CrossFit champion, female power icon and now activewear designer, Sara Sigmundsdóttir tells us how she’s bouncing back from injury ready for the CrossFit Games 2022 and loving life as a strong woman…
Words: Sarah Sellens | Photography: Eddie Macdonald | Clothing: wit-fitness.com
If you’ve ever revelled in a tough workout or struggled with an injury, you’ll be able to relate to this month’s cover model, Sara Sigmundsdóttir. The CrossFit champion is known for her ability to push through pain, and with a thrice-daily workout schedule plus her own clothing collection for activewear brand WIT to boot, it’s clear Sara’s not afraid to put in the hours.
Aged just 29, the Iceland-born weightlifter is a two-time CrossFit Games medallist, a three-time CrossFit regional champion, and a women’s strength icon to her 1.8 million-plus Instagram followers.
After suffering a devastating ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] tear that saw her miss the 2021 CrossFit Games, Sara Sigmundsdóttir is bouncing back from injury and is more determined than ever.
We caught up with her to talk about building a winning mindset, recovering from injury, working hard in the gym and breaking the barriers surrounding being a girl with muscles. Get ready to be inspired…
How did you get into CrossFit?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘I found CrossFit by accident. In Iceland, we have a four-competition series – CrossFit, bootcamp and two endurance events – I was competing in all four events as part of a team, but then I thought, “If I’m going to do it as a team, I might as well do it as an individual”. So I signed up and came second behind CrossFit athlete Katrín Davíðsdóttir.
‘I realised I was OK at it, so I joined a bigger gym and the coach there encouraged me to put my scores into a system that would qualify me for the European regionals. The first workout I did put me 4th in Europe.
‘Before the next workout, I was learning how to snatch [an overhead Olympic exercise] and didn’t know how to drop [the second half of the movement]. I fell with the bar and broke my wrist, so I had to wait a whole year to start again.’
What’s been your career highlight?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘My first year at the CrossFit Games in 2015 is probably the highlight of my career. I went into the competition thinking it would be the only time I’d make it onto the big stage and that I’d try to be top 15 in the world. I ended up leading the whole competition, until I messed it up a little at the end and got third.’
What do you love about the sport?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘Before I found CrossFit, I was only training to lose weight. Finally, I was training for something that required me to improve my ability and my body’s capability – I surprised myself with what my body could do.
‘For example, kicking up to a wall was the hardest thing for me to do at first, but now I’m walking over stairs on my hands. It’s insane how much your body can actually do.’
Did that motivate you more than your weight-loss goal?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘Yes, because I stopped thinking about how I looked and started thinking about what I could do. I got a job in a CrossFit gym in 2013 and I was seeing lots of different people come in: there would be the girls who were coming because of how they wanted to look, and then there were these other girls who didn’t care how they looked and just wanted to train hard.
‘I was so inspired by the mentality of doing the work and testing your body. Beforehand, I would be in a gym, feeling ashamed if I broke a sweat. Now I’m like, “If I haven’t sweated enough…!”’
How does it feel to be a poster girl for strong women?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘It’s something that I’m trying to normalise. I don’t want to walk into a room where people see me and think that I’m weird because I have muscles. It should be a normal thing that girls can be as fit as guys and not be ashamed of it.
‘Like, being able to wear a tank top and not get 100 comments about how big your arms are. It should be normal that if you train hard, you look a specific way.’
Are times changing for muscly women?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘I think that UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] and Ronda Rousey broke the ice as we’d see her beasting it while competing, but also looking great in a dress. That inspired me a lot.
‘You can look terrible and sweaty in the gym – oh, it’s disgusting when I train because I’m working so hard –but then go out in the evening for dinner and look great.’
How do you train?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘I train six times a week, and I train three times a day for four of those sessions: a rehab session (which is rehabilitation work and strength work), a cardio CrossFit session and a lifting session. It’s very hard to fit it all in.
Now I’m getting ready for a competition, while I have a busy schedule and there’s a lot of stress around it, I can either waste time stressing about it or I can make the best of everything.’
What do you do on your rest days?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘I spend a lot of time simply training on my workout days, so I have other things that I’m interested in – like making my own clothing collection – to do on my rest days. I try to spend some time on those things.
‘Plus, there’s the business side of being an athlete, such as getting sponsors – I have to set
time aside for that, too.’
How have you coped with injury?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘It had been a year of Covid and everything was starting to get back to more normal, then two days before the Open [the qualifier for the CrossFit Games] I tore my ACL. I took almost another year off and that was quite a shock.
‘I haven’t competed now for almost two years, and that makes me start to not feel like an athlete anymore. That’s been the biggest challenge – breaking the ice of what I need to do to compete again.
‘Quitting has definitely crossed my mind. When I have a rough day, my knee is swelling up and I have a big session the next day, I start to think, “Is this worth it?”, but then I have a good session the next day and I think, “Oh, this is all worth it!”’
Are you in a good place now?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘I was prepared for the first weeks of injury to be the hardest, but the hardest part is knowing where I was, trying to get back there and not knowing whether I can. You start to overthink everything – Am I pushing too hard? Too little? What’s the line and am I crossing it? – but that’s all part of it. I’m so determined right now.
‘I look at other athletes who have achieved so many good things and feel motivated. The bouncing back is what makes a champion.’
What are your hopes for 2022?
Sara Sigmundsdóttir: ‘My biggest goal is the CrossFit Games 2022, and I want to be top five. Everything around that is a bonus.’
Sara Sigmundsdóttir’s clothing collection is available at wit-fitness.com.