Meet The Fittest Woman On Earth
As Reebok CrossFit Games champion 2013, Manchester firefighter Samantha Briggs can out-squat, out-lift and out-sprint any woman – and 99pc of men! – on the planet, writes Celina Murphy
It's natural to be sceptical when someone claims to have located "the fittest woman on Earth". For starters, how do you define fitness? Are we talking about how much they can lift, how fast they can sprint or how many records they've broken? And is it possible to compare athletes across different sports, events and disciplines?
If you had watched Samantha Briggs annihilate the competition at the Reebok CrossFit Games in Carson, California, this summer, you'd know that fitness here is about how far you can push the body you've built.
A gruelling weekend of strength, speed and stamina-focused tests, this worldwide competition is designed to find the "fittest on Earth", and warns participants that they should "be ready for anything".
"People still say, 'But there must be certain things you have to train for . . . '," Samantha tells FIT, "and I say, 'Well no, they can actually throw anything at you!' One year, we had a wheelbarrow and you had to fill it with sandbags, run to one side of the tennis stadium, throw them over a six-foot wall and carry them to the top of the stadium! No matter what training you do, you'll never think about doing that!"
After lifting, running and pulling her way to first place, Samantha was dubbed the fittest woman on the planet on July 31, and nobody who witnessed her jaw-dropping performance could question the title.
"It still feels really surreal," she says. "I think I'm going to wake up and I've still got to do it all! I've been working for this point for two years, because I was injured last year, so it's been a long way. Compared to when I last competed in 2011, the CrossFit Games have grown so much. I mean it was crazy in 2011 and now it's just exploded!"
A knee injury prevented Samantha from competing in the 2012 games, but she was determined not to miss this year's event.
"I think it probably made me more focused," she reflects. "I had to be really focused to do all my rehab and working on mechanics and things like that, so when I could do the full movements again, and I wasn't going to be putting any stress on my knee. I really had to strip everything back and kind of rebuild myself."
A firefighter for more than 10 years, Samantha embraced her love affair with CrossFit from the very first pull-up.
"I did my first class and said: 'Yep! Cancel my gym membership, I'm moving to CrossFit'," she remembers.
"I loved being a firefighter but I also love being an athlete, and if I can sustain being an athlete full-time, then it will benefit my training, definitely, to try and go back and defend the title."
The first step to building a CrossFit-ready body? For Samantha, it's a strict, paleo-based diet, but she points out that it varies from athlete to athlete.
"I do know some athletes who don't take as much care over it as others, but I've found that if I eat clean, I recover better and my training's better, so it just makes sense for me to sustain a clean diet."
In fact, Samantha's body is so finely tuned that when she does treat herself, it affects her performance the very next day.
"You can definitely feel the difference," she says. "Because I don't have any sugar in my diet, if ever I have sugar, I can't sleep that night because of the sugar rush!"
Indulgence comes at a very high price for Samantha, but she still allows herself the odd dietary extravagance, her favourites being white chocolate and raspberry cookies and the occasional bottle of lager.
"I was just quoted recently saying alcohol is a waste of time, but if you actually read the interview, I said that I indulge every now and then, but that it has the biggest negative effect on my training. As that got released, I was actually out at my mate's birthday with a bottle of beer in my hand! It was on Twitter and they were like, 'Eh, Sam, you've got a bottle of Peroni!'
"Obviously in the run up to the games, drinking is a definite no-no, and I'm not going out and getting paralytic because it wouldn't just be the next day's training, it would be the next couple of days' training. But now is my off-season, and on my friend's birthday, I had three bottles of Peroni . . . somebody shoot me!"
A long-time fan of active recovery, Samantha spends her days off testing out a new sport, rather than chilling out on the couch. "Me and two of the guys at my gym have just started doing Do Something Different Day, so each Wednesday we're doing something different – we're not allowed go to the gym.
'We went out on the bikes the other week and did a 30-mile bike ride, so it's not by any means easy, but it was a fun day. We got out in the sun and we had a laugh.
'The week before, we went bouldering, and we've just booked to go to a velodrome for a track taster session!"
Samantha will be ticking off all the wild cards possible in an attempt to defend her status as "fittest woman on Earth" in 2014, but understandably enough, she's got mixed feelings about her rather impressive title.
"I feel a little bit shy about saying it and throwing it around," she notes, "but obviously it's a nice title to have . . . and I've worked hard to get it!"
Reebok CrossFit footwear and apparel are available from the dedicated Reebok CrossFit section in Life Style Sports in Blanchardstown
HOW TO TRAIN LIKE SAM
Do you think there's a CrossFit champion buried deep down inside you somewhere? Take a leaf out of Samantha Briggs's book and you could be keeping her company on that podium . . .
Train in a group
Being the only UK athlete who qualified for the Reebok CrossFit Games 2013, Sam headed for America to find a training partner that could match her strength and stamina. "It made sense for me to train with an athlete who was preparing for the same thing that I was," she says. "You push each other."Match your training to the event
If you're working towards a competition, the last thing you want to do is to exert to the point of injury. "The focus in the run-up to the games isn't trying to get personal bests," Samantha explains. "I try and get stronger in the off-season and then go back to getting faster in the run-up to the games."Beware of cheat days
Sam prefers not to plan when and how she's going to indulge. If it's a special occasion or she just really fancies a treat, she'll have one. Otherwise, she leaves it all up to willpower. "When you've been eating clean for so long, you kind of get out of the habit and you don't really miss it," she warns. "Then, when you have a bit you think, 'Oh that was quite nice, I'll have another.'"Don't spend your rest days on the couch
Any pro athlete will tell you that recovery is just as important as the workout itself, but for Samantha, rest means getting on a bike or into the water. "I find that if I do nothing, then I feel worse," she says. "I'd rather keep moving – just something that's not as intensive, something that's not going to beat my body up as much."Keep your eyes on the prize
Whether preparing for an event or trying to build on one element of her strength, Samantha trains with short-term goals in mind. "I'm hopefully going to be doing a few competitions in the run-up to next year, but they won't be my focus," she says. "Ultimately, I'm going back to defend my title, so all my plans are to get ready and fit for the games next year."