New Zealands Fittest Woman
First, take a minute to watch this video segment on Taz from TV New Zealand:
I checked out of the Navy in late May of 2008. A few days later, my friend Chase and I were watching a surfing video while waiting for the tide to switch in Pacific Beach, California. The video was called Drive Through New Zealand and showed a road trip across both islands of the country. It looked like an incredible place.
"We should go."
About a week later we landed in Auckland. I had emailed a friend and fellow entrepreneur named Darren Ellis and he offered to pick us up at the airport. Darren is extremely well traveled and maintains the theory that a good workout is one of the best ways to get ahead of jet lag. He had just opened up his new facility, Crossfit New Zealand, so it was our first stop.
Inside CFNZ, a smiling dark-haired girl popped her head over a balcony and said, "You boys want a little pre-workout espresso?"
We heard a little grinder going and minutes later she placed hot cups of extremely strong coffee in our hands. We said our thanks and she shrugged them off with, "Actually, we just got that machine and I'm still trying to figure out how to use it. You guys are my guinea pigs."
This is how I met Taz.
Tamaryn, aka Taz, is the other half of Crossfit New Zealand.
We downed our espresso, changed and warmed up as Darren and Taz explained the workout that the four of us would be doing.
Afterwards, while lying on my back gasping for air, several thoughts passed through my mind. The workout I had just completed was pretty damn rough. It included a total of 100 bodyweight pullups in about 20 minutes. The girl sitting on the floor next to me had done all of them. And she had almost beaten me.
Crossfit NZ has exploded in popularity since it's inception, largely due to the quality of the two people behind it. In every way, they practice what they preach. Darren is in incredible physical condition and Taz, well, Taz is a badass.
Several months ago, Taz competed against athletes from across all of Australia and New Zealand in the Crossfit Australasian Games and took first place for the continent.
At the World Games in the US she was a strong competitor until a back injury took her out of the running at the end of the first day. She'll be back next year. But first she may just have a go at competitive kayaking.
Barefoot: You and Darren work out together and he even occasionally uses you for his weights. Are we gonna see a tie breaker on your coaches competition anytime soon?
Tamaryn Venter: Ha-ha. Well we both seem to come up with legit reasons why we can’t do it when the other person asks! Yes, I think it must be time. Do you want to pick the workout for us?
BF: I'll have to get back to you on that. Maybe I'll gather some devious ideas from my clients.
You're physically capable of some pretty impressive stuff like heavy deadlifts, muscle ups and competing in the Crossfit World Games. Are you a genetic freak or is it that you've got some stuff figured out that most people don't?
TV: If by freak you are referring to my short legs and long torso, then yes, genetically I am very freakish. Regarding performance I don’t think I have anything abnormal genetically speaking. I think the biggest thing I have learned from my 17 years of being an athlete is that having confidence in your own ability is vital for success. I think many people believe in themselves, but that isn’t the same as being 100% convinced about yourself and your ability. It’s pretty hard to fool yourself! Believe me I tried for 16 years.
BF: How did you try to fool yourself?
TV: I thought I was a pretty confident person. Turns out when it came to competing I was just as insecure as the next person. I feel like I have a better handle on my abilities now and am more realistic about what I can achieve.
BF: You're pretty incredible at pullups. How did you get to that level? What do you recommend for women starting out who can only do one or two bodyweight pullups or can't even lock one out without assistance?
TV: Ahh yes pull-ups, one of my favorite exercises. I guess this is where I say I haven’t always been able to do pull-ups? I wish I could, but lucky for me I have been involved in a variety of sports my whole life and upper body strength was essential for me. However, CrossFit definitely made me better at them and I improved by practicing all the time. My recommendation is to take a big breath, be patient, add a lot of practice and persevere like mad. It will happen, ladies. If you are a complete pullup beginner, find a set of rings and practice pulling yourself up with minimal leg assistance so you are still traveling the same path as a pullup and progress from there.
BF: What do you eat in a typical day? What about around the workout window? Got a favorite pre or post workout food?
TV: I try to live a simple Primal lifestyle. Essentially this means I eat meat, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, little fruit and hardly any dairy. I try to get some protein, fat and carbohydrate in at each meal; placing more importance on protein and fat.
Breakfast is three eggs scrambled with mushrooms and pine nuts with some spinach on the side, covered in olive oil!
Lunch and dinner are usually pretty similar and will involve veggies and meat. A few favs are roast vegetable salad with chicken, or paleo pizza (base is made from almond meal) topped with sweet potato and chorizo sausage!
BF: I'd love to have that recipe.
TV: How much you willing to pay Craig? Just kidding, here ya go. Super simple!
Note: Tamaryn's pizza recipe is posted on the community side of the Barefoot site.
Snacks involve a variety of tuna, veggies like carrots and tomatoes, nuts and sometimes when I am lazy or on the go, protein powder.
I save my fruit for post workout meals. I will throw some protein, berries, pineapple and coconut milk into the blender and make a smoothie. This is my favorite snack for sure, I sometimes dream about how good it tastes.
One last thing, I don’t want you all thinking I can’t enjoy a treat or two along the way! My weakness at the moment seems to be date pudding and home made ice-cream. I indulge once every few weeks on one of the above items.
BF: How often do you work out?
TV: I workout 5-6 times a week. I am still in a bit of a chill out phase at the moment but when I am training for competition I might add in a few more sessions here and there.
I used to train about 14 times a week! That was before I had a brain. Now, I am all about the recovery, in fact I am the master at it; I can sleep on command any where.
BF: I'm a huge fan of naps, particularly since I get up early. How much sleep do you normally get?
TV: I normally get 8+ hours (up early and early to bed!) per night and then sometimes I will have a 10-20min cat nap during the day.
BF: What do you do if you feel like you're in a lull and not progressing?
TV: Since doing CrossFit I haven’t encountered any lulls, I keep improving. However, if I were to encounter one I would assess the following; diet, training volume and sleep quality. I am 99% certain that if you aren’t progressing you will find the answer in one of the above. Change something and record your performance. Most of the time we know the answer, we just don’t like to admit to it.
BF: Is there a common limiting factor that you see when someone's progress gets stuck?
TV: Strength is always the limiting factor. New clients make huge gains in strength due to the exposure of all the new stimuli then, once that adaptation phase has passed their progress slows down or plateaus. It’s almost a tease. You think you are awesome and strong and that if you keep going at that rate you will be able to deadlift four times your body weight, then all of a sudden everything comes to a blinding halt and you can’t for the life of you figure out what you have done wrong! Keep working hard and you will get past it.
BF: What/who is your biggest motivation to stay in shape?
TV: I know this sounds kind of lame but I am my own biggest motivation to stay in shape. I don’t aspire to be like anyone else, just a better version of myself. Oh and I am super competitive, that always helps when I am having a bad day – "You aren’t going to win by sitting on the couch." The beauty of motivation is that it has to be your own, otherwise it ain't motivating.
BF: A lot of women struggle with losing the last bit of fat on their lower abs. Any tips on getting that done?
TV: No, but if you find out can you let me know! But seriously, there has been evidence linking high levels of cortisol with lower abdominal fat storage. Cortisol is a hormone that is increased by physical or emotional stress. So going back to the statement about a plateau in results, get more sleep, quit your stressful job, break up with that loser boyfriend and eat well!
BF: Is there a workout that sticks out to you as the hardest you've ever done?
9 Hang Squat Clean (50kg)
3 Legless Rope Climbs
BF: You've read the article on our site titled You Will Have Your Waterloo. What about you? Have you ever had to face your own Waterloo?
TV: CrossFit World Games 2009.
Five workouts in less than 24 hours. First workout; 5km hilly off road run. Second workout; 1RM deadlift. Third workout; 170m hill sprint carrying 10kg sandbag. Fourth workout; 500m Row then hammer a 3-foot stake into ground then 500m row. Fifth workout; 30 Wallball (6kg), 30 Barbell snatch (20kg) – 3 Rounds. These were all within one hour of each other over the course of the day.
I couldn’t really feel my legs after the run so the thought of performing a one-rep max deadlift less than 40min later left a rather unsavory taste in my mouth!
At one point I remember trying to conserve as much energy as I could between workouts by lying as still as I could, trying to relax and stay calm. Given that I was surrounded by 150 other excited exhausted athletes, this was a hard task. I remember thinking that what we were being put through was borderline ridiculous and maybe they were actually trying to kill us!
Going into the last workout I knew my back was no good, it was tight, sore and very fatigued. I put this to the back of my mind as I decided that every other athlete out there was suffering just as much as me. Two snatches into the workout (just the 89 to go!) I felt my back go – pretty badly too.
I had two options: stop and save what was left of my lower back or keep going and feel at least some sense of accomplishment. I was in some serious pain and knew I was moving at the speed of a dying tortoise but decided that I would never be able to live with myself if I pulled the pin! I ended up getting timed out of that workout and dragged off the tarmac a mess. That was my Waterloo!
BF: So you were running in 18th place until being injured in that last workout of the first day, and then couldn't continue to the second day, right?
TV: Yeah that’s right, I was a bit devastated I didn’t make it to the second day; top 16 did. The second day’s workouts were right up my alley in terms of my skill set. A mixture of bodyweight and strength exercises.
BF: What was your athletic background like growing up?
TV: I don’t remember a time where sport was never a huge part of my life. I think my parents threw me into a pool at the age of three and told me to swim fast. Yes, that’s exactly how it went. Is that child abuse? From there, I wanted to be good-no-better at every sport my brothers played and then some. At the age of 5 onwards my day went something like this: swimming, school (some made up sport during lunch), then usually three of the following sports practices back to back; diving, hockey, swimming, squash, ballet, horse riding… anyway, you get the picture. I was 5.
BF: I imagine that you grew up in some part of Russia being groomed as an Olympic hopeful for the good of the country. You fake the Kiwi accent well though.
TV: Ha-ha, sounds like it doesn’t it! Is South Africa part of Russia? Believe it or not it was my choice to be playing that many sports.
I think my current athletic lifestyle is a result of my past and that I am always happier when I am healthy and active. I am totally in love with the fact that I own a business which allows me to express my passion for sport and fitness and I get to share that passion with others. That is the cherry!
Being active is part of human nature and everyone has the potential to enjoy it and make it part of their lifestyle, they just don’t know it yet! Find something you are passionate about and focus on enjoyment first, that is success - results will follow.
BF: There aren't many physical cultures around anywhere but it seems that you and Darren have created one in Auckland. Are you still out playing when you aren't at the gym? Is the surfboard that Chase left at your place during our visit getting some time in the water?
TV: We are doing our best, but we are still fighting the usual crap media hype that surrounds the health and fitness industry. Luckily for us CrossFit speaks for itself and now some of our once sedentary clients are out rock climbing and searching the net for new fun adventure races to enter!
I can’t speak for Darren but I definitely try to get out and about. It is winter here so not much surfing going on but when I am not working on the business I am trying to get into my kayak or head down to the driving range to hit some balls.
To learn more about Taz, Darren and Crossfit NZ, check out www.crossfitnz.typepad.com