The CrossFit Open Adaptive Division: What We Know Now

November 20, 2020 by
Photo credit: Alec Zirkenbach

In an interview with the Talking Elite Fitness podcast on November 11, CrossFit’s new CEO Eric Roza, stated (seemingly kind of leaked) that he’s excited for the inclusion of a new Adaptive Division in the 2021 CrossFit Open. This may not be an official announcement from CrossFit, but for everyone who has been hoping for this addition, it was a day to celebrate.

One big thing: CrossFit is now more than ever aware of the need to be inclusive and accepting of everyone within the fitness community, and the introduction of an Adaptive Division to the Open represents a major development for adaptive athletes around the world.

  • In reaction to the announcement, Logan Aldridge, co-founder of Adaptive Training Academy, Nike sponsored athlete, and reigning world’s “Fittest Adaptive Athlete” from 2018 and 2019 said, “as a competitive adaptive athlete, I’m absolutely thrilled that there is going to be an official Adaptive Division in the sport of CrossFit! But what’s more exciting to me is the trickle down effect this will have for the community as more people with disabilities see that CrossFit training is something they can, and should be doing.”

Remind me: Since the early 2000’s, many individuals and organizations have fought to achieve a competitive outlet for people with disabilities (PWD) in the sport of CrossFit. One of the most notable and successful competitions to include adaptive athletes is Wodapalooza (WZA). This CrossFit sanctional has had a dedicated Adaptive Division since 2014 when Steph Hammerman, Kevin Ogar, and others brought the need of inclusion to the attention of the WZA founder, Guido Trinidad, and his team.

  • In a heartfelt Facebook post, Hammerman said “This has been a long time coming and something that many of us have wanted and talked about for years.”
  • Several individuals (and this is not an exhaustive list), played key roles in opening space and creating opportunities for adaptive athletes over the years, including: AJ Richards, creator of Rush Club (now the Competitive Fitness Championship); the team at CrossFit Rubicon (and Crossroads Adaptive Athletic Alliance) who put on the Working Wounded Games, the precursor for formalized adaptive CrossFit competitions; Chris Stoutenburg who created WheelWOD as a competition platform for adaptive CrossFit that has adapted the CrossFit Open by organizing a parallel world-wide competition since 2014.
Photo credit: Alec Zirkenbach

The details: While there are many details still being worked out behind the scenes between CrossFit and WheelWOD* (and Adaptive Training Academy), we can offer you some generalizations about the different divisions and expectations for the Games season. *WheelWOD is the competition division of the Adaptive Training Academy and is staffed by a team of adaptive athletes and subject matter experts from each major impairment division.

Photo credit: Alec Zirkenbach
  • Adaptive Divisions: There will most likely be eight adaptive subdivisions that have been used by WheelWOD for competition standards in events like Wodapalooza and the previous six CrossFit Opens. These divisions were formed from the base Paralympic classifications and then modified to meet the needs of adaptive CrossFit competition. For this year, there will not be additional age group divisions.
  1. Upper Extremity Impairment
  2. Lower Extremity Impairment
  3. Visual Impairment
  4. Short Stature
  5. Neuromuscular Impairment
  6. Seated Athletes (Class 2; athlete has hip function)
  7. Seated Athletes (Class 1; no motor function of the hip)
  8. Intellectual Impairment (also known as neurodiverse or cognitive impairment)
  • Chris Stoutenburg, founder and head programmer for WheelWOD says that “after collecting eight years of data from adaptive competitions, and making adjustments to events based on that data and community feedback, we have developed a solid and fair system for competitions.  We are confident that the Adaptive Division will be very competitive and will produce the fittest on earth.”
Photo credit: Alec Zirkenbach
  • Road to the 2021 Games: We hope and expect there to be a similar flow as the Open to Games qualifying process that is currently in place for the age groups (Teens and Masters). But, being that this is the first year with an Adaptive Division, there may be a reduced process until the number of adaptive athletes registering and competing matches that of the age groups. There may also be a direct flow from the Open to the Games for a set number of athletes.

Athlete Classification: Classification is the basis for creating a fair competition that will ultimately distinguish the top athlete (‘Fittest in the World’) and not the least disabled athlete. 

  • Classification makes competition fair by determining which athletes are eligible to compete and how athletes are grouped together for competition.
  • The CrossFit classification process will lean on that which has already been established by WheelWOD and the Adaptive Training Academy, using the Paralympic system as a foundation.
  • Challenges of classification for CrossFit: What makes classification for the sport of CrossFit far more difficult than paralympic sports is that CrossFit doesn’t have a specific set of necessary skills like most sports. CrossFit could be affectionately considered “the sport of anything and everything,” and that makes classification more challenging — not impossible, just a bit more tricky to nail down.

Programming for the Open and Games Events: This is purely speculative, but we believe overall programming will originate from CrossFit with guidance from the  WheelWOD team. In the past, Open workouts were adapted weekly by WheelWOD the night of their announcement and released a day later for the adaptive community. With the WheelWOD team onboard, the Adaptive Division will receive the same scorecards, movement demos, and standards sheets as the able-bodied divisions, and at the same time as the able-bodied workout announcements. We also hope to see a workout announcement with adaptive athletes showcased.

  • Open Workouts: Because community inclusion is the backbone of the Open, workouts for the Adaptive Division will be adapted from the able-bodied division workout to maintain inclusion. This will allow everyone in the box to perform a very similar stimulus for each workout. Most likely, time domains and repetitions will be the exact same with the adaptations coming in the form of equipment and movement changes that will ensure each subdivision is challenged appropriately.  This process will be similar to the method of scaling for the Scaled Divisions across all age groups.
  • The Games Events: Our estimate is that the events for the Games may also be adapted from some but not all of the able-bodied Events. But there will be many more “programmed from scratch” events for each adaptive subdivision. Again, this process is expected to be similar to the age groups who have most of their competition programming specifically for them.  There will be unique events in each classification that will make the competition more fair and will be sure to find the fittest in each division.

The bottom line: There will be more details on the way, particularly surrounding the classification and eligibility questions. But, this development is hugely important for the adaptive community and highlights the value that the CrossFit community and CrossFit LLC places on inclusivity.

Photo credit: Wodapalooza

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