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At this point, you’ve probably heard of CrossFit superstar and Team Cellucor athlete Brooke Wells—or, at the very least, you’ve seen her on your social media feeds. The athlete has nearly 700,000 followers on Instagram alone, and for good reason: Even though she’s only 22, Wells is about to compete in her third CrossFit Games. Merely qualifying for the Games requires a level of fitness and dedication most of us mere mortals can’t even imagine—and once you do get there, the murderers’ row of events is so utterly exhausting that the winner can seriously lay claim to the crown of “Fittest on Earth.”
Oh, and by the way: Wells placed 19th at her Games debut in 2015 and sixth in 2016. She didn’t just get there, she kicked in the door and took the CrossFit world by storm.
If you think that sounds like a lot of work, it is. While prepping for the Games, Wells hits the gym for up to four and a half hours a day, and tops it off with a second session of cardio for good measure. But in the few hours of the day that she isn’t training, she attends the University of Missouri, where she’s a full-time student. (Think about that the next time you feel like going to the gym for an hour after work is too draining.)
Ahead of the 2017 CrossFit Games, which begin in Madison, WI, on August 3, we talked to Wells to find out just what it takes to end up alongside the fittest in the world, how she manages to train while pursuing a degree, and her thoughts on becoming a social media sensation.
Men’s Fitness: You’re going into your third CrossFit Games. Is it just as nerve-wracking as the first?
Brooke Wells: Honestly, yeah. I feel like I’m just as nervous in a good way as I was my first year. Being in a new place, it’s almost like we’re all rookies again just because we don’t really know how to get around and all that. That was what was nice throughout the second year, knowing where everything was and what to expect. Just being in a different place is very nerve-wracking, so I’m pretty much just as nervous as I was my first year.
Do you feel more confident in your preparation for the Games now that you’ve already done it twice?
I do, because this year has been different in a good way. I recently got a new coach, Ben Bergeron. Before that, I would follow a program, but I didn’t have someone telling me what I was doing wrong and coaching me through things.
My team is Katrin Davidsdottir, who won last year; Matt Fraser, who won last year; Cole Sager; and myself. Just being around all these athletes is different from what I’m used to. We’re so prepared, and I’ve never been more comfortable going into a Games. I know how prepared I am, and I want to show everyone else how prepared I am, which actually makes me nervous.
What is the environment like at the CrossFit Games? With so many big names in one place, are you all super-competitive?
We’re all friends, and the competitive side goes out the door when we’re not competing. But when we do compete, I like to call it “friendly competition.” We all want to win, but we’re going to be friends at the end of the day. It’s very competitive when we start to warm up for events and that sort of thing, but when we have our athlete dinners you get to hang out, and it’s so much fun.
What’s your training volume like when you’re prepping for the Games?
We would have at least two sessions every day. Saturdays, we would always have a triple session, and sometimes on Tuesdays we’d have a triple session. Every day was only one session in the gym, but it could be anywhere from two to four-and-a-half hours. Then, every day we were swimming or biking. I’ve never, ever swum this much in my life. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, we were also running for the third session.
You’re in a unique situation because you’re still in college. Do you think that’s a disadvantage for you because a lot of competitors can train full-time?
Definitely, especially going from training during school to having this summer break. This entire summer, my No.1 priority has just been to train. It’s significantly different from when I have to sit through classes. It’s crazy that sitting through a class can make you so exhausted, but it really is pretty draining, so not having to deal with that would be so cool. I have one more year of college, and then I’ll just take a couple years off just to train.
What are your three favorite exercises and why?
I love hang cleans, handstand pushups, and handstand walking. I think bouncing the clean off your thigh is so much fun, and I used to be a gymnast so I’m pretty comfortable on my hands.
You have a really strong social media presence, and a lot of people consider you to be really inspiring. Did you ever think that would be a side effect of doing CrossFit?
No, but it’s so cool. I remember three or four years ago, I got to meet Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I looked up to her so much. Now, to think that we’re friends, and maybe people think of me the way I thought of her—that makes me want to go so much harder in the gym. If I can inspire anyone, that makes me push way harder.
More women are powerlifting or doing CrossFit now than ever before, and it’s led to a lot of talk about body image. Do you see that topic differently now that a lot of people count you as their inspiration?
Yeah. I think that’s so amazing, and if I can do anything to help influence that, I will. It’s important for girls not to think lifting is “just for boys,” because [lifting] is so much fun. I don’t like that it’s stereotypical that “lifting weights is for boys,” and it’s really cool that it’s starting to grow in the women’s field. I think that’s what makes CrossFit so cool. Sometimes, I feel like people make the girls competing a bigger deal just because it’s so unique.
What advice do you have for people who see athletes like you and think, “I can’t go to the gym and start off lifting with someone like that,” or that “every CrossFitter is already ripped?”
All my friends say, “I can not do what you do.” And I tell them, “You don’t have to do what I do.” Everyone starts somewhere, so you can’t be scared to start. Everything in CrossFit is also scalable. When I started five years ago, I had no intentions of being where I am today. Of course, I would always want to, but I just worked hard. You just let it take you where it does.
Going forward, what are your goals in CrossFit?
I wouldn’t really say that I have a long-term goal. I want to win the Games. That’s not one of my goals, that’s more like what I want to keep improving every year. As long as I keep getting better each year, that’s all I can really ask. I just try not to worry about other people, and do the best that I can do.
Other than CrossFit, what’s your motivation on those days when you’d rather do anything but go to the gym?
I want to better myself every day. On days that you don’t feel like going to the gym, you have to say, “Am I really going to waste today just because I’m not in a good mood right now?” Just take some C4, and go to the gym. There are definitely days you don’t want to go, but you just have to remember why you do it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about CrossFit and CrossFit athletes?
I think that a lot of people feel like CrossFit is a cult, but it’s more of just a community. It’s just instant friendships. It’s just that you all have something in common, wanting to be there and work out and train. I think that makes everyone close, like a community.
Obviously, another big [misconception] is that it will make girls “bulky,” which is not true at all.
Another one is that it’s “too hard to start.” Everyone thinks you have to be fit to start, like: “Oh, but I need to get in shape before I start.” But you don’t. You can just start and get in shape at the same time.