Did Height Impact Performance in the 2023 CrossFit Open?

This is a follow up article to the one we published on February 28 which shows height vs open performance for every Open workout from 2011-2022. In this article you will see:

  • How tall and short athletes fared respectively on the 2023 Open workouts;
  • How the 1RM thruster test stacks up to the other isolated lifting tests in Open history; and,
  • How the top 2,500 athletes on each individual workout fared in the Open at large.

Once again, all research is attributed to Mark Baum

Refresher on How Rank Correlation Works

The charts below will show men (blue) and women (red) using something called rank correlation.

This metric measures how well ordered athlete placement is by height.

  • A perfect positive correlation of 1 would show athletes finishing in a perfect finishing order of shortest first, second shortest second, etc, until the tallest athlete was last.
  • A perfect negative correlation would be -1 where the tallest athlete was first, the second tallest was second, etc, until the shortest athlete was last.

For each Open workout the top 2,500 finishers were used for both men and women.

A few clerical notes to help understand the plots below:

  • Zero indicated no preference for taller or shorter athletes (or a well balanced workout relative to height of the top 2,500 athletes for that workout)
  • Negative values (higher on the plot), mean taller athletes had a better finish
  • Positive values (lower on the plot), mean shorter athletes had a better finish
  • The size and transparency of the markers relates to the p-value of each correlation; this means smaller / semi-transparent dots closer to the 0 indicate that the correlation could potentially have happened by chance, but the larger more filled in dots further from zero likely did not.

How did tall and short athletes fare respectively on the 2023 Open workouts?

Despite the abundance of conversation of how favorable this Open, or at least specific tests during this year’s Open, seemed to be towards a specific height demographic, when all was said and done there seems to be a (mostly) decent balance across the four tests.

23.1 shows a slight bias towards taller athletes, this makes sense seeing as most of the elite athletes will get two cracks at the row which will be to the taller athletes advantage.

23.3 shows a slight bias towards the shorter athletes that more or less balances out the slight bias towards taller athletes from 23.1. Neither of these are very statistically relevant however, indicating that as unique tests they did not show significant favoritism towards the tall or the short.

23.2 A and 23.2 B, however, tell quite different stories.

23.2 A is clearly favorable for shorter athletes ranking inside the top 10 all time for short athletes in the men’s division, but not nearly as substantial for the women’s division.

23.2 B is basically the opposite; it’s the most favorable workout from this year’s Open for tell athletes, but dramatically more so for women than men. For the women this 1 rep max thruster test ends up being the fourth most biased Open test of all time.

Speaking of 23.2 B…

How does the 1 rep max thruster test stack up to the other isolated lifting tests in Open history?

There was some speculation that the thruster as an isolated test of strength in the Open might actually negate the fact that the one rep maxes usually favor the taller (and presumably heavier) because at the end of the lift itself the press to overhead is so demanding the longer the overhead reach is. However, as seen in the chart this test actually reflected quite differently from men to women.

For the women, this is the most favorable isolated lifting test with the barbell complex from 21.4 coming second, the clean and jerk from 15.1 A coming third, and the clean from 18.2 A having the least preference towards tall women.

For the men, the thruster was only slightly more favorable for tall athletes than the clean from 18.2 A. Both of which are significantly less relevant than the clean and jerk from 15.1 A and the Complex from 21.4, which had much larger favoritism towards taller athletes.

In general, this suggests that the vertical upper body pressing movements are favorable for tall athletes, but more so for tall women than tall men.

How do the top 2,500 athletes on each individual workout fare in the Open at large?

From Mark Baum:

The new plot shows a scatter between height and rank for all the workouts, presenting the raw data. I thought you might be interested:

  • I cleaned the data but there are still a few outliers in the Men’s division, although they definitely don’t matter very much with this many athletes
  • There are some conspicuous gaps in the 23.2 plots, where there are lots of ties and identical weights lifted
  • Also important to keep in mind that the correlations are definitely real, but subtle. Those lines have clear slopes but with lots of variation around them
  • The rankings go up to ~30,000 because we’re looking at the top 5,000 athletes overall, and sometimes they do worse in one particular workout
YouTube video

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