National Pro Grid: Exercise Becomes Sport

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(Susan Valot/Only A Game)
(Susan Valot/Only A Game)

Imagine if weightlifting, gymnastics and track and field had a baby. That's a bit what it's like at a National Pro Grid League match. This is the first season of the new sport, which grew out of the CrossFit world. It puts gymnastic and CrossFit-type moves into a race between two teams.

'An Evolution Of Weightlifting'

For first time viewers, a Grid competition can sound a lot like a pro wrestling match. A WWE-style announcer calls the action as ripped athletes run around decked out in form-fitting red, blue and black workout clothes. They don’t throw each other around; they throw around weights — really heavy weights — with an ease as though they were children's toys.

There's only one speed on the grid and that's all out.

Chad Augustin, SF Fire

Each Grid match involves 11 races between two teams. A contraption in the center of a rubber court holds bars, gymnastic rings and ropes. Barbells and dumbbells line a grid of four numbered stations on each side. The athletes fly as fast as they can through the grid, each squatting to push up barbells, climbing the ropes from a seated position with only their hands and arms and jumping rope with the precision of pro boxers. The last to complete the grid sprints to the finish line for the win.

“They're basically workout races,” said Jim Kean, the president and CEO of the National Pro Grid League. “So you have a start line and a finish line. The format is on a footprint like a basketball arena.”

Kean said the teams are made up of 10 men and 10 women, and each team must have at least one man and one woman 40 or older.

“And the rules are explicitly designed so that if you don't employ your women, you'll lose,” he said. “And so the strategies and everything are designed to incorporate men and women working together as a team.”

Courtney Walker came to the San Francisco Fire from a gymnastics background. But she said being on a gymnastics team is completely different than a Grid team, where you can tag a teammate to replace you.

“College was a team sport a little bit, but nobody could complete my bar routine dismount if I can't do it myself,” she said. “I have to go finish it. And here, I'm gonna' go out there and give it my all and I know what I can handle. And when I can't handle it anymore, I have an awesome teammate next to me who's going to help me finish.”

[sidebar title="The Rise Of CrossFit" width="630" align="right"] Back in July, OAG's Karen Given took a closer look at CrossFit, the exercise craze with a determined fanbase. [/sidebar]

Most of the competitors, including Walker, have CrossFit backgrounds, but they say Grid takes what they do in Cross Fit to a new level.

“It's an evolution of weightlifting,” she said. “It's an evolution of gymnastics. It's an evolution of endurance. And I think together it makes it unique.”

Chad Augustin is a CrossFitter, too, but he agrees Grid is totally different.

“They like to say that there's only one speed on the Grid and that's all out,” he said. “In CrossFit, so many things we do, we're pacing ourselves. Here, a two-minute workout and I'm laying on my back, you know. Because it's just everything you do is you run out, you do something as fast as you can for 30 seconds and then you run back.

The athletes call CrossFit a methodology and Grid a sport.

Growing The League

Attendance ranges from a thousand to about 4,000. Kean said that number's growing.

“What's the old joke?” he asked. “ The crowd's more fit or as fit as the participants.”

The recent doubleheader was attended by what appears to be a niche crowd. Mixed in with some families, you see a lot of buff arms and shoulders stuffed into CrossFit t-shirts.

It was not unusual to see little kids trying to do push-ups or other exercises, trying to imitate the athletes, who are accessible via a meet-and-greet after each match.

Grid teams are made up of 10 men and 10 women, and competitions have elements of both gymnastics and weightlifting. (Susan Valot/Only A Game)
Grid teams are made up of 10 men and 10 women, and competitions have elements of both gymnastics and weightlifting. (Susan Valot/Only A Game)

But the league has had to muscle through some growing pains. It had to cancel three matches recently because of financial problems. League officials cobbled together a rescue package with investors to keep the league going through playoffs, which will be shown on national television.

At the Long Beach doubleheader, Ashley Gatewood stood in line with her 13-year-old niece to meet the athletes. She was positive about the future of the Grid league.

“I definitely believe that there, that this has potential for growth,” she said. “I think it's so new right now that not too many people know what it is.”

DC Brawler Tim Paulson said it's going to take time for Grid to become a household word.

“Whereas football, everyone has learned to appreciate it because it's been around so long, same thing,” he said. “For right now, the only people that are going to appreciate this are going to be people who work out.”

Chad Augustin — who's a firefighter by day — said he hopes people will give the sport of Grid a chance, even if they're not into fitness.

“Every single match is within a couple of seconds,” he said. “It comes down to the last match. So if mainstream America can just watch that one time, I think they're going to be hooked.”


This segment aired on September 27, 2014.

Susan Valot Reporter



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