CrossFit Games

CrossFit Games Rookie Series: Meet Colten ‘Muscle Hamster with a Mullet’ Mertens

June 30, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Granite Games (
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After experiencing the CrossFit Games in 2018 with his CrossFit Kilo team, Colten Mertens shifted to individual competition in 2019 and immediately set his sights on getting back to Madison, WI one day. After three long years of training and competing, that day arrived for Mertens several weeks ago at the Granite Games in Eagan, MN, when he snagged the fifth and final spot to the Games. 

  • Still a relative unknown to the CrossFit community, Mertens’ performance was a bit of a surprise. However, for 23 year-old who grew up working on a farm in Iowa, punching his ticket was his intention — a realistic goal he knew he could achieve, he explained.
  • “The main goal was to qualify. I competed with a team in 2018, and since then I knew I definitely wanted to get back to the Games (as an individual),” Mertens said. 

Mertens’ Road to 2021: After switching from team to individual competition, Mertens placed 403rd in the world in the Open in 2019 and went on to compete at two Sanctionals events that season — the Dubai CrossFit Championship and the Granite Games, where he placed 29th and 26th respectively. 

  • The following season, Mertens, who is coached by CrossFit Kilo owner Armand McCormick, made a big leap forward during the Open, finishing 109th in the world, and went on to have a solid showing at the Rogue Invitational. He placed ninth and snagged $10,000 for his event wins in the process. 
  • Mertens also competed at the Mayhem Classic in 2020 and was planning on going to two other Sanctionals competitions before they were cancelled due to COVID-19. 
  • After earning a finance degree from the University of Northern Iowa in 2020, Mertens moved back home and began putting in days working on the family farm. This, however, didn’t stop him from finding the time to train five hours a day alone in his garage gym, which he has been doing for the last year. 

The Granite Games: Knowing he had put in the work, Mertens was confident going into the Granite Games, but admitted he was still a little surprised when he took back-to-back event wins on Workout 2 and 3.

  • “Each of those workouts had a movement I’m not great at, so I definitely surprised myself,” he said of the two events he won, which included thrusters and running in Workout 2, and ring muscle-ups, hang squat clean and burpees in Workout 3.
  • Meanwhile, about the two events he had the lowest finishes on the leaderboard — the max snatch (20th) and Back to Back 1, which included wall balls, GHD sit-ups and dumbbell cleans — the 5-foot-4 Mertens said he was happy, as he has significantly improved both his snatch and wall balls in the last year.
  • “I have gotten a lot stronger at my snatch, but I know it’s going to take more time to get stronger still,” Mertens said. And although he said he still struggled with the wall balls, placing 18th was a win, because just a year ago, “I would have been in the bottom two on that event,” he said. 

Looking to the Games: In the upcoming weeks, Mertens main focus will be on “fine tuning” and adding volume so his normal training “exceeds what we’ll see at the Games,” Mertens said. He’ll also devote a lot of time to running, swimming and wall balls.

  • And while his main goal for his first Games is to use it to gain experience and see where he stacks up, he also knows he also has the potential to hit some “home runs,” he said, which he hopes will include at least one event win. 
  • “I think I have the potential to win certain events, and then just do damage control on the events I’m not as good at, like swimming and rowing,” Mertens said. “Either way, it’ll be a really good measuring stick.”

10 Questions with Mertens

What is your biggest strength as an athlete?

Mertens: “Bodyweight gymnastics. Being a smaller athlete, I have a big advantage there. I was a wrestler and we did a lot of bodyweight work then.”

Are you scared about anything that might come up at the Games? 

Mertens: “I don’t think so. When I first started competing my biggest fear was getting dominated and finishing last, but that has already happened (in 2019 in Dubai)…I took some bad finishes there and placed last on seam events. So that what my biggest fear, but that has already happened.”

Of all the nicknames the commentators gave your mullet hairstyle at the Granite Games, what was your favorite?

Mertens: Muscle Hamster with a Mullet (coined by Chase Ingraham)

What three apps on your phone (aside from email and text) can you not live without?

Mertens: “WHOOP, an investment app I use, and Netflix. I watch Netflix when I do my recovery work.”

What is the last book you read?

Mertens: Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. “I love reading. I read a few books a month. There’s always something you can learn, always something that helps you process things and maybe gain an edge.”

Who is your favorite CrossFit athlete?

Mertens: Cole Sager.

What’s your go-to breakfast and dinner?


Breakfast: “I like eating a lot of toast and butter. And scrambled eggs and a protein shake. I tend to also eat a lot of fat in the morning, and then mid-day I’m more carb heavy.”

Dinner: “Pork chops and potatoes, and some rice to get some more carbs. We have a pig farm, so I eat a lot of pork.”

Do you count your macros?

Mertens: “No. I used to, but now I have a pretty good idea of what I usually eat, and I often eat the same thing, so I don’t count anymore.”

Favorite cheat meal?

Mertens: “Reese’s peanut butter cups. They have been my favorite since I was a kid.”

What do you want to do after CrossFit?

Mertens: “I will definitely do something in farming. There are a lot of opportunities if you know how to work hard and you have a business mind.”

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