This Man Has Programmed Every Event of the CrossFit Games ... Ever
It’s the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games East Regional. A buzzer sounds and the first heat of teams takes off—the official start of three weekends and eight regions of competition to find the Fittest on Earth.
Standing alone on the sidelines silently observing is a man in Nano sneakers and a baseball hat. He bears the focus of an athlete, despite not competing, with his gaze fixated on the event unfolding in front of him. That gaze remains just as captivated and just as meticulous until the next buzzer sounds, signaling the time cap.
Whether you know Dave Castro or not, one thing’s for certain: His presence is felt by all those in the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. Even in these moments when he’s silent, it’s unmistakable.
Castro is the Director of the CrossFit Games. He’s the visionary who 11 years ago dreamt up the idea of bringing CrossFitters from across the globe together for one ultimate test of fitness. He himself hosted the first CrossFit Games at his parents’ ranch in Aromas, Calif.
More than a decade later, he’s still the visionary behind the Games—now an ESPN live televised event that has sold out Carson, Calif.’s StubHub Center multiple years in a row.
“I never expected it to get to this scale,” says Castro. “I’m just hanging on for the ride.”
I never expected it to get to this scale. I’m just hanging on for the ride.
The Myth behind the Workouts
Despite his words, it is clear Castro is far from coasting. The Reebok CrossFit Games’ growth in popularity is a direct result of the amount of thought he puts into the competition. Watch one event on the sidelines alongside him and his attention to detail is evident; every head nod, finger point and smile is calculated and thought through.
With 14,000 affiliate CrossFit gyms across the world, the sheer number of people participating in the CrossFit sport has made punching a ticket to "the Games" a difficult feat. An individual must make it through two rounds of qualification in order to get there: the Open and the Regionals.
These competitions are the brain children of Castro. He is the sole individual responsible for programming every workout for all three portions of the Games season.
“I program chronologically in the order of the season," he says. "I usually have themes in mind that I carry over from one part of the season to the next."
I program chronologically in the order of the season. I usually have themes in mind that I carry over from one part of the season to the next.
For the Open, Castro announces the workouts via live broadcast, and for Regionals, he releases them on his Instagram account.
These Instagram videos do not go without their share of scrutiny.
His post announcing the first event of this year’s Regional competition has accumulated more than 1,000 comments, the majority critical.
A post shared by Dave Castro (@thedavecastro) on May 7, 2017 at 6:45pm PDT
“If people comment on my social media, sometimes I see it, usually I don’t,” he says. “If there’s a post that has hundreds of comments, I don’t read them. But if I happen to see a comment that’s mean-spirited, I block the person. Sometimes I even block that person from the Games account, too.
“There’s always going to be negativity toward things we do in the sport; that’s just because people have so much passion for CrossFit. Passion’s a good thing. But then there’s criticism for the sake of criticism, and I don’t need to hear that. I make decisions based off of what I believe in and what I believe to be the right thing for the community.”
There’s always going to be negativity toward things we do in the sport; that’s just because people have so much passion for CrossFit.
The topic stirring up such criticism this year was the lack of barbells in the Regionals workouts.
“Dumbbells are underused in the [CrossFit] community, and Coach Glassman is a huge fan of them,” says Castro, of the founder of CrossFit. “I always thought it would be cool to program an event that just uses dumbbells.”
“After last year’s Games, the timing felt right. I decided right then that this year I would introduce the dumbbell into the Open, and program Regionals to be purely dumbbells.”
Keeping the Workout a Secret
In a location he won’t disclose, Castro has a private facility that he’s turned specifically into a testing site for the Games season workouts. Though it may seem extreme, it’s this measure that has kept the workouts a surprise right up until the moment they’re announced.
With the dumbbell-centric Open and Regionals in his head, Castro invited CrossFit’s Head Judge Adrian Bozman and CrossFit Seminar Staff trainer Stephane Rochet to the facility to assist with the programming.
“I had them write all past Regionals events on a board and asked them to determine if they could be done with dumbbells,” says Castro. “They came to the conclusion that every event we’ve ever done could have been done with dumbbells. Bozman even suggested we program this year’s Regionals to be all repeat workouts but instead of barbells, we use dumbbells.”
“Ultimately, I decided I wanted to include some odd objects so that idea was scrapped,” he continues.
“Dave is not afraid to experiment,” says Bozman, reflecting on this same trip to ‘Dave’s secret lair.’ “He’s also not afraid to make an honest assessment about whether that experiment was a success or not.”
Dave is not afraid to experiment. He’s also not afraid to make an honest assessment about whether that experiment was a success or not.
Swapping in dumbbells for barbells is just the most recent experiment to come to fruition.
Castro adds, “While programming, I realized I could set things up so the entire Regionals competition required only one dumbbell weight. Using that same dumbbell weight across different movements highlights how much you can do with a single piece of equipment.”
The next step in Castro’s process is testing the workouts.
“For the Open, I only have one gentleman come to the facility and help test workouts. That’s all I need.”
“Because Open workouts are supposed to be inclusive, I personally test all of them,” he says. “That gives me a sense of how a normal person will fair. The other gentleman then tests them so I can get a sense of how loading and difficulty will play out for elites.”
While programming and testing for the Open has become turnkey, heightened viewership online has turned programming Regionals and Games workouts into a different beast.
Transforming Fitness into Entertainment
When the Games began, Facebook did not have a live streaming option and few ESPN viewers had even heard of “the Sport of Fitness.”
Last summer ESPN aired 10 hours of live television coverage of the Games, and last week, Facebook paid CrossFit for rights to live stream all three weekends of Regionals.
The mainstream audience tuning in from home, as well as the in-person viewership that accompanies any stadium competition, has presented Castro with new factors to consider.
“We used to program a workout, and the athletes would stand in one spot for the entire thing. But I started watching Regionals and Games from different spots in the venues and realized that needed to change. I want someone to be able to walk away to grab a hot dog, come back and immediately be able to see where an athlete is in the horse race.
“Laying out workouts has become very important to me,” he continues.
Laying out workouts has become very important to me.
Everything from how a competitor’s name is displayed on the rig to how judges kneel is taken into Castro’s consideration.
“See,” he says, gesturing to the competition floor in Albany. “The final number in each lane is written in red. That’s to note the final round of a workout. You don’t even have to know what the workout is to understand when an athlete is on the final round.”
Whether his meticulous eye is considered artistry or mad science, such careful attention to these minor details is a stroke of genius on Castro’s part. He’s thinking bigger picture. He's recognized the increased exposure that streaming brings to Regionals and the Games has the potential to draw more eyes than ever to CrossFit.
And when those eyes are on his events, he wants them to be as captivated as his own.
“All of that detail is to make this a better viewing event for the spectator, the fan at home, even the person who isn’t a fan who stumbles across a live stream. I want that person to be motivated to walk into an affiliate [gym] after watching.”
“The affiliates are the foundation of CrossFit. If it wasn’t for them, none of us would be here.”
The affiliates are the foundation of CrossFit. If it wasn’t for them, none of us would be here.
A New Regionals Format
It is for this same reason that every time Castro travels, he makes a point of dropping into different CrossFit boxes and participating that day’s workout.
“I like to meet and work out alongside regular CrossFitters. I like to show the box owners support.”
“But I never tell anyone I’m coming,” Castro laughs.
This Regionals season he's going to all of the North American Regionals.
"That’s six of the eight," he says. "You’ll see me in one region on a Saturday, and then I’ll fly overnight to the next region so I can be there for Sunday.
“Next year, I don’t know what I’m going to do, though, because I’m not sure the Regionals format will look the same.”
Next year, I don’t know what I’m going to do, though, because I’m not sure the Regionals format will look the same.
“That’s all I’m going to say about that for now,” adds Castro with a smile.
It’s a fitting conclusion for a man who clearly thrives off of leaving the CrossFit community guessing.
But that might be changing.
“I’m actually writing a book chronicling my thought process around the 2017 Games,” says Castro for the first time publicly.
“I want it to be a glimpse at everything that goes through my head as I think about programming the Games. Every event and every workout is a reflection of where we’re at in this stage of the sport’s development. And it’s all about the sport’s development. That's what keeps me up at night.”
Every event and every workout is a reflection of where we’re at in this stage of the sport’s development. And it’s all about the sport’s development.