We talked with Krista Stryker in February, 2020.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
I’m Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT, founder of 12 Minute Athlete and author of the new book The 12-Minute Athlete: Get Fitter, Faster, and Stronger Using HIIT and Your Bodyweight.
I’m 33 years old and live in Venice, California with my husband, Brian, and our dog and cat. I run 12 Minute Athlete, a high-intensity interval workout regimen consisting of incredibly short, effective workouts for athletes of all levels. We help athletes of all levels unlock their potential through short, bodyweight and HIIT workouts and mindset techniques.
Growing up, I thought the exercise gene had skipped me.
I have come from a fairly active family—my dad, who is currently seventy years old, has always been the most active person I know. He skis, snowboards, plays basketball, kiteboards, stand-up paddleboards, mountain bikes, and plays pickleball—you name it, he does it.
On the other hand, I played basketball and soccer in junior high and high school, but 99 percent of the time I would have preferred sitting and reading a good book than doing something movement-related.
On top of that, I was awkward, uncoordinated, and not very strong. I always had potential in the sports I played, but could never quite reach it. I blame part of that on my lack of confidence(I was a shy, self-conscious kid), and part of that on my total and complete lack of knowledge on how to get strong and fit.
My older brother called me “Spaghetti Arms” throughout my teenage years and early twenties. My arms were so weak I could barely even hang from a pull-up bar back then— let alone do an actual pull-up. In those days, if you asked me to do a pull-up, I would have looked at you and said you were crazy— it wasn’t ever going to happen.
So, it was a pretty unexpected turn in my life when I decided to get my personal training certification. At the time, I was living in Amsterdam with my husband, Brian, and I still wasn’t very strong. I had managed to lose most of the freshman fifteen that I had gained in college, but a pull-up, l-sit, or even a few solid push-ups with good form was still out of the question for me.
I diligently ran my three miles, three times a week (something I would never, ever do now because I equate slow running with torture), and experimented a little with lifting weights.
But if you asked me to do a full push-up, a pistol squat, or even a bridge? I thought there was no way I’d be able to do it. I thought only freaks of nature could do those things, real athletes, and genetically gifted people who didn’t happen to have long arms and an innate awkwardness.
But although I know now that my training in those days was less than effective, I still liked the changes I saw when I worked out consistently. I felt stronger, my clothes fit better, and my confidence soared. I was starting to appreciate exercise and how it could change people’s lives for the better.
Since I wasn’t allowed to work in the Netherlands (I never was able to get a work visa), I leaped faith and decided to study for my personal training certification.
Fast-forward a couple of years later: I was working as a personal trainer in New York City, right near the East Village, one of my favorite spots in the entire city. I was working crazy hours as a trainer. I would get up at 5 a.m. to train clients, then be in the gym until 8 or 9 p.m. training the “after work” crowd.
On top of that, I was working out at least two hours a day on my own. I’d hop on the treadmill, then load up the barbells, do some isolation exercises like hamstring curls, triceps kickbacks, and calf raises, do even more cardio, and then keep lifting weights until my next client. Or until I was so tired I thought I might collapse.
During that time, I suffered constant, nagging, and usually weird injuries (a popped-out rib, a fractured foot, an immobile neck, among others).
I was so exhausted and overtrained I had no energy left to do the things I really wanted to do, such as explore the city on foot with my dog, Rocket, go on a weekend bike ride with Brian, try new activities, or go hiking with friends. There was just simply nothing left after all the working out I was doing.
On top of that, I was so hungry I was eating upwards of four thousand calories a day (keep in mind I weighed about 140 pounds at the time). I wasn’t fat by any means but had trouble keeping lean. This was simply because I was exercising so much I just couldn’t stop eating. I was always so hungry. It was a vicious cycle.
It was after one of those injuries that I started experimenting with HIIT and bodyweight training. I was sick of spending so much of my day stuck in a gym and knew there had to be a more sustainable way to get—and stay—fit.
My workouts went from two-plus hours a day to less than fifteen minutes on most days. And as a natural result of the type of training I was doing, my equipment went from complicated machines at the gym to a few bars, a jump rope, and my own bodyweight.
The results shocked even me. Not only did I have more energy, have fewer injuries, and more time in my day— I also started getting leaner, stronger, and fitter than I had ever been (yes, even as a teenager) — and in an amazingly short amount of time.
Before I was busting out pull-ups, triceps dips, and other exercises, I’d thought were previously impossible. Since the workouts required so little space or equipment, I could do them in my tiny apartment using no equipment at all. Or head out to an outdoor fitness park with my jump rope and use the bars there, all while getting some fresh air.
Best of all, I had a lot more time on my hands—time to do the things that I really wanted to be doing with my day, including, yes, reading a good book.
Soon after, I created 12 Minute Athlete to share the incredible benefits of HIIT and bodyweight training with the world. At 12 Minute Athlete, we believe that everybody is an athlete and that no matter what your current level, you can start incorporating fitness and movement into your healthy lifestyle.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
I’m always challenging myself to gain new skills and learn new things. I do HIIT and sprints three to four times a week, and in addition to that, I have two main skills that I’m learning right now: handstands and boxing.
Because I have so much to work on (and because these days I really enjoy movement), I train twice on most days of the week. I’ll break these up by short 12-15 minute HIIT/sprint workouts along with boxing technique work, sparring, and handstand skill and endurance training.
I’ll also add active recoveries such as stretching, foam rolling, and lots of long walks and hikes with my dog to keep active even when I’m not training hard.
I’ve kept a training log using Evernote for nearly eight years, and really find it useful to go back and look at where I’ve come from to remind myself that even when it feels slow, I am making progress.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Like many people, when I first got started on my fitness journey, my main motivation was for appearance reasons. I was incredibly self-conscious and hated how I looked and felt in my body.
It took years of experimenting with different types of fitness to try and find something that I actually enjoyed doing, but at one point something finally switched. I started working out not because I hated my appearance, but because I liked the feeling of being strong and capable.
I’ve always been an independent person, but gaining physical strength and athleticism took it to a whole new level.
Years later, my motivation has shifted even more. Yes, I absolutely still like being and feeling strong. But I find that my main motivation to exercise is not physical, it’s mental.
When I work out, I feel better. I’m less anxious and rarely experience depression or panic attacks like I used to. I’m kinder to those around me, and I am less controlled by my emotions.
I’ve also become much more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and know that I can get through hard things if I just stick with them.
The mental benefits of exercise are the main reason I work out today and are what keep me going even when my motivation is low.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m always challenging myself to gain new skills and learn something new to keep growing as an athlete.
As mentioned before, my main focuses right now are boxing and hand balancing.
I’m currently training and competing as an amateur boxer and am always working to improve my boxing technique and get more comfortable in the ring.
When it comes to hand balancing, I’m about five years into my handstand journey and am currently working toward my one arm handstand and various presses from the floor.
Both are incredibly challenging and rewarding pursuits!
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
Like many driven and dedicated athletes, I find recovery one of the harder parts of my athletic journey. Although in the past I used to dread my workouts and use any excuse possible to avoid them, these days I love to move and would train all day long if I could.
I know how important recovery is and do my best to make it a priority.
I alternate my training days between higher intensity and more moderate-intensity workouts, and always make sure to take one day off a week of intense training. This has really helped me avoid any serious injuries and keeps me from being seriously overtrained.
I also stretch and foam roll regularly to keep up my flexibility and mobility and prioritize sleep and good nutrition.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I eat fairly healthy most of the time, opting for lots of veggies, fruits, healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates to fuel my training.
I don’t follow any single diet and don’t believe that one single nutrition approach works for everyone.
I strongly believe that food should be treated as fuel for the body, and encourage people to follow an 80/20 approach to nutrition.
I do think supplements can be helpful, especially for active people and athletes. I typically take a protein powder like Naked Whey Protein and a green supplement like Greens+ on a daily basis to fill in any gaps in my nutrition.
I currently use a Whoop to track my activity and recovery level and calories. So, I eat more intuitively.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
I love seeing high-level athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams work incredibly hard toward their dreams and I am inspired to work harder because of athletes like them.
I also love learning. And I am almost always personally working with coaches that have more experience than me, which right now includes a boxing coach and hand balancing, coach.
I read a ton of books and listen to a lot of podcasts. Some of my favorite books are:
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- The Art of Mental Training by D.C. Gonzales
- The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
One of the mindset concepts I talk about a lot on my blog and on social media is having a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset.
If you’re not familiar with it, having a fixed mindset means that you generally believe that your skills and abilities are fixed— that you’re either good at something, or you’re not. People with this mindset generally believe that there’s not much you can do to change— who you are.
Having a growth mindset, on the other hand, means you believe that no matter where you’re starting from, you can improve.
For the majority of my life, I had a fixed mindset in pretty much every area of my life. If I wasn’t immediately good at something I tried, I’d basically give up right away, declaring to myself and others that I just wasn’t good at “x”.
The truth was that I just wasn’t willing to appear bad at something for any length of time. I wanted to be the best, without having to put in the time or work.
The natural result was that I ended up quitting a lot, all because I didn’t trust myself enough to actually stick with something and see how much I could improve.
I was protecting myself from failure while at the same time never really giving myself the chance to grow or succeed at anything.
These days, I 100% believe that no matter where you’re starting from, you can get better. Yes, it will be hard work. Yes, it will take time. But it will always be worth it when you look back at how far you’ve come.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
Most of the people who work with me these days do so through the 12 Minute Athlete App and through my website.
People who want to work more directly with me can do so through our 12 Minute Athlete Academy, my 12-week online program and group coaching community focused on building a long-term workout habit and leveling up your fitness.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
You can find my upcoming book here.
Check out my blog and the app. I’m also on Instagram @12minuteathlete and Facebook.