In August 2016, I was lucky enough to deepen my education of kettlebells and self-defense in Iceland with Steve Maxwell, where we conducted seminars and teacher trainings at the world famous Mjolnir Mixed Martial Arts in Reykjavik. There, I assisted Steve in his certification of Mjolnir’s training staff on kettlebell instruction and had the pleasure of training with some of the country's best instructors and combat athletes (and, not to mention, all around awesome people).
What follows is a little diary of my time there and how I found myself training, working out, and discovering ways to stay healthy and happy. If you are planning a trip to Reykjavik, I hope you find this useful and a good blueprint of where to start with your own adventure.
NOTE: Due to our packed schedule, I admittedly didn't travel much outside Reykjavik's city limits. Iceland is known for much more than the area around Reykjavik, so I will have to wait until future visits to explore that and comment.
Workshops and Seminars
The photo above was taken during one of our Kettlebell Basics seminars that was open to the public. We were demonstrating a corrective exercise that helps deepen your squat in case you were curious. In the past year-plus, I've logged dozens of hours teaching kettlebells, many of them with Steve. I always am thankful for the opportunity to teach, and especially with Steve, as he is truly one of the pioneers of kettlebell training in North America as we know it. Unless you've attended his workshops in recent years, it is not widely known that he could very well be considered a modern innovator as well, adapting a lot of "hard style" kettlebell training to be more friendly and useful for longevity and to people of all ages and abilities.
To me, kettlebell training is emblematic of my belief that there are two ways you should master movement of your body:
- Expending maximum energy and tapping the nervous system for physiological, strength, and health benefits,
- Learning to move with efficiency, in an effort to preserve energy and maintain full control of the breath.
Kettlebells are really an example of #2 (most of the time, more on that below). I like to call a lot of kettlebell training "weighted mobility." Many movements are great mobility rituals on their own, mostly due to the "archetype" of the movements actually coming from a variety of sources: yoga, old military combat preparation, etc. Adding the resistance of the kettlebell adds a new dimension, giving you a bit of a strength advantage and gain within those ranges, while also changing the dynamic of the workout to train #1 above, as well. It's why martial artists and fighters gravitate toward them as a training tool; there's an intuitive feeling of benefit and efficiency in training with them that is integral to understand in order to be a successful fighter.
Many of those we trained with at Mjolnir have interest in combat sports outside of simply strength training alone, and it's not surprising that we had such a large crowd any time the topic turned to kettlebells. Outside of the combat crowd & teachers certified, our general public kettlebell seminar was well attended, and people from all walks of life came in, with a surprising amount of baseline knowledge. You'll have no problem finding kettlebell training in Iceland, between Mjolnir, and Kettlebell Iceland's Vala & Gudjon Svannson.
The Great Outdoors
While there, I got to "flex" with my other favorite training style, bodyweight training. Iceland has impressive natural landscapes and provides some awesome terrain for minimalism and nature-gifted pull-up bars. So we obviously found ourselves outdoors quite a bit.
In what became a unique full day seminar, Steve conducted an outdoor training workshop, where we utilized everything available to us and every form of training from walking and running breathing exercises, boulder/stone shouldering, pull up & push up ladders and all manner of physical contests.
I think people often get a little bit overwhelmed or try to do too much when it comes to outdoor training. Some get anxiety from the lack of equipment, but this is a huge misconception, as you can use nearly anything to serve as resistance. For instance: you can deadlift, carry or squat with large stones. If the “strong man” in you doesn’t feel like answering the call, your best friend is really your own body; crawling, squatting, pull ups, push-ups, and much more can be done in an endless amount of set/rep schemes and tempos (time under load), to give you a great workout.
Anytime I am traveling I get especially excited when I can get on the mats (which is pretty often, thankfully!). Thanks to recent popularity brought on by the success of top UFC contender Gunnar Nelson, the combat sports community is alive and well in Iceland.
And wow, it's also very safe to say, the Icelandic are some of the most naturally strong people I've ever had the pleasure of sharing the mats with. Steve conducted his world famous self-defense seminars in Gracie Jiu Jitsu fashion with a huge group at Mjolnir that I was lucky enough to attend. You can see from the photo that we had quite a crowd.
If you're looking to train jiu jitsu in Iceland, you'll have a very easy time finding a partner.
Going to Reykjavik? Here's How I Would Train...
While we had access to a more than a few adequate gyms, I found myself almost always opting to go outdoors. Whenever the weather permits, this is usually where I go anyway, and encourage everyone else to go as well. Iceland is known for its spectacular scenery, and around Reykjavik (and beyond), they're well aware of it. You may be a little hard pressed to find a pull-up bar, which is why we made one ourselves on multiple occasions, but this is still where I'd spend the bulk of my time when looking to sweat.
I'd also chiefly take advantage of the clean air and go hiking. Along the way, stop and do your favorite calisthenics.
My favorite workout, and the one I find myself most often doing while traveling is pull-up ladders. This is mostly because I'm usually with Steve or other friends, and it's a very social way to get a very large number of reps in (and with good form!). You can do just about any exercise with this repetition/set fashion. It's also no coincidence this is the perfect workout to do during a hike through one of the many parks, trails or unexplored landscapes.
As was mentioned above, if you're looking for a gym, or kettlebells, Iceland has no shortage. The culture is into fitness, and you can very quickly look-up a gym or place to drop in for the day. My own recommendation would be to contact Mjolnir, or Gudjon & Vala Svannson, the top kettlebell instructors in Iceland (who were also gracious guides and companions to me while I was there). I, of course must recommend the instructors Steve and I worked with at Mjolnir as well!
Overall, I'd say that if you aren't from Iceland, and you took the time to stop there, you're probably into the outdoors. So skip what you'd normally do, challenge yourself to a new outdoor workout and adventure, and just enjoy the hike.
If you enjoyed this, I'd appreciate if you took a visit to my Facebook page or sign up for the mailing list, and feel free to tell me in the comments below what you thought of your time training in Iceland!