Back to Basics — Programming of the CrossFit Games

January 25, 2023

Kelley Laxton

The evolution of the Games programming has followed the evolution of fitness. This means the CrossFit methodology is working. 

In 2007, a small group of around 70 people gathered at a ranch in Northern California for the first-ever CrossFit Games. The first event was chosen by selecting colored balls labeled with CrossFit movements out of an old, rusty hopper and turning them into a workout. Athletes were tested with a 1,000-meter row followed by 5 rounds of 25 pull-ups and 7 push jerks at 135 lb for the men and 85 lb for the women.

Sixteen years later, athletes are still competing in the Sport of Fitness, but the evolution of the Games and the evolution of fitness have gone hand in hand. Each year, athletes are lifting heavier, running faster, and mastering new movements. So the programming must adapt to continue to test a pool of athletes who are only getting fitter. 

Athletes have — in accordance with CrossFit’s definition of fitness — increased their “work capacity across broad time and modal domains” over the years. So the test has evolved to ensure it can continue to successfully evaluate and accurately crown the Fittest on Earth. 

This means the CrossFit methodology is working. 

Julia Kato at the 2022 Games

Julia Kato at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games | Photo by Charlotte Foerschler

Programming the CrossFit Methodology

CrossFit trains “constantly varied functional movements, executed at a high intensity,” and these are the movements that are seen within tests at every stage of the CrossFit Games season, just as you see in your everyday WOD. 

In the CrossFit affiliate, you are exposed to rings, kettlebells, barbells, and more, to mimic movements that can be seen and used outside the gym. For example, getting up out of a chair requires an air squat; picking up groceries from the floor, a deadlift; getting a five-gallon water jug onto a table, a clean.

At the CrossFit Games, athletes are exposed to the same movements at higher intensities, such as moving odd objects (e.g., the Yoke or the Pig), walking across parallel bars on their hands, and even climbing up a peg board. 

When CrossFit Competition Director Adrian Bozman programs the tests seen throughout the CrossFit Games season, he focuses on three major movement categories: monostructural movements (cardio), gymnastics movements (moving your body weight), and weightlifting (moving an external object). These are the same three movement categories used in programming WODs in every CrossFit affiliate around the globe. 

Whether a CrossFit workout is completed at an affiliate or on the Games floor, the basic elements are the same. The Games are used to test how fit athletes are, awarding the title of Fittest on Earth to the athletes who perform the best statistically throughout all tests presented to them. 

Back Nine - Men's Field

Men's Division in IE12 Back Nine at the 2022 Games | Photo by Ginnie Coleman

Programming “Varies by Degree Not Kind”

The purpose of  programming for the everyday athlete is for health and functionality. The purpose of programming for the CrossFit Games is to test the limits of human capability.

But the methodology that informs programming for both groups is the same. 

Let’s take a look at the CrossFit Open. The tests seen in the first stage of the season are designed for both the everyday and the competitive athlete. While handstand walking may be programmed for Rx’d athletes, a movement with a similar stimulus, such as bear crawls, might be programmed for the scaled division. 

As the pool of competitive athletes is whittled down through the Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and eventually the CrossFit Games, the difficulty increases. The movements get progressively harder and the intensity the athletes must bring to each test increases. Wall walks in the Open may turn into a handstand-walking agility course at the Games. Double-unders may turn into double-under crossovers

The Sport of Fitness may seem as though it is merely a spectacle featuring the world’s fittest athletes, but the tests are not created just for show. They are created to determine the Fittest on Earth. 

“The challenge of the test on its face is not what makes it interesting,” Bozman said. “It is the intensity and effort and the application that the athletes bring to it that makes it compelling.”

Linda Elstun

Linda Elstun (Women 55-59) during Event 5 | Photo by Johany Jutras

Bringing It Back to Basics at the 2022 Games

The 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games took athletes back to the core of CrossFit, as Bozman put a new spin on the tests that would determine the Fittest Man, Woman, and Team on Earth after four stages of competition. 

Let’s dive into some of the tests:

Shuttle to Overhead

From 0:00-2:00 (2 minutes)

Run 400 m

Max jerks

Rest 1 minute

From 3:00-6:00 (3 minutes)

Run 600 m

Max jerks

Rest 2 minutes

From 8:00-12:00 (4 minutes)

Run 800 m

Max jerks


Women: 200 lb

Men: 300 lb


“Who’s fitter? The athlete that’s faster or the athlete that’s stronger?” Bozman said. “The answer is, well, neither. The fitteset athlete needs to be both.”

That’s what Bozman wanted out of the individual event Shuttle to Overhead. This was a test to determine which athlete’s training would enable them to balance demands pertaining to speed as well as strength. 

Shuttle to Overhead

Tia-Clair Toomey during Shuttle to Overhead | Photo by Johany Jutras

Skill Speed Medley

3 rounds of races through pegboards, jump ropes, pistols, and handstand walks.

Quarterfinal Round:

3/2 pegboard ascents

75 unbroken single-unders

10 unbroken single-leg squats, left

10 unbroken single-leg squats, right

Handstand walk course

Semifinal Round:

2/1 strict pegboard ascents

50 unbroken double-unders 

10 unbroken single-leg squats, left

10 unbroken single-leg squats, right

Handstand walk course, pirouette start

Final Round:

1 strict pegboard ascent

25 double-under crossovers

10 unbroken single-leg squats, left

10 unbroken single-leg squats, right

Handstand walk course, low start


This event emphasized the power of progression. Skill Speed Medley brought athletes back to the basics, proving how valuable it is to continue to work on progressions even at the highest level of CrossFit competition. 

Starting with single-unders and double-unders, athletes had to perform unbroken sets — and that was the catch. Even some of the best of athletes were caught up with the simplest form of the jump-rope movement before they could advance to the new double-under crossover. 

Out of the entire Games field, not a single woman and only three men — Nick Mathew, Gui Malheiros, and Justin Medeiros — were able to complete the challenge. 

This brought the athletes back to the drawing board for the next season. 

Echo Press

For time:

30/25 Echo Bike calories

10 block HSPU

20/15 Echo Bike calories

10 block HSPU

20/15 Echo Bike calories

10 block HSPU

30/25 Echo Bike calories

Women: 2-in deficit

Men: 3.5-in deficit


A new handstand push-up standard was introduced at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games that required athletes to dive into CrossFit’s methodology to understand the purpose of the movement. 

“It’s going to make everyone feel like they’re beginners at this movement again,” Bozman said.

Athletes were required to complete strict chest-to-wall deficit handstand push-ups in Echo Press. This standard — which is much more difficult than what we’ve seen in past years of competition — was added to train athletes to become better at the skill, and to avoid allowing athletes to find loopholes to make the movement easier during competition. 

Although many of the CrossFit Games events test intensity, some become athlete vs. the skill. Can the athletes adapt and execute the movements programmed successfully? 

“(Handstand push-ups) offer a great study in the nature of skill development. While there are training adaptations that come with handstand practice, such as increased strength and flexibility, the greater demand relates to neuromuscular patterning; i.e., coordination and balance,” CrossFit stated in a 2019 article “Skill Development Forever.

The progression of these skills must be practiced in training for athletes to be the best on the playing field.

Elevated Elizabeth 

21-15-9-9-9 reps for time of:

Squat cleans

Dips with parallel bar traverses

Women: 95-lb cleans

Men: 135-lb cleans


Based on the classic benchmark workout Elizabeth, Elevated Elizabeth replaced the ring dips with a dip and traverse on the parallel bars. 

“Benchmarks are important at the Games level — because they give a sense of relatability back to the average person,” Bozman said. “What’s really unique to the sport of CrossFit is most people watching it do it in some capacity.”

The exciting addition was the parallel bars. 

Featured in CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman’s original gym, the parallel bars have been around since the start of CrossFit. But we haven’t seen them in this type of competition setting before the 2022 Games. 

The dips and traverses across the bars tested the athlete’s coordination, agility, and balance.

Pat Vellner

Pat Vellner during Elevated Elizabeth | Photo by Charlotte Foerschler

Unparalleled Efficacy

As Nicole Carroll, GM of CrossFit Education, said, “The CrossFit methodology is the driver of our unparalleled efficacy.”

Crowning the Fittest on Earth is an opportunity to showcase the efficacy of the CrossFit methodology at the most elite level. With every test throughout four stages of the CrossFit Games season, we are exemplifying just how capable the human body is and what happens when we tap into its potential. At this level, the feats of skill, strength, and power you witness may seem unattainable to many, but rest assured that all CrossFit athletes — even those who have proven themselves the fittest in the world — started with the basics of the methodology, and their continued improvement is evidence of the fact that when you put in the work, results follow.