South African CrossFit coach and athlete Natalie van Heerden is no stranger to training. She grew up athletic, competed in bodybuilding, then channeled her efforts into powerlifting, representing South Africa at multiple World Championships.

When a friend introduced her to CrossFit in 2012, it was a match made in heaven. Now, the dedicated athlete trains for four to five hours a day, working her way up the individual women’s rankings of the 2017 CrossFit Open.

Here’s what it takes to train in hopes of becoming the fittest in the world.

M&F Hers: How did you get started lifting, and did you always do CrossFit-style training?

Natalie van Heerden: From a young age, I was always sporty. Whether it was climbing trees, running around the garden, and playing cricket with my brother, or playing hockey and running track for school. I only started getting serious about sports when I went to high school. After school, I found powerlifting and went to multiple World Championships to represent South Africa.

Through a mutual powerlifting friend, I discovered CrossFit. This was November 2012, and I haven’t looked back since. My training prior to CrossFit was quite boring, and therefore my first experience with the new sport excited and challenged me. Some of the movements used in powerlifting are used in CrossFit too, and I had an awesome strength base, which my coach loved. But I had to learn all of the movements, Olympic-style lifts and gymnastics elements, from scratch when I started.

What are your three favorite exercises, and why are they your favorites?

I love heavy barbell cycling. I can move heavy weights with relative ease, so I like to have that element in a workout. Due to my height and weight, I also love rowing. Double unders are another favorite, and so is running. As a track athlete, it feels like home doing track workouts.

What’s your typical training schedule like?

I train twice a day five times a week, and every other Saturday. Mornings are spent team training, and afternoons working on weaknesses, doing accessory work, and doing additional rehab or prehab work if needed.

Do you follow any specific nutrition program?

The nutrition aspect is almost more important than the training. I follow RP Strength (Renaissance Periodization), which has helped me develop a template to maintain my bodyweight, build lean muscle mass, and speed up recovery. It has helped me tremendously.

How often do you have cheat days?

Every weekend. I try to keep it as clean as possible during the week or until Friday night at least, then spend Saturdays and Sundays relaxing a bit. Some weeks are definitely better than others. And if I feel like my body needs more food, I eat more.

What are your short- and long-term fitness goals?

I’m currently trying to sort out a back injury that I developed many years ago and neglected to sort out when it happened. Of course, it’s now becoming a bit of an issue. So I plan on rehabbing my back, competing alongside my teammates at CrossFit PBM, and continuing to train to make my dreams a reality and compete at the CrossFit Games.

You met Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Arnold Classic by chance. What was that like?

Surreal! Before our event, they stopped us from starting and put about five chairs down right next to our lane. They proceeded to tell us Arnold was going to sit there and I was like, “Wait, WHAT?!”

It was an amazing experience. A genuine, humble man, who cared about the answers he was getting after asking some questions. I wasn’t sure what to expect meeting someone with his level of celebrity, but he exceeded my expectations.

Do you have a fitness inspiration? If so, who is it?

I wouldn’t say I have a fitness inspiration, because each person has their own story and we only tend to see the highlight reel of others’ lives. I try to be my own inspiration because if I’m not gonna inspire myself, then no one will.

Follow van Heerden on Instagram and Facebook for some serious motivation.