Spartan legends always outlast the pack. They have a unique combination of wisdom, grit, and resilience. So while others succumb to injury, burnout, or complacency, a Spartan evolves and carries on. Rich Froning is one of those rare breeds.
Just as CrossFit started going mainstream and the CrossFit Games were being deemed the ultimate test of fitness in early 2010s, Froning came onto the scene and completely dominated. And it wasn’t that the other athletes weren’t well-oiled and insanely fit themselves. Froning just seemed to always be on another level. He was simply unbeatable in nearly every (if not every) event.
The stats and history speak for themselves, as he was crowned Fittest Man on Earth four times in a row (2011-2014), and then won five team competitions (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2021) with CrossFit Mayhem.
Competitive accolades aside, what’s most remarkable about Froning’s career is that even after retiring from individual competition in 2014 (and hinting at retiring from team competition after the 2022 Games), he continues to perform at such an extremely high level. After more than a decade of extreme training, sacrifice, competition, and even helping raise a family, Froning is still one of the fittest men on earth. If you want to try and replicate the the training of a legend, check out Froning’s online training program, Mayhem Athlete. There’s even a programming option for mere mortals, including those just getting off the couch.
In an exclusive interview with spartan.com, we learned his secrets to still going hard, deep into his athletic career.
Froning credits his ability to maintain his athletic superpowers with embracing a smarter approach to training and recovery.
“I would say the volume is pretty close to what it used to be — if not the same or more — it’s just a lot smarter,” he says. “We’ve learned a lot over the years about what the body can do, and I’m taking care of myself a whole lot more.”
For the elite athlete, taking care of himself looks like this.
More “Working Out” and Less “Training”
One way that he’s been able to keep himself healthy to continuously perform has been by infusing more fun into his workouts, instead of work.
“It used to be that as soon as the CrossFit Games were over, it was back to the grind,” he says. “I look at working out differently than I do training; working out is a little bit more fun and a little less stressful, and then training is work.”
So now, for certain blocks of time out of the year, Froning isn’t putting himself through the vigorous training days of the past.
During Froning’s peak competition days, nothing could stop him from going as hard as he possibly could. In an event, that meant doing whatever was necessary to win. In training, he was pushing to new limits to stay steps ahead of his rivals. These days, he knows that a tweak or twinge is a warning sign that he needs to listen to in order to avoid an injury.
“When something doesn’t feel good body-wise, I’m not going to just kind of push through that in training, whereas I used to just grind myself into the ground no matter what was going on,” he says.
Cold plunges have been a staple of Froning’s recovery the past few years. Before getting his hands on an actual PLUNGE, he had a generic freezer from Lowes along with an aquarium thermostat. In the winter months, Froning braves the weather and uses his Plunge twice per week. But in the warmer months, he’s in it significantly more.
“I do 10 minutes, usually at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, every day when we finish training,” he says. “I started out at 32 degrees for shorter durations, but after reading some of the science behind it, 50 degrees is what I settled on.”
Froning’s programming has evolved along with CrossFit’s.
“Our training back then was more event-style or pure CrossFit metcon,” he says. “Now what you’ll see is a lot less work ‘for time’ and more intervals with set-rest periods baked in.”
For example, a couple of years ago, a workout with Froning would have been five rounds for time of 50 heavy double-unders, a 50-foot handstand walk, and 10 dumbbell snatches. Now, he’ll do 10 sets of 50 heavy double-unders, a 50-foot handstand walk, and 10 dumbbell snatches, but with one minute of rest in between each set.
“This way, you can get the intensity and you get a little bit more volume, but you can rest and recover a bit in between,” he says.
When Froning first started competing in CrossFit, it was running, rowing, or a bunch of gymnastics or barbell work for cardio, he says. These days, he’s mixing in a lot more lower-impact options.
“I use things like the AssaultRunner a lot because it’s a lot easier on the knees,” he says.
In addition to the rower and the AssaultRunner, he’ll use the ski erg, bike erg, and has even been doing a lot of swimming lately.
“Those types of things are a lot less rough on the body,” he explains.
Everyone knows that quality sleep is critical for elites (and even your everyday athlete). For a period of time, Froning says getting sleep while being a dad had been challenging, but now that his kids have gotten older, he’s been able to reprioritize getting his eight hours.
“I can tell over the last couple of years — now that the kids are starting to sleep again — that I’m starting to sleep again, and getting consistently seven and a half, or eight hours, if I can, is huge,” he says.
After a couple of years of following intermittent fasting like many other athletes, Froning strayed away from the popular nutritional approach.
“I started adding a bit more Zone 2-type training a couple of days per week, and I couldn’t keep weight on,” he says. “I like to compete or perform at 195 pounds, but I got down to 185 and just felt old.” rich froning
Since abandoning IF, he started adding in a bit more food and calories and has been feeling way better. rich froning
“With IF, I just couldn’t get enough calories, and trying to cram all of my food in between training sessions made me feel too lethargic for the afternoon session, so I bailed on that a little bit,” he explains. rich froning
In addition to all of the things that Froning does on his own, he’ll lean on his team for additional fine-tuning. He’ll have bi-weekly visits with his doctor of osteopathic medicine, as well as his physical therapist and athletic trainer for things like dry needling and deep tissue massages.