Fitness Spotlight: The National Pro Fitness League

Are you ready for some fitness? The National Pro Fitness League is set to take center stage this summer.


Imagine, for a moment, a professional sports league that really pushes its athletes to the brink of their physical capabilities. A league where slacking or coasting is not an option. A league that incorporates all the best elements of competitive fitness into one sport that is easy to follow and always enthralling. And a league where men and women compete alongside and against each other on a truly level playing field.

The National Pro Fitness League (NPFL), nearing its genesis later this summer, hopes to embody all of the above. Dubbed as the “world’s first professional spectator sport with coed teams competing in human performance races,” the NPFL can bring the modern day fitness competition into the limelight like never before. What the NFL has done for football, the NBA for basketball, and so on, the NPFL can do for competitive fitness.

The Origin

The NPFL is the brainchild of Tony Budding, the former head of media for CrossFit, who decided to embark on a unique venture in the world of competitive fitness. Of course, the concept of a competition like the CrossFit Games or Beast of the East is nothing new; what Budding saw was a real void of an annual, season-based league that pooled the country’s greatest competitive fitness athletes. The NPFL is a league similar to any pro sport where fans from different cities root for their teams, with the ultimate goal of a championship title at season’s end.

“Fitness competitions, fitness as a sport, have really blossomed over the past half-decade,” says David Tao, head of media for the New York Rhinos, one of eight inaugural teams in the NPFL. (The other announced teams so far are the Los Angeles Reign, San Francisco Fire, DC Brawlers, Philly Founders, and Phoenix Rise.) “Most of us will never know what it’s like to dunk on LeBron James, but we do know what it’s like to go through these workouts, and replicate the movements.”  

Tao describes the standard NPFL match—made up of 11 human performance races in a two-hour span—as optimized for a cool viewing experience (live and on TV), where the first team who crosses the finish line (i.e., completes all the races) wins. “It will be fun to watch for people with experience in functional fitness and for those who’ve never seen it before,” says Tao, who noted the strategy involved is unlike any other fitness competition. “You’ll be able to substitute payers. It’s a really intriguing variable that makes it challenging for coaches and players and exciting for spectators.”

The Playing Field

The layout of the NPFL court is similar to a football field in that it has two end zones—one start and one finish. In between those zones are four quadrants, each comprised of a variety of elements that are swapped out between races. Teams of ten—five male and five female—will compete in a truly innovative form of competition, with two athletes at a time working on a given part of the race, whether it be 40 kettle bell overhead squats or 40 muscle-ups. The reps can be distributed among teammates in any way, and subs can be used to maximize the distribution of reps between the team or simply to give someone a breather.

The key is strategizing a game plan that will get your team through the races the fastest in order to ultimately win the match. Whether that means using your best weight lifters for the deadlift and snatch, or your body weight specialists for burpees and rope climbs, is totally up to the team and its makeup. Team chemistry, according to Tao, may reign supreme in the end among all other factors.

“A lot of the athletes will have similar skill sets, a lot of really strong folks—but are they going to be able to work together?” says Tao, who notes timing will be key to assure every race requirement is met before advancing to the next station. “It’s going to take a lot of internal team communication and it’s going to take a lot of trust. Teammates will have to be honest about what they are capable of, what their capacity is, so they can trust each other. Having great physical specimens is paramount… but they must make sure to work as a cohesive unit, so they can perform up to their physical potential.”

Tao describes the races as a “big mix” of exercises people in the functional fitness community are familiar with, but also with modifications, including a new, innovating approach to the snatch ladder unlike anything done before. “The races will draw from a diverse range of movements and skill sets,” says Tao, who notes that weightlifting and body weight components, as well as gymnastics and other elements of functional fitness, will all be on display.