From the outside, Brooke Wells seems like a pretty normal college student. The 22-year-old University of Missouri business major likes going to "Mizzou" football games, hanging out with her friends, and getting her studying done early so she can have more time for fun.
But if you're at all interested in CrossFit or the broader fitness community, you know that Brooke Wells is also one of the world's best athletes. At 5-foot-6, 150 pounds, Wells can deadlift 425 pounds, clean 270, and squat more than 350. And she just keeps getting better. This Team Cellucor athlete is a three-time CrossFit Games competitor, whose best finish so far was in 2016, when she placed sixth.
We chatted with this real-life Superwoman about her training, nutrition, and how she stays grounded and calm during the pressure of ultra-high-level competition.
Starting Out Strong
One of the things that makes Wells so impressive is her age. Wells is one of the youngest competitors in the CrossFit field. She started CrossFit in 2013 during her senior year of high school. After spending her youth as a gymnast and the first few years of high school as a track athlete, Wells said she was looking for a workout that had more volume.
"I missed being athletic for longer than an hour," she says. "I'd spend four hours in the gym when I was doing gymnastics. Track was only an hour, if that."
So, Wells and her twin sister, Sydney, asked their dad for a gym membership. Their dad signed them up for CrossFit instead.
"We weren't really into the idea of doing CrossFit," says Wells. "But the first time we tried it, we fell in love with it."
Just two years later, Wells won the Central Regional event and earned herself a spot at the 2015 CrossFit Games.
College And Competition
Today, Brooke is a well-known face in the fitness community. Doing her best to maintain her competitive edge while earning a college degree, Wells says she's had to give herself a crash course in time management.
"Sitting in class can make me exhausted because, while other students are on their phones and not paying attention, I'm listening to every word and taking lots of notes so I won't have to study as much," she says.
Wells takes minimum class hours, but the fifth-year senior is set to graduate in spring 2018, despite a grueling daily training schedule that doesn't leave much time for academia.
Wells trains three times a day, three days per week, for more than five hours. She trains twice a day two days per week, swims on Thursdays, and takes a full rest day on Sundays. Wells credits those Sunday rest days as the reason she can maintain good grades, a good attitude, and a healthy body.
"There are times when I feel overwhelmed, but I take advantage of my Sundays by not doing anything related to the gym," she says. "I tried coaching on Sundays, but it was just too much time in the gym. I also get my training done early on Saturdays, so I have the rest of that day and all through Sunday to relax, and have fun. I know so many people who get scared of taking a full day off, but your body needs the rest. For one full day a week, I don't worry about training and just try to have a social life."
Eating For An Edge
Before the 2017 season, Wells decided to hire a nutrition coach, Adee Cazayoux at Working Against Gravity.
"I weighed 160 pounds at the 2016 Games and knew I wanted to be down 10 pounds," says Wells.
She did exactly that. A much leaner Wells showed off her six-pack at the 2017 Games, thanks to her daily limit of about 2,300 calories. To get there, though, Wells had to do a little trial and error.
"At first I started counting macros per meal, but that was too difficult," she says. "Let's say I missed 10 grams of carbs by accident each meal. That could add up to 60 grams of carbs a day, which is a lot. Now, I eat a set amount of fat, carbs, and protein each day. That's easy because I can eat whenever I want and whatever I want, if I hit those numbers."
Before she started working with her nutrition coach, Wells had tried other dieting techniques.
"I tried Paleo and I was eating as much healthy food as I wanted," says Wells. "That didn't work, so I tried carb back loading—eating fat all morning and afternoon, then catching up on my carbs at night. I just ended up eating way too much fat in the morning and afternoons and just overdoing it on calories."
Although the Paleo diet is popular with the CrossFit crowd, it isn't for Wells.
"It seems like everyone leans on Paleo, but it leaves you in such a deficit for carbs," she says. Like Wells, many elite-level CrossFitters are opting for performance-driven nutrition programs, rather than carbohydrate cutting.
Bettering Her Best
Wells has also changed the way she trains to become a more well-rounded competitor. One of the tenets of CrossFit is to be a "jack of all trades"; that is, a competitor without weaknesses. Even though Wells did gymnastics and ran track earlier in life, she knows she is lagging in both gymnastics and endurance.
"My strength is one of my natural gifts," she says. "Even so, I've spent a lot of training time lifting heavy every day. These days, I still lift, but we're turning down the strength work so that instead of spending a lot of time to be 5 percent better than everyone else, I do enough to stay 1 percent better. That's all I need, and it frees me up to focus on my weaknesses."
Wells Aims For The Games
"I feel like I'm always training for the Games," says Wells. "I swim all year. I do odd objects every Friday. A couple months before the Open, we might do more work-capacity workouts. Before Regionals, we'll throw in more Regional-type workouts. All in all, though, it's pretty much year-round Games training."
To measure her constant improvements, Wells says her and her coach, Ben Bergeron, develop benchmark workouts to test against throughout the year. Here's one Wells did recently:
3 Rounds for time:
- 40 Sit-ups on the glute-ham developer
- 40 Wall ball shots (20 pounds)
- 40 Chest-to-bar pull-ups
Her goal is to improve her performance each time she does the workout.
Wowing The World
Although Wells' sixth-place finish at the 2016 games solidified her place as "one of the best," it was her unbelievable demonstration of mental toughness in the 2017 Games that made her a fan favorite.
Wells began the week of competition in good shape. She earned 16th in the first event. But the tide turned quickly after that, and by the end of the second event, a Cyclocross course, she had dropped to 35th out of 40.
"Literally every year at Regionals and the Games, I've had a bad event," she says. "I've always had to come back, so after the bike event I was like, 'It's OK. It's just one event.'"
But the next two events didn't go very well for her, either.
"I was not in a good place at that point," Wells says. "I felt defeated. I had done horribly in three of the four first events. If they were spaced out over the weekend it would have been OK, but three bad events in a row really hit me hard."
Instead of quitting, Wells and her coach did a lot of talking.
"We work on the mental side a lot," she says. "That's his main priority. He told me to stop worrying about my placement and to just start having fun."
So, she started having fun.
"I didn't look at the leaderboard. I just focused on doing my best and it started to pay off," says Wells.
After the fourth event, Wells turned a corner. She placed in the top 10 in several events, third in the very last event, and finished 14th—a remarkably high finish to such a rough start.
"I've learned that I do my best when I'm having fun," Wells confesses. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to win the CrossFit Games. That's my dream, but I'm not going to set expectations like that. I just tell myself to go out there, have fun, do my best, and try to do better than I did the year before."
Aspiring To Inspire
Wells says one of her favorite parts of being in the spotlight is being an inspiration to younger girls and other women.
"I want to inspire girls to be as strong as they can and to be the best version of themselves," Wells says. "I like to have muscles, but what I really like is the fact that my physique helps me do things girls don't usually do without asking a guy for help. I think women should change these stereotypes and embrace being strong and independent."
Of course, there are people in the world who react negatively to women who look like Wells.
"I get comments on Instagram all the time about how I'm too muscular, but I don't let them bother me," she says. "I'm confident enough to know that other people's opinions don't matter to me. My goal is to be the best version of myself I can be. If muscles come with it, that's awesome!"
Wells says that her fame in and out of the CrossFit world hasn't changed her.
"My friends tell me that I have so many followers—that I'm famous," she says. "'No,' I tell them, 'I'm just pretty good at what I do.'"
Pretty good, indeed.