“The Fitness Competition for Every Body” vs. “Forging Elite Fitness”…
In the words of the late, great, Apollo Creed, “Sounds like a damn monster movie!”
Whichever “team” you happen to be on, you have to admit that Hyrox and CrossFit represent two of the most exciting disciplines in the functional fitness world.
…and if you’re not on a team (yet!) and, if you’re being honest with yourself, don’t really know the difference between the two, don’t worry! Today we’re going to settle the score once and for all in the Hyrox vs CrossFit debate, laying out the key attributes of each and detailing what makes each series of crazy-hard exercises shine!
Table of Contents
What is Hyrox?
The newer kid on the block, Hyrox races are comprised of 9 movements (running, rowing, ski erg…ing, sled pushes, sled pulls, wall ball shots, farmer’s carries, sandbag lunges, burpee broad jumps) that athletes attempt to navigate as quickly as possible. These movements and the order in which they are completed never changes.
Hyrox races are regularly held in various cities throughout the world and regularly draw hundreds of participants. Its ever-growing popularity, especially in Europe, has led to the incorporation of hundreds of Hyrox “partner gyms” throughout the world.
What is CrossFit?
As it edges closer to its 20th birthday, CrossFit continues to push the limits of “testing” all things “fitness”. CrossFit incorporates all types of physical fitness movements and activity into its workouts, ensuring that no two workouts are ever quite the same.
The “constantly varied” approach to fitness has led to sustained interest in CrossFit and the opening of thousands of CrossFit-affiliated gyms around the world. The fact that CrossFit workouts are infinitely “scalable” (able to be modified to decrease the challenge/difficulty) appeals to athletes of all abilities and skill levels.
Hyrox vs Crossfit: The Showdown
If you clicked on this article, you probably already have a pretty good idea of the basics of these two disciplines. So, without further time providing the requisite background information of the two, let’s get right to this clash of titans!
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Races/Workouts
One of the most (the most?) glaring differences between Hyrox and CrossFit is the structure of each “workout” (and by extension, each “race”/competition). In this regard, the two disciplines couldn’t be any more different.
You like structure and consistency? You’ll love Hyrox! Every structured Hyrox event includes the same exercises, performed with the same rep schemes, and in the same order. Of course, venues change as well as the specific equipment used (you might get stuck with an old, dirty rower or a “lumpy” wall ball), but otherwise Hyrox is incredibly consistent.
In contrast, a cornerstone statement of the CrossFit philosophy is “to prepare for the unknown and the unknowable” leading to workouts and events that are anything but consistent. While CrossFit certainly has a long list of go-to benchmark workouts that are programmed with regularity, it’s not uncommon for workouts to introduce movements (or movement standards) that have never been programmed before. If you’re more into variety, CrossFit is for you!
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Movements
This one is somewhat of an extension of the previous point since Hyrox always includes the same 9 movements (running included) whereas CrossFit workouts can include anywhere from 1 movement to 10’s of movements. During the entirety of the CrossFit Games competition, this number can extend into the 100’s.
Regarding the movements themselves, Hyrox movements are neither overly technical nor complex and are suitable for all levels of athletes. Other than some athletes possibly having some trouble pushing and pulling the weighted sled or gripping the kettlebells for long periods of time, the movements are accessible.
You can always “keep running” or “keep rowing” or “do another burpee”.
Clean and jerking 300-plus pounds? Handstand walking over obstacles? Rowing a marathon? Heck, stringing together more than 10 double-unders in a row…these are all tasks that might come up in a CrossFit workout. So, if you haven’t put in the (hundreds of) hours to attain the technical proficiency and high-level strength and endurance required to complete these tasks, you’re time-capped at best or simply “stuck” at worst.
If you’re simply unable to lift the weight or don’t “have” a particular skill, you’re in big trouble in a CrossFit workout!
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Running
There is obviously a lot of running in Hyrox. If you’re okay with running, want to get better at running, or want to run distances without the monotony of a more traditional ~10k race, Hyrox is what you’re looking for.
Walk into any CrossFit “box” and you’ll find members who understand the importance of cardio…but don’t want to run. Now, truth be told, there are definitely “running” workouts in CrossFit (in some special cases, these workouts involve more than 8Ks of running), but, in most cases, running is a “component” of a CrossFit workout as opposed to being the “theme”.
Another consideration is the length of each discipline’s running segments. Although there is a lot of running in Hyrox, you’re only ever running a kilometer at a time. In contrast, CrossFit loves its 400-meter running segments…but it also loves its mile-run segments…and requiring that these runs be performed with a 20 or 14-pound weighted vest…all in the same workout. This makes developing an appropriate pace for these segments exponentially more difficult.
Hyrox vs CrossFit: “Official” Progress
The iron-clad consistency of Hyrox makes it incredibly easy to gauge personal progress over time. With very few different competition-specific variables changing from event to event, you can be almost certain that if you finish a race faster this month than you did last month that you’re getting fitter. Combined with a very easy-to-access record-keeping system, Hyrox is doing measurement right!
CrossFit attempts to promote this type of progress measurement via its yearly CrossFit Open event. In theory, if you improve your world, country, or age-group ranking each year, you’re getting better at CrossFit. However, the workouts (almost) always differ from year to year as well as overall participation rates. This leads to serious measurement problems.
Using my personal experience as an example, the last two CrossFit Opens I completed in entirety were the 2020 and 2023 versions of the event. My overall rank in the Men’s 35-39 category went down slightly in 2023 even though I “felt” like I was in better shape than I was in 2020. Was I actually less “fit” than before?
Well…the 2023 version of the event drew almost 10,000 more participants in my age group than the 2020 CrossFit Open did. So…more competition means I got “less fit”.
In 2023 there were only 4 scored workouts (as opposed to 5 in 2020) with none of the workouts repeating. I actually came in the top ~5-15 percent of finishers in my age group in 3 of these 4 workouts…but finished in the ~50th percentile for the last one. So…performing poorly on one specific movement (1RM thruster) means I got “less fit”.
NOTE: In my opinion, it’s easier and better for CrossFit athletes to measure progress via monitoring their performances on CrossFit benchmark workouts, movements, and lifts. By doing this, variables are largely minimized and performance in relation to others is excluded.
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Weight “Requirement”
A bit of a controversial point, but for the people who want to be “great”, there is a weight “requirement” for one of these disciplines.
Hyrox races require participants to push and pull a decently heavy sled. Smaller athletes can have trouble with this, but just about all athletes are able to complete this portion of the race (even in the Hyrox Pro division where heavier weights are prescribed). Since these weights never change, whether someone is competing in a local event or the world championships, they will always be able to handle the weights, regardless of their personal size/weight.
At the time of this writing, CrossFit’s Rogue Invitational has just concluded. This event included a “max” barbell deadlift event where the starting weight for the women’s bar was 305 pounds while the starting weight for the men’s bar was 455 pounds.
Of course, world-class powerlifters in the 132-pound weight class would be able to pull these starting weights, but 99.9 percent of below-average sized people aren’t going to pull these weights, yet alone be competitive in these events.
Heavy lifts like these are standard in CrossFit competitions at all levels. For those who prefer to maintain a lower BMI, I would argue that it is impossible to be “elite” in today’s CrossFit landscape.
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Equipment
Concept2 Ski ergs and rowers certainly aren’t the most affordable pieces of equipment. Sleds, plates, kettlebells, sand bags and wall balls aren’t too expensive, but the price adds up when you gotta have all of them. However, once you do have/have access to all of these items, you’re pretty much good to go on the “required” Hyrox equipment front.
There are a lot of CrossFit bodyweight workouts and CrossFit wods that require very minimal equipment. With a little creativity and flexibility, the sky is truly the limit for designing these workouts. In contrast, because anything can technically be included in a CrossFit workout, equipment requirements are always evolving and, in some cases, growing more extreme.
In early 2023, I attempted to complete some qualification workouts for a CrossFit competition I wanted to participate in. Unfortunately, one of these workouts included a piece of equipment (Concept2 bike erg) that I didn’t have or have access to. As a result, I took last place in the event by default.
(Who am I kidding? I would have come in last even if I did have access to the bike!)
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Apparel
Similar to the equipment items mentioned above, CrossFitters are infamous for loading up on all types of gear and other assistance items. Weight belts help with stability on heavy lifts. Grips help to better grasp pull-up bars and rings while also protecting the hands. Lifting shoes increase ankle dorsiflexion and better-facilitate weightlifting movements.
If there isn’t a rule disallowing some type of assistance gear, you can bet that a dedicated CrossFitter has it somewhere in his collection because, after all, he’ll never know when he might need it.
The much more predictable nature of Hyrox races limits the amount of gear that you’ll find among athletes during events. Appropriate shoes are by far the most common (and important) items on the gear list, although sweat bands, knee sleeves (or knee pads) and hydration packs are all very popular items that are permitted in Hyrox races.
If you get giddy thinking about unboxing a bunch of gear for your fitness ventures, Hyrox really isn’t the sport for you, unfortunately!
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Affiliation/Growth
Crossfit has become popular enough that memes and jokes about it and its adherents are solidly a part of popular culture. The fact that at last count there were over 15,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms (or “boxes” as they are colloquially known as) around the world with especially impressive growth taking place in Europe and South America. However, overall interest in CrossFit has slowly, but steadily been declining for the last few years.
Hyrox has a much shorter history than CrossFit does, having been founded in 2017. Its growth, both in popularity as well as in affiliated facilities, has not yet reached the levels of CrossFit. However, affiliations are exploding with over 500 Hyrox-affiliated currently operating (as of late 2023) and overall interest increasing at an exponential rate.
It is also worth looking at the current regional differences in interest between Hyrox and CrossFit. According to Google Trends, Hyrox is really starting to creep up on CrossFit in a few European countries (interest in Hyrox has already eclipsed interest in CrossFit in the United Kingdom) whereas CrossFit still dominates in the U.S. where, despite Hunter McIntyre’s best efforts, Hyrox remains almost virtually unknown.
Hyrox vs CrossFit: Championship Qualification
The qualifying process for the CrossFit “play-offs” seems to change every year. It always begins with the CrossFit Open. Do well enough in the Open (a finish in the top 10 percent of participants) and you make it to the quarterfinals…and then on to the semifinals…then on to regionals…then (if you’re in the top ~10-30 athletes in your age group) off to the CrossFit Games (the “championship”).
As long and winding as this road is, making it to the first “round” of the play-offs isn’t too steep of a task, only requiring a top 10 percent finish in one’s category. However, every workout from the quarterfinals on is much more difficult than the Open workouts were and the competition is much tougher.
In practice, Hyrox only has one level of championship qualifying: do well enough in a Hyrox race and you directly qualify for the world championships. The number of qualifying spots from each race depends on how many athletes participate in it. As you might expect, the more athletes participating, the more qualifying spots there are (this means that there are more “Open” athletes qualifying than there are “Pro” athletes from each event).
It is important to note that whether an athlete qualifies as an Open or Pro competitor, the weights in the championship are set to the Pro level for all competitors (with the exception of those in the Mixed Doubles division). As such, if you’re planning on trying to qualify for the Hyrox World Championships as an Open athlete, make sure you can handle Pro weights since those are what you’ll be playing with at the championship.
Another important side note is that in recent times, Hyrox has included additional “elite” events such as the “Elite 15” and the “Majors” where the top athletes compete against each other. If you want a quick, albeit somewhat complicated explanation of how these events work, you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth below:
Hyrox and CrossFit?
Like any fierce showdown, it is nice to see the combatants reconcile, overcoming their differences and realizing they have more in common than they do to fight about.
…this might just be the case with our Hyrox vs CrossFit rivals!
Hunter Mcintyre, Hyrox’s top dawg, has a long and illustrious history in CrossFit, even competing in the 2019 CrossFit Games. However, even lower-profile CrossFit athletes are starting to make a splash in Hyrox.
It’s clear that these athletes are benefiting from the overlap between the disciplines and are quickly finding success in the Hyrox world.
Where does this leave us? Well, if you’re on the fence with which sport to give a try, use these athletes as inspiration that whichever you ultimately decide on…you will be able to give the other a try if you so desire.
After going into the minute detail of the differences between these two, I’m left with an insightful and philosophical quote from a very wise woman:
Hyrox races finish off with what some in the CrossFit world have affectionately named “Kar”. Find out more about this oddly-named WOD and her 150 wall ball shot friend (Karen) in our article on the workout!