Why Hyrox is the sport for everyone
Christian Toetzke spent decades creating large-scale cycling, marathon, and triathlon events. In 2017, Toetzke and Olympic gold-medalist Moritz Fürste created Hyrox, a global fitness race that combines eight functional fitness exercises with eight kilometers of running. (You can find details on the format of Hyrox here.) The new sport has exploded in popularity, with 175,000 people expected to participate globally in the 2023-24 season.
The Hybrid Letter sat down with Christian to discuss why he created Hyrox, the future of professional Hyrox athletes, and his vision for growing the sport.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Hybrid Letter: Why did you create Hyrox in 2017?
Christian Toetzke: I’ve been in the business for 30 years. In the beginning, I was involved in exactly this: mass participation endurance events. So, I was creating marathons and cycling events relatively early. Marathons have been around for a long time, but they really exploded at the end of the 80s.
I always do the stuff I’m involved in creating. I always do it. I have to confess that I think it is one of the most boring things – to train for a marathon. And it's not healthy. So for me, running 30K, to get some miles in, to get prepared for 42[K], it is actually not good training. It’s clear from science that it is also not good for 90% of the people who run marathons.
So I got into cycling, which I thought was much more fun because you see more see more nature. And the speed. But man, it’s so fucking time-consuming. You need three hours to make progress.
Then I went into triathlon. I liked it because it was a bit more than just cycling or just running. But it’s even more complicated to do. And it’s just endurance. And you have to find a pool. And then you have to go on the bike.
I’ve always been a gym guy. I tried CrossFit, of course. I started doing this in my 40s for six or eight months. But it’s too extreme. You are crushed at 8 AM in the morning. And I got injuries. It is such an extreme way of training it is a great business. It’s the same thing with the Ironman. You find these badass people who will die for your sport. And give you all their money. All these brands are strong brands. But the visibility of the brands is bigger than the number of people really doing it. People think everyone is doing CrossFit, which is bullshit. It’s maybe 1% of the people that go into the gym.
So, bottom line: I wanted to create a sport based on exciting competitions with the most fun and the most variety. I did research. There are 200 million or more people who are going to the gym three or four days a week or more. When you ask people: what’s your sport? Over 50% say “fitness.” Every other sport has gamification, benchmarking, and competition. So we thought there must be a way to create a competition that is exactly designed for these millions of people.
This is a group of people, I believe, that is as big as the running community. We really believe this is the healthiest way of training.
THL: Your tagline is: the sport for everyone. For some people, it is really hard for people to bite the bullet and enter a competition. What do you tell people who are thinking about Hyrox but still aren’t convinced they can do it?
CT: Don’t be afraid. The great thing about marathon running was in the beginning, everyone said I could never run 42 kilometers; that’s impossible. And then, over time, people learned it’s possible. Because they had examples of old people, young people, people of all shapes and sizes, who are still finishing. It doesn’t mean you’re fast, but you finish. And our approach is the exact same. It’s about time. And that’s the beauty of it. Everyone can finish the competition. Don’t be afraid because you can take your time, you can rest, you can take breaks. And then, of course, if you want to do it in under one hour, it is one of the most complex sports in the world, and super hard, and you need to train at a professional level.
THL: Hyrox has grown very rapidly in a short period of time. Do you see the sport supporting professional athletes who compete in Hyrox as their full-time job?
CT: We already have some, not many yet, but we do. There will be significantly more money coming into the sport for these top athletes. For Puma, from next year onwards, the goal of training will only be Hyrox. So the third-biggest sportswear brand in the world says everything I do around training is only for Hyrox and this new sport of fitness racing. So they are signing up athletes now. And they pay more money. We will see a very similar development that we did in Crossfit, where the top guys started making a lot of money. Because they are suddenly role models and they sell products. The industry is not stupid.
THL: There has also been a question about accessibility in the sport. I was just listening to an interview with Tyler Saunders, who races with one leg.
CT: Next year, we will have a full system for any type of racing. It is super complex because there are 2 million different classifications. But our race director has worked out with these federations a rule model because you also have to adjust workouts. We are coming up with a lot of things.
THL: How do you see Hyrox growing over this next year? What are you most excited to share with the people who are already hooked or those who haven’t tried a Hyrox yet?
CT: We are going into more countries and hosting more events. We have unbelievable news about putting on new events in exciting cities. That’s one story.
I think the real outstanding story will be our signature events, which are happening in places that are a little bit different than the normal indoor convention centers. So Olympia London is one of them, coming next May. That event will have about 16,000 athletes, which is definitely by far the biggest fitness event ever.
In about four weeks, we have a London event with 12,000 people. That is bigger than any triathlon we’ve seen in the world. So we are overtaking triathlons in numbers now. I think there are maybe two or three cycling events with more participation.
In Singapore, we just did an event at the National Stadium, which is a different environment. It’s super cool.
Yesterday, we announced a race in New York City on Pier 76. It’s amazing. It’s a brand new venue, and we have a backdrop of Manhattan. And you have water on both sides, which is really cool. I think this will be the first sold-out event in America, with a capacity of 5,000 athletes.
THL: What do you feel has been the biggest hurdle in getting US participation numbers at the same level as what we are seeing in Europe?
CT: In the beginning, we made some mistakes and leaned too much into the CrossFit community. Not because we necessarily wanted to, but because the people working for us came from CrossFit. The CrossFit community is like: “Why do they run so much? I don’t like it.” And because everyone in America puts us in the CrossFit bucket, everyone else says, “I can’t do it.” Because Crossfit, everyone knows, is super fucking extreme. And they see the pictures of the SkiErg, and they assume it’s CrossFit. So we had a double negative impact.
You go to Germany, no one has any idea of Crossfit. That’s a fundamental difference in America. CrossFit was so dominant as a brand – not in numbers – but as a brand. Now, it takes so much more time to explain to people that we are fully different concepts. What we need now is one sold-out event in New York City in a super-exciting venue. I think that’s really the tipping point
Hybrid athlete of the week: Jenny Luu
Name: Jenny Luu
Hometown: Born in Saigon, Vietnam. I came to the U.S. as a refugee when I was 1 year old! Been in DC metro area since.
When/Why did you start Hybrid training? I started hybrid training in 2021 when Elevate Interval Fitness started offering it as a way to change up my workout routine. It was something that appealed to me because I’ve always wanted to be a well-rounded athlete. I never wanted to be just a runner, or just a weightlifter. For me, it’s a fun diversion from the demands of life: owning my business, being a mom, and being a full-time student.
Do you have a race goal: Get to Worlds again! Mama wants to go to Nice, France! And if I don’t, that’s ok! I know I’m showing my kids not to be afraid to chase their dreams, no matter how out of place they may seem.
Favorite race to date: Madrid; The venue was laid out well (stations in relative order), which for someone like me who gets race brain is really appreciated! Madrid was also my favorite race to date because I came into it not fully trained and really just focused on being relaxed and having fun. And taking home #2 in my age group was just a bonus.
Favorite Station: This is a hard one. None of them feel great when you’re doing them in a race! Outside of a race, I’ll take running any day. I love to zone out and run long. 8-10 miles is my sweet spot.
Least Favorite Station: This would probably be wall balls since they are at the end of the race, and my heart rate is so jacked, my legs are cooked, and that finish line is right there. Sometimes my wall balls are smooth, and sometimes they are just plain ugly. I never know until I get going on them.
Things you wish you knew when you started training/racing? Racing helps to organize your workout schedule not just for the week, but in terms of weekly or monthly blocks. So you're able to be more intentional whether you’re training or deloading. This is big for me because I used to go hard every day, 5-6 days/week, with no goal in sight except to just stay fit. Now, with the racing mentality, I feel like I’m wiser about my game plan, which then spills over into other areas that are important to me as well, like proper nutrition and self-care.
Podcast rec: Tyler Sanders on RoxLyfe
A remarkable interview with personal trainer Tyler Sanders, who has competed in five Hyrox races (and many other fitness competitions) despite being born without a right leg. (The discussion of Hyrox starts at about the 26-minute mark.)