Team Talk: Mat Fraser Is Still Happily Retired

mat fraser coaching retirement
Why Hard Retirement Is Paying Off For Mat FraserHearst Owned

The five-time consecutive champion and the fittest man to ever do a bit of CrossFit hung up his competitive Metcons two years ago. But it’s not like he's had the slippers on ever since. With his dominant HWPO training programme now growing faster than ever on its own native platform, powered by Fitr Training, we spoke to the GOATiest GOAT about the coaching the new wave of champions, how running a business compares to training for a living and who he’s watching for the rest of the 2023 season.

Men’s Health: Last time we spoke, you had just announced your retirement. I think I know the answer to this, but how has that retirement been going?

Mat Fraser: Ha! Yes. I mean, things couldn't be better. But I've had to rephrase. For a while, I got a kick out of people asking me what I was up to and being able to say, ‘Oh, I’m retired.’ But I've quickly realised that I'm not retired. I retired from competing but I'm working and busier now more than ever. There’s just not enough hours in the day.

Was it easier when you were competing, then?

Life was simpler when I was competing because I woke up and I knew the job at hand, you know? I had to train to be the best competitor possible. That was the sole priority, and I didn't do anything else. I was very, very lucky to have the support group around me that allowed me to live that incredibly selfish lifestyle. But now there's a few more things going on. My performance isn’t important. I'm concerned about being a service to other people, being a better partner to Sammy. Things that before were just a non-issue. Now I want to be better for the people around me.

You said back then that your first project was to get the HWPO Training plans up and running. Have you been surprised by the success?

Incredibly, yes. When I got into it, it was more just something to do. I almost looked at it as a waste of my experience, from weightlifting into my CrossFit career not to share some of the stuff I had learned. If another competitor could take on one out of the 100 things I say and it helps them, great! But I didn't really have any crazy expectations. During the pre-sale when we were about to launch, I saw the numbers of how many people were signing up and I went, “Oh shit. Yeah. This is bigger than I was anticipating.”

You’ve become a mentor for the new wave of super-elite athletes. Was it a conscious decision to start coaching?

No, that wasn't intention at all. I swore up and down through my whole career that I wouldn't get involved in it. My first experience with it was after the 2020 games. I had spent a little bit of time with Justin (Medeiros), who is now the CrossFit Games champion. After the awards ceremony, I just gave him my phone number and told him to give me a call on anything, training based, out of the gym, or if he wanted to me look at a contract or to chat about certain sponsors. I said I was an open book and to use me as a resource. I have had some phenomenal experiences. I've had some shit ones, too. So any questions, just go for it. And never heard from them.

I think [Mat] O'Keefe was talking to me about Justin one time. And I said ’Oh, that's good to hear. I’m glad he's doing well. But I gave him my phone number and I've never heard from him.’ So, you know, O’Keefe asked him and Justin was like ‘Yeah, you know, that was him just being polite. He doesn't actually want me to call him.’ O’Keefe said for him to just call me. That’s where that relationship kind of started. He wanted to come up and train a little bit before the games. I said absolutely and that I’d come up with a plan for five days and that I’d give him my notes of things that I think you do well, things that you can improve on and everything in between. So, he and his coach, Adam, came out for a couple days and we had an amazing time. But I had no intentions of coaching him or coaching anyone else.

Then somehow or another I met Jayson Hopper, too, and he was, well, he was fairly persistent. He wasn't taking no for an answer about me coaching him. And then Mal O’Brien came into the picture and now I coach Mal and Jake Marconi every single day. It is so much fun. You know, the pretty big highlight of my day is three hours, or most days a lot more just in the gym. No phone, no emails. My sole task is to give them the best value that I can.

Do your work on mindset a lot with your athletes?

I think more indirectly. When people try to have those mindset talks, if it's a forced situation or just the atmosphere isn't right, I always found it lost all of its value, even if the information was great. But if the conversation is kind of going that way and there's a good opportunity to bring something in, then absolutely. I spend a lot of time with Mal coaching her, so you know, if something comes up we’ll have a sit down and break it down. Nothing crazy but if those moments come up, I try to dive in on that because it can be so valuable, especially if it’s falling on the right ears.

Was it the plan for Mal to try and win the CrossFit Open this year?

We had talked about it. We had talked about her goals for this season, as well as long term through her career. The Open had very, very little priority, other than to make sure that we're finishing in the top 10% so that she could move on to the next stage. We did all the Open workout on Saturdays after a full day of training on Friday, a pretty normal day of training Saturday, doing the Open Workout and then right into the remainder of training.

She's just incredibly gifted and the hardest working person. She's a phenomenal athlete. All of her Open workouts are ‘one and done’. Even when she finished and knew she made mistakes, knew she could go faster, she was fine with it and knew it wasn’t important right now. I’m really excited for the next stage where she gets to really show off the things she's been working on.

Who have you brought in to focus on those things?

If something comes up that I'm not familiar with, or I don't know, I'm the first one to admit it. My number one goal is to assist these athletes, I take my ego out of it and if we need to work on something that I'm not familiar with, we’ll go and find her the expert. A perfect example is swimming. Mal is a great swimmer and swam in high school, so when I get in the pool with her I don’t know how to contribute to making her better. She’s already better than I ever was. My knowledge base was tapped out. So, I was fortunate enough to link up with Ryan Lochte, who has a dozen Olympic medals. He knows what he’s talking about.

We got him up to Vermont, he got in the pool with Mel and gave her some coaching tips, but I took advantage, too. I was asking him what cues to give her, what to look for. He was coaching me into being a better coach, so that once he’s gone, we can keep her improving. Just last week, we wanted to get Mal familiar with strongman implements and while I knew the basics, I wanted to find someone who is the best in the world to help her. So, we brought Rob Kearney up here and he’s one of the best strongmen in the world.

Who from the competitive field is your pick to do well this year?

I have a couple of dogs in the fight and, obviously I'm always rooting for my guys. I think Mal is going to have an absolutely outstanding season. Jake Marconi always cruses the Open and I think Justin Medeiros is just getting into his stride when it comes to his competitive career. He was already the best the last two years and he's only getting better.

How have you found moving HWPO to your new platform with Fitr?

We're still very early on the short window it's been live but it’s been great. There's no middleman anymore. The number of times we couldn’t make a change because it was too time intensive, too labour intensive. The team that we’re with now, when we explain what we’re after they just say it’s easy and it will take a little time. But they’re 100% happy to do it. They’re a team that reflects the same values as us and always want just the best for the customer.

Finally, what’s been the most satisfying part of having HWPO?

Going to competitions and getting to meet people. Every competition we go to, we jut run a community workout. HWPO customers get first dibs and then we open it up to anyone else for these classes of 40 or so. We've been lucky enough to be able to do them on the competition floor most of the time, so it's a really cool experience for the people showing up. I get to talk to people, and hear about their progress, whether it's a weight-loss journey or hitting PRs, qualifying for a higher stage of competition than they did the year before. That stuff is incredibly rewarding.

It the same with Mal winning the Open last year, or just watching her hit PRs constantly. I don't get anything out of that directly but just watching and knowing I'm able to help somebody else get a bit closer to achieving their dream. It is incredibly rewarding. I'm floating on cloud nine anytime I do a booth appearance and I have an opportunity to spend five minutes with somebody to hear about their fitness journey. The idea that, if in any way, I was able to contribute or help them on journey? Well, that makes me feel pretty damn good.

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