Meet the Crew: Dr. Kristin Haraldsdottir

Leanne Yenush

In the next installment of Meet the Crew, we are proud to introduce our Director of Exercise Research & Innovation, Dr. Kristin Haraldsdottir. Kristin’s accomplishments are quite impressive: a former Princeton Rowing National Champion, Division I Coach at Princeton, and has a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Safe to say her qualifications speak for themselves, but read on to get to know more about Kristin, the brains behind the structure of some of your favorite Hydrow workouts. 

Can you explain what you do at Hydrow? 

As the Director of Exercise Research & Innovation, I keep track of all the workouts Hydrow is offering its members and I make sure we are always delivering the best whole health experience possible. Essentially, this means that I’m constantly evaluating our workout structures, working closely with the Hydrow Athletes to create the best workouts and Training Camps, evaluating the efficacy of our workouts in the lab, and collaborating with our engineers to implement honest and clear feedback to our members about their workouts and experience on Hydrow. 

How does having a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology impact the way that you look at fitness and design workouts? 

My rowing career led me to coaching, which then led me to graduate school. So, I went from a pretty athletic and competitive approach to fitness to one that is holistic and data-driven. I have studied the different physiological markers of fitness and the long-term effects of exercise. In this research, I have explored different ways to track fitness -- VO2 max, time to exhaustion, heart rate variability, heart rate recovery, lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold, incorporating different types of training, etc. 

When I was an athlete and a coach, I mostly focused on performance during races and hard workouts, but graduate school made me really appreciate the bigger picture -- that regular exercise leads to a better, longer life, and that there are many ways to measure fitness. When I’m looking at Hydrow’s workouts and training programs, I’m thinking about finding approachable ways for all Hydrow users: from a college track athlete, to a new mom, even to my grandfather so that they all truly enjoy fitness and find a way to stay healthy for a long time. 

Why is working out for at least 20-minutes a day beneficial? 

It’s important to remember that “working out” doesn’t have to be super intense… at all. Depending on what your fitness and health goals are, different exercise programs will be better suited for you and what you wish to achieve. 

That being said, any physical exercise that increases your heart rate above 60% of your maximum heart rate for 20-minutes or longer causes immediate physiological changes in your body -- changes that can affect how you feel both mentally and physically immediately following your workout. Working out for just 20-minutes will immediately affect your mood by increasing serotonin levels in your brain and stimulating the endocannabinoid system. This decreases brain “fog”, improves your memory, and makes you more adaptable to new situations. 

In short, even the lowest intensity exercise for 20-minutes can turn your entire day around by improving your mood, making you more productive, and increasing your overall fitness.

You rowed Division I Crew at Princeton and won a National Championship, then transitioned to coaching and continued to see success -- what would you say to people who are rowing for the first time? 

Rowing requires you to focus 100% on what you’re doing. Because you’re actually engaging your whole body, including your hands, you can’t be on your phone or multitasking in any other way. When I was training, rowing gave me a physical and mental outlet where I could completely escape from any other pressures in my life and pour myself into a physical activity that requires full concentration. 

Rowing is not the easiest sport or workout, and that’s part of what makes it really special. You have to work pretty hard to figure the movement out, and you can spend a lifetime “mastering” the sport. It is such a great thing to focus on right now, when we are facing some of the greatest challenges that we will potentially see in our lifetimes. Rowing is the ultimate escape… even if it’s just for 20 minutes. 

Why is committing to working out on a consistent basis good for whole health? 

A consistent workout habit is worth all of the obstacles in your way, and the benefits can absolutely change your life. 

Sticking to a workout program is not easy, but the health benefits are well worth every single challenging moment. A healthy body and mind will continue to pay dividends your whole life, so keep challenging yourself to show up and put in the work.