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Work Smarter, Not Harder – 2016 World Masters Crossfit Champion Ron Mathews

Turned 40 and decided that crossfit is your next step?  You may find yourself in good company.  Four-time CrossFit Games masters athlete, and winner of the 2016 World Crossfit Games in the Masters 45-49 Division, Ron Mathews didn’t start CrossFit until he was 41 years old.  He is now listed among the top 100 trainers in the United States.

We catch up with Mathews at Reebok CrossFit Lab in Los Angeles, California, which he owns and operates.  He is imposing – at 47 years of age, Mathews weighs 240Lbs (109kg), is 6’3” and ranks 19th worldwide in crossfit overall, let alone in the Masters division.  It is easy to where the 585lb deadlift comes from.

We begin by asking him what keeps his motivation high, and to keep improving.  He pauses and considers the question carefully. “I have to say that I am very goal oriented”, he says.  “It is hard for me to work out just to look good or feel good.  These are perfectly good goals to have and they motivate many people. For me, I like to have a day on which I need to be peaking.  I was an athlete through High School and College.  For 20 years I was a fitness model so I needed to be ready to shoot on a certain day.  In my late 30’s and into my early 40’s I started playing full contact semi-pro football and so all of my training went into getting my body to be able to take the punishment.  Then I found Crossfit, and it has a lot of what appeals to me, competition, mini and macro goals, tracking your progress and the combination of strength and technique, not to mention a world wide competition to find the best each year.  Crossfit has really helped to keep me motivated”.

Mathews has had 5 Crossfit Games appearances since taking up crossfit. With his frame and work ethic, he couldn’t be described as a typical 40 year old guy taking it up for the first time and he has clearly thought about how to optimise his output given his age and body composition. He agrees. “I am an unique crossfit athlete.  I’m tall and heavy, both of which are detrimental in Crossfit.  I benched for 25 years before I tried to do an overhead squat.  Any guesses on how that went?  High volume bodyweight or gymnastic movements, which are really the backbone of Crossfit Open programming, are a nightmare due to my length and my weight.  My mobility is much improved over time but its still not amazing.  I just have to look at each workout and see where I have to be smart and break up my reps and where I can pin my ears back and open the throttle”.

We ask whether this has always been the case.  He shakes his head.  “If I could go back in time, I’d tell the 25 year old version of myself to go get better technique! ” he says. shaking his head.  “I would grind through improper form and compromise my body to put up the weight.  I should have spent more time building my base and perfecting my core technique first and the weight would come.  My shoulders would definitely have preferred that!  What is the rush?  I continue to PR into my late 40’s”.

We ask the role of time and experience in crafting this point of view.  Mathews has combined successful conventional business operations, running an art gallery for example as well as Crossfit Lab,  with a burgeoning celebrity training business with clients including Hugh Jackman, Orlando Bloom and Jennifer Garner, all the while pushing himself to compete and improve. Mental strength must be a huge factor.

He nods “I agree – I’m sure I am not the only one that wished I could have my 45 year old brain in my 25 year old body.  Experience makes up for a lot.  Knowing your body, it’s limits. strength’s, weaknesses and most importantly, the feedback it gives you during a workout, can make an enormous difference.  My mental game in Crossfit is probably my best feature.  I like the puzzle of strategizing around my weaknesses and emphasizing my strengths”.

Mathews is a keen member of the OMS community and with the 2017 Crossfit Games underway in early August, is in final preparation mode.  We ask him whether age plays a factor in preparation and competing, and how he adjusts  his approach.   “The reality is that as I get older, I have to be even more savvy.  Pushing too hard too soon often causes me to fatigue and slow down”  Does technique play a role, we ask?. “Absolutely – I spent some time working out with 2 time Crossfit Champion Annie Thorisdottir, and saw how much time she spends on perfecting her technique,  Every millimeter out of line increases the metabolic demands during an exercise.  I have taken these lessons to heart and try to work smarter instead of just harder”.

Work smarter indeed.  We look forward to catching Ron Mathew’s performance at the upcoming Crossfit Games.  Old man strength at work.  Grab your gear, whether shirts, tanks or accessories and represent the OMS community here.