How to beat Mat Fraser in CrossFit

Posted on August 13, 2018

(Last Updated On: August 13, 2018)

Mat Fraser won the 2018 CrossFit Games for his third title in a row. I’ve talked about him before,

Mat Fraser’s CrossFit Games training

16 random thoughts on CrossFit in 2016

I’ve mainly been praiseworthy, illustrating why he’s not only winning the Games, but annihilating the competition.

Bringing us to this article. Why has the rest of the field been, relative to Fraser, so bad?


2018 CrossFit Games CRIT

The first event in 2018 was the CRIT, a 7.45 mile road bike race. In the biking world, we’d say it was non-technical: it didn’t consist of a lot of turns or hills.

Again, this was the first event. Everybody was fresh and ready to roll. Here’s how the top half of the males performed:

The top guy road a 2.5 minutes per mile pace- 24 miles per hour.

This struck me as surprisingly slow. The Tour de France winners come in faster than this. Sure, it’s a completely different event, but considering how much farther they’re going, I would have thought these CrossFitters would bike faster.

For the hell of it, I got on a spin bike and did the CRIT myself:

Good enough for 17th place.

I merely want to use my experience as a starting point as,

  • I have been on a bike twice in four months
  • I’ve never ridden a bike seriously in any manner
  • My sporting background is primarily American football. Not like I have some strong endurance history.
  • I run a business, do a fair amount of the child care with my 18 month old daughter, to where I can only workout a few hours a week. My only cardio is running ~7 miles per week, all of which consists of pushing a stroller. When it comes to working out right now, I’m in maintenance mode at best. (Many parents would call it survival mode.)

Finally, if someone wants to say I had some advantage(s) by being on a spin bike, keep in mind the disadvantages I had:

1) No ability to draft

-> If you watch the CRIT, or any bike race, you can see what riders mean by being “pulled” by the person in front of them. There are times a rider right behind another is barely moving their legs.

2) No $300,000 incentive

As for my stats, I’m 6’4″, 190 lbs. I’m much taller than most CrossFitters, but right around what many weigh. I’m nearly 32. Older than most. I have to emphasize I workout three hours A WEEK. Mat Fraser works out six hours A DAY.

The point: I really DON’T think I should be able to compete with these guys in any event. Frankly, if you gave me a month to get used to being on a bike and sure up my nutrition -I’m easily a couple body fat percentage points above these guys- I have high confidence I could have won that event. That shouldn’t be the case.

know I could not remotely compete with these guys in a more strength oriented event, and have no confidence I could win the Games.

It’s not so much I’m in great cycling shape. It’s that they’re in subpar cycling shape.


Short version

After all, the top women beat the men in this year’s triathlon-esque event! Sam Briggs routinely lapped guys in the longer events in years past.

You don’t need much more indication than that to grasp the men are doing something wrong with their endurance training.

Let’s get more specific.


Long version

Brent Fikowski has done very well at the Games, finishing top three multiple years.

Let’s look at the 2018 marathon row event, which was 26.2 miles on a row machine,

  • Fikowski: 2 hours 47 minutes 3 seconds (10023 seconds total)
  • Fraser: 2 hours 48 minutes 36 seconds (10116 seconds total)

Fikowski was 1% faster than Fraser in this event.


Next, let’s look at how they did in the CrossFit total, more or less a powerlifting competition,

  • Fikowski: 1150 lbs
  • Fraser: 1215 lbs

Fraser was 6% stronger than Fikowski in this event.


Here’s the thing, Fraser is 5’7″, with a very strong olympic lifting background. The fact he’s outfitting a guy who is 6’2″ and only marginally heavier is no big deal. It’s expected.

In fact, Fikowski is 7 inches taller and 25lbs heavier. An old rule of thumb is, everything else being equal, for every inch of height you add 5lbs. Which means, relative to Fraser, Fikowski is lighter than we’d expect.

The point: If Fikowski isn’t going to make up for his height by being significantly heavier, relatively speaking, to Fraser,

-> Which is the only way tall people can make up for their height strength wise: How and why height impacts strength

then he needs to have times of DESTROYING Fraser on endurance events. Especially endurance events where height is an advantage.

For instance, we wouldn’t expect Fikowski to kill it on thrusters, due to the squat motion. But on run, swim, runs? Or marathon rowing? Or biking? Fikowski needs to win by more than 1%!


The others

As does the rest of the field. Because they’re almost all taller than Fraser, they need to be part of that destruction.

There is just no reason a guy who is 5’7″, with short appendages, should be anywhere near the top finishers in some of these events. While we could argue Fraser is doing something great training wise (as I have before), we could also say the rest of the field is doing something wrong.

Fraser got 4th, and only lost to Fikowski by 2%, in an event where like 80% of the time was spent swimming. There is a reason olympic swimmers are long…long arms help.

Patrick Vellner, who finished second overall and is 5’11, who the eyes would say has some long ass arms, just cannot come in 21st in that event.

-> I’m not trying to sound like a dick to Vellner and Fikowski. They both appear to do CrossFit in their spare time, but since Fraser is a professional, I’m approaching it that way. Which further backs up what I’m getting at here, as endurance work is more time consuming.

-> This is where we acknowledge a full-time accountant (Fikowski) can be a top contender in the sport, yet somehow people are still debating whether CrossFitters are better athletes than e.g. NFL players (full time athletes). Ugh.

There is a reason I can be an everyday schmuck, yet I can randomly get on a bike and compete with these guys- they’re leaving a lot of time on the table.

The rest of the field is way, way off on their endurance work. I don’t find that surprising in the context of CrossFit either. Most CrossFitters come from a lifting background, then mix the endurance work in. (That’s what Fraser did.) Lifting is, in many ways, easier to train for than endurance work is. To this day, how to get faster is a mystery to many. How to get stronger is not at all hard to grasp. CrossFitters are also more enamored with looking jacked than being fast.

In fact, to his credit, I wouldn’t be surprised if Castro (organizes the events) purposely put that marathon row in the hopes of fucking with Fraser. Olympic rowers ain’t 5’7″! Much like golf courses had to “Tiger Proof” the courses back in the day, he’s probably trying to Fraser Proof the games. Nobody wants to see a guy win by two to three hundred points each year.

-> It’s against the rules, but Fraser could not even show up in three or so events, nearly 25% of them, and still win.

You can all but guarantee Fraser is going to win the games when you see him beating his taller competitors in tall-man friendly events.

If I’m someone like Fikowski, you know lifting is not your strength. You know you’re going to have to gain a significant amount of weight to MAYBE beat Fraser in a strength contest.

If you’re Vellner, you already took second in the CrossFit total. You can’t beat Fraser by much more than you already have in strength events. Furthermore, barbell work is a strength of Fraser’s. There’s only so much you and the field are going to beat him by in that anyways.

A solid strategy for these guys would be to try and maintain their muscular strength the best they can, but worse case, sacrifice some of it so you’re beating Fraser in events he has no business competing in. I highly doubt Fraser could ride a bike much faster. I’m highly confident a great deal of those other athletes could.

-> Fikowski looks to have taken the opposite approach. At 10:55 of this video, you can hear his coach express concern about how little cardio they did in the offseason; how much they focused on strength work.

Vellner got 35th and 21st in the CRIT and Swim / Run event. While his chain did break in the bike race, he didn’t look like he was doing well in that regardless.

If he simply gets tenth in those two events, that’s 72 extra points. If he beats Fraser in those two, that’s 128 points.

I’m not saying they’re going to beat Fraser overall (part time athletes get part time results), but we’re getting to a much better competition when there’s that many points left on the table in only two events. Relative to Fraser, Vellner also left another ~30 points in a different biking / running event. That gap between Fraser and everyone else suddenly doesn’t seem so big.

-> Something I’ve ignored is they need to do this on a consistent basis. Vellner / Fikowski / others do have times they win what they should win by a fair amount. But then they follow it up by being in 20 or 30th place in another event they should do well at. While Fraser is routinely in the top 10.

It’s of course hard to generalize with so many events and so many athletes. CrossFit is also a different kind of sport in that someone like Fikowski could kill Fraser in a running event, but if the rest of the field doesn’t also beat him, then Fikowski doesn’t make up many points. The point system is relative, not absolute. That’s where the entire field needs to pick up the slack.

However, until Fikowski (or whomever) is beating Fraser by 6% in events they should be winning, then you can’t exactly put the blame on the field.

Point being: Fraser’s inherent weakness (mainly longer form cardio work) is not as weak as it should be relative to the field. Fraser might be 1% slower in running events.

-> This is understating the field’s problem. Fraser won the ranch run in 2016. A 30+ minute run. Fikowski lost to him in the run and the one rep deadlift that year. That’s implausible from a physiological standpoint.

Fraser also damn near won a sprint event (!) a couple years back: How fast are CrossFit athletes?

To Fraser’s credit, he has sacrificed his strength in order to be much better at endurance. He really focused on his weakness. It’s just the rest of the field hasn’t figured out to do the opposite- focus on their (innate) strength so his weakness stays weak.

In all likelihood, the rest of the field just isn’t running enough.

On the flip side, the field’s inherent weakness (mainly lifting exercises) is probably fair relative to Fraser’s strength. Fraser might be 3-6% stronger.

The strength difference is probably ok. The endurance difference is definitely not.

If you’re a random, average height / weight, in-shape person, and some random 5’7″ person comes in the gym and out lifts you by a few percent, you’re not surprised.

If they then out run / bike / swim / jump you, or you only beat them by 1%, which is practically a coin toss in who felt better that day, you’re going to be scratching your head.

The amount of effort it’s going to take to close that gap of strength is unlikely worth it. You’re fighting uphill. Instead of harping over the innate flaw, embrace the innate strength.

-> If anyone is thinking “Well, maybe being shorter is simply an overall advantage in CrossFit?” That hasn’t been true: The relationship between height and CrossFit successFraser’s height is actually a bit of an outlier.

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