Throughout the sport-science and sports-medicine literature, the term “elite” subjects might be one of the most overused and ill-defined terms. Currently, there is no common perspective or terminology to characterize the caliber and training status of an individual or cohort. This paper presents a 6-tiered Participant Classification Framework whereby all individuals across a spectrum of exercise backgrounds and athletic abilities can be classified. The Participant Classification Framework uses training volume and performance metrics to classify a participant to one of the following: Tier 0: Sedentary; Tier 1: Recreationally Active; Tier 2: Trained/Developmental; Tier 3: Highly Trained/National Level; Tier 4: Elite/International Level; or Tier 5: World Class. We suggest the Participant Classification Framework can be used to classify participants both prospectively (as part of study participant recruitment) and retrospectively (during systematic reviews and/or meta-analyses). Discussion around how the Participant Classification Framework can be tailored toward different sports, athletes, and/or events has occurred, and sport-specific examples provided. Additional nuances such as depth of sport participation, nationality differences, and gender parity within a sport are all discussed. Finally, chronological age with reference to the junior and masters athlete, as well as the Paralympic athlete, and their inclusion within the Participant Classification Framework has also been considered. It is our intention that this framework be widely implemented to systematically classify participants in research featuring exercise, sport, performance, health, and/or fitness outcomes going forward, providing the much-needed uniformity to classification practices.
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