Triple-Unders at the 2023 CrossFit Games?: Predictions from Rx Smart Gear Founder Dave Newman
Individual athletes at last year’s CrossFit Games were hit with a surprise during the third event. The double-under crossover was introduced for the first time ever, and not since the pegboard has a piece of equipment so thoroughly devastated the field. Only five competitors finished all 25 reps, and only 2 completed the event.
That experience proves that the jump rope, one of CrossFit’s most basic training tools, is also perhaps its most versatile as well. And as we approach the Games, rumors are swirling about what could be in store. Crossover singles? More crossover doubles? Or even the long-awaited triple-unders?
No leaks have come from CrossFit HQ (yet), so we asked Dave Newman, the founder of Rx Smart Gear, and the very first official jump rope partner of CrossFit back in 2016.
Newman has been making jump ropes since 2008, longer than any other CrossFit native company, and he’s personally coached nearly every big name in the sport, including Fraser, Toomey-Orr, Froning, Ohlsen, McQuaid, Speegle, Thorisdottir, Sigmundsdottir, and the Panchik brothers.
Below, Newman explains why crossovers were (and are) a great skill to test, recounts how he turned his zany hobby into the sport’s most recognizable jump rope company, and gives his prediction for what jump rope skill we can expect at this year’s Games.
The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Morning Chalk Up: Every year, all of us in the CrossFit universe make predictions about the Games, and every year we’re all wrong. So, why should we trust you?
Dave Newman: We’ve had a pretty long hand at trying to influence the Games on jump rope movements and push our philosophy about mixed modality and constant variation. So, we were instrumental in getting the heavy rope into the 2016 Games. I kept sending Dave Castro a heavy rope like, “Dave, try this, Dave try this, Dave try this.” And Dave gave me permission to say that I influenced him directly.
We got the dreaded Drag Rope into the “Awful Annie” workout at the 2020 Games. Because it was the pandemic year, and that portion was online, we had to send the ropes to judges all over the world.
Last year, I really made a big push for crossovers with Competition Director Adrian Bozman. I ran into him at the Sanctional in Knoxville and didn’t know that he’d already programmed that Speed Skill Medley. What I found out later was that he was considering putting it on the back burner because he wasn’t confident it was the right time to bring it out. But after I made a big case for it, he decided to go for it. I gave him the nudge inadvertently.
MCU: When you first started CrossFit in 2008, you picked up most of the movements pretty quickly but really struggled with double unders. That’s a feeling that most of us can relate to, but you did something different. You developed an entirely new jump rope. Why?
DN: Through hours of practice and trials during workouts, I realized in order to correct my poor movement habits I needed to not only adjust the length of the rope but also its weight and flexibility to provide the most consistency. But, I never, ever thought that my wacky little hobby would become a company.
I started making ropes because nothing else was working for me, and I was literally the brunt of jokes for how bad I was at double unders. Back then, there were no resources or instruction manuals on how to do them. Coaches would offer basic tips, and friends would tell you what worked for them. But, I really needed a progression based approach that provided a foundation along with a blueprint to develop new skills. That went hand in hand with the jump rope I designed and eventually patented.
Back then, the only ropes available were nine feet long, so I’d go to a sporting goods store, buy a rope, and strip down everything but the handles. Then, I’d reintegrate all of my hardware and cabling. It took about 45 minutes per rope — it was a real pain in the ass — but it worked. I went from being one of the worst jumpers, meaning I couldn’t do a double under to save my life, to being the best in the gym. Eventually, people were coming up to me like, “Hey, can I try that out?”
MCU: But you never thought to sell the ropes?
DN: Ha, no. Not to get too heavy, but my wife and I were involved in real estate when the 2007 / 2008 crash hit, we hit rock bottom and started all over from scratch. So this whole jump rope thing was kind of like therapy for me. Like, I’d get lost in my garage tinkering with cables, and people thought it was kind of quirky because nobody was doing that back then. Nobody knew how popular CrossFit would become.
After my wife pushed me to actually make this a real thing, we operated out of our two-car garage for a few years. It was just me and her, and then we hired a friend and later his wife, and we’d all help assemble ropes and process orders. We all got a crash course on the entire process of sourcing materials, manufacturing, assembly, quality control, inventory control, packaging, shipping, marketing, customer service, and human resources. Plus, everything was on a shoestring budget. Almost 15 years later, we are still learning and trying to improve.
MCU: The company is obviously much bigger today. Was there a specific point when you felt like you’d made it?
DN: I can’t say we’ve ever had that feeling. My wife and I have an insecurity that we can always get better, but we’re also enormously proud of what we’ve built. We don’t have any officially sponsored CrossFit athletes, but at the Games there are more top 20 male, top 20 female, and top 10 teams using our jump ropes than any other brands’. And because we don’t pay them to use our gear, I know they use Rx because they feel it’s the highest quality product available. That gives me comfort that we’re doing things right. But, we’re always looking to develop new products to help people train better, like our inflatable Air Jumping Mat, which helps people with injuries or chronic pain to continue jumping.
MCU: So, what are your predictions for this year’s Games? Should we expect triple unders?
DN: In my opinion, double-under crossovers have to be there this year. When they released them last year, the execution was poor, right? They just kind of threw them out there with little warning. It was obviously an absolute surprise for everybody, not just for the athletes. The judges clearly weren’t prepared to judge it properly, either, which was unfortunate because Danielle Brandon could’ve had the opportunity to finish the workout and didn’t.
Afterward, there was so much chatter about what a dumb skill that was, like “Oh, it’s a circus trick.” But, a double-under crossover is an amazing skill. We’ve been the official partner to USA Boxing for close to a decade, and boxers use them for hand-eye coordination and explosiveness. It’s the next natural progression from a double under, and it takes a lot more mental power to organize all that movement. Plus, I think more athletes could learn double-under crossovers before they could learn triple-unders. So, in my mind, Bozman needs to go back and prove to the world that it’s a pretty cool skill.
But if triple unders do show up this year, I’ve been training tons of the top athletes all summer in person and via Zoom. They’re ready, and our super light EVO FRE with a special cable is a triple under monster. So, bring it on, Bozman!
If you’re at the Games this year, stop by RXSG’s booth in Vendor Village, demo their products, and get trained by their experts, including Newman and the hilarious Evan Slaughter. They’ll also be teaching three, one-hour clinics at the GOWOD house at Big Dane CrossFit, as well as two, one-hour clinics at Pat’s Gym and a tailgate on Friday, August 4. Also, wave at the RX Sprinter Van when you see it around town and they’ll be happy to give you some swag.