The crossover between weightlifting and CrossFit is talked about quite a bit, but the discussion usually focuses on one direction of that switch. So many CrossFitters have made the switch over to full-time weightlifting so it’s easy to forget about those who have made the switch the other direction. That is, with the exception of Mathew Fraser. Many people know that he has a history in weightlifting, but I thought I’d dig a little bit into his own thoughts on the transition, his development since the transition, and how he trains now. Runner-up in the 2014 CrossFit Games, here is a little bit about his roots in the iron game and more from the man himself – Mathew Fraser.
Colin Burns: How long were you strictly training for weightlifting before CrossFit, and can you tell us about that experience?
Mat Fraser: Before starting CrossFit, I trained for weightlifting for 10 years. I started when I was about 12 years old. During my weightlifting career, I was ‘03, ‘05, and ‘07 school-age champ, ‘09 Jr. National champ, and ‘09 Jr. World Team member. In 2009, I broke my L5 vertebrea in two spots and had to receive surgery to fix it. I was a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from ‘08-09 and resident athlete at the Olympic Education Center from ‘10-11.
CB: What inspired you to transition from one sport to the other?
MF: I started CrossFit by accident. I had retired from weightlifting, and didnt step foot in a gym for 4 months. During this time, I lost about 25 pounds and got fat, all at the same time. I decided I wanted to start weightlifting again casually just to get in shape, so I looked up a CrossFit nearby just to see if I could use their bumpers and bar. I started going in more and more often to lift, and every once in a while, the members would convince me to do one of their workouts. After a while, I saw my potential in the sport and started training for it exclusively.
CB: How has your training, primarily in the classic lifts, changed from strictly weightlifting to now having to incorporate so many other movements?
MF: For the most part, I do not train my lifts at all anymore. I saw that my lifts were decent in the CrossFit world, and they would place me high enough in competition without ever training them, so my time would be better spent working on other movements. Occasionally, I will max out my lifts, just to have a rough idea of where they are at.
CB: I know you have had an all-time PR snatch since switching to CrossFit. Have you had any other major improvements in the lifts or strength movements? What do you think the major factors were that contributed to this?
MF: I have also hit a lifetime clean and jerk PR of 375 pounds (I know it’s illegal to talk in pounds). I attribute it to just being a couple of years older from when I was a lifter, and also I have just developed other muscles that I never did while i was lifting. From CrossFit, I have much stronger hamstrings, back, and upper body. so i think it is those things that allowed me to put more weight on the bar.
CB: After learning from your current training, what would you use or change about your weightlifting training if you were to go back?
MF: If I were to go back to weightlifting, I would train a lot more strength work. I think a lot of lifters already do that, but I never really did. For example, my best press was 70 kg, but my jerk was 190 kg. I always believed that if technique was good, there wasn’t much of a need for upper body strength, but I’ve noticed quite a difference.
CB: What has been the toughest part of making the switch, and what has been the easiest?
MF: The toughest part of making the switch was the cardio. I still feel terrible every time I have to breath heavy. I was so used to doing one lift, and then sitting down for a couple of minutes. But now in CrossFit, you don’t get to sit down….ever. The easiest part was learning how to use my hips in all the other movements. In lifting, all the power comes from legs and hips, so because I knew how to do that well, that translated over well to everything like kettlebell swings, pull ups, muscle ups, etc.
CB: If you could, would you outline your general training for an average week? Specifically, how often do you train the classic lifts and what kind of volume in a week?
MF: In a typical week, I don’t train the lifts other than light snatches/clean and jerks in a metcon. I train once a day, usually for two hours (give or take), about five days a week. i usually just focus on whatever will make me breath heavy.
CB: Do you follow any specific dietary outline, and is it different than what you were doing as a weightlifter? If so, why is it different?
MF: I am sponsored by a company called Paleo Power Meals, so they send me all my food and I’ll primarily stick to that (lots of meat and vegetables). It is a lot different from what I ate as a lifter, mainly because when I was lifting, I always was conscious of staying in my weight class so I always watched my portions. Now, in CrossFit, there are no weight classes, so I can eat as much as I want all the time.
CB: How do you see the interaction between weightlifting and CrossFit panning out in the future? Do you think there will be many highly successful converts one way or the other?
MF: I think the crossover between the two will do nothing but benefit both sides. I think there will be quite a few successful athletes that will make the crossover, going either way. I think the new awareness brought to weightlifting will begin to attract more people that have a passion for it and will increase the talent pool.