If you ran into the Fittest Man on Earth at the supermarket, you could mistake him for the guy who plastered your bathroom, or a maths teacher who also teaches PE.
Ben Smith, 25, just doesn’t look the part: he’s 182 centimetres and 88 kilograms, and has the kind of solid physique you might build doing manual labour. But he’s as legit as they come. Smith earned the title by winning the 2015 CrossFit Games in July.
This guy is the fittest out there?
Yep, and I’m about to witness why. I’m with Smith at the box he owns, CrossFit Krypton. Bro-country star Cole Swindell’s “Let Me See Ya Girl” blares as Smith stands with a 170kg barbell resting on his back.
In an entirely fluid motion, he shifts his hips, bends his knees and drops his butt to his ankles. His torso remains rigid and vertical. Then he shoots back to standing, the reverse movement just as smooth, just as flawless.
He does two more precise reps and returns the 170kg barbell to the rack. He repeats this every minute for 25 minutes. That means Smith just lifted 12.75 tonnes in the time it takes to watch a Modern Family episode. This is an impossible feat for most guys – the poor sucker lifting with him (who has nearly 20kg of muscle on Smith but uses a 140kg bar) is totally wrecked. Smith isn’t sweating or breathing hard.
Now you get it. The fittest indeed.
The 40 men who qualify for the CrossFit Games each year are freaks of fitness. They all squat and deadlift in the 180kg range. They all crush Fran, a workout composed of 45 chin-ups and 45 barbell thrusters, in roughly two and a half minutes – or less. In short, they all push the limits of human potential. Each has a rare combination of mutant genes and savage drive. Otherwise they couldn’t sustain the motivation to train for the Games, which requires grinding through 3-5 workouts a day for months or even years. Smith won on his seventh attempt.
So how, after the CrossFit Games’ 13 brutal workouts, did Smith manage to edge out the other guys? One word: efficiency. It all starts with those perfect reps.
Think of it this way: doing cleaner reps is like using higher-octane petrol in your car. Each rep creates a bit more power and takes a little less out of your tank. Smith says that during the final workouts, he knew he was going to win because he wasn’t as burnt out as the other guys. “We were all exhausted both mentally and physically by the last day of the competition,” he says. “I felt confident going into the final day because I am used to my tough training days.”
Use the four tips that follow to upgrade your efficiency. Then try Smith’s workout. Soon you’ll notice improvement in your mobility and be able to lift more.
1/ Find a Gym You Love
The right gym can play a huge motivational role and also help you work out more consistently – true fitness game-changers. Seek out a place with a fun, empowering atmosphere. Do some homework: explore all your local facilities, and don’t be afraid to travel a bit farther for the right one. Try a CrossFit box, a power-lifting gym or a boot camp. And think about training with a like-minded lifting partner. The bonds you create will push you to make even bigger gains.
2/ Reach for the Sky
Your high school gym teacher’s weightlifting pointers – “arch your back”, “extend your hips” – could actually be hindering your progress. When you focus internally on isolated body parts, you run the risk of overthinking the exercise. Instead, imagine the external environment changing with your movement: you’re pressing the floor away, squeezing the bar into dust and reaching for the sky. This trick often leads to increased performance, according to research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
3/ Expand Your Core Curriculum
If mobility is the yin, then stability is the yang. Indeed, your limbs need a solid base from which to generate power. Add five 10-second sets of isometric planks, side planks and bird dogs to each workout. These exercises strengthen your core, and a strong core is paramount: it can prevent back pain and improve everything from your running speed to your lifting power, say researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Want to make the moves even more powerful? Breathe slowly and deeply during each set, Smith suggests.
4/ Roll the Tightness Away
Everyone is tight somewhere. But if you sit all day in an office, you’re probably tight everywhere. That can sabotage your athletic performance whether you’re competing in the CrossFit Games or playing touch footy. To improve the efficiency of your movements, you need to free up that tension, Starrett says. The solution is simple: as you’re winding down for the evening in front of the TV, pick a muscle group that feels tight – your hips, glutes, shoulders – and then roll it out with a hard ball for 10 minutes.
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