Ben Smith: Interview with the 23-year-old Phenom!

Written by:

Damect Dominguez

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Third place Games finisher Ben Smith has become a CrossFit fan favorite. Competing at the Games over the last five years and now owner and head coach of CrossFit Krypton in Virginia, Smith has grown up with CrossFit—literally.

Throughout his time in the sport, Smith has been known as ‘the youngest CrossFit Games Competitor’ and a ‘dark horse’. He first competed at the Games in 2009 in Aromas, CA at the age 19 where he finished 64th.

Since then, the ‘dark horse’ has managed to place 8th, 3rd, 11th, and 3rd again now in 2013 despite increasingly tougher competition, making him a CrossFit legend in his own right.
Smith was first introduced to CrossFit by his father seven years ago when he was just 16. “Back then it wasn’t common to call your nearest affiliate and drop in the gym. There weren’t many gyms. Greg Glassman posted daily articles to the CrossFit Journal on how to make your own equipment, how to make your own garage gym. There were demonstration videos online that taught you how to do the movements. That was kind of the norm. You’d CrossFit on your own. You’d do it wherever you could,” Smith says.

Smith began training at home—in front of his now famous refrigerator in his garage and in his backyard—and he hasn’t looked back since.

What was your first experience with CrossFit?

BS: I played baseball growing up, and my dream was to be a Major League Baseball player. CrossFit fit the training I needed to be strong, fast, and have endurance on the field. My dad was in the military and introduced me to it. We did Cindy in the room above the kitchen. At the end of the 20 minutes, I was lying on the floor, breathing really heavily and I thought, ‘This is awesome!’ After that I read and read, following the website and researched whatever I could online about the sport.

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When did you first consider competing?

BS: I remember reading about the 2007 and 2008 Games. In 2008, I’d just graduated high school and was going to LaFayette College to play baseball. I was still doing CrossFit. I transferred schools after one semester to Old Dominion University in Virginia, right near home. Turns out by that time I couldn’t try out for the baseball team, so I started getting into CrossFit. It just so happened that the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Regional was in Virginia Beach right down the street from me, so I figured why not go for it, give it a shot and try to compete with these guys at the Games. Going into the last Regional event, I was in 9th place. I ended up winning the event by a lot which put me in 1st, making it to the Games. It was 21-15-9 squat snatch at 95lbs and chest-to-bar pull-ups. That was hard for a lot of people in 2009.

You placed 3rd in 2011 and now again in 2013. Were there any changes that brought you back to the podium?

BS: The competition has definitely gotten a lot better each year. I think the Games are evolving, and you need to evolve with them or a little bit faster than them to keep up. I haven’t changed my training much since I started doing CrossFit. I’m doing CrossFit, trying to do the workouts faster, trying to get stronger, trying to beat my times. Each year, they’re going to throw something different at you and you never know what that’ll be. They’ll surprise you. You have to do your best to expect what that will be and be prepared for anything that comes your way.

At 23, you’re already a Games veteran. How has competing changed compared to when you first started?

BS: In previous years, I would just go out there and compete. The first year, I competed just for fun. After that, my family’s been going and they’ve been getting into more and more each year. This year, a couple friends from the gym went with my family. My uncle was there supporting me also. My family knows all about it now, so they send me emails wishing me good luck and they pray for me.
This year when I came home, half my gym was at the airport to surprise me. They love to surprise me. That was a lot of fun. My friend and Krypton Coach Adam sent me videos of them watching the Games at a little party they had at the gym. It’s just really cool to have so many people supporting me. I’m really blessed and really thankful to have that community behind me.

This year’s top 3 athletes for both the women and men are all Games veterans. Why do you think that is?

BS: They’ve been adapting to the sport and have remained consistent. They know how to train for CrossFit and have worked hard for the last few years.

What was your favorite workout at the 2013 Games?

BS: I liked the Pool event and the ZigZag Sprint. I was really looking forward to the legless rope climb and the 2007 events, and it turns out those were events that really didn’t go my way. There weren’t any events I didn’t like; they were all really cool and really fun.
Do you get nervous before you compete?
BS: Everyone gets a little nervous. You just have to use it to your advantage; use the energy for good. I talk to God a lot and rely on Him. I say a prayer before each event. I really feel I’ve been blessed with this talent. That’s really a motivating factor for me.

You are known as the athlete who trains in his garage or backyard, on your own. Is this still true?

BS: That’s how I started CrossFit. I love training outside in particular, and I still have my garage gym. It really has always been just me, training me. I used to browse the Internet for workouts and workout ideas. But now I am pretty good at making up my own workouts and programming. Every morning I decide what the workout will be based on what I feel I should do that day. Now having CrossFit Krypton, I train with my brothers and friends there—but I still have everything I need at home.

What’s the experience of owning your gym been like?

BS: My family helps me so much at the gym. I wouldn’t be able to do nearly anywhere near to what I’m doing without them. My dad helps with the business side. My mom helps me make the gym look good. My brothers help with the coaching. It’s a family business without a doubt.

Take us through a typical day for you.

BS: I’ll wake up early to coach the 6am or 8am class. Depending on how I feel, I’ll do 10-30 minutes of endurance work to get me moving and wake me up. After coaching, I train with my brothers or my friends. We’ll do a MetCon and maybe some strength work. I like long, hard, heavy MetCons. Mid-day I’ll head home for lunch and maybe a nap before heading back to the gym to coach the afternoon and evening classes. In between classes, I’ll alternate between lifting and a MetCon. At the end of the night, I’ll finish off with something quick and endurance-based like sprints or burpees with some skill work. After that, it’s back home for dinner and hang out with the family and my fiancé.

Do you eat clean or enjoy your cheat meals? What’s your diet like?

BS: Breakfast can vary between a protein shake and banana, eggs and bacon, or cereal—something to keep my stomach full before I coach and workout. For lunch, I love Moe’s or Chipotle, or just make my own chicken, guac and sweet potatoes. I eat clean during the day, but come dinner after a long day, anything goes…even pizza. In between meals, I do supplement with Progenex and Pure Pharma.

You are engaged. Tell us more!

BS: I am going to marry the girl I have been dating since we were juniors in high school. We sat next to each other in our highs chool chemistry class and have been dating ever since. I proposed to her last February in the same classroom where we first met. She said ‘Yes’ and we are planning to get married next August.

What advice would you give a CrossFit athlete with a desire to compete or improve their game?

BS: Remember the CrossFit term of “virtuosity”—doing the common, uncommonly well. I would say, work harder than you think you should. If you think you’re working hard, work twice as hard as that. Always work your hardest. You can’t be going at it at 50%. Every workout should be making you better. Every workout should have a purpose. Make goals. Set out a list of 3-5 goals and don’t let yourself stop until you get there. If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time for it.

What are your goals this year?

BS: To get healthy and stay healthy! I had knee surgery right before the Open, then I tore a muscle in my back before Regionals, and now I have a little tendonitis in my shoulder. To say the least, I wasn’t training as much this year as I have in years past.

If you could have one super power what would it be?

BS: I think I’d have to say super strength.


Age 23
Height 5’11”
Weight 190
Affiliate CF Krypton


Fran 2:25
Helen 7:19
Grace 1:51
Filthy 50 16:17
Fight Gone Bad 520
Sprint 400m 0:58
Run 5k 20:20

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Clean & Jerk 320lb
Snatch 285lb
Deadlift 540lb
Back Squat 450lb
Max Pull-ups 70

Placed 11th in the 2013 worldwide Open.
Placed 1st worldwide in the 3rd workout of the 2013 Open with 329 reps.
The workout:
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 12 minutes of:
150 Wall balls (20lbs to 10’ target)
90 Double-unders
30 Muscle-ups

FINISHES At the Games

2013 – 3rd
2012 – 11th
2011 – 3rd
2010 – 8th
2009 – 64th

Random fact

His younger brother Alec, 20, finished 25th at the 2013 MidAtlantic Regionals. Ben and Alec will be train together to help Alec move up the CrossFit ranks.

Want to see how Ben Smith spends his day? Check out this great video to learn a little more about Ben!

About Damect Dominguez

Co-founder of BoxLife Magazine. Author: Training Day: 400+ Workouts to Incorporate in Your Training.

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