If CrossFit bore the “sport of fitness,” the National Pro Grid League gave it a professional season. The new athletic league launched its inaugural year this fall with eight teams competing in head-to-head matches of short, fast feats-of-strength races. It’s a little bit indoor track and field, strongman, American Gladiators, and, of course, the CrossFit Games. Here’s what you need to know:
There’s No CrossFit Connection. Officially.
Both CrossFit and the NPGL are quick to point out they have no association, but you’re excused for any confusion. The Grid League was founded by former CrossFit Games producer and CrossFit Media Director Tony Budding. The league is comprised mostly of CrossFit athletes, including big names like two-time Games champion Annie Thorisdottir. And the matches are largely attended by CrossFit enthusiasts. But officially, there’s no relationship.
Races Are Long Enough to Be Interesting, Matches Are Short Enough to Keep You Interested
Each match features 11 races and lasts about two hours. The first team to complete a race is rewarded with two points (three on the final race). The losing team still gets a point for completing the race, but each has a time limit. The cut-offs range from four to eight minutes, depending on the amount of work to be done. Some races are co-ed, with men and women matching reps at different weights, and at least one race involves the entire team.
Races usually have multiple exercises. A couple shorter examples are alternating sets of snatches (barbell from floor to overhead) and box jumps, or partners alternating reps of increasingly difficult handstand push-ups.
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The Best CrossFit Athletes Won’t Make the Best NPGL Athletes
While the CrossFit Games showcase the complete fitness of all-around athletes, the NPGL elevates competitors that specialize in fitness elements like jump rope double-unders, Olympic lifting, or bodyweight moves. Each race includes a number of exercises, and if an athlete must follow his best strength move with a weakness, handstand push-ups for example, he can sub in a teammate prized for their handstand push-ups.
Masters Athletes Can Steal the Show
Of a team’s five men and five women competing in the match, one man and woman must be 40 years or older. Budding says the rule wasn’t meant to handicap squads, but rather showcase older, inspiring athletes. Through the opening matches, that’s exactly what has happened, with the more experienced athletes making big contributions amid their 20-something teammates.
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It’s Not a Team Version of the CrossFit Games
After running the CrossFit Games, Budding saw the opportunity to create a more spectator-friendly event not tied to participatory fitness tests. In place of the Games’ sea of shirtless athletes running, lifting, and pulling, NPGL simplifies competition to two teams (with matching shirts) to root for. And while the Games carry on for four days, a Grid match takes about two hours.
Match Formats Provide League-Wide Standards
If your beloved New York Rhinos never face off against the rivaled L.A. Reign, you can still stack them to see who’s best. This year, every team has three regular-season matches and there’s a different set of races, changing exercises and reps, for each — a match format. By the end of the season, all teams will have completed the same three match formats, leaving you to compare times and points to see the superior squad emerge.
NPGL Plans a Big Expansion 2015
The league has already announced two new teams in Baltimore, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Next year’s regular season will also be at least twice as long as 2014’s, with six to nine matches, according to Budding.