CrossFit, Inc. recently posted this on their Facebook Page, promising that “The documentary you've been waiting for," Froning: The Fittest Man in History would finally be available on iTunes on October 2nd. While it’s not the documentary I have been waiting for (I am trying to get my hands on Going Clear, frankly, but we all have our priorities), a lot of people are geeking hard over the film.


is rich froning really the fittest man on earth


While comments like “Yesss! Movie night Friday!” and “Can’t wait for this to come out!” were prevalent, it seemed like the bulk of the comments surrounded the argument that “Fittest Man in History” is, perhaps, a misnomer. Lots of people take issue with anointing Froning the fittest man in history because it tends to depose the accomplishments of many of history’s greatest athletes – Muhammad Ali, Jessie Owens, Bo Jackson, even Babe Ruth – athletic legends whose legacy will likely exceed that of Rich Froning.


Is He Really the Fittest?

Breaking Muscle Shop

One common response to the argument that Froning couldn’t last two minutes against, say Bruce Lee, is, “Oh? I’d like to see Bruce Lee’s Fran time.” It’s fascinating that the support for whether Froning is the greatest in his own sport is to challenge those from other sports to participate in the one thing Froning is best at. 


See if this analogy works:


“Eddie Van Halen is the best musician of all time.”

“Whoa – what about Chopin?”

“Let’s see Chopin play ‘Eruption’ brah – get back to me then.”


In other words, yes, Rich Froning is the all-time undisputed champ of CrossFit. Not the universe, just CrossFit. It’s important to remember that CrossFit is a sport – one of many, many sports that exist, and Froning is clearly the best at his sport. The fact that CrossFit labels their reigning champ as the “Fittest on Earth” or Froning as the “Fittest in History” means nothing. I have written about this previously. CrossFit codified their own definition of “fitness” and created a sport under that umbrella. Froning, who grew up inside the very system that has crowned him, is the fittest only according to its own definition.


Froning Versus Rousey

While Froning may be the “Fittest in History” according to CrossFit’s definition of fitness, his “fitness” to do other tasks would quickly be called into question outside his sport of choice.  For example, put him in a ring with Ronda Rousey, and my money is on Rousey to drop Froning in a heartbeat. Blasphemy, you say? I say he wouldn’t even know what hit him. Conclusion: He may be the “fittest in history” but he wouldn’t be fit to fight in a UFC bout.


"Put another way, he is competent or qualified to do CrossFit. He is not competent or qualified to play tennis."

You can extrapolate that example to many others – a sprint against Usain Bolt, a tennis match against Serena Williams, an arm-wrestling contest against Travis Bagent. Froning is going to lose all of those contests. If you look at a broader definition of fitness, which is the state of being able to perform a specific task - adapted or well-suited, competent or qualified - Froning is not “fit” to sprint against Bolt or to play tennis against Williams.


Put another way, he is competent or qualified to do CrossFit. He is not competent or qualified to play tennis.  


serena williams would destroy rich froning in tennis


What Does "Fitness" Mean?

OPEX defines fitness as “the journey of physical potential and purpose.” James Fitzgerald, founder of OPEX, includes aspects of spirituality in his personal definition of fitness. You may include personal well-being, inner peace, and happiness in your own definition of fitness. Some might go so far as to fold financial stability into their own paradigm of what “fitness” is. In other words, how fit are you to live a life? Quite frankly, general physical preparedness, in the grand scheme of life, is only one aspect of “fitness” if living a purposeful and full life is one’s ultimate goal. Mental fitness, spiritual fitness, financial fitness, and more, can all be regarded as components of the task of being “fit” to live that life.


"Yes – Rich Froning is the “Fittest Man in History,” but really, what this means is “Fittest CrossFitter in History.”

By those standards, CrossFit’s definition of “fitness” becomes rather narrow. And as such, it can be put into the container in which it truly belongs: CrossFit. Not athletics in general, not life, and certainly not the world. Meaning, yes – Rich Froning is the “Fittest Man in History,” but really, what this means is “Fittest CrossFitter in History.” And if you read it like that, some of the hubris of the assertion is removed.


Froning's Fitness Ends Here

In other words, guys – don’t take it so personally. CrossFit can call Rich Froning anything they want. In reality, it means nothing. And please – if you’re in the deep Kool-Aid camp of Froning hero worship, let’s at least be honest. Froning is a masterful CrossFitter. But under no circumstances are his skills transferrable to other domains just because he has been named the Fittest in History by his bosses. There are hundreds of athletic scenarios I could pose where Froning gets beaten soundly, which is fine – because Froning doesn’t have to compete in golf, tennis, track and field, football, grappling, UFC, boxing, NASCAR, or fly-fishing. To suggest that Rich could dominate any of those sports over their top contenders would be silly. 


But equally as silly is the “Oh? Let’s see Serena Williams’ Fran time” argument. Froning is not a tennis player, and Williams is not a CrossFitter. And neither is “more fit” than the other, because Froning is fit to do CrossFit. Williams is fit to play tennis. 


By all means, lift Rich Froning up as the best CrossFitter of all time. That is indisputable. But that’s where his “fitness,” at least for now, ends – in the cul-de-sac of CrossFit’s definition.


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Photo 1 by English: Lance Cpl. Derrick K. Irions [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo 2 by Edwin Martinez from The Bronx (US Open 2013 Part 2 679  Uploaded by Flickrworker) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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