MATHEW FRASER won first place at the 2016 and 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games, earning him the title of “Fittest Man on Earth.” He won the Rookie of the Year award at his first CrossFit Games in 2014 and placed second in 2014 and 2015. He’s been a CrossFit athlete since 2012, after retiring from a career in weightlifting during which he was an Olympic hopeful.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Without a doubt, I would say my dawn simulator [Philips Wake-Up Light]. It is an alarm clock that wakes you up with light instead of sound. Because of this change, you feel as if you are waking up on your own and aren’t groggy.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My biggest failure has become one of the things that I am most well known for: taking second place at the CrossFit games two years in a row. The first year, I was a rookie and had zero expectations, so placing second felt like a victory. The next year, the reigning champ had retired, and I rested on my laurels, figuring I was a shoo-in for the title. I took second again, and it was a devastating loss. Because of that failure, I worked harder than I ever had in my life the following year, and the results led to the largest margin of victory ever at the CrossFit games in 2016. I never want to change my 2015 season, because it was a lesson I will reflect on the rest of my life.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I have realized that I value the results of a process more when I truly apply myself and, more important to me, make myself proud.
[For example], when I am struggling to get through some rowing intervals during my training, when my posterior chain is on fire every time I pull on the handle, when I can feel the blisters forming on my fingers, and when the top of my head is tingling because my body is trying to tell me to stop, I tell myself in between pulls, “Keep going. You are going to be so proud of yourself if you keep pushing.” When I finish a workout like that, I am so happy the rest of the day because I know I did everything I could do to better myself.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I hear constantly, “If you want to be the best, you need to do what the best are doing.” In the sport of CrossFit, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I see so many people mimicking the training of some of the top-ranked competitors. If you want to get better in the sport, you need to work on your specific weaknesses, not those of someone who is successful.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I make lists. It may seem simple and silly, but it works for me, and I now am rarely more than arm’s reach from a notepad. I find I get overwhelmed when I am thinking about something that has too many steps, moving parts, or variables to keep straight in my head. So what’s the solution? Writing them down. Sometimes it’s starting at the desired solution and thinking backward in baby steps for how I can get there. Sometimes it’s just making to-do lists to keep my day organized.
I usually make a list every morning while I’m drinking my coffee. I have a terrible habit of forgetting smaller things during the day, so I like to put them on paper before the day gets started and I become distracted. Having the list helps keep me calm and productive during the day.
A more unusual list I made in the past was after the 2015 CrossFit games. It
was a terrible competition for me, and I ended up losing by 36 points out of a possible 1,200. Throughout the 13 events, I did fantastically in some, and I finished almost dead last in others. When the competition was over, I looked at my event finishes and made lists of how to improve on them for the next year.
One event that I did poorly in was the “soccer chipper.” This event involved flipping the “pig” (essentially a 600-pound refrigerator) down a soccer field 12 times, and then completing four legless rope climbs up a 20-foot rope. To say my pig flips were bad is an understatement. So I had to figure out why. Was it too heavy? Did I not know the proper technique? Was my body not prepared for the stimulus? Once I figured out why, I had to figure out how to fix it. This then involved me working backward from the desired result (me being proficient in the movement) to where I currently was (being absolute shit in the movement). I set myself a few micro goals in between the two, wrote them down, and started working toward them, one at a time. This allowed me to only look at the next small, seemingly achievable goal, instead of at one large, very down-the-road, daunting goal that didn’t seem obtainable.