YouTube content creator Zack Telander has a background in CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting. He also has some personal connections to five-time CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser, both of whom studied in Vermont and thus share several mutual friends.
On Jan. 23, 2023, Fraser sat down with Telander to share what gave him his competitive advantage during the height of his CrossFit dynasty, how he compares himself to the greats in other sports, setting expectations for himself, and more.
Having established these similarities early in the interview, the conversation flowed, allowing Telander to uncover some gems about Fraser as a person, an athlete, and a coach. Check it out in the video below, courtesy of Telander’s YouTube channel:
Outpacing the Competition
When asked about the anxiousness that revolved around the unknowns of competition (some events at the CrossFit Games remain a mystery until they begin), Fraser acknowledged that he “hated that feeling, but intentionally kept it.” That fear proved a valuable motivator for him while at the top of the sport.
Fraser recognized that the rest of the competitive field was chasing him to become the Fittest Man on Earth®, which compelled him to train harder to become “proficient at anything you can think of.” Fraser felt he needed to “outrun” the competition was ultimately unsustainable over the long term, but it generated four title defenses at the Games.
Takeaway: Understand to what end you are pursuing competitive CrossFit and how long it is sustainable.
How Competitive Is Reasonable?
There is a notable difference between training and competing at the elite level compared to an “everyday CrossFitter,” as Telander put it. Fraser did not win the Games for five consecutive years simply because he trained harder than the rest of the competition. He upended his entire life to devote it to the sport, which meant those around him had to do the same:
I asked [my partner] Sammy to quit her job, move to Vermont, and give me five years. I told her if she could support me for five years, I’d set us up for life. And she did it.
Fraser recognized the sacrifices he asked others to make for him on his behalf to make the goal of being a CrossFit Games champion a reality. He recognized that the opportunity to do so was there and requested those closest to him believe in it too.
I knew I had the opportunity to change our lives.
The support Fraser had outside of training and competition was just as important as the effort he put in at the gym and on the field. Sammy took on all the responsibilities of maintaining their home life so that he could do what was necessary to win the Games. It relieved him of responsibilities outside the gym, which was fruitful for his naturally-addictive personality.
I don’t want to do anything in moderation; as soon as I do anything, I obsess over it.
Fraser found that by focusing on things that are productive rather than destructive, his obsessive tendencies could be an asset against his competition. For example, Fraser was not an effective rower; he thus committed to rowing 5,000 to 10,000 meters daily to improve his game.
Takeaway: Invest in the long game. Fraser spoke about making decisions as a teenager that enabled the discipline required to succeed during his CrossFit career. When Fraser had the chance to go to Colorado Springs to train in weightlifting (promising American weightlifters were once offered residencies at the Olympic Training Center), he decided to cut bad habits out of his life, citing changing “people, places, and things” to pursue his dream of making the Olympics.
Train to Love Your Weaknesses
Similar to rowing, Fraser was poor at kettlebell swings. He noticed how proficient those around him were at the movement he struggled with. He applied his addictive personality to honing that skill, performing kettlebell swings every day until he was “excited to see it” in event programming.
It was only when he was happy to see a movement in competition or training that he felt he could move on to improving another dimension of his athleticism.
I never had the opportunity to develop too many bad habits because I had phenomenal coaching around me.
Fraser believes that all athletes have a “worst movement,” even if they are better than most. Whether that’s “snatching 100 pounds or 300 pounds” or “parallette handstand push-ups,” even if Fraser felt he was “on par with everyone else,” he wanted to improve until he was the best.
Takeaway: Figure out how to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. For Fraser, he reapplied his addictive personality toward more productive aspects of his training, which paid countless dividends.
Sharpen the Details
Fraser suggested that his approach outside the gym gave him a significant leg up on the competition. He gave an example of how he would see other athletes making meaningful life changes close to competition, such as moving within striking distance of the Games.
Fraser always prioritized his pre-comp rituals, so a month out from the competition, he would be at his home, sleeping in his own bed. While different athletes have different priorities, Fraser’s approach resulted in winning five straight Games between 2016 and 2021.
Takeaway: Study the greats. Try to implement what worked for those who have achieved what you wish to achieve and see whether or not their approach works for you.
From Champion to Coach
The interview finished with what impact Fraser feels he can have as a coach. He expressed that when training younger athletes whose “minds are just sponges,” Fraser believes in leading by example. He hopes the relationship with his athletes is more than just that of a coach to a student — they can approach him for advice on solving or overcoming obstacles outside the gym.
Fraser promised that 2023 will be a big year for HWPO. He is building an training facility for HWPO competitors to provide athletes with what he wished he had when he competed. In an era where athletes make big moves to pursue opportunities, this facility could become a haven for some of the top CrossFitters in the world.
Consistent with how he describes his entire life, Fraser closed by saying, “we want to be the best at what we do, provide the best services, and have the best people around us.”
Featured image: @mathewfras on Instagram