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  • Addie Horowicz

"THE CROSSFIT GAMES" Documentaries: Effectively ReFraming the Game

Considering the lack of national sporting events these past weeks, networks that normally televise college games or professional competitions are scrambling to fill airtime. While some channels have chosen to re-air famous games from mainstream sports tournaments, such as the NCAA Lacrosse Championship, other channels have dug into their backlog of unconventional and little known sports to entertain the public. Perhaps you have recently discovered a new passion for watching competitive indoor rock climbing or professional cornhole. It can be jarring to realize how many elusive sports have communities of followers and national organizations supporting them. At first, you might be confused as to why someone would dedicate so much time to keeping up with athletes in the Strongman Competitions, but then you watch a clip of a man deadlifting a world record 501 kilograms, and you begin to understand the appeal of these events.

The Crossfit Games fall into this category of unconventional and surprising sports. While most people know of Crossfit gyms and workout plans, many have no clue that there are dozens of international competitions where professional Crossfit athletes compete to be crowned the fittest man or woman on earth. The competitions are held in stadiums where thousands of fans watch unbelievably strong people push themselves through several different powerlifting, cardio and general strength challenges that test mental toughness along with every muscle in the body. Challenges range from racing miles in the desert and completing a set of bodyweight exercises as fast as possible to advancing through rows of bars loaded with heavyweights and completing a squat clean until you cannot physically lift the bar anymore (watch this video of Tia Claire-Toomey make it up to a 265 lb squat clean - your jaw will be on the floor). There is a large cult following for these games, and yet the average person does not recognize that this culture exists or would care to go through the trouble of searching out YouTube clips of the competitions.

Enter the Crossfit Game documentaries. The Crossfit Game documentaries are films sponsored and created by the official Crossfit company itself and can be found on most conventional video purchasing platforms, as well as on Netflix. There are several films that cover regional competitions and famous individuals, but the most recognizable documentaries, “Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness” and “The Redeemed and the Dominant: Fittest on Earth,” follow the 2017 and 2018 international Crossfit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. At first glance, the films could be written off as corporate-commissioned advertisements meant purely to boost brand awareness and gym membership sales. While the documentaries certainly serve as brand marketing tools, they also embrace the expansive culture of the unique world of professional Crossfit by following the leading group of Crossfit athletes as they compete in the Crossfit Games’ biggest tournament. What makes these films so persuasive to the average viewer is the way the documentarians reframe the Games. The documentarians convince the audience to respect and appreciate the world of competitive Crossfit by presenting three levels of the subject: the spectacle, the technical and the personal.

The spectacle of Crossfit is perhaps the most easily accessible aspect of the competitions. The average person generally enjoys watching humans push themselves in remarkable ways under the pressure of competition. That said, the general viewer would not sit through an hour-long live stream of a single weightlifting event, especially if the viewer had no prior knowledge of the stakes and intensity of the competition. To make the spectacle more appealing and accessible to a person entirely unfamiliar with the community, the makers of the Crossfit documentaries chose to follow the top contenders for the Crossfit title through the week-long competition on the stadium floor.

The creators showed the highlights of the day in HD footage, spliced together to tell a story of the rises and falls of a particular athlete in that day’s challenge. Instead of presenting the audience with a pixelated video originally filmed for broadcast, the crew invested in proper filming equipment and sound gear. The Games through the perspective of the documentarians is engaging in part because of the high production value. The introduction to the Games as a thrilling and fast-paced event through dramatic editing and professional equipment changes the viewer’s perception of the competition from a few dozen athletes lifting heavy weights in the center of an arena to an epic saga full of drama and defeat.

To further increase the viewer’s appreciation of the Games, the documentarians reveal the behind-the-scenes workings of the professional Crossfit community that only a fan already invested in the culture would understand.

The daily routine of a professional Crossfit athlete is exhausting and abnormal. The athlete must spend hours in the gym lifting extraordinarily heavy weights, as well as additional hours in the pool or on trails working on stamina. The planners of the Crossfit Games try to seek out areas of strength the athletes might be lacking, so athletes are forced to improve every aspect of their fitness to conquer any challenge they face.

The documentarians follow all of the work that goes into achieving that level of fitness and interview the coaching teams in order to explain the varying philosophies regarding food, rest and training that each athlete chooses to follow. The filmmakers show the viewer how the workouts and fitness philosophies at the top level of competition trickle down to the local Crossfit centers and into the consciousness of the public. People do not realize how the communities and culture of Crossfit have affected their everyday life and the way they work out. Seeing the innovation and reach of the technical background of the Crossfit Games reframes the competition from a simple concept to an extensive network of workers and innovation.

Once the viewer understands the technical workings of the community and the amount of thought going into the competition, the documentarians instill a deeper connection to the Games into the viewer by showing the personal side of the Crossfit Games.

Establishing empathy between the viewer and the subject makes the stakes and drama of the competition more intense. Through individual interviews, athletes share their stories of why they decided to dedicate their lives to be the fittest on earth. The competitors explain what motivates them to spend so much time putting themselves through painful workouts and how much their mentality affects their performance. The documentarians show not only the athletes’ most astounding performances in competition but also their worst defeats. Understanding someone’s backstory and inner conflicts makes watching the Games so personal. Suddenly, the viewer has someone to root for, so athletes’ triumphs and losses become meaningful. By the end of the documentary, the viewer has gone from being apathetic and skeptical about this untraditional sport to possessing a deeper understanding and care for the Games.

The Crossfit Games documentarians effectively reframed the competition to change the viewer’s perspective. Sure, maybe the viewer won’t delve any further into the culture in some cases, but the viewer now has an appreciation for the community and an understanding of its importance to others. While the documentaries do not expose a corrupt enterprise or detail the struggles of an early nation, they serve their purpose in establishing connections to a new audience through stories of community, defeat and the extent of human fitness. The documentarians effectively showcase a whole fitness culture to a new audience and foster respect among people previously unfamiliar with the expansive network of Crossfit.

While there are a few more CrossFit documentaries, these are the first three you should watch:

“Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness”: This is the first documentary in the series of films that cover the international finals competition. The documentary introduces the top athletes in professional Crossfit and covers the planning and structure of the competition at its 10-year anniversary in 2017. The main themes of this documentary are the mind of the individual and the intensity of competition. You will get chills when you watch these competitors complete these insane workouts.

“The Redeemed and the Dominant: Fittest on Earth”: This continues the storyline of the 2017 Games into the 2018 Games. The film discusses the mental process of defeat and redemption in one of the most highly competitive sports there is. Additionally, the film addresses the war on performance-enhancing drugs in the competition after one of the top competitors was revealed to have been doping.

“Fittest in Dubai”: This documentary covers one of the qualifying competitions for the national games. The main focus of this documentary is the innovations being made in the games and details training strategy as most of the competitors in Dubai are still heavily preparing for the finals.

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