The Crossfit King and Fittest Man On Earth, Mat Fraser has won the Crossfit Games a record five times. How can someone win this grueling competition so many times? Fraser spills the secrets to his success and his unrelenting drive to strengthen his body while identifying his weaknesses. HWPO: Hard Work Pays Off is a must-read for fans of Dave Asprey and Tim Ferriss.
No matter your level of fitness, no matter if you’ve never attempted CrossFit before, this book is your total training manual.
Mat Fraser is undisputedly the fittest man in CrossFit history for winning the CrossFit Games an unprecedented five times. A student of engineering, Fraser optimized his body like a machine, and his absolute dedication to the training program he designed for himself is now legendary. For years, every single decision he made was weighed against the question: "Will this help me win?" If the answer was no, he didn't do it. If it would give him even the slightest edge or advantage, he would—no matter the cost. Fraser became a master of identifying his weaknesses and then seeking out training methods to improve them, and he's idolized in the fitness community for his relentless pursuit of peak performance. It's not hard to see why he achieved so much success—but how is a different question.
Throughout his career, Fraser has been highly guarded about his specific training techniques (after all, sharing them would not help him win the CrossFit Games). But with his recent retirement from competition, Fraser is finally ready to open up about his path to the podium. HWPO reveals the workouts, training hacks, eating plans, and mental strategies that have helped make him a champion. It's an incredible resource of elite training strategies, illustrated workouts, and motivational stories, and it's a glimpse into the mind of one of the world's greatest athletes.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
For my first five years of weightlifting, every part of my training was focused on technique. My starting position, my pull from the ground, my bar path as it traveled up—everything had to be perfect, and I hated it. I started weightlifting because I wanted to get jacked, not to have the best form. But now, almost a decade after I quit that sport, I see how much that foundation paid off.
Just by looking at a workout, I know exactly how to adjust my technique. If the weight is light and the reps are high, I can shorten my movement and cycle the bar as quickly as possible. If the weight is heavy or I need to recover, I can switch to slow, efficient single reps. And whether I’m fresh or at the end of a WOD, I never need to worry about not meeting the movement standards—the infamous “no rep.”
However, technique alone wasn’t enough to make me great. When I went to the Olympic Training Camp, I was the weakest guy by far, which is how I ended up breaking my back in two places. From then all the way through my CrossFit career, I’ve had to dedicate myself to strength—sometimes to the exclusion of all else. It’s a long, repetitive process, but to be your best self, you need both strength and technique.
I’m here to teach you both.
Strength Technique 101
My weightlifting career began by accident. In middle school, my best friend and I were on the football team, and for a few days each week, we’d get to lift with the high school guys. There was no training program to follow, so each session we’d max out our bench press and do bicep curls until we failed. At that age, your body’s growing so quickly that you don’t need good form to get stronger. Almost every time I lifted, I’d hit a new personal record.
During one of these sessions, a football coach saw my passion and suggested to my dad, who along with my mom was a former Olympic athlete, that I train at an actual weightlifting club. At the time, I had no clue how any of the movements were supposed to look, and I didn’t even know I was already doing a “clean and jerk.” I just thought it was cool to get the barbell from the ground over my head.
When my dad and I walked into that weightlifting club in Essex, Vermont, it was nothing like what I’d expected. For starters, no one looked like the guys I had seen getting pumped at Muscle Beach. They weren’t absolutely shredded, and a lot of them weren’t even lifting weights. Instead, they had a PVC pipe in their hands and would do nothing more than bend forward at the waist and stand. Bend at the waist and stand. I didn’t even see a rack of dumbbells, just a narrow room with white walls, drop ceilings, and twelve platforms made of unfinished plywood.
I expected I’d train like we did at football practice—no supervision, no form, just lifting as much as I could and dropping the bar when it was too much. Instead, Coach Polakowski told me to grab a broomstick.
For the next few weeks, all I worked on was the starting positions, which differ slightly depending on which of the two Olympic lifts you’re doing: the snatch, where you get the barbell from the ground over your head in one motion, or the clean and jerk, where the bar goes first from the ground to your shoulders and then overhead.
Olympic weightlifting consists of two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. For the snatch you get the barbell from the ground over your head in one motion. For the clean and jerk the bar goes first from the ground to your shoulders and then overhead. The starting position is slightly different for each.
I worked on my starting position for weeks, then Coach Pol let me move on to the next step, pulling the stick from the ground to my knees. It was slow, repetitive work, and I hated it. I just kept wondering, “How am I going to get stronger on a broomstick?”
The only encouraging sign was that, when Polakowski pointed out where I was making a mistake, I could usually feel it and make a correction. As I’d realize later when I studied engineering in college, my brain is pretty well wired to understand movement. So once Coach Pol gave me the cues, they intuitively made sense.
This body awareness is one of the greatest assets you can have in weightlifting, but I just wanted to set a new PR at every session, especially when I realized how strong the other lifters actually were. Thank goodness Coach Pol prevented me from picking up bad habits that are nearly impossible to break later, like lifting the shoulders too soon or pulling with the arms before the legs are fully extended.
Over the course of months, I graduated from the broomstick, to the PVC pipe, to the 5- and 7-pound bars, then to the 35-pound bar. At the time, they didn’t make bumper plates that were light enough, so I had to use Polakowski’s special set, which was homemade and cut out of unpainted plywood. Because the hole for the bar wasn’t a perfect circle, the weights would droop to one side like a tree blown over by the wind.
Thankfully, companies like Rogue now sell training bars and bumper plates meant for kids who are even younger than I was when I started, so you don’t have to make your own. But if you’re going to let your preteen snatch and clean and jerk, make sure they’ve got plenty of supervision. If not, they may end up with the type of injury that almost ended my athletic career.
Around the same time as I was weightlifting, I was also playing football. Even though I wasn’t the tallest guy, I could pack muscle onto my frame and still sprint pretty quickly, but there was a huge obstacle I never overcame: my compromised hearing.
All the other kids had played football or grew up watching it, so they understood the rhythm. I didn’t. Plus, in the huddle I almost never heard which play we were going to run. Sometimes I was able to ask the quarterback before he snapped the ball, but usually I had no idea what was about to happen. By the time I got to high school, the coaches just told me to line up wherever I wanted on the defensive line and then overpower the other guys. I did, but it’s hard to feel like a part of the team when you know there’s something you’re missing.
Thankfully, this was never an issue with Coach Pol. If you missed a lift at a meet, he’d take the time to explain why, and I became one of the country’s best lifters in my weight class.
Since it was clear I had a future in the sport, my next decision was easy. There’s only one place to go with Olympic weightlifting, and it’s to the Olympics, so I applied for Team USA’s Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
In 2008, the day I graduated from high school, my dad and I drove west. I was eighteen and the youngest lifter invited to train with Team USA, which was about to compete in the Beijing Games. Sponsorship money was pouring into the OTC, and I was shocked the first time I walked into the training room and they told me I could take a Gatorade. Like, for free? I asked. Yeah, they said. Take two. I grabbed a whole case, and a few weeks later, I nabbed something else.
In addition to my partial deafness, I was also born with terrible eyesight. I didn’t realize it at first. I just thought that you weren’t supposed to see the leaves on trees or what was written on the blackboard in class if you were sitting farther away than the first row. I’d always get in trouble for looking at the paper of the kid next to me, but I truly had no idea what the teacher was writing. Eventually, though, I got glasses, and when I found out that contacts were free at the OTC, I took them by the box. I wore them as long as possible—even when I would swim without goggles—and they ended up lasting me six years.
Though the perks were great, the volume of training was more than I’d expected. To warm up, we did a ton of jumping to activate our fast-twitch muscles, then we’d do about 24 snatches. For me, that meant 2 sets of 3 at 115 pounds, 2 sets of 3 at 135 pounds, doubles at 155, 185, 205, and 225, then a couple of singles after that. Every third session, we’d practice our clean and jerk, and the rep scheme would be essentially the same.
This is similar to what I’d done in Vermont, but we were now doing all this twice a day. If you factored in the accessory work and body maintenance, training could easily be six hours a day, six days a week.
The goal of all the training volume was to make the movements feel automatic. That takes years to learn. Including the lifts from my CrossFit career, I’ve done probably 60,000 snatches in my life and half as many clean and jerks, which had a huge payoff. When I approach the bar, I’m not conscious of any specific cues. I’m not thinking about rotating my knuckles over the bar or exploding upward on my second pull. If I clear my mind completely, I know my form will be tight. That’s how comfortable you want to be with the lift.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Guide 5
1 Strength 9
Strength Technique 101 10
Advanced Technique 13
Olympic Weightlifting 16
CrossFit Strength 101 27
CrossFit Games Strength 36
The Strength Mentality 44
Eating for Strength 45
Additional Strength Training 56
2 Endurance 61
Endurance 101 62
Rowing Technique 101 65
Advanced Rowing Techniques 70
CrossFit Endurance 74
Endurance for Competitive Athletes 78
CrossFit Games Endurance 85
The Endurance Mentality 88
Eating for Endurance 95
Additional Endurance Training 105
3 Speed 113
Speed Technique 101 114
Advanced Speed Techniques 118
CrossFit Speed Techniques 121
The Speed Mindset 101 124
Advanced Speed Mindset Techniques 127
Speed Mindset for Competitive Athletes 131
CrossFit Games Speed Mindset 134
The Speed Mentality 142
Eating for Speed-Slimming Down 143
Additional Speed Training 153
4 Coordination 162
Coordination 101 164
CrossFit Coordination 101 167
CrossFit Coordination 201 175
CrossFit Coordination 301 179
Coordination for Competitive Athletes 188
CrossFit Games Coordination 195
The Coordination Mentality 202
Eating for Coordination 203
Additional Coordination Training 212
5 Mentality 222
Mentality 101 224
Training Scared 227
Seeming Invincible 231
Pain Tolerance 241
Dealing with Obstacles 243
Developing Curiosity 248
The Optimum Conditions 251
Learning to Love the Rules 254
Your Big "Why" 256
6 Recovery 261
Recovery 101 263
Physical Recovery 268
Recovery Mentality 273
Eating for Recovery 277
Emotional Recovery 288
Additional Mat Fraser Workouts 295
HWPO Workout Log 303