May 2, 2015
The Evolution of the Regional Athlete
By Mike Macpherson and Megan Mitchell
Have the regional competitors always been such beasts?
Have the regional competitors always been such beasts?

Recently, the CrossFit Games Facebook page posted an infographic that showed the incredible benchmark scores of the average regional competitor in 2015.

This raised the question: Have the regional competitors always been such beasts?

To answer the question, we pulled stats from the Games site for each year's regional competitors from 2012 to 2015. To keep things consistent, we applied the 2015 qualification standards across all the years. So each year contains 330 men and 330 women.

basics

 First, we've got the basic characteristics: age, height and weight.

The field is trending younger, with the women a year or two older than the men. 

Height and weight have been pretty stable over the years. The average man runs about 5-foot-10 and 190 lb., and the average woman about 5-foot-5 and 140 lb. CrossFit has a reputation for being a shorter athlete's game, but according to these data, regional athletes are slightly taller than the average American adult. CrossFit athletes are not quite Jaime Lannister, but they’re much farther from Tyrion than we might have thought.

It's certainly possible that since these numbers are self-reported, people might be overstating their height. There are almost certainly some biases like this present in the data. That said, the numbers we find seem reasonable, even though you do want to take them with a grain of salt.

Let's check out trends in the athletes' performance.

Strength

The Olympic lifts—snatch and clean and jerk—have been increasing steadily by about 10 to 20 lb. each year, with no end in sight. If this continues, in just a few years the average regional competitor is going to snatch 300 lb. on the men's side and 200 lb. on the women's. This is crazy. 

  2012 2015
Average Snatch    
Men 220 lb. 256 lb.
Women 130 lb. 161 lb.
Average Clean and Jerk    
Men 270 lb. 318 lb.
Women 165 lb. 203 lb.

That 165-lb. clean and jerk that was an average lift for a female 2012 regional competitor is kiddie weight in 2015—literally. The average 15.1a score for the top 30 teenage girls in the 16-17 Division was 164 lb. 

The power lifts—deadlift and back squat—have also been rising at a similar rate, 10-20 lb. per year, but they look like they're starting to taper off a bit. That might be because it's hard to push these less-technical lifts much higher without adding more muscle, and that added mass slows you down in gymnastics movements.

Notice the male and female trends on the Olympic and power lifts are nearly parallel, meaning men and women are getting stronger at about the same rate. This suggests that some factor common to both sexes, like consistently better coaching or nutrition, is probably responsible for the increases. 

Benchmarks

Fran and Grace tell a different story. The women’s times have improved drastically—by more than 30 seconds in either workout over the past four years. The men's times are improving, but not nearly so quickly. That's probably because the men are approaching the limits of Fran and Grace. 

Coach Greg Glassman wrote about Fran's limit in 2005: “We know that Fran maximally compresses to about 2:20-2:25. That is the time required to complete Fran empty handed ... .”

His basic point stands: it just takes some minimum amount of time to complete these movements and the men seem to be running into that minimum.

We round it out with Helen and max pull-ups. With Helen, we see the men's times actually get worse from 2014 to 2015, and the women's times appear to taper off. The dominant element in Helen, the run, isn't directly tested in the Open, so perhaps the pressure is lower there. 

The max pull-ups seem to be getting better by a few pull-ups a year, but there's this big jump from 2014 to 2015 for the women, from about 39 to 44 pull-ups. What happened there, and why was it only for the women? One possibility is that this year's Open may have placed a strong constraint on upper-body strength for the women by putting muscle-ups at the start of an Open workout (15.3) and including handstand push-ups for the first time (15.4). Of course, the men also faced those same tests, but it didn't seem to have had such a big effect. That may be because upper body strength is already consistently high in among the male athletes.

Have regional athletes always been this beastly? In one sense, no, they haven't. Along most important measures, the class of 2015 is way fitter than previous classes. In another sense, yes, they have: As we see every time a workout is repeated in the Open, the fitness in the CrossFit community overall keeps going up. So the 2012 numbers were about as beastly relative to the rest of us in 2012 as the 2015 numbers are to us now.