After five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser hung up his leader jersey for the last time after the 2020 CrossFit Games, he picked up the pen and published his first book with the help of journalist Spenser Mestel. Hard Work Pays Off, titled after his social media mantra, claims to be a “total training manual” for anyone at any level of fitness.
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Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Hard Work Pays Off — which released in January of 2022 — delivers “elite training strategies, illustrated workouts, and motivational stories.” CrossFit workouts are known for combining a variety of tests from multiple disciplines to deliver success, and it seems the authors attempted to apply the same strategy when writing this book. The level of success is arguable, depending on the reader’s intention for cracking the cover.
Let’s take a peek inside Fraser’s authoring debut.
What You’ll Find Inside
The first introduction to the book’s subject is a cartoon drawing of a shirtless Fraser, decorated with a double-column list of his personal record lifts and benchmark workouts. Past the table of contents is an introduction, which details a peek into Fraser’s mindset of what drove him to win five consecutive CrossFit Games titles after coming in second in 2015.
The reader can hear his voice, feel his hunger to win, and appreciate some of the deserved pride he feels about his successful fitness career. It’s enough of an appetizer to whet your palate for more inside the mind of the CrossFit master.
Then, you read that this book is a guide that you should take with you to the gym, equipped with workouts, journal prompts, recipes, a glossary, and room in the margins for writing your PRs. From here, the book is broken into six sections: strength, endurance, speed, coordination, mentality, and recovery.
Each section includes 12-15 “workouts” and “exercises,” with cartoon Fraser demonstrating points of performance for some movements. Written around each exercise visual are anecdotes from Fraser’s competitive history, training, and early life. Sprinkled in there, he provides some technique tips or mentality suggestions within the paragraph.
Each of the first four sections ends with a journal entry prompt (with a personal story from Fraser) and recipes from Fraser’s partner, Sammy Moniz, that pair well with the type of movement detailed in the preceding section. For example, a protein-forward pot roast recipe accompanied the strength section and carb-heavy granola paired with the endurance section.
The mentality section is full of journal prompts, each with a time beside it, presumably for the amount of time you should spend thinking and writing about the prompt — though this is never clearly explained. Some prompts ask the reader to recall or think about certain things for a one-time journal entry, but others task the reader with measuring their body temperature before and after their workout for a week or recording their sleep quality and length every morning indefinitely.
The recovery section continues the journal prompt and personal anecdote pattern. (This is where Fraser and Moniz also snuck in the higher-calorie dessert recipes.) Fraser notes that to compete at his level, he needed to maintain up to 10,000 calories a day, sometimes meaning he even had to eat when he wasn’t hungry. Higher calorie treats such as the skillet apple pie listed in the chapter helped him maintain energy levels for all-day training.
The book finishes with a glossary, appendix of additional workouts, and a few pages of logs for more common CrossFit workouts.
Thoughts on HWPO
This book doesn’t know who its audience is and contradicts itself by trying to tout an elite athlete’s path to greatness and help someone trying to find tips for kipping their pull-ups. By aiming to be useful in several ways, Hard Work Pays Off sometimes has a hard time being useful at all.
Mat Fraser has lead a life many readers, even those outside the CrossFit community, may find compelling: He grew up in Vermont, made a run at Olympic weightlifting and came back to compete and dominate in a strength sport after breaking his back. He could write an interesting memoir, and includes some stories in Hard Work Pays Off about his formative years.
Getting into the mind of an elite athlete is also a draw for a large audience — it’s part of why many elite athletes go on to become motivational speakers. Fraser takes us into some of the anguish and triumph he felt on the field in Carson, CA and Madison, WI. Many would likely appreciate a book dedicated to the mindset and dedication it takes to be the best in the world five times over.
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Finally, a true training guide written by the best in the business is also not a bad idea. While those who compete can’t always teach, Fraser received training from the best in the business and could likely walk readers through a thorough, focused program with a goal in mind.
Hard Work Pays Off commits to none of these genres, which makes it a tough book to digest. It’s unclear whether the reader should sit down with it and read through or pick it up when they’re ready to train, write or cook. Athletes of any skill level are unlikely to bring a training guide to the gym that requires them to wade through CrossFit Games stories to find the right tip for receiving their snatch. They’re also unlikely to find usefulness from journal prompts that don’t provide them with space underneath to write. And if I’m looking for Sammy’s recipes, I’m going to pick up Feeding the Frasers instead.
Hard Work Pays Off has pieces of several good foundations cobbled together in a format that doesn’t quite get off the ground. While the hopper method may work for building CrossFit workouts, it doesn’t work for this book. I’ll be looking forward to a more focused read from Fraser in the future.
Featured Image: @mathewfras on Instagram