If you have never been to a CrossFit box, you may want to know a few things; that they are intimidating, everyone looks strong and smashes weights on the floor. The upside though is community. The environment makes it bearable in that you don’t suffer alone. Recently, I have been introduced to Katy Gunter, a UK-born CrossFit coach and Environmental Management studies student at my box, CrossFit Cyprium in Randburg. Her strength is one of the things that made me look (maybe a bit much) at her but also she is one of the best people you will ever meet; kind and always smiling. I asked her a few questions about her fitness journey and here is her story:
Katy refers to herself as a varied person, both introverted and extroverted. She loves being with people and bouncing off other people’s energy, but also enjoys her own space. She is active, whether it’s training, playing sports or exploring new places. It’s no wonder CrossFit is her chosen poison, it is constantly varied and made interesting but also Katy enjoys a little violence at the gym.
Katy moved to South Africa a few months ago with her boyfriend Ben. On their second date, he told her that he had found a job in here, three weeks after that, she asked to join him. She was doing her masters degree online at the time and she keen to do more coaching, the move made sense. The move was delayed because of Covid-19 but a year later, they made it to Mzansi.
She grew up playing sports, heavily influenced by her older brother, everything he did, she did. She started with strength and conditioning training (which was good for her knee health) for seven years before joining CrossFit.
When asked about her coaching, Katy says that she loves engaging with people and being a part of their personal fitness journeys. Everyone’s goals are different and as a coach she has the opportunity to support and share in their achievements. “I think as a female coach it can be tough being in a male dominated industry, your capabilities aren’t assumed, you have to prove yourself. It’s easy to see when someone is uncomfortable receiving cues from a female, and sometimes you have to hurt a few egos to get people to respect you.” she says.
Katy like most females, has struggled with gender stereotypes that idolise skinny women. And, like most women pursuing any form of fitness, she fell into the trap of overtraining and under eating, which caused her fitness and strength to take a knock. She feels empowered when reflecting on the things her body can do, her strength and growth and this she credits to proper sleep and fuelling. “My strength is liberating and I feel so empowered knowing I can do so much with my body than simply fitting into someone else’s idea of ‘pretty’- My focus now is performance, and I love my body for it.”
Her schedule determines her frequency of training. On a good week, she trains 5-6 days a week, ensuring that she has at least one rest day where she tries to get some low intensity movement in (walking, stretching etc). In an ideal week she trains up to two hours a day, with her sessions comprised of strength, conditioning and technique work. When life gets in the way, Katy’s motto is “anything is better than nothing”, and she allows herself even if it’s a 20 minutes session of burpees in the garden!
Katy has previously struggled with an unhealthy relationship with food; there was a time where she would be counting calories, macros and refusing social invites because she was on a meal plan. “It’s a dangerous and sad place to be in and causes binging when you fall off the rails. She believes balance is the key for a sustainable and healthy (and happy) diet.” She bulk prepares her breakfast and lunches so she can continue eating well. She loves frittatas for breakfast (she makes them in a muffin tin) and chicken, veg and rice for lunches. Dinner is usually something rich in vegetables and protein, but if she fancies something indulgent, she doesn’t hold back. She always has protein within 30 mins after a session which she believes is important for females wanting to build muscle as female hormones can inhibit protein synthesis.
You will know Katy and only Katy is in the box if you hear the greatest showman soundtrack! It gets her going but the good news is, when she is coaching, you will get even better tunes.
This English coach reminds herself that not every day has to be a great training day, something she passes onto her clients when coaching. She understands that sometimes one needs to take the pressure off, just turn up and move. She also feels encouraged when she gets to train with others.
She is two years into her masters degree and says it requires a lot of self-discipline. She has one more year to go and is certain she will come out tops.
When she is not doing snatches, wall walks and all those elaborate CrossFit things people do, she will be found outside playing tennis, golf or hiking. She enjoys the trails in Gauteng. She also enjoys a glass of wine with friends. “I’ve been absolutely amazed at how welcoming and friendly people have been here. With CrossFit you’ll often find a community, wherever you go, but people in Joburg are so friendly, you have a conversation with someone and next thing you’re invited to a braai!”
I love watching Katy train and being coached by her, she though would love to train with the world champ, Tia-Clair Toomey.
On the misconceptions around muscular women, Katy finds it upsetting how many people, men and women, subscribe to the gender normative idea that if you have muscles, you’ll look like a man. “Firstly, have a look at your average man out there… I don’t see many muscles! I regularly have guys come up to me saying ‘woah, your muscles are bigger than mine!’ yeah, no shit Brad, I put a lot of hours into the gym, you have a Y chromosome and watch Netflix all day. It makes women afraid to lift for fear of bulking and guys get upset when you out-lift them. Strong is sexy. And hard work pays off, regardless of gender. Exercise does increase your levels of endorphins and testosterone which equals happiness and energy (NOT masculinity) why shouldn’t we have a piece of that?“