Mat Fraser’s CrossFit Games training

Posted on August 14, 2017

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I enjoyed this video series on Mat Fraser’s CrossFit training:

You can’t go 10 words in the sports world without hearing about hard work. In CrossFit, it’s every two words.

Yes, hard training is important. But disciplined training is no less important. All we hear about is the blood, sweat and tears part. We don’t hear about the cerebral aspect. I referenced some of Fraser’s workout approach in 16 random thoughts on CrossFit in 2016. We’re going to dig deeper in this post.

General routine

CrossFit Games is not what CrossFit is like

After Fraser won for the second time in 2017, he remarked the Games are nothing like a typical CrossFit gym or workout. I don’t know about the consumer side of CrossFit, but from the sport and athlete side, this appears obvious now. CrossFit athletes do not train CrossFit workouts. CrossFit’s website still posts the workout of the day. None of these Game athletes are doing that as their training.

Some examples:

The little things

Mat Fraser has a daily routine of what we call prehab, or corrective exercises. Exercises where he’s not rehabbing something; he’s trying to prevent something from needing rehab. Little aches, nagging pains, those types of things. He does this for hours every day.

I used to work out of a gym where I saw a lot of CrossFit people. It was routine to see guys come in, do their MetCon for 15 minutes, and call it a day. I don’t know how much this persists nowadays, but there has always been a group in the fitness industry who falls into this hard and brief style. It’s always been a fairytale that 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 minute workouts will be sufficient. Even if 30 minutes is enough to e.g. get stronger, it will not be enough to stay healthy.

 

Training weaknesses while maintaining strengths

Fraser over and over mentions he focuses on his weaknesses. When he realized he sucked at rowing, he spent a year rowing every day. He spent a decade olympic lifting, thus,

“CB:  How has your training, primarily in the classic lifts, changed from strictly weightlifting to now having to incorporate so many other movements?

MF:  For the most part, I do not train my lifts at all anymore. I saw that my lifts were decent in the CrossFit world, and they would place me high enough in competition without ever training them

When he learned he was a poor sprinter, he got went to sprint practice with a coach multiple times per week. Swimming? He got a coach for that too.

 

Training by percentage

I loved this photo:

That’s Mat pulling out a calculator to assign his weights that day. Considering his olympic weightlifting background, I pretty much guarantee what he’s doing is basing his weights on percentage. Such as 75% of his 1 rep max.

This is not some random training going on! This is not someone going as hard as they can in every exercise, every day.

Recovery

Deload weeks

After that calculator shot above Fraser remarks he’s in the middle of a deload week. That is, an easy week. Hard training can’t be hard every week!

Fraser has mentioned how once he was feeling out of it, so he took like nine days off training.

After regionals? The second most competitive time of year? He takes it easy for a couple weeks.

Hard training can’t even be hard every day

He repeatedly mentions he understands if he feels tired from the previous day’s training, he knows while he may need to grind through it some, that’s not the time to push himself.

At the same time, if he knows he has a rest day coming up, the day before he can push himself more.

Tapering

At the end of this video he says,

“It was last year [2015] during the open was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life, but then by the time I’m two weeks out of regionals and I’m like ‘oh my god, I’m burning out.’  This year I’m not as fit as I was, but I’m ramping back up in the right direction, and I think I’m on a good timeline.”

This is why he stops traveling the month or two leading up to a competition.

-> In the sports world, many believe home field advantage is from the crowd. While that’s nice, being home is an advantage because you avoid traveling. You’re more rested relaxing at home with your family, sleeping in your bed and not a plane, handling all in all more familiar territory. Just think how tired you were the last time you flew cross country. It wears people out.

Time off means time OFF

A routine for many serious athletes is off days slowly become workout days.

  • “Oh, I’ll just do some light lifting to get the blood flowing.”
  • [somebody calls you a pussy for going light] “Fuck it. Load that bitch up.”

Not Fraser. He talks about how he’ll have days he stays in his living room the entire day. He’ll throw on The Office because he’s seen it so many times, he doesn’t have to think. Then he’ll go through some stretches and foam rolling (which is really just a fancy version of stretching (and doesn’t work for the reasons people think)).

If he does more than that, it’s to ride his motorcycle or shoot some guns. It’s a true off day.

Mental stress can become physical stress. He gets that. He mentions he’s leery about even watching a new show when he has down time, because he’s less likely to be able to turn his mind off.

Doesn’t get obsessed with the fancy stuff

You don’t see him

  • in hyperbaric chambers
  • getting accupuncture
  • obsessing over a daily massage therapist
  • cupping
  • electrical stimulation
  • cryotherapy
  • 80 different supplements

He goes to a physical therapist if needed. If he’s feeling extra beat up, he likes some dry needling. He takes creatine, glutamine, beta-alanine, which have been standard supplements for over a decade, and have been around at least fifteen years. Nutrition wise he doesn’t count macros. He doesn’t obsess over how much coffee he drinks.

For a professional athlete, this is scaled down. Athletes waste money trying any and everything. Granted, they have money to blow, but largely all the fancy stuff makes them feel better about doing something. Not from doing something.

For Fraser, if something is going on, he adjusts his corrective / prehab / stretching work to address it. Considering he’s doing that wayyy more than he’s getting a massage / dry needling, that shows where the focus is.

Which is great. Because the fancy stuff barely works, if at all.

-> Just because someone feels better after a massage does not mean they’re more recovered. Which can be a dangerous spot to be in. Feel more recovered than you are => potentially exercise harder than you should => increased risk of injury.

Miscellaneous

Trains by himself

This is a contentious topic in the sports world. Many say you HAVE to have great training partners. The quieter voices say training partners cause them to push themselves when they shouldn’t, increasing the odds of injury. The quieter ones say they don’t need someone to motivate them either. That training partners can be a distraction.

This is going to be an individual choice, but I’ve always leaned towards if you feel you need others to push you, you’re probably not going to get to an elite level anyways. I understand many feel a coach pushes them to a level they couldn’t otherwise get to, but that’s different. Training partners are not coaches. They’re more ra-ra, accountability people. If you simply enjoy that, that’s perfectly fine. But needing it and you’re in a tenuous spot. Coaches can be ra-ra people too, but hopefully they’re more than that. In fact, a coach may be someone who helps pull you back, not push you more. Training partners never do this!

To be clear, another person can help push someone and it’s more than reasonable to use that resource. But whether someone can be pushed to an elite level is something I don’t know about. (Besides random one off examples. Andre Agassi and his lunatic father come to mind.) When we’re talking best of the best, mentally that may be something you either have or don’t.

Pain is part of the deal

There is a lot in that video series about him handling minor aches and pains, along with intense workout pain. He has a nice clip where he talks about a track workout. He gets scared of it initially, but then says hey, I’m either going to complete it, or I’m going to blackout on the track. If I black out, someone will help me out, and it’ll be ok. Either way, it’s not that bad.

When going for a PR he remarks (paraphrasingly),

“Those are the kind of jumps which make champions, but also the kind of jumps which ruin careers. It’s the same mindset which blew my knee and back out, but you have to have that.”

This is a healthy mindset for an athlete to have. You have to know when to push and when to dial it back. There is a fine line between dealing with minor ache and such, which are inevitable with hard training, vs pushing through something like a moron because you’re in a stubborn mood.

When one area is acting up to where it needs to be dialed back? Hey, no big deal. That’s time to push another area.

All that said, if you’re pushing your body to an extreme positive, extreme negative shit can happen too. This can never be fully avoided.

Three takeaways

1) This is a person who knows how to train.

CrossFit, and its athletes, give an impression of 1) complete random training 2) all out or bust. Fraser doesn’t do either. There is an overarching plan, and monthly, if not weekly, periods where he knows to tone it down.

The guy had 10 years of olympic weightlifting. A good deal of which was at U.S. training centers. While the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in olympic lifting, it is a sport which is, training wise, DIALED IN much more than most. Fraser has been around the block, and clearly a lot of it has stuck.

2) Periodized training wins

The conventional sports world has known this for a long time. You don’t just throw a bunch of crap against a wall on a daily basis and see what sticks. Experimentation is needed, yes, but not every workout. In the least, a rough idea of days off, prehab to stay healthy, deload weeks, tapering, focusing on improving weaknesses while maintaining strengths, need some consideration. This is antithetical to CrossFit the workout. The distinction between CrossFit as exercise and CrossFit as sport is critical.

I have no doubt many everyday people attempting CrossFit see these Games athletes on TV and decide they need to workout like some maniac. The fact is the fitness world has had to deal with NO other workout program which has been in the news for regularly sending people into surgery, on the brink of kidney failure, even comas, and even paralysis. Blind hard training leads to a bad place.

Mat Fraser, the top CrossFitter, does not take part in any of this craziness.

Why should anybody else?

3) Hard training is not only a physical chore

This may look easy. In fact, some might think “Oh, I could train harder than him. I don’t take days off.”  But this is HARD to consistently do.

The first step towards being in great shape is training hard. Learning what hard truly means. Most never get there, which is perfectly ok. Most wouldn’t want to get there.

The second step though is training disciplined. Knowing when to push and when to back off. This is no easier. It takes years to acquire this intuition, whether as a trainer or trainee. One never becomes perfect with it either. In an interview with Men’s Health,

“I have one rib that dislocates fairly easily,” he explains, “and over a couple days of heavy training, I kind of feel it and back off. But then other times, I get bull headed and do the movement. And sure enough, there’s the click, and for three days I can’t really take a deep breath.”

Many who reach the training hard category do so because they have an extreme mindset. They not only approach training this way, but life. It’s not so much they’ve learned what hard training is. Rather, they only know how to do something hard or not at all. It’s a personality filtering. Learning they can work at a computer for 12 hours a day but can’t train hard even three days in a row is paradigm shifting and humbling.

-> Pushing your body physically is more mentally demanding than pushing your body mentally.

One of the biggest advantages in hiring someone is they hopefully have that intuition already. There’s always something be said for having your own, but a coach can help with the learning curve. This is one reason Fraser got a running and swimming coach. He wasn’t familiar with those worlds. Why spend years trying to learn them when he could get years of experience from someone else?

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Decrease your learning curve by hiring someone.

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Posted in: Pain, Sports