The Hard Work Pays Off/HWPO Book – My Review

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We’ve discussed HWPO training before.

(tldr: it’s hard, but you get results!)

As such, I think it’s time to take a quick break from super intense and grueling training. Instead of putting the “Hard Work Pays Off” philosophy into action, I decided to read about how hard work pays off to the man who personifies the statement more than anyone.

Mat Fraser, in his book HWPO: Hard Work Pays Off.

It’s an intriguing book with a confusing layout and structure. Let’s get to it!

Why I Decided to Read the HWPO Book/the Mat Fraser Book/the Hard Work Pays Off Book

If you’ve been involved in CrossFit for any length of time, you know who Mat Fraser is.

I’d venture to guess that there are a lot of people out there who have never stepped foot into a CrossFit gym who know who Mat Fraser is.

When someone is the greatest of all time (sorry, Froening) they gain a bit of cache. 

As someone who has really started to get into CrossFit in early 2017, Mat Fraser was everywhere, but he wasn’t quite everywhere yet. “Hard Work Pays Off” wasn’t a thing and with only one title under his belt, nobody was really predicting the dynasty that he would create, winning 5 consecutive CrossFit Games individual titles. 

Watching the titles accumulate and the HWPO brand develop, I became curious enough about what makes Fraser “tick” to take him up on his branded programming. I religiously followed HWPO programming for over a year (and will almost certainly start it again after my “sabbatical” in training weightlifting) and made great progress. 

However, I am still uncertain on who the exact audience for this programming is (I go into detail about this question in my review of HWPO programming). This uncertainty made me even more curious about Fraser and his approach to CrossFit, both in regards to how he approached the sport and how he attempts to channel his experience and mindset into others.

What better way to do so than to read his quasi-biography/quasi-training journal in the HWPO book!?

However, as I’ll explain later on, after reading the Mat Fraser book, I’m actually more confused about Fraser. The message(s) he is attempting to convey are quite enigmatic to me…

hard work pays off


Going into my reading of the Hard Work Pays Off book, I was expecting more or less a “traditional” biography format. Fraser would tell his story, highs points and low points, while also providing some sound words of wisdom and some feeling-good closing notes to motivate the reader to put in the “hard work” for their next 1 or 2 workouts.

This format is kinda present, although it is largely intermixed with what could loosely be called “training notes”, “pictures of exercises”, and “recipes”. 

…man are there a lot of recipes sprinkled throughout the Mat Fraser book!

To be honest, I get what Fraser is doing with this format. He is attempting to mix his bio with a training book, giving the reader both a (very) captivating story about the GOAT and practical aspects to help them with their training and lifestyle.

In some cases, this works. Fraser will be discussing some specific event in his life and then go directly into some training insight related to that topic (and then, like, 6 pages of random recipes). This insight is always accompanied by exercise demonstration illustrations and by the HWPO programming-trademarked Rx++++ metcons, workouts, etc. that, realistically, less than ~5% of the CrossFit-practicing population is likely to be able to perform as prescribed.

Unfortunately, this back-and-forth often breaks the flow of the already somewhat-disjointed story (The bio is presented in a mostly linear fashion, but Fraser does jump around discussing childhood events, moving into college, discussing some Games performances, before jumping back in time). Also, if you were more interested in the training/nutrition (recipes) aspects of the book, you’d have to flip back and forth constantly.

Due to the large number of illustrations and pages you just skip (WOD pages, recipe pages) the ~300-page book is a fast read. However, due to the odd format, it is a somewhat frustrating read at times.

HWPO Book/”Program” Objectives

I know this may not be the best title for this section, but it’s difficult to really classify what the objectives of the HWPO book are. 

As someone who has gone through months of Hard Work Pays Off programming and has a pretty good idea of CrossFit training in general, I largely bypassed this information. To be fair, there were a number of insights/hacks that I took notes on that I will probably go back and review, but I would hardly call these tidbits a comprehensive training manual (for one of these, I’d strongly suggest reviewing the free CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide).

Fraser obviously knows this so I can’t imagine this was his objective.

I found the biographic content to be much more interesting. However, if Fraser merely wanted to tell his story, why all of the training/nutrition (recipe) content?

Additionally, at the risk of sounding like someone who isn’t committed to the concept of Hard Work Pays Off, I was also confused about the overall message Fraser is attempting to convey in the HWPO book. In some respects, he seems to be encouraging readers to put in the hard work to be the best. 

No problems with that.

However, he then goes on to discuss training through intense pain that could have seriously crippled him if not for a number of lucky circumstances. He also mentions hiding injuries in order to continue competing and his experience with conditions (Ex. rhabdomyolysis) which have seriously injured other people.

Yeah, if you want to be the best, you probably have to deal with many, if not all of these circumstances. However, how many people does this actually apply to? I mean, he references other CrossFit Games athletes who didn’t hide their injuries (ex. after Pat Vellner fell off the cargo net at the 2018 CrossFit Games) so if those guys aren’t willing to do what it takes to be the best, what casual reader is?

It’s a mystery to me.

Personal Results

I haven’t put any of the the “practical content” from the HWPO book into practice yet, but I can see how much of it does overlap with the HWPO programming/HWPO training (anyone who has done one of the 40-minute EMOMs will know exactly what’s up!) that I’m now all-too-familiar with.

While I can’t imagine anyone would get much significant utility out of the practical content from the HWPO book alone, I can say with confidence that following dedicated HWPO programming does lead to good outcomes.

Hard work pays offfor real, though!

Conclusions/My Take

From my review, it might sound like I’m not a fan of the Mat Fraser book and that I’m just taking shots at him.

This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Fraser’s story is incredibly intriguing and it is refreshing to read his largely unfiltered recounting on what it really takes to be the best. Yeah, Fraser was born with a degree of athleticism (he does come from an Olympic family, after all!) and a seemingly stable and happy family life. However, the simple, yet vivid manner in which he presents his training sessions makes you exhausted just by reading about it!

The dude worked to be the best and his tale doesn’t let up.

The training/nutrition (recipe) content is sort of…blah and probably should have been relegated to its own book or as a dedicated add-on to his Hard Work Pays Off programming/Hard Work I Pays Off training. It would have cut the book by ~120 pages, but from a marketing standpoint, Fraser would have yet another product to sell his fans.

Hell, I’d probably buy it!

As it is, even considering the superfluous material and somewhat disjointed presentation, I thoroughly enjoyed the HWPO book. I think Fred did, too!

Still haven’t read our review of HWPO programming? Read it here…now!

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Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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