July 18, 2013
A Lifetime Of Fitness: Matt Nicholson
By Carter Jee

“My training is much more functional these days. With CrossFit, it's all about how my body performs. Am I fast enough? Am I strong enough? The bonus is my body still looks great and I still stay lean, but I am much more efficient as an athlete.”

Photos courtesy of Melita Jagic

At the conclusion of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, Matt Nicholson did enough work to earn an invitation to compete at the CrossFit Games in the Masters 50-54 Division.

The 50-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, finished in 13th worldwide, and had two top-five finishes in the wall ball/double-under/muscle-up triplet (13.3) and the clean and jerk/toes-to-bars couplet (13.4).

Nicholson grew up in an active family where a love of fitness was nurtured and encouraged.

“I was fortunate enough to be introduced from a very early age to basic training,” Nicholson says. “Push-ups, sit-ups, dips, running, jumping and handstands were all part of my growing up.”

Nicholson credits his introduction to fitness to his father.

“My father, who always kept fit and strong, made sure my brothers and I followed in his footsteps,” he says.

“He loved Charles Atlas so we did a lot of isometric contraction workouts with a few bodyweight exercises thrown in. I’m proud to say that my father is now 74 years old and still fighting fit today.”

At the age of 17, Nicholson turned his attention to competing in bodybuilding and powerlifting.

“I was told that I was never going to be a bodybuilder, so I set myself to prove that all things are possible,” he says.

Three decades later, Nicholson is now recognized as one of Australia’s most successful natural bodybuilders. In October 2010, he competed in his 100th bodybuilding competition, becoming the first person to do so in Australia. He has also held numerous State and National titles in various federations.

Five years ago, Nicholson stumbled upon CrossFit.

“I was wondering what this was all about, and my first experience shocked me,” Nicholson says. “I had this body, but I couldn’t do much with it.”

“As a bodybuilder, my physique looked great but it really didn't perform to its optimum. There was no need to run, for fear of losing muscle, or move effectively. Bodybuilding was all about how my body looked.”

It didn’t take long for Nicholson to immerse himself in the world of CrossFit, teaching himself the movements and workouts through videos and articles from CrossFit.com.

“I was fortunate to enroll in a Level 1 (Seminar), and learned from trainer extraordinaire, Matt Swift,” he says.

Since finding CrossFit, Nicholson’s training regimen has changed dramatically, and as a result, he’s starting to reap benefits he never got while bodybuilding.

“My training is much more functional these days,” Nicholson says. “With CrossFit, it's all about how my body performs. Am I fast enough? Am I strong enough? The bonus is my body still looks great and I still stay lean, but I am much more efficient as an athlete.”

But while CrossFit has changed his understanding of fitness and training, it hasn’t altered his views on diet too much.

“I've eaten clean with no processed foods and additives for the last 30 years or so,” Nicholson says.

“Even though the paleo diet is very popular amongst CrossFitters, I find that I tend to eat more good, clean carbs now than when I was only doing bodybuilding. I find if I try and eat low carb like I did when I was a competitive bodybuilder I simply run out of energy and hit the wall sooner during a WOD.”

It wasn’t long before Nicholson would open his own CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Blackburn, located in Blackburn, Victoria, Australia.

After spending the last few years developing his skills and ensuring his workout times were competitive, Nicholson decided to compete in his first CrossFit competition, and enrolled in the 2013 Open.

“This year’s attempt to make the Games was my first CrossFit competition, because I never wanted to make up numbers and compete just for the sake of it,” Nicholson says. “Doing something well is something that I expect of myself.”

In terms of training, Nicholson uses his experience and knowledge of his body to guide him through.

“I train hard when I can,” he says. “I’m not one of those guys that trains everyday or even twice a day. That just doesn’t work for me.”

Rest and recovery are also important to Nicholson in the lead up to the Games.

“I have rest days when I need them,” he says. “I go by instinct whether it’s twice a week or four times a week.”

At the Games, Nicholson sees his vast experience in bodybuilding and powerlifting as an edge, but he is also mindful of the unknown and unknowable.

“Having competed in bodybuilding and powerlifting for many years has given me a huge head start on the competition both mentally and physically,” he says.

“But do you ever feel ready for CrossFit? No, I don’t think so. Expect the unexpected!”