Fitness World’s Racing Mastermind (with Mo Fürste)

Today we’re talking to Mo Fürste, the co-founder of HYROX and one of the greatest field hockey players of all time. This interview focuses on HYROX’s growth as a fitness challenge and competition, but it’s worth calling out Mo’s impressive athletic resume beyond HYROX: he’s a three-time Olympic medalist in field hockey for Germany, including two golds, and was the International Hockey Federation World Player of the Year in 2012. Mo has leveraged his legendary sporting career into a new venture with HYROX, and today we talk about how he and his team developed that competition, why they see it as a compliment to and not competitor of CrossFit, and what the future holds for the young sport.

[Curious about HYROX? Read our Ultimate Guide to HYROX.]

HYROX Founder Mo Furste

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Mo Fürste about:

  • The history and founding of HYROX (1:45)
  • Events and movements that didn’t make it into the final version of the HYROX race (4:04)
  • Will the HYROX workouts ever change? (6:09)
  • How gin & tonics influenced the name of “HYROX” (8:20)
  • Holding the HYROX World Championships during a global pandemic (10:20)
  • What catches athletes off guard during their first HYROX race (13:14)
  • HYROX’s goals and growth heading into 2021 and 2022 (17:56)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

We really tried to find a combination of letters literally that sound cool together. We liked the word, R-O-X, so the ROX at the end, we really liked that. We tried out different combinations, and that’s how we finished up with the HYROX. In the end, we are very happy with the name.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today, I’m talking to Mo Fürste, the founder of HYROX and one of the greatest field hockey players of all time. This interview focuses on HYROX’s growth as a fitness challenge and competition, but it’s worth calling out Mo’s impressive athletic resume beyond HYROX.

 

He’s a three-time Olympic medalist in field hockey for Germany, including two gold medals, and was the International Hockey Federation World Player of the Year in 2012. Mo has leveraged his legendary sporting career into a new venture with HYROX.

 

Today, we talk about how he and his team developed that competition. Why they see it as a compliment to and not competitor of CrossFit? What the future holds for the young sport?

 

Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

 

Mo, thanks so much for taking the time to join me today. I want to know a little bit more about the history of HYROX. It’s something that I think has come on to people’s radar, especially in the United States in the past year, maybe two. Take us back to the origin stories of HYROX, the raise in the company.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

First of all, thanks for having me. Really appreciate it being on the show.

 

HYROX started with a simple thought, and that was that we are coming from…I, myself, am coming from being a very competitive person doing sports all my life. I’ve been to three Olympic Games as a field hockey player, which is a little bit bigger in Germany than it is in the US.

 

Anyway, so I’ve been doing that, and doing competitions was basically…That’s my DNA. Looking at the fitness world, CrossFit made a competitive part of fitness big and huge, and invented the sport of fitness as it’s called.

 

When we found it and when we sat together for the first time, we felt that there might be a niche where everybody — not only the best of the best — can compete in an actual event on an event date. Maybe there is a way to find a solution to make that accessible for literally everybody.

 

That’s when we started thinking about HYROX. That’s when we started thinking about a fitness race that could be…and I want to say that right at the start, we don’t see ourselves at all as a competition to CrossFit. Not at all.

 

We see ourselves as being a complimentary additional product in the fitness world that anybody could do, and people who do CrossFit every day, they are our best athletes. They can really, really coexist very well. It’s just another challenge on another level with different challenges and workouts.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about some of the testing that you went through to get HYROX to the format it is now. If you’ve ever competed in HYROX run or HYROX race, you know what to expect. What are some things that maybe you all tried but didn’t make it into the finished product, so to speak?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

That’s a good question. There were a few things. First of all, it had to be accessible. We wanted people to really be able to do it on a competitive level. That’s, for example, why we tested monkey bars.

 

Monkey bars didn’t make the cut, [laughs] if you want, because we realized that for many people, it is just too tough and some cannot finish monkey bars in a competition.

 

Also, it’s difficult for a setup, from a setup perspective. If you want hundreds of people do it at the same time, you need many monkey bars and the judging is not…Actually, the judging would be easy. [laughs] It’s quite easy to see what happens there.

 

That’s a good second point because the judging was also a very important part. How can you make sure that it is possible and easy to judge a fair amount of people doing a competition at the same time?

 

That’s why we went with the burpees, which are already a challenge sometimes to see if they’re not doing the middle step or something like that. That’s why other workouts fell through in the process of finding the right ones.

 

The last thing was we wanted to make sure that it’s not a technical part of the workout that might be a limiting factor for people to do it. Something that has to do with weightlifting or cool other workouts that are more technical so that people could get injured if they don’t do that regularly in training.

 

Box jumps, for example, fell through because we felt especially when people are tired, that could be a dangerous part with box jumps if you crack your ankle or someone falls. These were all parts we were thinking about. In the end, we came up with eight, accessible and quite good, judgable and still challenging workouts.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you think there’s any chance that — I’ll ask you, if anyone’s going to know it’s you — is there any chance we might see those workouts evolve? Those eight workouts ever get swapped in the near future or something else tested in place of what’s currently there.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

There’s not a yes or…I would not say it’s not going to change. We don’t plan it right now, for us. This is also maybe a thing where have a different approach than CrossFit has, for example. We consider the sport of HYROX as something that we want people to do, in order to become better and beat themselves the next time they do it.

 

Like in a triathlon or in a marathon where the sustainable part about these competitions is that people do it, and they finish a marathon in whatever, four hours, three hours, it doesn’t matter. The next time they’re not even fighting against others, they want to beat their own time. They have their own goal.

 

We believe that the most important part about being a competitive sport is that you can train for that and have the very same thing going on every time. It has to be comparable. We wanted to work with world records all over the world, and have the very same race in Dallas than in Hamburg, Germany.

David TaoDavid Tao

Where did the name come from? HYROX is a name that…It sticks out. It works. The most important thing about any company name, any brand name is that people remember it. It clearly works on that end. Where did that come from?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

You said the most important thing, David. There’s a very successful company that has the name of fruit that has been on this planet for ages. They do mobile phones and stuff. It’s a fruit but it works. We said, “OK, look, names aren’t not important. It has to sound well.” I can promise you, it has a lot to do with gin tonic.

 

Gin tonic was one of the most important factors finding out this because we were pretty drunk.

 

Apart from that, we try to find a combination of letters literally, that sound cool together. We liked the word, R-O-X, so the ROX. At the end, we liked that. We tried out different combinations. That’s how we finished up with HYROX. In the end, we are very happy with the name.

David TaoDavid Tao

It also works because you’re an international company. You’re hosting races all around the world. You need something that phonetically makes sense across different languages, something that sounds good in German, and to English speakers, etc.

 

Kudos on that and whatever gin and tonics you were drinking that night, they clearly had an inspiring effect. Let’s talk about the growth of HYROX. When did you all launch your first race that was open to public registration? How many events have you actually had since then?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

We launched the first test event. We called it in Hamburg, Germany — that’s where I’m from. That’s where we have our headquarters — on this 18th of November in 2017, so roughly three years ago. We had 700 participants on that day in Hamburg, basically, acquired through gyms and local marketing.

 

Since then, we had — I don’t know the exact number, to be honest, but — roughly, let’s say 25 events globally. We had five, six, seven events, in the US, and the rest was in Europe.

 

COVID hit. Obviously, this has been tough for us, but we can’t wait to come back.

David TaoDavid Tao

You still had your World Championships in 2020, which occurred in late 2020 and results started trickling out in early January of 2021. When did you all decide to have that structure, and forgive me, was that your first World Championships or was it your second or third?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

It was the second World Championships. The first ones were in 2019 in April. We were supposed to have the World Championships in 2020 in April again. It was all moved, and moved, and moved again, and moved again. We all learned about the pandemic and what happens.

 

We decided to have at least a World Championship Final with the top six athletes of the year so far. We decided to make

that we had going on there. We decided to move forward with that and make the top athletes compete.

 

We were very happy that we could pull that off during these difficult times. Still making the American athletes travel to Germany and then compete in the World Championships.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who are some athletes, off the top of your head, who you would love to see compete in HYROX, who have not yet? You can pick anyone in the world from any sport.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

That’s a good question. Obviously, I’d love to see Matt Frazier do it. He has been at the first ever US event in Miami. He was there as a spectator during the FIBO USA Premiere. He was there with Matt O’Keefe. They were watching it and had a glimpse, and I think they really liked it.

 

I like to see him crashing it. I don’t even know how he would perform. He would probably be amazing in it. Honestly, he’s a German. He won the Ironman three times. He’s a [inaudible 12:13] , a triathlete. Ironman winner and also Olympic gold medalist in triathlon.

 

I really like seeing him crushing the competition as he is an amazing runner. He would really burn everyone on the running. I don’t know if he could compete on the sleds, though, because they are pretty tough. Those are probably a couple of athletes I really would like to see.

 

Odell Beckham Jr., someone with these athleticism, and the power, and the speed, and still the muscles to really push the sleds. [laughs] That’s an athlete I also like to see in HYROX.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

When you look at high-level athletes from other sports who try HYROX and give it a go for the first time, and there have been many at this point from the world of CrossFit as well as other sports, what do you think surprises them the most? It might be different for different athletes.

 

What are you hearing from some athletes, as far as workouts they might have underestimated or parts of the competition that they didn’t prepare for like they should have?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

What I hear most of the time is the transition between workouts and running. I think that most athletes, maybe CrossFitters are very good at it, to be honest, but most other sports, they are used to pushing a lot of weight or pulling a lot of weight or whatever.

 

They are not used to push 175 kilograms plus the sled weight, and then immediately after that go back to running a kilometer as fast as possible. You see them realizing, “Wow, my legs are burning. I need a 30-second rest before I can run again.” These 30 seconds on the top level, they cost you a podium spot.

 

That’s for all the athletes coming from other sports. Most of the time, that’s what I hear is the toughest thing, the transition between workout and running.

David TaoDavid Tao

Obviously, that is something that CrossFitters would be familiar with if they’re used to running WODs. They understand coming off of a pull-up bar, or ending wall balls, or even off of a sled push or drag, being able to go right back into that running. You can’t rest with your hands on your knees. You have to start moving even if you have to accelerate gradually.

 

Let’s talk a little bit about HYROX’s growth and the plans you all had for 2020 pre-COVID. Obviously, COVID threw a wrench in every live event organizers’ machinery. How many events did you originally have plans for 2020 for the calendar year?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

I’m pretty sure we planned 10 events for the 2020 calendar year. We were supposed to have this literally like a tour through the US, and also Toronto was one of the spots. We had to postpone, we had to move back, we had to look at the destinations, but that was the plan. We really wanted to have the big rollout in 2020.

 

I recall this, some of the investment here in the US to reach the tipping point in a way and then move on to 2021. We are looking at this from a very positive perspective. The feedback is great and we’re looking forward to, finally, again, come to the US and get a role in there.

David TaoDavid Tao

Now would this have been 10 events in total, or just 10 events in the United States, and also have your European event separately?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

Exactly. That’s 10 events in the US, and we planned 17 events in Europe at the same time. That was partly on the same weekends, but we have a completely different setup for the European market and the US market.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve been to a HYROX event, the one you had in New York on the pier in December 2019. It was like a fitness festival. There was a lot of stuff going on. Obviously, you saw a lot of people. You brought the community together in New York, which is neat to see.

 

How many competitors are you generally running through a HYROX event these days? Say, at your any one of the United States events that you had planned for 2020, how many competitors were you expecting?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

We saw the growth in Europe was pretty much exactly the same that it was in the US. You’ve been to the New York event. There were about 800, 900 participants on that day, who actually competed in HYROX. There was a lot more going on, as you said, at the pier, but that was competitive from a competitive perspective.

 

The growth rate in Germany, we always doubled up the second event on the very same venue in year two. We started in Hamburg with 700, next year we had 1,500. Now, the third year in 2020, in Hamburg, we had 2,600 participants at the Hamburg event. That’s more or less what we call sold out on a single day.

 

2,500 to 3,000 thousand participants, that’s as many as we can get through the competition on a normal day.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is there any way to scale that up? I think even with giant venues, that seems like it’s…I can’t imagine putting any more people than that through the course.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

The upscale would be a second day because the initial costs would stay pretty much the same except for the extra day. The equipment is there, the setup is there, and everything. In case the growth is higher and we go to more than 3,000 participants, we would add a second day.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some of HYROX’s goals coming out of COVID? Obviously, it’s not like COVID’s over. The rollout of vaccines is going to be different from country to country. Looking ahead to maybe late 2021, or 2022, what are some of your company’s goals?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

Right now, we’ve been following this strategy all the time that we were looking at the next possible point of return. We’ve been trying to come back end of February in Dallas with our event series.

 

Now, with all respect to the workers in the front line and people and the insecurities there are, we decided to move to the 10th of April. We’re talking to Dallas authorities, we think that that’s the next possible date we could actually pull off an event.

 

We will keep fighting hard to come back. Obviously, our goal is to come back, have events, have people participate. Make people go out there, work out. Work their butts off and then participate on event day in the fitness competition or fitness race.

 

In the meantime, we are hosting a virtual competition on the 20th of February, which is the date that Dallas was supposed to be. We did that before. It is not the real thing. It will never replace the real events, but it’s something people can look forward to. It’s has to do with competition. That’s what we do now, but I tell you, we can’t wait to come back.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about the elite in HYROX. Who are the top athletes — you can maybe give a rundown for folks who haven’t read about it on BarBend, for example — of the World Champions from 2020? How far above the rest of the competition are these folks right now?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

I have to say, the two new World Champions, Hunter McIntyre and Lauren Weeks, they are leading the show right now globally. Hunter is the world record holder as well as the new World Champion. He had an amazing race in Hamburg. He is an incredible athlete. He can run, but he is also very strong. He’s made for HYROX in a way.

 

We have a German guy, he was the World Champion in 2019, Lukas Storath. He is 40 years old and still competed against Hunter. He finished second, two-and-a-half minutes behind him, which is a bit, but he’s right up there.

 

Lauren Weeks, she trained so hard. She competed in a couple of HYROX events before, where she didn’t win. She came to Germany, competed on World Championship day and became the new World Champion. I am very proud of her progress, and how she competed at the World Championships.

 

There are a few athletes, and I think we will see…especially the women’s, but also the men’s, I think we will see much better times in the future because people start working out exactly for HYROX. They start training for HYROX.

 

Now, what we discussed earlier how to work with the transition, they know exactly what to do on the workout. We will see people crushing these times in the future.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are the current world records, if you know that off the top of your head, on the men’s and women’s side? How much do you anticipate it’s possible to beat those by?

 

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

I think Hunter’s world record is 57-minutes-and-30-ish seconds. The world record on the women’s side is 01:05:49 seconds. The women’s will break the hour. We will see those five-and-a-half minutes coming down in the future. On the men’s side, Hunter said himself to me the other day that he thinks he can break 54, 55. I’m looking forward to see that in the future.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Where is the best place for people to follow along with you personally and with HYROX as things open back up, as you all host in-person competitions, but also have virtual options for potential fans and athletes?

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

Obviously, also through you guys. That’s been an awesome, great partnership.

David TaoDavid Tao

On barbend.com. Appreciate the plug.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

Yeah, barbend.com. On hyrox.com, you’ll find all the information. We push a lot of our information through our social channels on HYROX World, but also HYROX America for the US market.

 

You can find everything on hyrox.com. If you want to sign up for the virtual competition, that’s on the 20th of February, as I said, or the next event in Dallas, we can’t wait for it. We hope to see many of you guys there.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Thanks so much for joining us, Mo. We really appreciate your time and looking forward to what’s next for you and for the growing HYROX family.

Mo FürsteMo Fürste

Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Have a good day. Bye-bye.

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