This summer, Justin Medeiros joined an exclusive fraternity of athletes who have won back-to-back titles at the NOBULL CrossFit Games. Forty elite athletes journeyed to Wisconsin to perform superhuman feats of strength inside and around the Alliant Energy Center, but after all the rogue weights had been thrown, carried and pushed, nobody was able to dethrone the young king.
Medeiros dominated on his way to once again earning the CrossFit title of “Fittest Man on Earth.” But while he is a physical specimen with few equals in the history of the nascent sport, his success wasn’t earned without careful planning and constant sacrifice. Below, Medeiros shares how he accomplished his quest to repeat as champion — and starts from the beginning. His story appears as told to InsideHook correspondent Charles Thorp, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Before I was a competitor I volunteered at the CrossFit Games in 2015, just because I thought they were so cool. That was also the first year that they had the 2015 Teenage CrossFit Games, and I hadn’t bothered to enter because I didn’t think there would be any chance of me stacking up. I was focused on wrestling at the time. I still went to watch the events, though, and that’s where I first had the idea that I’d be able to compete.
I decided to make a real run at CrossFit after college. A mutual friend put me in touch with my now coach, Adam Neiffer. The two of us decided to fully commit to a few years of truly working towards winning the Games. One of the rules he had was that we weren’t going to do virtual training or remote programming, Adam wanted to see me in person at his CrossFit Fort Vancouver gym in Vancouver, Washington.
The season started in March, so in late winter I packed up and drove the six hours to his place, where I stayed until the Games. The first order of business when I arrived at our camp was taking measurements, tuning things up, and seeing where I stood after the break. The first event of every season is the CrossFit Open and I always try to have as much fun during it as possible. (Of course, I don’t want to have too much fun and mess it up, because if I do then the season’s over before it began.)
Because the CrossFit Games are my main focus, that’s when I want to be hitting my physical peak. We gradually increased the intensity of the workouts as the event got closer. During the Open, when the season was just gearing up, I was doing two training sessions — both 90 minutes to two hours long. But by the time the Games arrived, I was up to two three-hour sessions, plus a long run, bike, or swim at the end of the day. I went from training three hours a day to seven or eight.
The week before the Games my plan was to prepare my body for the task at hand and preserve all the gains we’d made with the workouts. I started to ramp down the training sessions, to a point where I was only hitting the gym for two hours or so. The last three days I wasn’t even touching the weights; at the very most i was hitting a light jog and doing some stretching. By then, the hay should be in the barn.
The games are in Wisconsin, and the hotel that I typically stay at is across the parking lot from the stadium, which is really convenient. I tend to get there a week before the competition starts, so that I can get properly acclimated and make sure my routine is intact. Because sleep and recovery are such a huge part of how I’m going to perform, I do everything to make the hotel room feel like home.
I sleep on an Eight Sleep mattress while I’m training, because I’m a hot sleeper and it helps get me into that relaxed state I need. I used to crank the hotel thermostat all the way down to 60 degrees, but it never felt cold enough. During the training camp I used the app to see what factors were contributing negatively or positively to my rest, and throughout those six months made some adjustments.
I had a mattress sent to the hotel ahead of arriving there and set it up that first night. I used it to cool me down at the end of the day and made it a point not to look at any of the sleep and recovery data, because the last thing I want is to get too much in my head about whether or not I’ m at my full capacity. At this point, we’d made all of the changes I needed to get the most out of my abilities.
CrossFit has gear bags for all of the athletes arriving, so I picked that up immediately. NOBULL is the sponsor these days, which was great for me because I’ve worked with them for a few years and it’s what I wear year-round during training, from threads to shoes. I think it’s cool that they let the athletes wear whatever footwear they want, because past sponsors weren’t so flexible with that. To me, their shoes are perfect, so I felt good to go from head to toe.
This year it I competed Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a rest day on Thursday. I took full advantage of those 24 hours to recover in a way that I don’t think most of my fellow athletes did. Since you’re competing at such a high level for several days in a row, and doing something like 15 different Herculean challenges, you need to be able to perform at the end as well as you did the beginning. I may not have been the fittest person on the first day, but as the competition went on I was able to separate myself from the pack.
I ate a heavy breakfast in my hotel room each day, too: I started with four eggs, two pieces of bacon, a bagel with jelly, plus two packs of oatmeal with brown sugar. Back at home I get through it all pretty quickly, but when you’re running out the door to get to the briefing it’s a lot of eating on the move. The daily goal was to make sure I was over that 3,000 calories and 500 grams of carbs mark.
Every competition day starts with a briefing around six in the morning where we learn what the challenges are for the first time. I try to envision every single outcome of every single event before I get out there — whether that’s me taking away the victory or my shoes becoming untied in the middle of competition. That way, no matter what happens, I’m not surprised at the result. I’m fighting for victory, but I’m ready for every possible result.
There are three or four events that you do each day. From the outside looking in, the high-skill events look the most difficult; during the last games we had the leg-less pegboard ascent, which went into the jumprope, which went into L-sit to handstand, which had us walking across parallel bands while in a handstand with a sprint to finish. From the athlete’s perspective, though, you can either do these event or you can’t. It’s high-level gymnastics. It’s not like some of the other events which take you to the brink of your physical ability and leave you completely gassed after.
This year, that event was a max-load sandbag carry, where we had to lift every sandbag — all the way up the weight class. The sandbags started at 250 pounds and went up to 340 pounds. For the athletes, this was an event that we had never seen before, which added a whole other level to the challenge. We were all trying to figure it out on the fly. As early as lifting the 300-pound sandbag, every time I picked one up it felt like a max lift. Doing that back-to-back-to-back was absolutely crushing.
The sandbags were also completely different than the feeling of a max lift squat, where you have a rack that you’re dropping it back on. For this you had to figure out how to get it off the ground and back on the ground without hurting yourself. I went back to watch the event and it was taking somewhere between 30 and 40 seconds to get the bag up, which is an eternity when you’re talking about that kind of weight.
There was another event called “The Capitol,” which started with 20 pig flips, where we had to flip over this rectangle box that weighs 500 or 600 pounds. From there we had to do a three-mile run to the capitol of Wisconsin (where we did 200-pound farmer carried for 200 meters), then finished with a 200-pound husafell bag carry up some stairs to the finish. The time-cap that we had was an hour, and it took me a little over 30 minutes. That was a crusher because you’re pushing yourself so hard for that whole time.
I don’t know how to describe the feeling and the sound that is coming from the crowd during an event like that, whether you’re inside or outside. The adrenaline is pumping until the very end, and you aren’t feeling a thing. The CrossFit has a great community that really supports one another and you really get to sense it during those long grueling challenges where you’re pushing until the end.
The stadium in Wisconsin gets crazy hot, especially with everyone in the facility doing so much output. On each side of the competition floor there are cold plunges and the first thing I do is hop into one of those for three to five minutes if possible. It’s super refreshing and also helps lactic acid out. These aren’t traditional “workouts” either, so warming up and stretching after every single one is necessary. If there’s a few hours between events I’ll run back to the hotel and try to snag a quick nap. That rest is so underrated.
On top of drinking Podium protein shakes after every workout, I carry a Yeti backpack with me that’s filled with food. Probably enough to feed me for ten days. When you’re competing at the games, with all of those adrenaline pumps, it’s not easy to have an appetite. But since you need as many calories as possible it’s important to have any possible craving covered. I’m packing every thing I can think of: fruit snacks, baby food, meat and rice dishes, sweet potatoes, Smucker’s Uncrustables.
End of the day, I’m jumping into the cold plunge for five to seven more minutes. The events can go late, and sometimes don’t wrap up until 10 in the evening, which means the recovery clock is counting down fast. I’d run to the hotel to eat dinner — usually chicken parm and lasagna with noodles from this Italian restaurant by the Games. I don’t even know what it’s called. My mom is always the one who gets it for me.
My coaches Adam and Jesse are great about helping me get through my end of day routine as efficiently as possible. I’ll sauna, plunge, stretch, take some cbdMD oil, then throw on the NormaTec boots for 40 minutes. They do a great job of getting the blood flowing. (Basically simulating the benefits of foam rolling does without taking any mental energy from me.) I can have them on while I process and decompress from the day.
I always end my night with a bowl of cereal. Back when I was wrestling in high school I was never able to indulge like that because I was always worried about making weight. Now that I’m doing CrossFit it’s not as big of a concern. Sure, I need to do weight management; but I can be a lot more free with eating choices. In the end, I’m trying to get as many carbs as possible, and because I love cereal it’s that extra dose at the end of the day. By the time I’m done with my bowl the Eight Sleep is nice and cool, so I can try to get as many hours of rest as possible.
I try not to ride the highs and the lows too much. I like to keep it as even-keeled as possible. Whether it’s a good or a bad event I don’t give myself more than five to ten minutes to process it and move on. It doesn’t matter how much I try though, when you get a win there is such a rush that comes with that. I was fortunate to be up on the podium this year and that felt amazing. I love CrossFit and the chance to challenge my body in new and interesting ways. If you have never been to or watched the CrossFit Games, you really should. There’s nothing else like it.
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