CrossFit

CrossFit benchmarks and gender: how?

Meyken Houppermans
Founder and Head Coach
Given the fact that CrossFit uses benchmark workouts with prescribed weights and distinction between men and women, how do we align them with societal developments to a more inclusive and gender neutral version? A topic that needs to be addressed.

As a CrossFit coach, I regularly told my team: “OK guys, let’s do this!” or “Today the guys are gonna battle the girls”. But after a talk with one of my clients, thank you for that, I suddenly realized that for me personally, this did not feel right anymore. People do not only identify as guy or girl but also as non-binair, gender- creative, transgender and probably as much more than I am aware of. Gender is simply not a done deal anymore, and whatever your personal thoughts are, this is a topic that cannot be ignored or be framed as a hype or a burst of hypersensitivity of society.

The least I could do was to be more aware of my vocabulary, by using gender neutral words as ‘team’ and ‘people’. (I will probably screw it up many times to come). Nevertheless, despite my good intentions I am still confronted with many struggles related to CrossFit and gender, such as the following pretty practical one:

CrossFit uses benchmark workouts with a prescribed weight for men and women. For example, a 225 pound barbell for men and a 155 pound barbell for women.

How do we deal with this?

Ofcourse you can debate about these types of benchmarks, about prescribed weights in general, or about CrossFit in general, but that is not what this is about. The question here is: Given the fact that CrossFit uses these benchmark workouts, how do we align them with societal developments to a more inclusive version?

For non- benchmark workouts and a non- competitive setting, the answer could be to advice athletes to use a certain percentage of their one- rep max, or to judge by feel (light, moderate, heavy). But for benchmark workouts and competitive settings, prescribed loading and a fair comparison of results are part of the deal.

In a professional setting an option that is already being used in some sports, is to relate the loading to the percentage of testosterone of the athlete. But that entails numerous consequences, not only practical but also moral and ethical. Furthermore, how people identify themselves, does not have to relate to their hormone levels. And, how people identity themselves can change over time. And, this does not work in a non- competitive and non- professional setting.

What do we say?

Do we say: 61 kilos for people who identify themselves as men and 43kg for people who identify themselves as women? What about people who identify as non- binair?

Do we stand for our sport?

This is a super delicate topic, with so many opinions, believes, emotions and perspectives, especially since CrossFit is a worldwide sport played in so many countries, cultures and societies. It is also the type of topic that, on the one hand you do not want to be hypersensitive about, yet on the other hand is real, cannot be ignored and concerns peoples identity and respect.

Our intention with this article is to address this topic since is it becoming a growing part of our day to day business, not only in the narrow context of benchmark workouts in CrossFit, but in the broader context of gender- related issues in sports. Something that needs to be addressed far more explicitely on a global level to our opinion.

If we as CrossFit coaches truly stand for our sport and truly stand for what we preach: that CrossFit is for everyone and that CrossFit is community- driven, then we need to talk about this and get it out in the open. Without judgement but with the goal of finding acceptable and practical solutions for real life issues.

Wicked issues ask for practical solutions

This issue is very complex and cannot be downsized to merely a practical (workout-) problem. The fundamental aspects of this issue also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, research (Houppermans, 2011) has shown that in this type of complex wicked issues, it is far more effective to agree to disagree about the fundamental sides. It is far more effective to express to eachother the common ground for the love for CrossFit, than trying to convince the opponent of our core beliefs and values.

Crucial for the effectiveness of solutions is to explicitely subordinate personal interests to the common interest and focus on practical solutions that are acceptable for the majority. It is about sharing knowledge and experiences with everyone concerned. Not only for the sake of knowledge, awareness and commitment, but also because sharing knowledge helps to rationalise the debate a little bit, and that is needed to take steps towards acceptable solutions. It is also an ongoing learning process, without an everlasting answer.

This process has to start somewhere, out in the open. So let's practice what we preach or as we say in CrossFit:

3..2..1 GO!