The relationship between height and CrossFit success

Posted on November 8, 2017

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“Oh, you’re gonna be good at this workout, since you’re short.”

“Find something different to say other than I’m short. I heard enough of fucking that. Maybe ’cause I did ten years of olympic weightlifting.”

Mat Fraser, 2x CrossFit Games champion

How much does height matter when it comes to CrossFIt? We’ll look at this two ways. Within the Games’ athletes; then we’ll zoom out and look at it relative to the average population.

The Sports Gene delves into how sports have become uber specialized. Pick a height /  weight / wingspan / body fat / skin color, you can make a very good guess not only what sport that athlete plays, but what position. How specialized is CrossFit?

Men

I went back three years. There are 40 athletes / placings per year. Here are the men:

  • While it is interesting the trendline goes down i.e. the TALLER Game athlete you are, the better you tend to place, that is a VERY small trendline
  • The Games’ athletes are in a fairly narrow range, at least relative to the population, 64-74 inches, though not as narrow as say, running backs in the NFL. Sport wise though, CrossFit strikes me as having an average range. The NFL runs roughly 5’8″ to 6’8″. Basketball 6’2″ to 7’2″. Baseball 5’6″ to 6’6″. That is, a ten inch spread seems common.

Let’s change the scale to disproportionately focus on the top 10:

We’re seeing the trendline didn’t give us much info. For instance, you do NOT want to be shorter than 67 inches. There is no (current) history of a male shorter than that finishing in the top 10.

On the other side, while you can finish quite well at 74 inches, it’s obvious you want to be 70 inches, give or take an inch. (Three of the 67 dots are one person (Fraser).)

This is always a tenuous argument. For a long time people thought to be a great sprinter, you basically couldn’t be taller than six feet. Then a giant in Usain Bolt comes around and blows that theory out. However, we have to speak in averages with this kind of approach. If you’re gambling, you put money on the 70 inchers.

What we can take away here though is Fraser has no obvious advantage being 5’7″. If anything, he looks to be disadvantaged. He’s right. The taller Games’ athletes are whining and making excuses.

Women

  • Same deal as the guy’s. (Extremely) slight trend towards taller being better.
  • Tiny bit narrower range than the males though. 60-69 inches.

Changing the scale:

Again, similar to the guy’s. When we’re talking top 10, the range gets narrower.

Random takeaway

It’s un-American to talk about all the ways hard work can’t pay off, but sports? It’s obvious. If you’re 5’5″, the NBA is invariably, demonstrably, less likely.

If you’re a 6’4″ male or 5’10” female attempting CrossFit, making it to the Games is unlikely; finishing in the top 10 even more unlikely.

No, being a certain height is no guarantee of any finish. BUT, being a certain height is an increase in probability of being able to hang in the ring.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning how average these heights are relative to the population. The males average 5’10”; females 5’4″. Is there any other sport where being average height helps? Not only that, the weights of CrossFitters are pretty average too. (Albeit much more muscle than the typical person.)

In other words, CrossFit fell ass backwards into a sport which caters to the average person. Guys who are 5’10” don’t regularly think “Oh yeah, I have a shot at being good at basketball.” 5’4″ females don’t regularly think “Swimming would be a good sport for me.” However, in CrossFit you can be considered a short (5’4″) or tall (6’2″) male, short (5’0″) or tall (“5’9”) female, and still be really good at it.

While there are positions in other sports which may cater to the average, it’s hard to come up with an entire sport that does. Plus, those positions tend to cater to some other aspect of anatomy, such as bodyweight. You might be a 5’10” guy, but what are the odds of you being 220 lbs and shredded like other NFL running backs? But 190 lbs and lean doesn’t sound impossible.

If I’m CrossFit, moving forward I make sure that continues. That the Games ends up being tailored to an average height person. You don’t want to make the events too in favor of short or tall people. You don’t want too much lifting, or too much swimming / running / throwing.

Not only does height / weight matter, but so does limb lengths. Those who are naturally good at lifting will not be at running, and vice versa. Short legs help lifting; not running.

The more the sport is tailored this way, the more we get a true measure of how good someone’s training is. Being seven feet tall can make up for a lot of shortcomings. However, if everybody in the NBA say, had to be the same height, then height no longer becomes a differentiator once on the court. If everybody had to have the same wingspan, then same deal. Where you progressively get to weeding out talent in favor of preparation.

That’s pretty cool, and refreshing.

Ideally, CrossFit would maximize the spread of heights / weights / etc. to capture the entire population. How cool would it be to see a sport where a 5’5″, 140 pounder has the same chance of winning as a 5’5″ 190 pounder has the same chance as a 6’7″ 200 pounder has the same chance as a 6’7″ 240 pounder?

That would be hard to do. You might have to come up with some fancy scoring system. Taller people get bonus points in lifting exercises; shorter people bonus points in swimming. That would get convoluted, and nobody enjoys those types of systems.

Plus, business wise, nobody else is catering to the average person like this, accident or not. While it would be nice to see a sport which captured everybody, giving a fair chance all around, it probably makes more sense to focus on what other sports are missing.

Something a civilization strives for, or at least should, is minimizing the importance of your birth. Just because you’re born into a certain socioeconomic class, skin color, height, state, country, shouldn’t dictate the rest of your life.

We like to say “even playing field” yet sports are anything but. A lot of us worked hard at a given sport, only at some point to realize you simply weren’t given enough at birth to get to that level. While it’s fun to see freaks, we have enough of that right now. CrossFit can provide a nice change of scenery.

Full data if interested. Can see the next topic coming up-

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Posted in: Sports