The Method to the Madness — Programming the CrossFit Games

October 15, 2021

Kelley Laxton

While the CrossFit Games season unfolds in real time, Dave Castro remains hunkered down at The Ranch, crafting the events that will test the fittest athletes in the world come August.

Tucked away among the hills and arroyos in Aromas, California, The Ranch serves as General Manager of Sport Dave Castro’s headquarters while he plans the CrossFit Games. While the CrossFit Games season unfolds in real time, Castro remains hunkered down at The Ranch, crafting the events that will test the fittest athletes in the world come August. 

“If CrossFit had a villain with a secret lair, it would be Dave Castro, and his secret lair would be The Ranch,” Sean Woodland said.

Six months before the 2021 CrossFit Games, none of the tests had been created. But, over the course of those months, Castro was developing the complex and challenging tests that would make the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games something special for the athletes and the community supporting them. 

Castro carefully selects the team of athletes who test the workouts according to athleticism and availability. Sometimes, he will even call an athlete requesting they come to The Ranch the next day. 

“For the demo athletes, the idea is, you want to get a diversity of athletes so you can see what more of the field is capable with,” Justin Bergh, VP of Sport and Partnerships, said. 

Connor Schmitz was the first demo athlete to arrive at The Ranch this year. In the beginning, he and Castro worked together one on one, running through different versions of the events, but as the weeks passed and they started testing every event for every division, the days got longer and the team got bigger. 

As soon as the athletes arrive at The Ranch, Castro gets to work testing, retesting, and retesting several more times for good measure. Castro briefs the athletes on the workout, starts the clock, and sits on the couch with a notepad, carefully evaluating every aspect of their performance. The athletes must put all their energy into each test to ensure an accurate evaluation. One important aspect Castro looks for: Do the athletes look like they are hurting? 

The work isn’t done until the perfect test is curated. If the timing doesn’t seem right, Castro would has the team test it again with different rep schemes. If the test looks too easy, he increases the weight and has the athletes test it again. 

“We kind of go with Dave’s brain,” Schmitz said. “I remember just being in the middle of (the workout), and if I was at home I would have just stopped, but because Dave’s just sitting there with his notepad and pencil, you just got to go.” 

Once one test is finalized, Castro asks the athletes how long they need to recover, gives them just a few minutes, and moves on to the next event. 

“You really have to be willing to put yourself through some suffering for the greater good,” Sean Woodland said. 

Through all the suffering, there’s a method to the madness. Castro understands better than anyone else how to create events that both challenge the very best athletes and provide a compelling spectacle for the audience and community. It’s a delicate balance, though, and programming workouts for the Games comes with hard decisions. 

As Woodland said, “(Castro) is looking for a way to test the athletes, not showcase them.”

Each day of the competition week is sectioned off on a large whiteboard, and all of Castro’s sheets of notes from each tested workout are sorted on the schedule according to movements, time domains, and location. He then organizes each page of notes from every round of tests in chronological order to see how it has been developed over time. 

“It’s an exercise in logistics. It’s an exercise in timing and figuring out where everything is going to fit. I really need to look at the schedule and understand what’s happening in total,” Castro said. 

In the end, the CrossFit community is left with a live competition full of varied events that are artfully crafted to test the fittest athletes in the world. What happened at The Ranch for the last six months was the full dress rehearsal for Madison.


Watch the full episode of Miles to Madison Ep. 08.21: The Art of CrossFit Games Programming on YouTube