9 Tips from the Experts about running a successful fitness competition

"How hard can it be?"

The latter has been thought or said only by people who have never run a fitness competition. Those who have know running a smooth and seamless event is a lot harder than you might expect. It's so easy to overlook small things, but often the seemingly unimportant details make all the difference in the event's execution.

We have worked with countless gym owners who have learned, often through trial and error, about all the pitfalls involved in running a throwdown for CrossFit athletes. They have helped us come up with a list of some of the most important best practices for a great event. They are:

9. Safety First: Space, space, space

Remember that event where that guy hit that heavy snatch and went for a walk with the barbell right onto the crowd? And that girl kicked up to handstand and smoked another competitor in the lane next to her?

Don’t overlook spacing—spacing in relation to other equipment, spacing in relation to other athletes or teammates, and spacing in relation to the crowd.

How much space is needed?

Some organizers say an 8-by-8 foot space is best—similar to a lifting platform—especially if the event involves working up to a max clean and jerk or snatch. If the event involves lighter weights of a movement like a deadlift, then not quite as much space is required, but it’s always good to air on the side of caution. It’s also always a good idea to practice an event with demo athletes beforehand to see how it plays out with 10 barbells and 10 athletes on the floor.


8. Stay on time

Remember that event that started the first heat two hours late and finished at 11 p.m?

Does it matter if you run behind schedule?

Yes! In fact, we asked more than 250 athletes and coaches in a survey last year what they valued most about a well-run event. Staying on time was one of the most common answers.

Three tips—other than time capping events (which most have figured out by now)—for staying on time:

3. Practice transitions with your equipment team: It goes without saying you need to leave enough time between heats and events. But sometimes changing equipment takes longer than you think so do a dry run with your equipment volunteers and judges, especially if a transition between heats involves something like adjusting the ring height. It always helps to air on the conservative side when it comes to time between events in case something unforeseen goes down on game day.

2. Assign a volunteer to corral the athletes in the next heat well ahead of time (8-10 minutes before their heat begins is best) so you’re not waiting on athletes to figure out they’re up next.

1. Set up equipment BEFORE the next event: Do things like pre-build barbells with the appropriate weights, so as soon as the current event finishes, the next one can get started.

7. Entertaining Events

Remember that event where fans got so bored they began trickling out of the stands as the heats progressed?

Three potential causes for this to avoid boring your fans to death:

3. Too many heats! 20 heats of the same event—no matter how exciting the event—will put any crowd to sleep.

If your fans look like this by heat 5, something is amiss...

2. Too long! When workouts are more than 20 minutes long, you need to find a way to keep the crowd engaged: (A great announcer is one way to do this). If not, structure your event’s long workout so it can be done in one heat.

1. What’s going on out there? If spectators can’t tell whose leading an event, you’re going to have a problem. People will lose interest. Period. Avoid AMRAPS. A 30-minute AMRAP is the perfect recipe for fizzling fans.

6. Simplify your life with SweatWorks' registration and leaderboard software

Remember the event where you didn’t have a clue how you were doing all day in relation to your competitors because no leaderboard or results were anywhere to be found? The event where the final heat ended and nobody in the building knew who won the whole thing?

Again, our survey showed athletes, spectators and fans agree having a live leaderboard goes a long way in how they judge and event.

This is where we—SweatWorks—come in: Through our Conquest Events software, we help with your event management— specifically with registration, live event scoring and athlete tracking.

Organizers who have used SweatWorks agree one thing that makes SweatWorks great to work with is that we’re a team of seasoned veterans, who have been working with other sports—triathlon events and adventure races, like Spartan Race, Battlefrog Series and Ragnar Relay—for the better part of a decade, helping with website design and development, chip timing, registration and live scoring. In other words, we know what we're doing.

5. Stay true to your event's mission

Whether your goal is to run an event for elite CrossFit athletes, or a small event for local lifestyle fitness enthusiasts, it’s important you remember what it is you’re trying to do, and make decisions accordingly.

Guido Trinidad, the organizer of the prestigious Wodapalooza said this has been key to his event’s continued success. In his case, Wodapalooza was always meant to be a celebration of fitness of all levels.

"One of the biggest reasons for our success, I think, is that we have always stayed true to our intention. We’re a community event, and all of our business decisions have been about making sure we create an experience that’s going to last a lifetime,” he said. “It’s tempting to make your event about being all about elite athletes. But I’d rather brag about how many different types of athletes we have competing."


4. Spend money to make money

If you’re running an event for the first time with the intention of making money in year one, you’re likely not going to be as successful as if you put money on hold in the short term and focus on hosting a quality competition, knowing that one day in the future your event might become profitable.

Even Trinidad admitted the world renowned Wodapalooza saw little to no profit in their first few years.

3. Hire a programming proofreader

Remember that event where they did box jumps with a teammate on their back and human barbell thrusters? It wound up on a CrossFit fails video on youtube, where more than 200,000 have mocked your programming.

Although something might seem like a fun and entertaining idea in your head, it may play out differently than anticipated.

To avoid this:

Don’t program alone. Test workouts and bring someone else on to double check your ideas. Often keeping it simple is as exciting and memorable as trying to be fancy to impress athletes and onlookers. Our favourite Regionals Event ever was very simple: 64 pull-ups plus 8 overhead squats. Simple. Yet entertained the masses.


Virtuosity in simple, yet effective programming

2. Details, details details

Remember that event where the warm-up area was 10-feet-by-10-feet and there wasn’t a barbell in sight, so you warmed up your thrusters with a 10-lb. medicine ball?

Though most of your time will be spent thinking about the competition, and the competition floor, having an adequate warm-up area makes all the difference for athletes preparing for the technical movements involved with the sport.

Oh, and make sure there’s chalk kicking around!

1. Willingness to work

Unless you’re willing to devote yourself entirely to your event for a week, a month, 6 months (depending on the scope of your event), chances are things won’t run as smoothly as you’re hoping. The point: Putting on a great, memorable event that leaves people excited to come back the following year, takes a ton of commitment on the organizers’ end.

If you’re Wodapalooza organizer Guido Trinidad, it means Wodapalooza is always on your mind, but even if you’re running a smaller, local event, such as the CanWest Games in Vancouver, B.C., you still need to be willing to put in the work.

CanWest organizer Errol Clark explained of CrossFit Rocky Point’s CanWest Games: “We worked a countless amount of hours planning, budgeting and executing our marketing and business plans, often running off little or no sleep to hit deadlines and planning targets,” Clark said about he and his business partner Tom Smith's efforts. “We both had to make sacrifices in our personal lives in virtually every area—less time for training, no social life, and I barely saw my family during those months."

The 2016 CanWest Games

He addd: “I think most underestimate the amount of time and resources involved to pull of an event in the first place. Formal planning, accurate forecasting, experience and a willingness to work for very little (if any) financial compensation are all prerequisites for a successful event during its early years."

Good luck on your event adventures...