THE FITTEST MAN ON EARTH
AN INTERVIEW WITH BEN SMITH
After winning the 2015 CrossFit Games and earning his title as the Fittest Man on Earth, Ben Smith hopes to bring home the gold again this year. In the meantime, Sport’s Illustrated ranked Smith number three on its list of “Fittest 50” male athletes in sports today – with Michael Phelps at number thirty-one and LeBron James at number two. Naturally, we wanted to find out what makes this machine run.
POWER: Congratulations on recently securing your spot as number three on Sports Illustrated’s Fittest 50, right behind LeBron James at number two. With this target on your back, has anything changed for you as far as your training goes, or are you still doing the same old thing?
BEN: Thanks, that was pretty cool, and I wasn’t expecting it. Maybe one day we’ll all get paid the same – that’s what I keep saying.
As far as whether or not it has changed anything – not really. Last year, I won the CrossFit Games and that really helped solidify my confidence, knowing that I’m training the correct way and doing the right thing, but there hasn’t been any more pressure. I feel like I’ve always put more pressure on myself to compete well, and it’s been that way every year since I started, so I don’t think this year is any different.
POWER: Well yeah, if you’re winning then you’re doing it right! Let’s pretend the majority of our readers don’t know who you are. Can you give us a brief synopsis of your CrossFit background?
BEN: I started doing CrossFit in college when I was playing college baseball. My goal in the long run was to be a professional baseball player, and I wanted to be the best at it, so I used CrossFit to train for that – to get stronger, faster, and be more athletic on the field. Then in 2009, I entered a CrossFit competition near me, and I ended up winning the competition, and then I went to the CrossFit Games for the first time. I graduated college and opened a CrossFit gym later that year. I started coaching and training there, and since then, I’ve been doing CrossFit and sticking with it. These days I’m not coaching as much as I would like to – I have a lot of help – but that’s what I do now. I have the gym, and I train.
POWER: What does a typical day in your life look like? A regular, average day.
BEN: A regular, average day – I get up in the morning. I normally have breakfast around 8:30 – 9 a.m. I eat breakfast, answer emails and do stuff around the house. Then my first training session usually starts around 10. I train from 10 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., and then I’ll eat lunch. We head back to the gym and train from about 2 – 3:30 p.m. for our second session of the day. Then I’ll head home again – I’ll get to hang out with my wife for a little bit. I have to cut the grass today, so that’s on my list. Then I’ll eat some more food before my last session that normally starts at about 5 or 5:30 and lasts for an hour and a half.
POWER: So you mentioned your wife, and I know your training partners include your brothers. Overall, what role does your family play in your training and success?
BEN: I got married a little over a year ago, but before that, my family and I all lived together, and they have always been really supportive. My brothers and I were always playing sports growing up – football, basketball, baseball, track – we did everything. Whatever was in season is what we would do. So we really focused on our athletics. We really enjoyed that and that’s what we got along doing. My family has always been really supportive in whatever I’ve wanted to do. When we picked up CrossFit, they loved it. My dad’s dream job since he was younger was to own his own gym, so he absolutely loves it. As far as my brothers go, they grew up doing all of these sports with me, and since they’ve picked up CrossFit, we’ve all been training together. Within maybe the last two years, we’ve really been training together a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun.
POWER: Given that your siblings are athletic too, it sounds like you’ve had the advantage of good genes. Do you agree or disagree?
BEN: I agree, yes, we have good genes, but there’s a lot more to it than just having good genes. We’ve been doing athletics since I can’t even remember. So it’s a little bit of both. Hard work has a lot to do with it, too.
POWER: So since you’ve already won the Games, earned a top-three spot on SI’s Fittest 50, and put together a list of other honorable mentions, what are your goals this year?
BEN: My end goal is to win the CrossFit Games again. I want to be the best CrossFitter and the best athlete that I can possibly be.
My goal when I started doing CrossFit and what attracted me to it was the idea that it made you this super athlete – someone who could be strong but could also do gymnastics, run long distance, swim, go out on a baseball field and be athletic – someone who could do it all. So you’re always doing something new, having fun, and training differently. You also get a lot of hate from different parts of the community because you do so many different things, but you just have to remember to have fun with it, no matter what you’re doing. The idea of being a super athlete was what always attracted me to CrossFit and that was always the goal – just to be the best athlete I could be.
POWER: Back to your brothers… do your brothers share your goals, or how do they differ given that you’re at different stages in the sport?
BEN: My middle brother, Alec, is 23 years old. He was a gymnast up until the age of 14 or 15 when he was in a car accident. He messed up his shoulder and couldn’t do gymnastics anymore. Then, in the last three or four years, he got really into CrossFit. He competed at the Regionals with me, where he placed tenth last year. The Regionals are the qualifier for the CrossFit Games, so his goal is to make the CF games and compete there on that level.
My younger brother is 19 – this is only his first year doing CrossFit – and he also competed at Regionals. I think he just wanted to do his best at Regionals this year and make it to that level, but it takes a little bit of time to master the sport. He’ll be there every year so it’ll be good, and he’ll work his way up. I think he also wants to make the CrossFit Games, but I can’t speak for him.
POWER: If you could define the CrossFit lifestyle, what would it be?
BEN: I think the CrossFit lifestyle is really just hard work and perseverance. Those are the two things that this sport teaches really well. It also teaches you about the importance of community. If you work out at a CrossFit gym, the community is huge, and that’s a big part of it. You’re around people that all have goals that are similar to yours, and you help each other by pushing each other through challenges. Hard work and perseverance are key components because every day the workouts are really challenging, and they’re going to push you to your limits both mentally and physically. Just being able to get through that every day makes everyday life a little bit easier, or just feel a little bit easier anyway.
POWER: Given that nutrition is a factor in any lifestyle, how important is your diet, and what does it look like?
BEN: I think diet is one of the most important parts of the whole thing and it is the biggest key to success no matter what your goals are. It’s also something that’s very overlooked. As for my diet, I don’t have a super strict diet just because I’m training all day, and I can really eat whatever I want. Not to say that I do eat whatever I want. Maybe two to three days a week I’ll have a cheat meal like pizza or a burrito, and everything else is really just clean food. I try to get protein, carbs, and fat in every meal and eat real foods. I don’t follow anything super strict, just a balanced diet.
POWER: The CrossFit Games are coming up here pretty quickly. How does your training change as you get closer to a competition?
BEN: So I train all year round, and I don’t stop. I train every single day. Leading up to a competition, it is just the intensity that picks up. You have to train for that intensity and how tough the games and the events at all the competitions will be, so you have to push the pace a little bit harder.
POWER: So are you creating your own workouts, or are you using someone else’s program. How does that work?
BEN: Most other athletes have coaches and people who help them. I have done everything by myself since I started. I do all of my own programming. I program for the gym, and we all workout together in a group every day. We bounce ideas off of each other, but I’ve done all of my own programming. It seems to have worked thus
“HARD WORK AND PERSEVERANCE ARE KEY COMPONENTS BECAUSE EVERY DAY THE WORKOUTS ARE REALLY CHALLENGING, AND THEY’RE GOING TO PUSH YOU TO YOUR LIMITS BOTH MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY”
far so I’m not going to change anything that works.
POWER: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
BEN: In my CrossFit career, it’s definitely been sticking through the last seven years and finally, on my seventh try, winning the CrossFit games.
POWER: If you had to pick one, what would be the most memorable moment in your CrossFit career thus far?
BEN: Oh, that’s hard. So I finished third place twice at the games, and then I finished first one year. All of them felt really good because I think they were each really big accomplishments in my opinion. The first one felt really good because it gave me the confidence to know that I’m doing something right – that I should be there and that I can win it. So that first third place finish really meant a lot.
POWER: What would your ultimate achievement be? For example, if you were to do “x” you could retire happy.
BEN: I don’t think that I’ll ever have that because if you do have that then you’ve lost your edge. You always have to want a little bit more. You always have to be striving for something more. You always have to have a goal and want to be better. So I don’t know that I’ll ever have the “Alright, I’m good, I’m done”feeling. I’ll always be competitive, and I will always want to try to compete.
I think the day I stop competing will be the day I just don’t want it anymore – when I mentally just don’t want to do it anymore, and I want to move on and do something else, something different.
POWER: Yeah, you can go be the best at something else!
BEN: Exactly. It doesn’t go away, it just changes.
POWER: Do you have any inspirations or mentors, and who are they?
BEN: My biggest inspiration has got to be my dad. All it takes is a parent telling their kid that they can be the best at whatever they do, and that’s more motivating and inspiring than you could ever think possible. It may seem silly as a parent, but your kid believes it, and they know they’ve got to work hard for it – it’s been very motivating. My mom and dad have raised us all really well and told us that we could be anything if we work hard enough for it, and I truly do believe that. My wife is also so supportive of me in everything that I do, and she’s always there for me in the ups and downs. Same with the rest of my family and all my friends at the gym. It’s like a big community, and it is that community support that keeps me going and makes it fun and enjoyable every day.
POWER: What does your recovery regimen look like, or do you have one?
BEN: The only time I’m not training is when I’m sleeping. Sleep is huge. I normally sleep eight to ten hours every night.
POWER: A big thanks from all of us at POWER Magazine for your time, and we look forward to watching your success at the Games. I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it. Thanks again. PM