The first CrossFit Open was in 2011. It was a six-week competition that ended up being seven weeks because of technical difficulties. From 2012 through 2020 (Fall 2019), the CrossFit Open spanned five weeks. Then since 2021, the CrossFit Open has been a three-week competition.
Recently, however, there have been many calling for the Open to return to the five-week format. Those who favor that change argue it would be a better overall test of fitness, that it would make the Open relevant again and that it would increase the community aspect of the competition.
Despite these attempts, CrossFit stuck to the current three-week format once again for the upcoming 2024 CrossFit Open. Dave Castro, in his Week in Review on October 30, addressed the length of the Open and shared several reasons why he felt that three weeks was the “nice spot” for the community.
One of those reasons was that participation decreased over the course of five weeks and that it made sense to shorten the Open to three weeks. “In years past when it was five weeks, one of the reasons we went to the three weeks, we looked at the data of the engagement and so obviously week one has the most submissions,” said Dave in his Week in Review.
He continued, “Every week the submissions dwindle or go down a little and by [week] four and five the amount of submissions really trail off. So that alone supports this notion of probably a three-week Open.”
That begs the question…how much did weekly submissions drop off in weeks 4 & 5?
Well, I did the math to see how much Open submissions really dropped off as the Open progressed. Before I go through the data…how much of a drop off do you think occurred?
To gather the data, I headed over the Open leaderboard on the CrossFit Games website and pulled men’s Open data from 2016 to 2023. This gave me five years of 5-week Open data, including the 2019 and 2020 Open where overall registrations declined significantly. It also gave me three years of 3-week Open data (I feel like Dave would appreciate five years of 5-week Open data and three years of 3-week Open data).
Anyway, I think looked at how many athletes submitted a score in Week 1, Week 2 and so on for all eight years. From this I was able to calculate what percentage of athletes submitted a score each week compared to the total male registrations in the Open division. I could then track how much participation “dwindled” over the course of the five- or three-week Open.
First, Castro was correct in that the number of submissions decreased every week through the Open. I don’t think anyone would have thought otherwise.
However…I would argue that the submissions “really trail off”.
The table below shows the percentage of men in the Open division from 2016 to 2023 who submitted a score each week compared to the total number who registered for the Open.
Throughout all eight years, approximately 90% of men in the Open division submitted a score the first week. The only deviation was in 2021 where 85% submit a score the first week. My theory on this was that the lower participation was due to a new movement programmed in Week 1 – Wall Walks.
Historically, Week 1 of the Open was always a low barrier to entry to participate. Think seven minutes of burpees or dumbbell snatches and burpee box jumps. But in 2021, Wall Walks and Double-Unders were programmed together. And while double-unders have been programmed before (even in the first week), there were always plenty of athletes who complained that it was too hard of a skill. So we can really only speculate as to the deviation in 2021, but the programming likely had something to do with it.
From there, participation would decrease week over week by roughly 7% where approximately 80% of athletes would still be submitted scores in Week 3. Again, 2016 was the anomaly during the 5-week Opens with only a 73% retention rate.
And at the end of Week 5, 70-75% of athletes in 2017-2020 still submitted a score. Only 58% submitted a score in Week 5 of the 2016 Open. Week 5 of the 2016 Open was the brutal for-time couplet of thrusters and bar-facing burpees with the rep scheme of 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 for a total of 84 thrusters and burpees. The difficulty of this workout likely had something to do with the drop-off as 13% of Week 4 participants failed submit a Week 5 score.
To summarize the 5-Week Open, approximately 80% were still around in Week 3 and between 70-75% were still submitting score in Week 5. The significant drop-off is not there.
How does the 2021-2023 Open Compare?
So far I have mostly focused on how participation decreased over the course of five weeks in the 2016-2020 CrossFit Open. But if you looked at the chart above, you see there is data from the 2021-2023 Open when it has been just three weeks.
Was the three-week Open format able to better retain athletes than the 5-week format?
At quick glance, the answer is no, but it’s a little more nuanced than that.
In 2021 and 2022, the participation rate in Week 3 was 73% and 77%, respectively. This is below the ~80% seen in Week 3 the prior four Opens.
However, this past year saw something that had not occurred in the previous seven CrossFit Opens. In 2023, Week 3 participation was almost identical to Week 2 participation. In Week 2, 148,202 men submitted a score in the Open division. In Week 3, 148,143 submitted a score! Only 59 fewer athletes.
Basically if you did the burpee pull-up/shuttle run and 1RM Thruster workout you stuck around for the gated workout the following week. 87% of athletes who registered in the Open submitted a score in Week 3 last year.
This brings up three questions (that I’m not sure can really be answered)
- Why was retention so high in 2023?
- Would Week 3 participation have been so high if it was a 5-week Open?
- What would the “trail off” have been if two more weeks had been programmed?
As I mentioned, I don’t think there’s a way to answer those questions, but it does lead me to question what data Castro was looking at to say that a 5-week Open format saw a big decrease in participation after the third week.
Participation did decrease week-over-week throughout the Open, whether it was a 5-week or 3-week format. It does, however, appear that programming plays a role in it, whether it is a really tough workout (i.e. 16.5) or incorporates a new movement (i.e. 21.1).
To me, while participation does continue to decrease over weeks 4 and 5, it does not trail off any more than it does in the first three weeks. The question is whether 70-75% participation in week 5 is too few to justify two additional weeks from the current three-week format.
And look at this table below, retention has actually been worse in the 3-week format than it was when the Open was five weeks.
The other thought is that Quarterfinals are now meant to take the place of weeks 4 and 5 so there is no need to have a 5-week Open AND Quarterfinals. I think there can be a case to made for that argument, but that detracts from the validity of Castro’s comment that the 3-week format was implemented because of the lack of participation in a 5-week Open.
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