“I have no friends. I have no time. I don’t drink. I go to a restaurant once every six months.
“I want to win, and I will do anything and everything to gain an edge.
It’s something I’m willing to do in order to win.”
For most of us, that doesn’t sound like a life. For Jeff Adler, there’s simply no alternative. All or nothing. Win or bust. No stone unturned.
Sacrifice is an overused word in the sphere of elite performance—a term spitballed around like a paper plane without a landing strip—lacking depth and credibility.
But, once in a while, you witness someone who is genuinely willing to sacrifice life’s so-called luxuries to eliminate the daily distractions which de-rail and negatively engulf millions. In the world of athletes, the quantity of those harnessing wasted potential significantly outweighs the few who activate tunnel vision and succeed.
Adler is a prime example of the latter, his rise from CrossFit volunteer to the ‘Fittest Man on Earth’ in the space of seven years, a well-documented one—but a journey which still exudes a sense of disbelief.
Four days after concluding his 2023 Rogue Invitational efforts in Texas—where he finished second to fellow Canadian Pat Vellner—he is in London, descending the steps to the dimly-lit basement style workout space at WIT Fitness, a trendy ‘box’ nestled mere yards from the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral.
Along with his team, coach and fiancee Caroline Lambray, and the infectiously charismatic Chris Hinshaw, who acts as Adler’s endurance coach, Jeff is in England’s capital to deliver the first of four masterclasses: ‘The Fittest Tour’.
London is the first stop on a four-legged European crusade, a two-hour event headlined by Adler but heavily fleshed out by the two people who—in their words—allow him to “make him believe he is extraordinary“.
Eager to listen, digest and soak up the attributes, methods and ethos it takes to be given a title which could potentially inflate an ego to an unquantifiable size—I watched in the wings in the hopes that I left athletically enlightened.
From Texas to London
The first person I get to speak to is Chris: “We love London; we’ve been here many times“, he tells me in his California accent.
A former all-American swimmer and world-class professional triathlete, Hinshaw’s time and dedication now center around his business, Aerobic Capacity, and coaching elite athletes of varying disciplines.
Chris’ wife, Heidi, is just a short distance behind him, the logistical beacon and leader of operations. She points Jeff in my direction, and we begin to chat about his recently uploaded vlog—a recap of his time at Rogue—before settling down for a chat about the Tour’s inception and purpose.
“What did you think of the vlog?” Jeff asks. Admittedly, the fact a large proportion was in French made it tricky to consume. But, his agent plans to implement a subtitles policy before the publish button is struck.
For a man who holds the esteemed title of the ‘Fittest Man on Earth’, you would never know it upon meeting him. Full of subdued self-confidence and charisma, and with the natural ability to make those around him relaxed, Adler has his feet firmly on the ground despite coming to the end of a remarkable athletic year.
“We wanted to share my training methods and how I train with people in Europe; that’s why we decided to set up the tour.
“I want to show people how I train, the methods, movements, and planning. Obviously, me winning the Games in 2023 helps with the interest levels!“
Texas must seem a long time ago amidst the bustling streets of London. But, the downpour from gray skies was evident at both locations; oddly enough, a second-place finish at the annual event capped off a groundbreaking year of competing.
He was pipped to the top spot by his compatriot Vellner, a notion he did admit made it slightly less painful, but it was clear to see anything other than first as failure in his eyes.
“I’m happy for Pat but bummed I got second. It was a weird weekend—it was either very high or very medium. It was great to win the two events at the beginning and end. Days two and three just didn’t go my way.
Overall, there are a few things we can take from the weekend. We’ve been running consistently since the Games, so to win that event was a high. I was surprised at winning the barbell cycling as we hadn’t done anything at that weight and speed.
I can’t be unhappy with a second-place finish, but once you start tasting the start of the podium, you want to go back.”
While most competing athletes departed to their homes for well-earned holidays, vacations, retreats, and physical detoxes, Jeff and his team were on the next flight to London, the final stop of 2023, before a few months of recuperation.
Fifteen wide-eyed attendees eventually shuffle in, each getting to snap up a photo with Jeff, Chris and Caroline before the wisdom rains down upon them.
One guy removed his sweater before his photo, revealing a CrossFit Games leader’s jersey with Adler’s name donned across the front. “Do you know him?” jokingly says Hinshaw.
The wearer tells me he waited three months for the tee to arrive from NOBULL, his patience rewarded with a moment he will obviously savor and possibly relay to his grandkids.
With introductions, formalities and heads counted, it was time for CrossFit’s most proficient triple threat to take the stage.
No risk, no reward
“Jeff isn’t good at everything.”
A chuckle reverberates around the echoing room. Everyone’s fully aware that there’s a hint of irony in Hinshaw’s voice as he goes through his seminar on taking risks and strategizing during workouts, preaching to the class who are sitting informally on the floor like well-behaved kindergarten students.
Hinshaw is addressing one of Jeff’s few flaws: An inability to pace from time to time. It’s all about what he calls ‘the sticking point’, a moment of anxiety the body experiences when it senses limitations and simply wants you to consider grabbing the white towel.
We’ve all raced out of the blocks too quickly, whether during a run, high-intensity session or full-blown workout, and that’s okay. Hinshaw stresses he wants us to take risks and potentially fail, stating it’s part of the learning process.
But in a perfect world of athletic enlightenment, it’s all about timing your burst so you hit the red line and gas out at the end.
“Take responsibility for your workout” is Chris’ parting message—a nugget of advice which continued to reverberate around my ear drums for the rest of the session—and to showcase his point, Jeff gleefully steps in to take the first of two WOD’s.
The Fittest Man on Earth enjoys “making other people work out so much“, which is not entirely surprising given the sheer volume of trauma he puts himself through physically to maintain his godly standards.
An AMRAP (as many reps as possible) focusing on squat and press issues follows over the next five minutes, with a few lucky souls getting one-to-one treatment from the man himself.
At this stage, Chris points out you’re better off having poor form if you want to grab a few words from Jeff. Work smart, not hard.
Interestingly, as I observe the session from the comfort of the unoccupied rig, Chris joins me, evidently surprised at Jeff’s authority and deliverance. “He’s good, isn’t he.”
Jeff’s experience in presenting and coaching remains limited, but you’d never guess, as Chris tells me, “Just because you’re a good athlete doesn’t mean you’re a good coach” before revealing the masterclass has undergone no rehearsals or run-throughs. This is as authentic as it gets.
The aim of the WOD is to peak during rounds four or five, allowing adrenaline and the prospect of one final push to carry your body and mind to the finish.
To their credit, the majority, now donning fewer garments of clothing and newly formed beads of sweat, heed the message and push through.
The relationship between Jeff and Caroline is evident from simply watching their engagement and interaction, sharing stories of the first embers of their budding professional as well as personal journey.
Caroline is quick to stress, “I started CrossFit before Jeff“, her coaching methods eventually breaking through to a younger, raw and stubborn athlete who refused to hook grip, a staple of barbell work and cycling.
She’s every inch the model coach, rarely skipping a beat and utilizing every word that leaves her mouth—quickly opening the floor to a more two-way conversation with budding coaches now leaning in a degree more to capture these invaluable pearls of wisdom.
As the session continues, it becomes almost humorous how different Caroline and Jeff are regarding approach, both at opposite ends of the dreaming scale.
Jeff stresses he “doesn’t want to live with potential disappointment“, so he lives firmly in the land of realism, never getting too far ahead of himself and refusing to lie to his humble expectations.
Then, there’s Caroline, the ying to his yang.
It was far from love at first sight. In an interview with CrossFit Games, Adler admitted, “I don’t know what it was, it just didn’t work.” Initially, Lambray was different from the type of mentor he preferred, and he would actively avoid attending the classes she was scheduled to coach.
On the rare occasions he did join her classes—she would sometimes refuse to let him in.
They simply didn’t like each other as people.
Fast forward to 2023, and they’re a revered duo. Caroline is the one to envisage success, hype up Adler’s chances and think big, acting as the counterbalance to his deferential attitude.
In line with their development as a pair, she tells the class, “Find out a way to trust your coach. Do whatever they say for a few months, assess improvement and lend them the chance to help you develop.“
When Adler clinched the title of the Fittest Man on Earth in August, he quickly highlighted that “her dream (came) true today. And I am so happy for her. She worked as hard as me.”
Caroline reveals she created a vision board a year before Jeff’s triumph, a memory he smirks at, given his more systematic approach to setting goals.
The board featured three columns: the goal, what will you do to achieve it, and how? In 2022, and after six years of downplaying his ambitions, ‘Win the CrossFit Games’ was at the core of the board, along with a host of other targets.
One year later, Chris jumps in to reveal the board is completed, now simply sporting the word ‘thank you’.
Jeff has come around to the idea of setting the vision but stresses to the listening ears to “set ones that are within your reach.”
He continues by saying, “If you have a goal, write it down, and then how will you do it. Every time you decide, make sure it’s in line with your goals. Keep it simple. Stay within reach. Don’t shoot for the stars.”
Now a vision board convert, he reveals the main goal for 2024: a re-peat CrossFit Games title.
A life tailored to fitness
During the second and final WOD, one attendee shakes her head and walks towards my vantage point, where her bag resides, before taking a giant inhaler puff.
If this is what it’s like to train with Jeff, I’m delighted to be able to hide behind a laptop whilst wearing chinos.
With a microscopic focus on lactate threshold following a VO2 deep dive with Chris, the assignment is burpees—and lots of them. More specifically, maintaining the same intensity of work before life begins to flash in front of your eyes.
“I once did seven VO2 max tests in one day”, Jeff says before pointing to Chris, “because of him!”
One plucky attendee bravely asks Jeff how he scored. Spoiler alert: Very high. Fully aware he is in superhuman shape, Jeff never comes across as cocky, instead exuding awareness and self-assurance, and it’s cool to witness.
As mentioned earlier, this level of fitness unattainable for the majority requires solemn sacrifice. A distraction-free existence—life stripped down to a raw form of archaic routine and stringent intake.
“You have to be selfish. We’ve set up our lives so I can be. I have no friends. I have no time. I don’t drink. I go to a restaurant once every six months.
I want to win, and I will do anything and everything to gain an edge and win.”
With his season over until the Open begins in February, I noticed Jeff went to Nando’s after the event via his agent’s Instagram. I couldn’t help but smile seeing him seated in a restaurant, albeit one which might not linger in his culinary memory bank.
Mike Fleming, the agent mentioned above, who manages Finnish CrossFit athlete Jonna Koski and has previously worked with current Fittest Woman on Earth, Laura Horvath, has seen Jeff’s meticulous drive at close quarters.
“I was in Texas with Jeff and his team at Rogue. He was not relaxed. After events and meeting fans, all he cared about was getting back to the hotel room to start his recovery, to fuel himself properly. Every detail had to be ticked off.“
“The Monday after he won the Games, he was already talking about returning in 2024 and winning it again.”
As I discovered more, it became clear that Adler’s intentions within the sport were pure, and his motivations were not led by potential financial incentives. Fleming revealed that various big brands approached Jeff with brand deals, all of which were turned down as he wouldn’t use their products.
Unbothered by the noise outside of his inner circle, Jeff believes in what he believes in, is remarkably stubborn in his morals and principles, and clearly doesn’t waiver. It’s admirable in a sporting world filled with easy cash grabs.
Adler cares about CrossFit, and by surrounding himself with the best people over the years. And as such, he’s more than earned his spot at the top of the tree.
Upon departing WIT Fitness, I emerged into the rush hour of New Change with a more profound sense of what it takes to be elite, my brain marginally re-wired and possessing fresh information which I would apply to my own training and fitness.
Lessons learned from The World’s Fittest Man: A summary
Having sat in and digested the Fittest Man on Earth and his coaches’ anecdotes, this is what I established:
- The better you pace it, the better you will be
- You have to be selfish
- There’s no magic supplement. Sleep and nutrition are essential
- Just because you’re a good athlete doesn’t mean you’re a good coach
- Second is okay, but first is better
- The person asking the question is in charge
- Trust your coach. Let them develop you
- Set realistic goals, and don’t shoot for the stars immediately
- Care about what you do and stick to your beliefs
- Eliminate distractions to gain even the smallest of edges