Fitness competitions are beneficial for a number of reasons. They encourage fitness community growth, they can enhance your competitive spirit, and they really show you whether or not you’ve progressed with your training. The good news is that creating these events is relatively easy; the bad news is that managing them can make or break your organization.
Over the last decade I have helped create a number of fitness competitions. These were primarily geared towards assessment and individual competition (you vs you rather than you vs someone else), but the guiding principles and set up were the same as any other fitness competitions you’ll find today. The following were the three primary competitions I helped create.
Back in 2008 I started a gym with a trainer in Brea, California named Marcus Martinez. Together we developed a backpack designed to carry kettlebells. To promote the kettlebell backpack (cleverly named the “KettleBack”), we created The Suburban Warrior Challenge.
The event consisted of a 2-4 mile hike with 3-4 stations throughout. You had to wear the kettlebell backpack carrying a kettlebell weighing 12kg to 24kg within it, then hold an 8kg to 16kg kettlebell in your arms. The intention was to simulate a wildland Hotshot firefighter heading into a fire or a soldier heading into battle. The intention was to recreate the need to hike in with your gear and weapon or tool, do work, then head out again.
Needless to say, it was hellish. We held several events with varying levels of success. Here is a video of one of them:
The Unconventional Training Challenge was a much more involved fitness competition that featured a variety of training implements and exercise techniques. The levels of the event were based on elite standards that were generated using the advice of Marine Sergeant and Innovative-Results Gym owner Aaron Guyett, Asylum Fitness owner Mark Smith, and the publicly listed elite PT standards of worldwide military, law enforcement, and firefighter organizations.
The competition involved numerous individual events including the Battle Rope Tsunami test, obstacle course race, push up max event, and several more. Competitors were given points based on their performance when compared to the elite standard. The winner, Absolut-Training owner Jonathan Celis was crowned the official “Juggernaut” at the end of the event.
The Rites of Passage were created to judge the performance of trainers and allow them to earn merit within the Onnit Academy organization. Onnit Chief Fitness Officer John Wolf and I created the Level 1 Onnit Academy Certification together, then adapted the Unconventional Training Challenge (mentioned above) to test newly certified trainers.
This was definitely the most hellish of the events that I helped create. It consisted of 24 events (3 events for 8 different fitness implements) that had to be completed over a 24 hour period. Performance was based on the competitor’s score as compared to the elite standard. I personally did it several times and I have to say that it was one of the most difficult physical things I’ve ever had to do. By the time you get to the last 6 events, you want to quit so bad it hurts.
The intention was to create an event that removed any and all chance of “cheating” by way of practicing for a single event. Since the events were not in any predictable order, succeeding at one test might result in failing at another. This meant that in order to meet the standard of all of them, you had to be both extremely fit and extremely skilled at each implement.
Below you can see John Wolf explain one of the Rites of Passage tests:
While the fitness competitions listed above tended to be pretty intense in terms of organization, your first fitness event doesn’t have to be. In fact, IT SHOULDN’T BE. What you’ll find is that organizing, promoting, and running fitness competitions is extremely labor intensive. Even so, the benefits are many. Here are just a few:
Just remember that fitness competitions require a lot of resources in terms of manpower, money, and time, so factor that into the equation before you get too excited.
The following is some basic steps to help you create your first fitness competition. Incidentally, I can help you organize and execute the event myself (provided I’m available). If you want to “cheat” by doing that, I’d be happy to talk to you :)
Before you go crazy with the actual planning process, you really need to decide WHY you’re doing a fitness competition. Is it to promote your gym? Are you trying to get attention for a new product? Or are you simply trying to set a deadline to help your clients achieve results? Rather than trying to accomplish each of these, decide on one for your first event (you can always try to accomplish more in future fitness competitions). Pick a single objective and focus on that.
Now that you have a purpose, define who the event is for. If this is for elite athletes, you’ll have to make the competition much more challenging than if it was for new clients. It will also guide how “fun” the event is, how long it is, and where and when it will be located. If you want to create something extremely difficult, find a mountain during the winter. If you want it to be convenient for soccer moms, plan on doing it at your air conditioned gym.
You now have a purpose and a target market. Now it’s time to actually create the event. Since I’m assuming this is your first one, I suggest that you keep it short and convenient. Have it at your gym, someone else’s local gym if you don’t have one, or an authorized outdoor location (check with your city before you do this). I would also keep it under 4 hours if possible.
Given the time and location parameters, you’ll need to pick your fitness event (or events). For your first one, I would keep it as simple as possible. Pick a single lift, a single race course, or a single exercise implement. Remember that you might have a lot of participants, so make sure you pick events that are suited to the equipment you have on hand and the space available.
Once you pick your movement, decide how you want to judge it. Is it a max weight lift? Are their different classes of participant (e.g. gender, weight, age, etc.)? Is it based on how fast the set gets complete? Is it based on the number of reps?
Again, look at your target market and base on the parameters on them. If your target is elite level athletes, a jump rope competition may seem ridiculous; but to a group people new to fitness it may be perfect. Right down your rules and run an example group (like a regular group class or boot camp) through it to find flaws in your reasoning.
You’ll also want to consider prizes that the participants may be interested in at this step. The harder the event is, the better the prizes should be. For a beginner level event, some t-shirts and water bottles may be enough to get people excited. If it’s an elite level thing, you’ll need to start thinking about cash and prize packages. If you are connected to any fitness companies (especially ones that
So, now you have a purpose, target market, location, and event parameters; now it’s time to pick a date and time. In my experience, you want enough time to generate interest, but not so much time that people who hear about it at the start will forget about it by the time if finally comes around. I’ve found this to be between 4-6 weeks for a small competition.
The time of the event will depend on the location, time of year (unless you’re in California where it’s always sunny), and target market. Again, since I’m assuming this is a first-time thing, I suggest a Saturday between 9am and 3pm. More people will be able to attend and if you promote it right, they’ll also invite their friends and family.
At this point you should have all the information you need to post the event and start selling tickets or at least get RSVPs. I suggest you use EventBrite.com to manage the actual sign ups and payments. It’s easy, attractive, and most people are used to it. You’ll also need to post an event to your facebook fan page so you can invite your followers directly (then link that to the eventbrite sign up page) and create a page on your website (again redirecting to eventbrite). If you want more tips for posting, check out my article How to Create Your First Fitness Workshop.
Just like everything else in fitness and small business, your success will have to do with consistent marketing. Since running fitness competitions are very similar to running fitness workshops, I suggest you read my article How to Promote Your First Fitness Workshop.
You’ll probably need multiple judges to be involved (maybe even one for each participant). If you’re just have some kind of obstacle race you may need less, but you definitely need more than one to keep things honest.
As the person hosting the event, plan on being extremely busy coordinating the action. Don’t assume that you’ll be available to participate or even judge; you’ll probably be putting out fires instead. With that said, make sure you have judges, helper/gofers, and people to sign people up at the start of the event.
Plan on getting ready for the event 24 hours in advance. Get all the materials you need at the location. Think about things like waivers, tables, chairs, clipboards, timers, equipment, prizes, etc. Also, don’t forget to confirm that your helpers will be there. Nothing is more stressful than an understaffed event.
The day of the event, get their 3 hours early. Set up everything you could possibly think of and leave nothing to chance. Also be ready to record results and hand out prizes at the end. Don’t leave everyone waiting to see who the winner is! Also make sure you have your gym or product materials ready so you can hand them to people during the event and as they’re leaving.
There you have it! Fitness competitions are an excellent way to build your brand, product, or gym. Just make sure you do a few before you go nuts with the advertising. Trust me, the experience will prove invaluable in the future.