Picture it: A four-day competition, with two to four workouts a day (13 WODs total) that consist of running, swimming, muscle-ups, 345-pound squat cleans, handstand push-ups, rope climbs, double unders, handstand walks, 245-pound overhead squats and more, against 43 of the most in-shape competitors you know, all with the title of Fittest on Earth on the line. Now imagine doing it four years in a row — and winning every time. That’s what Rich Froning did as he secured his fourth consecutive title as the Fittest Man on Earth at the CrossFit Games this past July.
Froning, who has been said to do up to eight workouts a day, had the pressure of 200,000 live spectators as well as the world watching on his shoulders (on top of 310-plus actual pounds) as he made his way through the grueling Games. The events were so tough that he almost didn’t complete one due to a stomach bug earlier in the week that left him dehydrated and in 37th place. Nonetheless, taking 2nd, 1st, 1st and 1st on the last four events secured the 27-year old’s top spot on the podium, joined by rookie Mathew Fraser on his right, and veteran and friend Jason Khalipa on his left.
We caught up with the four-time CrossFit champion to learn what it means to be the Fittest Man on Earth, his training and supplement regimen, and where he went for his celebratory burger post-Games.
“That’s the beauty of CrossFit: You can be quickly humbled or knocked off your high horse if you start to feel too overly confident.”
Can you put into words what it means to be the Fittest Man on Earth for the fourth year in a row?
It feels good. It’s what I train for all year — it’s the ultimate goal. The title’s just the title. Winning the CrossFit Games is what I’m most happy about. Fittest Man on Earth is cool, but Crossfit champion is what I most like.
Compared to last year, did the Games feel harder this year in any ways?
Every year they up the game on what’s possible and what’s expected of us. And each year they do a very good job of testing every facet of fitness. This year was no different.
What about the competition? Did you ever think to yourself, “Hey, I might not even podium this year?”
I’m always nervous and I always think that throughout the week (laughs). So, no different from any other year.
In the past you’ve said running is something you need to work on. Did you focus on it during training?
I ran more this year than I have in years past, for sure. And I swam a lot. Running and swimming were main focuses of mine this off-season.
And you did very well in both! As spectators watching the Games, we knew the final event before you and your fellow competitors did. And many thought for the final event, “this is totally Rich’s type of event, he’ll crush it.” What did you think when you heard the event was Double Grace?
I didn’t know, really. Mat Fraser is very good with a barbell and so is Khalipa, and some of those other guys who were in striking distance. So there’s always a level of uncertainty when you’re competing with the Fittest People on Earth. You know there are some people who are just really good at some stuff. That’s the beauty of CrossFit: You can be quickly humbled or knocked off your high horse if you start to feel too overly confident.
“I hate to say it, but people sometimes think they’re injured when they’re really just sore. You have to be smart about workouts, but realize you’re going to be a little sore the first few times you do CrossFit.”
Did you think any events were too challenging?
Oh, no. Dave [Castro] and the rest of the crew have a good grasp on what we’re capable of. And every year they find a way to push our limits even farther, but they find that line of what’s too hard, and what’s not hard enough.
What was the hardest WOD for you at the Games?
For sure the Triple 3. I’d been a little sick earlier in the week and a little dehydrated from a stomach bug. It was by far the hardest one for me. But then some of the other workouts were just frustrating more than anything. Things that usually don’t happen were happening. I failed two muscle-ups and I never fail at muscle-ups. The clean ladder, I missed it by nine-tenths of a second. Things that usually go my way weren’t going my way. It’s a little frustrating, but you got to keep your head up and keep going. It’s a long weekend…
CrossFitters say CrossFit is a great sport for anyone. Why is that? Do you think all people should try it?
Maybe not even as a sport, but as a fitness program, it works. Pick things up and put them down; run; carry stuff. It’s what our bodies were made to do — not sit on a machine and do single joint movements. Those are good things if that’s what you want to do — it’s better than sitting and doing nothing.
People get too caught up sometimes in thinking the traditional CrossFit circuit is [all there is to it]. But CrossFit is lifting heavy weights, being strong…and it’s also running, it’s swimming, it’s rowing, it’s biking. It’s getting outside the gym. I think we did a lot of outside-the-gym CrossFit this year, and that was a little different than years past. Picking up heavy objects and running with them, pushing the sled. A lot of us get caught up in just “gym CrossFit.” Probably because it’s fun. I like it, too.
What did you think of the new Sprint Sled?
You know, it was kind of frustrating because even just in your own lane there were patches of grass that were faster than others and some that were slower. It was that way across the field so some lanes were faster than others. But you just got to roll with the punches.
In terms of injuries, do you think a CrossFitter is his or her own worst enemy? What do you need to look out for so that you don’t get hurt?
Yeah, I think people start out too quickly and say things like, “Rich does several workouts a day so I can do several workouts a day, too.” No, you need to ease into it and find a good coach. Plenty of people have started CrossFit without a coach and not got hurt, but the best-case scenario is doing it with a good coach and learning the right movements.
And also, I hate to say it, but people sometimes think they’re injured when they’re really just sore. You have to be smart about the workouts, but realize you’re going to be a little sore the first few times you do CrossFit. For me, doing bodybuilding-type workouts using single-joint movements led to more injuries and more flair ups than I’ve had doing CrossFit. I had shoulder surgery before I did CrossFit, and my shoulder has never been stronger, so I think it’s great.
“You’ve got to be a little bit crazy to be the best in the world at anything.”
Every day you’re pushing your body to the limit and constantly challenging yourself. What do you do to recover?
I continue to work out, which usually helps with the soreness, but maybe just take the intensity down. I feel better when I move. When I sit or don’t do anything is when I get more sore or feel more sluggish. This year swimming actually helped a lot. It’s a great workout, great breathing. But doesn’t beat you up as bad as say lifting a barbell 60 times over your head. So I’d say swimming was a good recovery this year.
Do you take ice baths?
At the Games I’ll do some ice baths every once in a while, because this year it was hot, a lot hotter than the years past. It’s just so much of a pain to do an ice bath at the house. Let’s be honest…an ice bath is not pleasant.
What workout supplements do you take?
In the morning I don’t really eat a lot. I’ll take some type of creatine — not a lot though. Then throughout the day I’ll have a protein shake or two, depending on the workouts I’m doing. I usually don’t eat that much during the day and then at night I eat a lot.
What’s a typical dinner for the Fittest Man on Earth?
Anything. Whatever my wife Hillary decides to make, or we go out to eat. I’m not real picky and at that point, since I usually haven’t eaten a lot and have been working out all day, food is food. Sometimes it’s not that healthy. But I try not to be ridiculous.
What was your celebration meal post-Games?
Oh man, what did I have that night? I think it was a Five Guys burger. And then we had some pizza, too. You can’t beat a good hamburger or steak — some red meat, you know?
What is a typical day at the gym like for you?
Usually I wake up around 9 or 9:30 and I have a crew of people that I work out with. And we just kind of go by what we’ve done the days past or how we feel or what we need to work on, and do some type of workout. Then I’ll do some strength training depending on what strength cycle I’m on, but really it’s just how I feel or what we’ve done in days before or what has to be worked on. There’s no real schedule to be honest.
If you looked at any given day, it would be six or seven workouts, but really it’s three or four sessions, that are anywhere from one hour to three hours…whatever we can get in.
Do you still love CrossFit and working out or do you look at it as a job?
Before the Games I looked at it as a job. Now I’m starting to have fun again, and enjoy working out and staying healthy.
You’ve mentioned you’re going to move over to teams this year. Are you not ready to be done with the sport, but individual is just too much commitment to do again?
Yeah, that’s basically what it boils down to. It takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work. And you’ve got to be a little bit crazy to be the best in the world at anything. We just adopted a baby girl and I don’t to want to let other things sacrifice or that. I’ve made a good living for what I’ve done so far.
But I want to have some fun on a team. I grew up a team sport guy and I want to try that aspect of it.
There’s a rumor about you teaming up with Khalipa. Anything you can say on that?
He doesn’t want to move to Tennessee and I’m not moving to California, and that’s the only way for us to be on a team, so… We are going to be on a team for the team series this fall for Rogue. It will be me, Jason Khalipa, Sam Briggs and Julie Foucher. It will be a lot of fun.
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