When Mat Fraser took second place at the CrossFit Games in 2014, he considered it a huge win. A rookie and relative unknown, he had zero expectations; any spot on the podium was a victory. But his second-place performance in 2015 didn’t come with the same sense of accomplishment. “It felt like I had lost first place,” he says, admitting he’d taken his success for granted and hadn’t approached training as seriously as he should have.
That disappointment lit a spark. Fraser went back to the gym with more intensity, and shifted to a more holistic training perspective that encompassed everything from workouts to nutrition and recovery. Fraser’s laser focus on first place paid off this July, earning him the top spot on the podium and 2016’s title of “Fittest Man on Earth.”
For the rest of us, the best news about Fraser’s technique is that anyone can mirror it. Here, his five tips to get the most out of your training.
Cut the Junk
Some of Fraser’s biggest changes were to his diet. “I ate terribly the year before,” he says, confessing to regularly downing a pint of ice cream or putting away a half dozen donuts without a second thought. Within weeks of cutting treats like these, he dropped 10 pounds and noticed less wear-and-tear on his hands during gymnastic movements like muscle-ups and chest-to-bar pull-ups.
Although he’s ditched dessert, Fraser doesn’t count macros or adhere to any specific nutrition philosophy. He eats four or five big meals a day, most of which include meat and vegetables, and sticky white rice. In addition to losing excess fat, he no longer rides the sugar-fueled roller coaster of drastic spikes or dips in energy. “From when I get up to when I go to bed, it’s the same energy level the whole way through, and I think that opens the window for more consistent training.”
Change Up Your Training Schedule
The constantly varied nature of CrossFit workouts already demands training diversity, but Fraser also resists any type of routine or schedule. For example, while some athletes start with strength training in the morning and reserve cardio for the evening, he prefers to change the format and timing of his workouts from day to day. This approach helped him feel fitter and better prepared for the Games, which are notoriously unpredictable. “There’s a handful of guys who have a 300-pound snatch. But if they go run a mile and then try to snatch, they’re going to snatch 250,” Fraser says. Because he lifts before, after, and even during endurance training, he knows which numbers he can hit regardless of the circumstances.
Tap Experts to Beat Your Weaknesses
Fraser is rock solid for weightlifting, but when he found himself coming in dead last on short distance running events, he sought a second opinion. “I was like, ‘Okay, I need to work on my sprinting, and I have no idea how to correct this,’ ” says Fraser. He found the solution with a track and field coach who worked with him two or three times a week, fixing issues related to form and technique. Training with an expert also helped Fraser build confidence in an area where he had less experience. The investment paid off at this year’s Games; in the 840-foot shuttle sprint event, Fraser took second place.
Find the Positive in Injuries
Like any professional athlete, Fraser’s dealt with his fair share of injuries, including a torn meniscus and a fractured vertebrae. In the past, he shortchanged recovery time and rushed back to the gym, a tactic that brought him “one step forward to take two steps back."
“Now when something comes up, I really give my body time to heal up,” he says. “I convince myself it’s going to be okay.” Fraser’s also gotten better at seeing the silver lining in minor injuries; a sore elbow is a chance to strengthen your squat, and you can still hone gymnastic skills with a sprained ankle. “There are so many movements you can do. You can modify almost everything and still train, but stay off your injury,” he says.
Embrace the Suck
Fraser’s suffered through enough killer workouts to know that the pain they induce is temporary. If he hits a wall, he’ll use a little motivational self-talk that can help any of us struggling to stick with a challenging workout: “Push through this,” Fraser says he’ll think. “It’s only going to hurt for a minute. And then you’re going to feel great about it.”