Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 7 or 8 years, you’re probably pretty familiar with Mat Fraser.
You don’t even need to watch the video; the title is enough.
“Mat Fraser is the Five-Time Fittest Man on Earth”
And, as much as Rich Froning fans don’t want to hear it…it’s true.
(Fraser even wrote a ~300-page book detailing his adventure; you can read my review of the Hard Work Pays Off Book here!)
Fraser retired from the sport after his fifth CrossFit Games and could have easily ridden off into the sunset. He certainly had a lot of endorsements and prize money to last him.
Thankfully, he decided to grace the world with his take on CrossFit training, creating a program, HWPO (“Hard Work Pays Off”) that can be had for as low as $40 a month.
I followed HWPO’s Flagship program pretty closely for roughly 14 months (prior to starting more movement-specific training to shore up…”problem” areas) and feel as though I have a pretty good grasp on what the training is all about. Here is my HWPO programming review (as well as my wife’s recent experience with HWPO 60) and my thoughts on how it may or may not be the program for other CrossFitters.
TLDR: It is an excellent CrossFit training program and is much better value than many “online coaches/gurus” charging exponentially more money…for worse (and lazy) programming.
Table of Contents
The HWPO programming structure is unique (to me at least) in the manner in which each workout is scheduled. Rather than simply dropping you in to wherever a particular program is at the current moment (Ex. Comptrain), there is a definite “Day 1”, “Day 100”, “Day 400” and on. You’ll start with the same workouts everybody else has started with and work through the same cycles whether you jump in early January, April, or October.
(this year, there was a “Open Prep” option added for those looking to prep for the upcoming open, but this was programming split off from the “Flagship” track).
I like this structure and think that it gets all participants “up to speed” with the program’s overall structure as well as those of each workout. Even advanced athletes would likely struggle if they randomly dropped into “Day 273” of the program due to relatively intense nature of the workouts. The first few program weeks do an excellent job of preparing athletes for the rigors to come.
Fraser has programmed a number of cycles and “waves” into the program, most notably those involving squats, Olympic lifts and rowing…yeah…rowing.
You do a lot of rowing the HWPO training program! Mal O’Brien can confirm!
There is obviously a method to this and I can attest that my strength and rowing endurance levels (I still needed a bit of technique work!) have gotten better (and probably better than they would have gotten with other, general programming) with HWPO programming.
There are 5 “normal” training days each week. One day is a full rest day while another day involves much shorter and “lighter” activity (ex. spin bike, light swimming).
Workout Structure – HWPO Flagship vs. HWPO 60
Now that I have experience with multiple HWPO training programs, I will split this section up to discuss each in detail.
Workouts in the Flagship program take on a pretty consistent pattern. A decently intense active warm-up (with movements somewhat mimicking the exercises) starts things off followed by strength pieces. Without fail, squats and front squats are programmed twice a week and deadlifts and bench press each once a week. Olympic lifts are generally performed three days each week with the volume and variety differing depending on the cycle.
The overall volume and rep counts differ greatly here, but you can expect to perform between 10 and 22-25 working sets during this portion. All of the weights for these sets are based off of 1RM percentages.
After the strength piece there is some kind of cardio element, whether in the form of a classic metcon, a dedicated rowing piece, or a dedicated Assault Bike/Echo Bike piece. These generally last between 12 and 20 minutes.
Accessory work and “Bonus work” close out each workout. While the bonus content is not always present, accessory work always is. Interestingly enough, these portions vary greatly in length and intensity. Some days, a few sets of GHD-machine back extensions are programmed. Other times, you might find something like…this…
The length of HWPO training workouts has been discussed at length before and, truth be told, the workouts can go pretty long. I generally keep my rest periods between 2 and 3 minutes during the strength pieces and still end up hitting my self-imposed 1:50 workout “time cap” about 70 percent of the time.
I know others rest less than I do during these pieces, but I don’t rest very long between pieces. As such, I don’t know who can reasonably expect to consistently get through these workouts in less than 1:45. If you’re not particularly “fast”, expect to make some cuts to each workout.
Recently, my wife started the “HWPO 60” program…and is loving it. After bouncing around between HWPO Flagship (we started at the same time, although she switched programs after about 10 months) and Street Parking (and one…less-than-enjoyable day of PRVN) she decided to re-join the HWPO “family”!
Although it has been quite a while since she started HWPO Flagship, via careful notes she kept, she is able to compare the early days of the program to the first week of HWPO. Essentially, the program content are very, very similar.
The main difference? On most days of HWPO 60, either a strength piece or an accessory piece (sometimes multiple accessory pieces) is removed from the HWPO Flagship program. More rarely, the metcon or rowing piece is anywhere between 25 and 33 percent shorter and/or the percentages for strength workouts are slightly lighter.
Other than that, the programs are the same. My wife has never clocked a longer than 70 minutes in an HWPO 60 workout (completing all pieces and accounting for warm-up and clean-up time) yet still feels as though she is getting a complete training experience.
There are definitely intensity waves programmed into the HWPO programming, but everything feels pretty intense to me most of the time. Even the standard 40-minute EMOM (usually scheduled for Saturday or Sunday) generally has one or two elements that up the ante.
That being said, there is always a “heavy” squat day and a “light…ish” squat day each week. During many of the high-intensity metcons, there are built-in break periods to force you to take your foot off of the gas for a bit.
These forced breaks, while giving you a brief respite from the WOD’s rigors, actually work to increase the overall intensity. In contrast to a 20-minute AMRAP that you might “get lost” in the middle of, 4, 2-minute AMRAPs with 1-minute rest periods between them forces you to really give it your all in each work window.
HWPO programming assumes you have access to a good amount of equipment to include barbells, bumpers, dumbbells, kettlebells, GHD, rower, fan bike, ski erg, spin bike, weighted vest, bench, pull-up rig, rings, rope, sandbag…probably some other stuff, too, but you get the point.
You can modify a lot of the movements (and if you listen to Fraser’s detailed, 10-15-minute explanations before each workout, he’ll mention these modifications from time to time), but I think you really need most of this stuff to get the most benefit from the workouts and program.
I don’t have a ski erg or a spin bike (although I do have a dinky, cheap upright bike) so would generally sub some other type of cardio machine out for these items. The ski erg hasn’t become that popular (yet) so I don’t feel like I’ve missed out too much on something vital.
Remember how I mentioned that HWPO training is much better value than a lot of online “coaching” is? Well, in addition to all of the programming and videos from Fraser discussing workouts and movements, there is a dedicated HWPO Circle community for all paid members.
This community functions kind of like a subreddit community or Facebook group with members discussing their workouts, asking questions, and soliciting form feedback. Generally, form-related videos receive almost instant feedback from other HWPO members. There are also HWPO staff coaches who closely monitor the groups who are quick to provide detailed, expert feedback!
The Circle group is probably most valuable for the garage or basement gym HWPO athletes who desire more of a community setting or for those who don’t have access to eyes-on coaching. It is no substitute for immediate, in-person feedback, but it is definitely the next best thing!
“Who is HWPO Flagship Truly Designed For?”
“Intensity” and “difficulty” are not always mutually inclusive concepts, but with HWPO training, I feel as though there is a bit of overlap. I oftentimes find myself wondering “who the heck is this program truly designed for?!” I say this by thinking about my own capability in relation to those of the general CrossFit population.
The last couple of years, I have messed around with the CrossFit Open workouts. I have always gone hard when performing them, but haven’t re-tested any of them and haven’t altered my training to accommodate them. When the dust has cleared, I would have easily qualified for the Age-Group Quarterfinals and possibly even for the overall QFs.
That being said, I find myself scaling weights or movements during the HWPO metcons and cardio pieces between 60 and 70 percent of the time.
I am obviously not an elite athlete, but the top dogs are getting (good) individualized coaching and programming.
…so, again…”who the heck is this program designed for?!”
There is definitely a gap between my ability level and the near top-level athletes who HWPO Flagship is probably perfect for. Not much scaling of weights or exercises…the perfect level of intensity and challenge.
However, I feel like this gap can’t be that big and that most people running the program are scaling as much, if not more often than I am.
This isn’t even taking into account the long workout durations. If I didn’t work from home, if I had kids, etc. I don’t know how I’d fit it all in, seeing that I have to time cap myself anyways (I’d probably have to go with HWPO 60)!
Assuming I am not the target demographic for the program, is it the “wrong” program for me (and for numerous others)?
If you’re willing to humble yourself and use some discretion to scale workouts and to focus your attention on areas you need the most work on, you can definitely benefit from the Flagship or HWPO 60 programs.
I took the plunge into HWPO programming in February of 2022 when I first moved into my new basement gym. I had been doing some less-than-ideal and unorganized “self-programming” (sic) for close to a year in the old garage cube and was a bit out of shape.
The “on-boarding” weeks were perfect for me and I quickly re-gained much of my previous conditioning while also quickly growing accustomed to the program’s structure.
In a little over a year’s time, I set PRs in almost all of the program’s barbell movements (squat, front squat, deadlift, power snatch, snatch, strict press) with the clean and jerk being the notable exceptions (I have personal issues with these lifts that I need to get sorted with eyes-on coaching!) Additionally, my rowing and Assault Bike capabilities greatly improved.
Shortly before taking my break from HWPO, I re-tested CrossFit Open WOD 20.1…the infamous 10 rounds of snatches and bar-facing burpees. I had been doing HWPO for just under a year at this point.
When I originally did this back in late 2019, I got time capped. My second attempt improved my time to 14:47.
My most recent time (post-HWPO training)? 14:05…a roughly 5 percent improvement.
Maybe not the most impressive improvement example, but I’ll sure as heck take it!
Aside from pure numbers, I have also felt much better doing HWPO training than I have with other programming. It took over a year before my “I need a short break from this, I’m feeling a little sore” feeling came upon me (I have experienced this in a few months on other programs).
…and I’m actually kind of anxious to get back to the program. When I “took a break” from CompTrain and Functional Bodybuilding before, I was glad to be done!
Maybe there is some method to the madness with HWPO’s “controlled intensity”!
It’s hard to argue with the CrossFit GOAT about what works.
A pretty easy formula for CrossFit success is “Do exactly what Mat Fraser says to do = #winning”.
However, not everyone is going to have the time to devote to HWPO Flagship workouts, the requisite equipment, the humility to scale (a lot in some cases), or the desire to do intense workouts day-in and day-out.
If you can accept that “Hard Work (does) Pay Off” in one way or another (which likely won’t result in a CrossFit Games appearance) and can meet the time, equipment, humility, and desire components, you will improve with this program.
If you’re looking for something that is fast, light on equipment, “for everyone”, and not overly taxing, I would look elsewhere.
I probably won’t start HWPO training again in the immediate future, but I’m glad to have stuck with it as long as I did and am proud of the progress I made. As such…well…I’ll leave things to Fred, once again.
Enjoyed our HWPO programming review and curious about another popular training program? Check out our review of the Knee Over Toe’s Guy’s “Knee Ability Zero” program and book or of Fraser’s HWPO book (seen below!)