Training With the World’s Best at CrossFit Reykjavik, Iceland

Christina Canters Iceland Crossfit

People dragging giant ice cubes through snow.

That’s how they WOD in Iceland.

Ok, I’m kidding. Contrary to what many people believe, this country is NOT covered in ice. In fact, according to my couch surfer host Snorri, it rarely snows any more in Reykjavik, the capital.

Last week when I was visiting, it was a balmy 13 degrees most days, with a thin layer of cloud. On one of the days, Snorri took me for a drive around the ‘Golden Circle’, a 300km tourist route through moss-covered volcanic mountains, where you see active geysers, tectonic plates and beautiful Icelandic horses. So cool.

Here’s a quick video of my Iceland Adventures:

Of course, there are lots of other activities on offer like diving, hiking and horse riding.

But I wanted to WOD.

CrossFit is huge in Iceland.

It’s clear from their dominance at the CrossFit Games. In 2012, 5 out of the top 10 women were from Iceland, with the overall winner Annie Thorisdottir a two-time world champion.

(I reckon it’s the tough environment they’re accustomed to. If you can survive long, dark and bitterly cold winters in a mostly barren land, Rx-ing Murph by comparison probably doesn’t seem that bad.)

Anyway, get this: about 120,000 people live in Reykjavik. Guess how many CrossFit boxes they have? Seven.


And the box I visited runs classes every 20 minutes during peak hours, just like the Black Box in New York City (population, ahem, 8.4 million). In Iceland, you’re probably in the minority if you don’t CrossFit!

I was excited when I discovered CrossFit Reykjavik was only a 5 minute walk from Snorri’s house. I rocked up and met the girl at the desk, who said “Next class starts in 4 minutes. Meet at the bottom of the stairs.” Umm, where’s the form and waiver I have to sign? “No form,” she said. “And there’s no drop-in fee, unless you come in more than twice.” Whaaat!!

The box was huge, with a large space for running (ok, maybe they don’t make them go outside in the sleet after all), 4 sections for classes (including one for kids), plus separate areas for lifting and stretching.

At my first session we did hang snatches. My coach was Rannver, a short, solid guy. He looked like a Russian gymnast.

Like most Icelanders, he spoke good English, but he ran the class in Icelandic which is quite possibly the most confusing and complex language I’ve ever heard in my life.

(Case in point: there’s a phrase here on the souvenir T-shirts and coffee mugs that goes: What part of ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ don’t you understand? referencing the infamous 2010 volcano eruptions. I also can’t tell you any of the places I visited, because they have names like ‘Þingvellir’ – that’s a ‘th’, not a ‘p’ – and ‘Hveragerði’. Arrgghhh!) 

Anyway, at least the language of ‘snatch progressions’ is universal, so I was able to follow along with no worries.  Rannver gave me some good feedback too, including “Don’t hump the bar” (Yeah, I guess I can get a bit enthusiastic with my hips on the drive up!)

I went back a couple of days later and Rx’d Helen for the first time (for non CrossFitters, the workout goes: 400m run, 21 kettlebell swings and 12 pullups. Repeat x 3. Yes, it hurts.) I managed to get through all the pullups unassisted, but ended up ripping my callouses off.

I know you’re dying to see a picture but I don’t want you to vomit over your breakfast.

Post-WOD, one of the coaches told me “One of our rules here is you have to stop before your hands rip, ‘cos if it happens before a competition you’re screwed”.

Lucky I don’t have regionals coming up.

Jokes aside, I had a great time hanging out with the ripped Icelandic athletes at CrossFit Reykjavik, adding to my overall amazing Iceland adventure. If you’re ever in Europe, it’s only a short flight from London, and there are lots of willing couch surfer hosts if you feel like experiencing the local way of life! Go check it out for yourself!