The Viking Method... meet the woman taking the fitness industry by storm
'You're losing out if you only use the gym to look good in a bikini. I'm all about feeling stronger'
When the one-time yoga teacher was accused of being too tough on clients in class, Svava Sigbertsdottir invented The Viking Method - a multi-disciplinary, functional approach to fitness with a focus on feeling faster and stronger.
Svava Sigbertsdottir, whose famous fans include Suki Waterhouse and Nicole Scherzinger, has dedicated her life to getting fit the warrior way. And the Icelandic fitness guru is flying into Dublin next month to introduce Ireland to the power of The Viking Method.
The London-based personal trainer has always been - in her own words - "a fitness maniac". However, Svava (34) struggled to find that very particular type of training which would give her the toned physique she desired over the years; from Crossfit to Pilates, kickboxing to yoga, football to ballet, High intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to badminton, none in isolation had given her the results she wanted.
So Svava set about taking the best elements from each of these different forms of training and combining them together, alongside her experience in dance and education in nutrition to create what is now known as The Viking Method.
"I have always done sports, when I lived in Iceland I did handball and football and I have always been in dance and aerobics when that got really big in the 1990s," Svava explains.
"Then I moved to London to do a degree in Dance and Musical Theatre and after that I wanted to do more physical stuff and work more with people.
"I am also a single mom, so it just didn't make sense to be working evenings and weekends and I couldn't travel. So I trained in fitness and nutrition and I became a yoga teacher as well."
However, Svava soon found that her hardcore approach to training did not marry well with her yoga practice.
"When I finished all of my studies, I got my first job in a gym down in Knightsbridge and I started to teach yoga there.
"But eventually they took that class away from me and gave me my own functional class because people kept complaining about me because my yoga was not relaxing enough, they found I was doing too many hardcore moves" she laughs.
"So they gave me my own functional classes and let me do what I wanted to do and a couple of years ago I started developing The Viking Method, because I wanted to incorporate everything that I had learned into one.
"I felt like there wasn't anything on the market that was like that and I also I felt there was nothing around that incorporated any mental aspect of fitness. It was only 'do this to lose weight,' or 'do this to look this way' it was constantly all about the physical and nothing else."
For Svava, working out is about so much more than aesthetics; looking good is simply a by product.
"I think you are losing out on so much if you only go to the gym to work to look good in a bikini or to lose weight," Svava says.
"I think all of that has such a negative effect on people. I felt there was a huge need to incorporate that focus on being able to do more and to feel stronger and faster rather than on looks.
"This whole world is very often all about who looks what way, who has gained weight or lost weight, and this new thing of if you have a big ass or not; this idea that you have to have a huge ass.
"It is constantly all about the way we look and I just wanted to take it away from that and make people happier about who they are and what they can accomplish instead."
Svava's message is spreading like wildfire, with huge numbers of 'Vikings' from around the world signing up to her online training programmes and attending her classes in London. Svava chose to use the term 'Viking' for her programme to inspire her followers to see themselves as stronger, tougher and more resilient.
"It means that you don't give up and that you go for everything and it doesn't matter if you get a tiny bit of grass in between your nails or your blow dry is going to get messed up; things like that don't matter, you just want to go for it and give it everything you have and if it's raining outside you will go and do it anyway," she tells me.
So just what does The Viking Method entail?
"I normally pair exercises together in a very specific way, so you will do an explosive one and go straight into a static one," Svava explains.
"Let's say you are doing burpees with a top jump - you do that 12 times - and as soon as you are done with that you go straight into a plank on your forearms and you do four reaches with your hands; so you are completely out of breath and you have been using everything and then you have to hold all of your muscles in order to be able to do those forward reaches, which means your body has to work so much more.
"I also use the core in a very specific way," Svava adds. "I never do any sit-ups, I never use any machines, it is all about using it in the way that it is designed to be in the body because it connects everything; you have the core in the middle and you have all of the limbs coming out from that, so if your core isn't very strong everything else will not work well.
"I do loads of crawling and pulling and pushing and twisting; just working the core in a better way than a sit-up could ever do."
Svava is also passionate about making workouts as powerful and impactful as they can possibly be.
"We work quite a lot with power and using everything inside you to bring that power out," she explains. "I want people to smash it as hard as they can and make noise and make ugly faces, to not be holding anything back or trying to do it too perfectly."
When it comes to nutrition Svava advises balance and attention to the timing of certain meals.
"You don't have to cut everything out," Svava says. "I'm not saying that you can't have anything because I like eating bad things and drinking beer as much as the next person, but it is important to time it right.
"If you're going to have it, have it after you train," Svava adds. "After you train, if you have done well and really smashed it, then you have taken all of the sugar out of your muscles and as soon as you have finished your muscles are screaming so that is your window, then you can have the white rice that you love or whatever it might be; that is the time when you can have your least healthiest meal of the day.
"The rest of the day you have to really watch what you're having, especially before you train," Svava explains.
"But for that meal after training you just need to have a bit of protein inside and then you can have whatever carbohydrates you want, but the rest of the time the only carbs you should be having are vegetables and certain fruits."
Svava trains five times a week, with two rest days. She is not a fan of working out while on holidays, which she says can often be anti-social and unhelpful in the long term.
"I'm going to Spain in a week's time and I'm not going to do anything there," she smiles. "And I am absolutely fine with that. I train quite a lot in my normal routine, so I think that break is quite good for the body. I think it's good to have rest. These two weeks will be the only two weeks in the year when I will take that time."
This break also provides some perspective and time for appreciating one's routine throughout the year, says Svava.
"With exercise, like everything in life, you need to do it for the joy of it, the way it makes you feel and the strength of it," she explains.
"I think the biggest mistake when people start out is that they do a complete 180; they haven't been to the gym for a long time and all of a sudden they go to the gym every day for two hours each day.
"Then they look at their diet and they change everything, all of their habits in one day and people manage it for at most two weeks and then they explode because it is all too much at once."
For Svava, slow, steady, gradual changes are much more manageable and make for lasting results.
"When people start with me, I will start training them twice a week and we'll add to it as we go along.
"With the diet I always change breakfast first and we do that for the first week to two weeks, and then we change lunch and so on from there," she tells me.
"You have to give it time to become a habit and that will help it to be a long-lasting change. You need that time to adjust."
And how will you know if change is occurring? From your performance Svava advises, not photographs.
"I really dislike before and after pictures because we always look at ourselves in a negative way even if you have done a lot, you will always see more; we are never happy," Svava says.
"So I choose instead to track before and after performances; on the first day of the month you do 10 shoulder presses into 10 squat jumps and you do that for as long as you can, then you train for the month and on the last day of the month you do exactly the same as you did on that first day and you can see how much more you can do."
"That is how you can see the progress and I get people to video it so that they can see everything, the technique and how much more they can now do and they can then appreciate that," Svava adds.
"This kind of accomplishment is not a short-term one, it is a long-lasting more satisfying feeling. It focuses your mind on what you can do rather than how you look, so all of a sudden - even though you will of course get those benefits - looks will not matter as much anymore."
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