CrossFit Exclusive: Katrin Davidsdottir, the Fittest Woman on Earth
It's a cold, blustery morning when I rock up at Blitz CrossFit, Twickenham, ready for two things: testing out the new Reebok Nano 7, and feeling the least fit I've felt for a very long time...
That's not because I've suddenly become a couch potato (someone, please slap me if that ever starts to happen). It's because today I get to hang out with some seriously elite CrossFit athletes, including the Fittest Woman on Earth: CrossFit Games Champion 2015 and 2016, Katrin Davidsdottir.
Katrin is quietly, determinedly inspiring. She is clearly one of the hardest-working women on the planet with a total focus on one goal: to win the CrossFit Games. That focus has paid off and her work with Ben Bergeron, "the best coach in the world" has brought her to the pinnacle of CrossFit, the sport of fitness.
As we tuck ourselves away in a quiet corner of Blitz CrossFit, I ask Katrin how she's staying ahead of the competition ahead of the 2017 CrossFit Open, the first stage of qualifying for the Games.
"We focus on every little thing," Katrin tells me. "It's so easy to think 'oh, that might not matter' but if you add up all the little things it adds up to 10 or 15% and that is a huge difference. We're very focused on top-end strength and weightlifting, whilst keeping on top of my conditioning and technique. Working on positioning has helped strengthen my squat cleans."
Most of us go to one gym and probably just have one coach or personal trainer. Katrin has made the move to Boston full time to work with coach Ben Bergeron. "Ben oversees all of my training, does my metcons [ed. note: metabolic conditioning] and everything to do with mindset. Then I have a weightlifting coach and a running coach."
Running puts the fear of God in most CrossFitters...
"I love running. I run on track and in workouts 2 -3 times a week. The fitness you gain from running really translates to the rest of your training."
I'm keen to know what a typical day for a world class CrossFit athlete looks like, and it sounds like a pretty perfect day to me. "I like a slow start to the day so I get up around 6am or 7am and cook breakfast, which is 2 eggs and 2 egg whites, with some vegetables, then some oatmeal and a big glass of water. Then I'll have coffee with cream in it and sit and read something I'm interested in like sports psychology.
"I get to the gym around 9am and I always do a big warm up, starting with meditative breathing and then 20 - 30 minutes warming up until I feel I'm ready to train. My first session will usually be some strength or some technique, and my second will be between 1 and 3 metcons.
"I'll have a couple of hours for lunch, and I always have a protein shake with Ascent protein powder and coconut water. It tastes amazing, it's like a post-workout treat!"
The volume of work that Katrin tackles every day is not insubstantial, but it's also no secret that recovery is a big part of her game plan. "I can handle a lot of volume, but recovery is everything. If you don't recover you can't train hard the next day. The biggest thing is sleep: if I don't sleep well then I can feel the biggest difference in my training. I try to be in bed by 10 - 10.30pm."
A few Fit Missions athletes are working towards pull ups or muscle ups, so I ask Katrin for some advice: "Don't try to go too fast," she says. "A lot of people who want a muscle up, they just keep trying to do a muscle up but don't have the strength or the foundational skills or technique. The best thing is to start working on kipping, strict pull ups and strict dips. A lot of people trying to do a muscle up can't do a strict dip so when they get to that part, they can't get there. While you're working on that, go on the low gymnastics rings, watch loads of videos - I did that a lot - and slowly build up through the transitions towards a full muscle up. I'm not that great at muscle ups [ed. note - she's pretty good!] but there are loads of gymnastics videos and breakdowns of the movements."
*We can highly recommend Carl Paoli's Free+Style book for pull up, muscle up and other movement progressions.*
We all need a bit of a squad when we're training and I suspect Katrin might have one of the coolest training squads ever. It sounds like it's her dream team as when I ask if she could train with anyone, anywhere in the world, she asked 'can I have more than one person?'.
"When I'm in Iceland I train with Annie Thorisdottir, she's one of my best friends. When I'm in Boston my favourite is when I get together with Brooke Wells, Cole Sager and Mat Fraser."
With the Open fast approaching, what events is Katrin looking forward to at the Games?
"Everything, for different reasons. Some of the events are in my wheelhouse so I want to see how hard I can push. The ones that aren't then I'm just excited to prove something to myself. It's an opportunity to get over some adversity."
Katrin has such a strong mindset, something she has in common with other top-flight athletes in all sports. Is it something she was born with, or is it something you can learn?
"I think it's a little of both," Katrin says. "It's something you have to truly believe in. I feel like it's something that a lot of people say the right things and that they're focusing on themselves, but I think when you truly live it and see how much the right mindset does, it's mind-blowing. I was born very competitive and hard-working, but when I started working with my coach Ben he really showed me what hard work is. He's taught me so much: to focus on what's in my control and not to waste energy on what isn't."
The correlation between Katrin focusing solely on her training and her championship status isn't lost on her. She's also quick to recognise the similarities between hers and Mat Fraser's change of approach. "We were both trying to eat healthily, both in school. Now both of us have completely dedicated ourselves to this. When you give yourself 100% to something, it's like magic. It's really cool."
Lastly, for the non-CrossFitter: can Katrin describe CrossFit in three words? "It's everything," she says, laughing. "It can be long or short; it's running, rowing; it's gymnastics and it's weightlifting. It's whatever you want to put together!"
So there you have it: from the Fittest Woman on Earth, there are no shortcuts to achieving your goals. Stay focused, work on the details, and, if you can, grab a pair of Reebok Nano 7s, get down to your closest CrossFit box or functional training studio, and get stuck into some good, hard work.
For more, you can follow @katrintanja and @fitmissions. Huge thanks to @reebokuk and @whateverittakeslondon for hosting us for an absolutely brilliant day.