July 15, 2013
Model Athlete: Ron Mathews
By Landon LaRue

Ron Mathews juggles running an art gallery, co-owning CrossFit LAB, and training celebrities such as Hugh Jackman and Joe Manganiello.

Someone has to make sure Joe Manganiello, aka Alcide the werewolf on HBO’s series True Blood, looks like a W.I.L.F when he tears off his shirt.  

That someone, CrossFit trainer Ron Mathews, will have his chance in front of the cameras in Carson, Calif., later this month. The 43-year-old qualified for the Masters 40-44 Division of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games when Bill Grundler declined his invitation. Sitting in 21st at the end of the Open, Mathews was first in line.

“The guys who go to the Games in the Masters 40-44 Division are really only getting beat by high-level Regional and Games competitors,” he says. “We are all competitive and want to test ourselves against the best. Like any pro sport, you just don’t see that many 40-year-olds still competing at that high of a level. But we still would like to be that one-in-a-million athlete who can win.”

His wife and business partner, Yumi Lee Mathews, loves the idea of a 40-44 Division in CrossFit competition.

“I think it was a great idea,” she says. “I know it’s tough mentally to put yourself in a ‘Masters’ category, but there are so many 40-44 athletes who are incredibly strong and fit who should be able to compete at a higher level.”

Mathews wasn’t always a 6-foot-3, 233-pound fitness model. He first got into weightlifting his sophomore year in high school when he could barely bench 45 lbs.

“It lit a fire in me to be able to keep up in the weight room with the other guys and I started training everyday,” he says. “I read all the magazines and tried a lot of different techniques, finding what worked best for me.”

Mathews went to the University of Utah to play football and run track. His coach encouraged him to start weightlifting, so he did.

“He told me to get into the weight room and he would let me know when I could leave,” Mathews says. “That is how I started lifting.”

After college, Mathews became a personal trainer to pay the bills and have free access to a gym. He never left the industry.

He and his wife learned about CrossFit in late 2010 when Reebok’s corporate office invited them to a CrossFit Football mini-course lead by Andy Stumpf followed by a short workout — Fran with burpees.

“I was intrigued by the philosophy, but mainly I was thinking, ‘95 lbs., really? I don’t even curl with this little of weight. How am I going to get a workout?’” he recalls. “Somewhere in the set of 15 burpees, I didn’t get up off the floor, opting instead for a little ‘me’ time on my hands and knees. I couldn’t believe it. I worked out all the time. I looked great. I was strong. I couldn’t believe that in three minutes, I couldn’t stand up and I coughed for three days.”

Crippled by the infamous Fran cough, the experience lit the same fire he had felt in high school. Upon returning home, the Mathews’ found an affiliate right away.

He quickly learned that training for aesthetics versus training for performance were two completely different beasts.

Before CrossFit, Mathews only needed to get into shape for photographing covers of Men’s Health, to train contestants on VH-1’s Flab to Fab, Discovery Channel’s Swim Suit Slim Down and to host My Workout on Lifetime. His work with Jennifer Garner (Alias, Elektra), Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Troy, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Eva Mendes (2 Fast 2 Furious, Hitch) landed him on the “America’s 100 Best Trainers” list for Men’s Journal.

“If you are an actor playing a superhero, I need to make you look like you could pick up that big rock. In CrossFit, you have to actually pick it up. CrossFit is all performance. You can’t have a deficiency. You have to minimize your weaknesses.”

While Mathews juggles running an art gallery, co-owning CrossFit LAB in West Hollywood and training celebrities such as Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), he has a small window of opportunity each day to get a workout in for himself.

“My time to work out is very limited,” he says. “I will work out when I have a moment in my day. Sometimes that’s in the morning, sometimes late at night. Or I will jump into one of our classes so that I can have people around me.”

Mathews writes his own programming often, but if he sees CJ Martin post a workout that makes him groan, he makes himself do it.

Upon being invited to the Games, Mathews began increasing his training volume to twice a day while trying not to sacrifice recovery time.

“The tough part is that when I take a rest day, not freaking out thinking about what other guys may or may not be doing,” he says. “I have to just relax and be confident that this is what is best for me.”

Mathews’ wife is his biggest fan.

“I believe he can win his division,” she says.