I’ve had the privilege to train with some of the best athletes in the world. I’m not stating this to brag or inflate myself; like many athletes, when starting the journey to being a competitive CrossFitter, I didn’t have training partners like Annie Thorisdottir. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of the OG’s of the sport and would try to emulate them.
I bought myself all of the freshest gear, including the blue Innov8s (because everyone wore those). I even made the mistake of adopting Rich Froning’s training program after watching CrossFit HQ’s “A Day in the Life” from 2012. In the beginning, I looked everywhere for the secret or the magic trick that would get me to that next level of athlete.
Of course, it turns out there isn’t a secret, magic trick, gear, or even sick hashtags that can transport you to being a CrossFit Games-level athlete.
That being said, over the past six years of training at a high level — and with some of fitness’ best — I’ve seen similar qualities amongst the top athletes. These qualities are intangibles — difficult to measure, sometimes even more difficult to replicate — but it’s become increasingly clear to me that they aren’t a coincidence. And they have nothing to do with gear, training programs, or supplements.
Whether it’s Annie, Frederik Aegidius, Ben Stoneberg, Katrin Davidsdottir, Amanda Goodman, Mat Fraser, or any of the many other amazing, elite athletes I’ve had the pleasure of training with, the following characteristics all stand out. And it makes them champions time and time again.
1. Trusting the Process/Consistency – We all want instant results, and we’ll look everywhere for excuses. Whether you’re on a training program or diet, you need to be consistent and trust that everything is a process. When you are doing a strength bias program, don’t freak out if your conditioning or gymnastics aren’t as good as they once were. The elite athletes put blind faith into their coaches, and whatever stage they’re in with training, they put their heads down and keep working. They don’t sabotage progress by making small changes or cherry picking what they do or don’t like.
2. Commitment/Holding Yourself Accountable – It sounds simple because it is! Training, eating, and sleeping/recovery don’t come second to anything. The top athletes even have days when they’d rather not train. There have been days where it seems logistically impossible to get to gym, but the best always find a way.
3. Humility and Confidence – It’s a level of unwavering confidence that doesn’t come off as obnoxious or ostentatious. To be the best, you need to believe it, if you don’t, why should anyone else? This seems like a tough balance to strike, and I’m not saying it’s easy or that finding the intersection of humility and confidence comes automatically. But ALL of the high level athletes I have come across balance these qualities, and when asked to perform a task, they are confident in doing so, but not cocky.
4. Passion/Love for the Game – It sounds cliche, but it’s simply true. Loving what you do (and the daily grind) is really important. The level of passion for the sport amongst the top is a must. Don’t believe me? Start talking to an athlete about their training, diet, or love for their sport. These are the motivating forces that get them through the not so fun stuff.
5. Support/Squad – A group of friends or family that is their squad. Every high level athlete has a support system of training partners, family, and friends. These people are the ones who talk athletes off the ledge of crazy, maintain the balance, and push for the best. Pay attention to the entourage that your favorite athletes keep — it’s a huge part of their success.
I wish I’d found a magic pill or secret that made it easier. So far, these five characteristics are the closest I’ve found to hallmarks of success. They’re consistent among the elite, and it makes sense to why they have been so successful.