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CrossFit - Protecting our Sports Environment.



Training outdoors always has a special feel to it, whether that is going for a run in your local park, taking part in a fitness event or simply outside of the entrance to the gym that you usually train at, there is just something about it which makes you feel good. Functional fitness and community-based training has increased massively in Europe and North America over the past five years, originally pioneered through the CrossFit revolution in the 2010s, this movement completely changed the way individuals approached fitness and exercise.


With the increasing interest in functional training such as CrossFit as well as competitive competitions, so too did the idea and desire for the everyday athlete to take part, putting their skills and ability to the test.

 

CrossFit, a high-intensity fitness program known for its diverse workouts and community-driven approach, is no stranger to challenges. Athletes constantly push their boundaries, but today, a different kind of challenge looms large: climate change. The changing climate has begun to impact sport in several ways, from the heat affecting athletes performance to issues like air and water pollution threatening the quality of training and competitions. We have seen this impact firsthand over the years, athletes including Ryan Fischer, Annie Thorisdottir and most recently during the 2023 Games, Icelandic prodigy Bergros Bjornsdottir have all suffered from heat stroke.


CrossFit workouts are demanding, and athletes are accustomed to breaking a sweat. However, as temperatures rise due to climate change, athletes face a new level of heat-related challenges. Higher temperatures can lead to increased risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration, affecting performance and even endangering participants health. To combat this issue, CrossFit events must incorporate strategies like better hydration plans, shaded rest areas, and scheduling workouts during cooler times of the day to ensure athletes safety and well-being.


This risk could increase further with the CrossFit Games now being moved to Texas from Madison, Wisconsin - which I will go into further down the article. While heat will impact future training and events within CrossFit, there are other areas of concern important for CrossFit and other fitness-based competitions to consider protecting the athletes competing.




Air Quality Concerns:

Air pollution is another consequence of climate change that is affecting CrossFit athletes. Poor air quality can lead to reduced lung function, cardiovascular problems, and hindered endurance. Athletes participating in outdoor CrossFit events may find their performance compromised due to smog, particulate matter, and other pollutants in the air.

Promoting the use of air quality monitoring systems and choosing event locations with good air quality is essential in tackling this issue.


Water Pollution and Algae Blooms:

CrossFit includes swimming events as part of its competitions, often held in natural bodies of water. Climate change exacerbates issues such as water pollution and algae blooms, which can negatively impact the quality of swimming events. Polluted water not only affects the swimmer's health but can also hinder their overall performance. This was seen on two occasions when in 2017 Josh Bridges went out for a practice swim before the game and unfortunately picked up a stomach bug resulting in Diarrhoea. “I went into that water on Wednesday and did a little practice swim,” Josh recalls. “I don’t know if that’s where I caught it or what”, also stating that he was getting stomach cramps while competing in the first event.


Again in 2019 in the same lake Rich Fronning went out for a swim the day before the games, coming out of the water “infected with parasites and has a rash and blisters”.

A big emphasis from organizers to prioritise water quality testing, enforce strict water quality standards, and provide athletes with guidance on precautions they can take when swimming in potentially polluted water.

Moving the CrossFit Games to Texas: The Extreme Heat Factor:

In recent years, the CrossFit Games have become a staple event for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. Traditionally held in Madison, Wisconsin, the Games provide a platform for athletes to highlight their talents. However, following months of speculation, CrossFit HQ recently announced that it was moving the 2024 Games to Fort Worth, Texas. Dave Castro from The HQ stated, “The move to Fort Worth is the first step for where we want to take the CrossFit Games. Just as we expect our athletes to adjust during competition, we’ll need to do the same as we rethink our execution so that we can bring the Games to not only more cities in the United States, but also consider expansion overseas.” While CrossFit naturally looks to expand the games to bigger and better venues as it develops the competition and reach across the globe, there most be some thought behind athlete welfare, right?


While Texas offers various advantages, including a larger and more diverse environment for workouts, it also poses a new challenge in the form of extreme heat. Summers in Texas can be scorching, with temperatures regularly soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), where the average temperature in Wisconsin during July/Aug is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This shift in location and timing has raised concerns about the well-being of athletes and the potential risks they might face due to the oppressive heat.

This will be one of the biggest and most important environmental factors that CrossFit HQ must focus on, implementing strict heat management protocols, including frequent hydration breaks, shaded rest areas, and flexible scheduling to avoid the hottest parts of the day. They should also provide guidelines and resources for athletes to acclimate to the heat effectively.

Someone who knows the challenges facing athletes both on the competition floor as well as from the environment is James Newbury, 4x Australia’s Fittest Man, the 5th Fittest Man at the 2019 CrossFit Games. James has also tested himself in a variety of competitions including Strongman, Ironman and most recently, Hyrox. We spoke to James and asked him five questions about his journey within CrossFit and his thoughts around sustainability within the sport.


What drew you to CrossFit, and how has it shaped your approach to fitness and well-being?

“I was initially drawn to CrossFit because of its community-driven approach and the diversity of workouts it offers. It has greatly influenced my fitness and well-being by emphasising functional strength, endurance, and overall health. CrossFit has taught me that fitness isn't just about looking good; it's about being capable and resilient.”


CrossFit often involves outdoor workouts and a strong connection to physical fitness. Can you share your thoughts on why it's important to maintain a healthy environment for outdoor training and exercise, considering issues like pollution and climate change?

“Maintaining a healthy environment for outdoor training is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, exposure to fresh air and nature can enhance the overall workout experience, boosting mental well-being. Secondly, pollution can harm our health, so preserving clean outdoor spaces is essential. Moreover, considering climate change, it's vital to protect these areas as they can serve as reminders of what we stand to lose if we don't address environmental issues.”

As a CrossFit athlete, you have likely trained in various locations. Have you noticed any environmental changes or challenges in your training environments that have heightened your awareness of climate change-related issues?

“Yes, as a CrossFit athlete, I've trained in various locations, and I've noticed environmental changes firsthand. Unpredictable weather patterns, extreme heat, and disruptions in outdoor training due to climate-related events have made me more aware of the urgent need to address climate change. It's a stark reminder that our actions affect the environment we rely on for our fitness and well-being.”

Climate change can lead to extreme weather events that affect outdoor training conditions. How do you think climate change-related challenges might impact CrossFit training and competitions, and what steps do you believe should be taken to adapt to these challenges?

“Changes in our natural environment, like extreme weather events, can significantly impact CrossFit training and competitions. Increased heat, storms, or air pollution can make outdoor workouts unsafe or hinder performance. To adapt, CrossFit competitions may need contingency plans, flexible scheduling, and indoor backup options. Athletes should focus on adapting their training to these conditions, including heat acclimatisation and adjusting workouts for safety.”

James Newbury CrossFit Athlete.

Athletes, including those in the CrossFit community, often use their influence to advocate for important causes. In your opinion, how can CrossFit athletes and the fitness community as a whole contribute to the fight against climate change and promote sustainability in the fitness industry?

“CrossFit athletes and the fitness community have a platform to influence change. They can promote eco-friendly workout equipment and venues, organize clean-up events, or raise awareness about sustainability. Athletes can use their social media presence to advocate for environmental causes, urging others to adopt eco-conscious practices in their fitness routines. Collaboration with organisations committed to environmental preservation can also make a significant impact on protecting our sports environments for future generations.”

CrossFit's resilience and adaptability can serve as an example for addressing these challenges. By acknowledging the influence of climate change on the sport and implementing practical solutions, CrossFit can continue to thrive while ensuring the safety and well-being of its athletes. In the case of relocating the CrossFit Games to Texas, it is essential to prioritise athlete health and comfort amidst the extreme summer heat.


The future of CrossFit will be impacted by these changing environments, ensuring that the community effectively comes together to address these climate-related issues can play a crucial role in our fight against climate change, proving that even in the face of adversity, CrossFit athletes can rise to the challenge and conquer it.

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