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CEO Corner: Hyrox’s Christian Toetzke on the ‘Marathon of Fitness’

CEO Corner: Hyrox’s Christian Toetzke on the ‘Marathon of Fitness’

Hyrox is becoming a worldwide fitness phenomenon, as gym-goers test themselves in races requiring endurance and functional strength

Christian Toetzke’s mission is ambitious but rather simple: create a global, mass-participation event where gym-goers can compete against each other in the same way as marathon runners, triathletes and cyclists.

He calls it the “marathon of fitness.” 

Leveraging the expertise he gained over a decades-long career staging mass-participation endurance events like triathlons, marathons and cycling races, Toetzke created Hyrox in 2017 after seeing a gap in the market for a similar type of race for gym-goers. 

Since staging its first “fitness race” in 2018, the Germany-baseed Hyrox has grown into a worldwide brand. It currently hosts events in upwards of 60 cities around the world, drawing nearly 200,000 fitness enthusiasts eager to test themselves in feats of endurance and functional strength.

Hyrox races are typically held indoors in large exhibition halls, and feature eight cycles of one-kilometer runs, each of which is broken up by a functional workout where participants perform movements like sled pushes, farmer’s carries and sandbag lunges. Similar to a marathon, every Hyrox race is the same and is performed for time, so participants can compete against themselves and others across the world. 

Toetzke, founder and CEO of Hyrox, spoke with Athletech News about what inspired him to create the fitness race, his plans to host events in virtually every big city around the world, and how the brand is helping gyms train Hyrox participants.

Athletech News: Can you tell us about your career in mass-participation events and why you decided to create Hyrox?

Christian Toetzke: I’ve created mass-participation endurance events – marathons, triathlons, cycling – all across the world, including some very big ones. I sold my previous company (Upsolut Sports AG) to a French media giant (Lagardere Sports, whose endurance division was eventually acquired by Ironman Group), and switched over to the corporate side for a bit as part of that agreement. That was a multi-billion dollar company, and I was responsible for all the events they acquired, which came to include not only mass-participation events but also golf tournaments, tennis tournaments, soccer friendly games, etc. It was a truly global operation, and I learned a lot about putting on events in different parts of the world. 

But in my heart, I was always more of an entrepreneur. So I left the corporate world and started to develop the idea for a fitness event based on my background in mass-participation endurance events. I’ve always loved the basic idea that you create something like a marathon event where you bring the best athletes in the world together with very average people who do the same thing, on the same course, on the same day. But with endurance events, you never really train your upper body or your muscular endurance. I thought there was a big gap in the market – you see around two hundred million people going into gyms every day, but there was no competition that was really based on what most of the people are doing in the gym. Drawing from my time staging all sorts of mass-participation events, I put everything together, took the best out of every concept and created something new, which was Hyrox. We staged our first event in 2018.

credit: Hyrox

ATN: What separates Hyrox from not just marathons and triathlons, but fitness-focused events like CrossFit or Tough Mudder?

CT: Hyrox is based on what people do in the gym – we’re using sets and things like dumbbells, sandbags and med balls. So it’s fundamentally different to triathlons or obstacle-course racing, where you don’t need to train in the gym. CrossFit is the only existing sport that’s based on gym equipment, but it’s fundamentally different (from Hyrox) because CrossFit is not a mass-presentation event. Its main events are where the top athletes in the world come together to do stuff no one else can do, like handstand walks or muscle-ups.  Our workouts are all based on natural movements that anyone can do. If you’ve never pushed a sled in your life, for example, you can push it. You might not be very fast, but you can’t really do something fundamentally wrong. You definitely can’t snatch a barbell if you’ve never done it before, since it’s an unnatural movement. Using natural movements creates a foundation for a true mass-participation event.

Another key part is that Hyrox is based on time, like marathon running. Finishing a Hyrox race in a world-record time of 54 minutes is one of the hardest things in the world, and very complex to train for it. If you want to finish it in two hours and 30 minutes, it’s a different game and easier to do, though it’s still hard. That keeps people motivated and in the game.

ATN: What’s Hyrox’s growth trajectory been like since staging its first event five years ago?

CT: We are growing very, very fast, and it’s important to remember, we started 2018 and there was this “little” incident – COVID – which stopped us for basically two years. We run mass-participation indoor events, which couldn’t have been worse during the pandemic. So in reality we’re in season four, not season six. Since the pandemic ended globally, we’ve restarted and have been growing all over Europe, the U.S. and most of Asia – we launched in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Next year, we’re growing to China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Elsewhere, we’ll have our first events in Mexico and South Africa. So there’s only India and South America left. 

ATN: Why has Hyrox caught on with fitness enthusiasts from different parts of the world?

CT: The beautiful thing is that fitness seems to be a very global language. When you walk into a gym in China, it looks basically the same as when you walk into a gym in New York, Madrid or Stockholm. People train in pretty much the same way, with the same equipment. And we have amazing events already in 60 major cities across the world, so you can travel to a lot of very attractive cities to do Hyrox and enjoy a weekend-long trip, which is also what has made marathon events so effective. But we’re indoors, so you know the weather is always the same, and you don’t need to worry about rain or cold or heat.

credit: Hyrox

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ATN: Hyrox stages events in cities across the U.S., including a special upcoming race in New York City in June 2024. How important is the American market to Hyrox’s global expansion plans?

CT: We started in the U.S. in 2019 with New York, Miami and Chicago, but then we had to stop because of the pandemic. Since we restarted, we’ve been nearly doubling our (participation) numbers every year. We think New York will be our first sold-out event (in the U.S.). New York was always our strongest market, but last year we staged the event in the Meadowlands (New Jersey). Now we’ll really be in Manhattan, at Pier 76, a new venue on Hudson River Park with amazing views of the skyline. This will be our first indoor-outdoor event. Participants will run outside, but the workouts are covered in tented areas. We’re expecting between 4,000 and 5,000 people, which will be a new milestone for us in the U.S. (some of Hyrox’s European events draw over 10,000 participants).

New York is important for us because in America, we need to show people this is a next-level, major event. We want to be the New York City Marathon of fitness. After New York, we will really have arrived in the U.S. market, which is still the most competitive, the biggest sports market in the world.

credit: Hyrox

ATN: Hyrox has a booming affiliate gym program. Why is partnering with gyms and fitness studios important for the brand?

CT: We want to provide a service to gyms to make it as easy as possible for them to integrate attractive, athletic Hyrox group class training into their programming. We’re hoping over the next few months to launch a website that provides affiliate gyms with education on how they can use Hyrox group-class training to win new members or retain current members by motivating them. That’s a big game-changer for us. Every day, we’ll be posting a new group class training workout. The coach can click on a video and view a description where we explain in full detail why we’re doing that training on that day. It includes a full rundown for a 60-minute class, with warm-up and every movement – you can even click on the movements to learn more about them. There’s a filter system as well, so if a gym doesn’t have skiers or other equipment, it will only show workouts where you don’t need that equipment. We’ll be doing this for thousands of gyms around the world. 

ATN: How big can Hyrox become in terms of the number of events staged and total race participants?

CT: We’ve even surprised ourselves because at the moment we are almost doubling our (participation) numbers every year. This season we will have 175,000 to 180,000 athletes doing our events. Our game plans to grow to 150 to 170 events in the 150 to 170 most attractive cities in the world. We believe we will have a million people actively participating in our events every year. That number will be significantly higher if you count people training Hyrox-style in gyms.

I also think there will be a growing community of other fitness-racing events popping up that follow our same logic, but that are done by other organizers. We want to deliver the gold standard of fitness racing events, similar to what marathons are for running. If you think about New York, you have 100 races a year but there’s only one New York City Marathon. Our job is to produce the New York City Marathon of fitness. 

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