17%, which was only topped once (2010).  Combined, those two groups accounted for 49%, which is second all-time.  The only year with a greater emphasis was 2010, which actually included the incredibly challenging ring HSPU.  Still, the sheer volume of high-skill movements required of athletes was far higher this year.  The muscle-up biathlon included 45 muscle-ups; in 2010, "Amanda" was crushing about half the field with just 21 muscle-ups.  The ring HSPU were tough in 2010, but were they more challenging than the 10-inch strict deficit HSPU this year?  Remember, women were only required to do regular HSPU back in 2010, and only 28 of them.  These days, 28 regular HSPU is nothing for the elite women's athletes.

On the flip side, this Games had much less volume than recent years.  The chart below shows the longest event (based on winning time), the approximate average length of all events (including finals) and the approximate total time that athletes competed, dating back to 2011.  It's clear that this year was much less grueling than the past two seasons, and it was very similar to 2011 (including starting with a ~40-minute beach workout).

The theme of this year's Games was strength and skill, not stamina.  Why?  Well, I have to believe television had something to do with it.  This year's events were more spectator-friendly across the board, and they may set the stage for future seasons in which every event is broadcast on cable (ESPN won't be showing a 90-minute rowing workout, that's for sure).  People don't like to watch events that take forever, but they do like to watch people lift heavy stuff and generally perform feats of strength and skill that make you say "I could never do that."

My hope is that the Games can continue to be spectator-friendly without losing the events with that "suck factor" that we in the community know and love.

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