Mat Fraser lifts like a girl

Discus thrower, sprinter, wrestler, caber tosser, rope climber, bodybuilder, and weightlifter, Launceston Elliot was clearly never a specialist
– Ian Buchanan1

Mat Fraser is the Fittest Man on Earth. Right?
(Image credit: By Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States – 181222-D-PB383-022, Public Domain,

Some very athletic women and men are set to compete at the 2019 CrossFit games in a multi-day, multi-event, international fitness competition. The most fittest of all will lay claim to the enviable title of Fittest on Earth,2 as Mat Fraser has for the last three years on the men’s side. Lest you believe that the CrossFit games have original authority on the crowning of fittest, we have a story for you about Launceston Elliot and the inaugural modern Olympic games. But first, we’ve got to address that provocative title.3

Seriously bruh, what’s with the title? CrossFit’s special sauce blends – among other ingredients – gymnastics, calisthenics, girevoy sport, dogmatism4 and Olympic weightlifting. That last bit got us wondering, where do elite CrossFit athletes fit into the landscape of top Olympic weightlifters that we detailed in previous articles on size and strength in weightlifting? Using that same framework here, we plot the Olympic total (clean & jerk + snatch) versus body weight of the lifter. Current world records (gray symbols) are plotted along with the lifting totals of the top 10 men (red circles) and women (green diamonds) from the 2018 CrossFit games.5 How does the CrossFit crew stack up? Take a look:

Where do elite CrossFit athletes fit in the landscape of competitive Olympic weightlifting? Lifting totals for the top 10 men (red circles) and women (green diamonds) from the 2018 CrossFit games are plotted, along with top performers in the CrossFit Liftoff competition of 2017.

Appreciably smaller totals than the world record holders, no? However, given our article describing how strength scales with muscle mass, this result is not surprising. CrossFit athletes perform in disciplines requiring a variety of muscle groups and cannot dedicate all muscle mass specifically to Olympic weightlifting. In fact, this effect was crystallized in the 2017 CrossFit liftoff competition, which consisted of three events: (1) max clean & jerk, (2) max snatch, and (3) a cardio intensive workout. Certain athletes, like Evagelia Veli 6 on the women’s side and Serafim Veli (no relation) on the men’s, lifted big weight, but floundered in the workout. The winners, meanwhile, basically were just really good CrossFitters (Cameron Pernich and Kelsey Kiel).

Ok, zoom back out for a sec and look who’s right in the middle of the plot. That’d be Fittest Man on Earth Mat Fraser – EXACTLY on the Sinclair curve for our greatest FEMALE lifter of all time, Yang Lian.7 We just think that’s neat. A more elegant way to visualize all these lifters is to compare their Sinclair totals. Recall that the Sinclair total estimates the weight that any athlete would lift if they had body mass equal to that of a large super heavyweight. Here’s a comparison of the Sinclair totals for all the athletes on the above figure:

This graphic makes it strikingly clear that world class female Olympic lifters are the equal of elite male CrossFit athletes when it comes to lifting. By the way, defending Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey is an elite weightlifter, as her Sinclair total would suggest, having competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 58 kg category. Nonetheless, both Fraser and Toomey are elite lifters within the CrossFit ranks. But these athletes have to be jacks of all trades, liiiiiiiiiiiiikeeeeeee…

Launceston Elliot: the original CrossFitter. Weightlifting in the early years of the modern Olympics was weird, consisting of the two-handed lift and the one-handed lift, and basically devoid of rules. The upbringing of Launceston Elliot, Great Britain’s first Olympic champion, was also weird. At a young age, he was taken under the wing of Eugen Sandow, widely credited as the inventor of bodybuilding. Elliot apparently excelled at lifting heavy shit and when 1896 rolled around he came good at the Olympics, winning gold in the one-handed lift and tying for first in the two-handed lift (he was actually awarded second because Viggo Jensen looked better while lifting his weight).8 While his estimated Sinclair totals are no longer impressive (see above graphs), Elliot won gold in weightlifting at the first modern Olympics. He also competed in…ready?…the 100 meter dash, wrestling and rope climbing! His results were as follows: ran 13 seconds in the 100m (slow for a high schooler, didn’t advance out of first heat), lost in the first wrestling match, and finished last of 5 athletes in the rope climb. Alright, so he wasn’t that good at CrossFit, but wow, look at that pump.

Lastly, we’ll leave you with this image of the first Olympic weightlifting champion, who turned to the circus to pay his bills. From Ian Buchanan’s essay on Elliot:9 “At the end of the show Elliot gave exhibitions of strength, the favorite of which was to support across his shoulders a metal bar from which, at each end, was suspended a bicycle and rider. With this load Elliot would start revolving, slowly at first, but finally at such speed that the ‘riders’ would be swung into a horizontal position, pedaling furiously for additional effect.” Spectacular.

  1. Buchanan, Ian. “Britain’s First Olympic Champion: Launceston Elliot.”
  2. Excludes members of the wild animal kingdom who have Darwinian gripes about the definition of the word ‘fitness’ deployed here.
  3. It gets the people going!
  4. Full disclosure: the author is a CrossFitter and is largely bought in to its effectiveness…but let’s not pretend there isn’t a healthy dose of orthodoxy in this club.
  5. data sourced from
  6. she took eighth place in the Olympic weightlifting 53-kg weight class at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
  7. Title vindication.
  8. The Brits protested, the judges allowed more attempts, Viggo still looked better…and then hurt his shoulder in the extra attempts. Elliot then beat him in the one-handed lift. Shit show.
  9. Buchanan, Ian. “Britain’s First Olympic Champion: Launceston Elliot.”

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