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Book Club: Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr’s The Heart Is the Strongest Muscle

February 6, 2024 by
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House
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“This book is for anyone who really wants to change their life. It is NOT for someone who is looking for excuses or unwilling to go full tilt in unleashing their potential. I am going to be straight with you throughout these pages, because the advice is that simple and that black and white. There is no gray area when it comes to winning.” 

– Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr, The Heart Is the Strongest Muscle

Those of us who have been a part of the CrossFit world for at least a handful of years have come to know Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr as the greatest CrossFitter to ever compete. 

The six-time Games champion has set a record that is yet to be broken and continues to inspire hundreds of thousands of athletes and competitors each year with the feats that she’s able to accomplish. 

For those of us who were avid fans of the sport and watched the 2015 and 2016 Games, we saw a very different Tia-Orr than the one we know today, finishing in second place in both years. The woman who went on to win six consecutive times, beginning in 2017, is one built with courage, determination, and strength of will. 

In The Heart Is the Strongest Muscle, Toomey-Orr shares insight into her transformation into the Fittest Woman on Earth, giving advice along the way on overcoming setbacks, training, eating, recovering, and building a champion’s mind.

“Hard Yakka”: Toomey-Orr reflects on her childhood, growing up on the Sunshine Coast, outside of Brisbane, Australia. From a very young age, she learned the value of hard work, or “hard yakka,” as her father spent 12-hour days working on their sugar cane farm. This instilled in her the value of “sticktoitiveness” and grit. She credits her success to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. She had the internal drive to pursue athletics and compete, but she was surrounded by a family that pushed her and supported her endeavors. 

As a young woman, she met her husband, Shane Orr, and the two set off to make their lives together, although not in the world of fitness, but in mining. Missing the fire of competition from her younger years, Toomey-Orr was convinced to join a CrossFit gym, where she found her stride immediately. She excelled quickly, and it was only two years after her first CrossFit Open that she made it to the Games, taking second to Katrín Davíðsdóttir in 2015. 

  • “I grew up learning that responsibility for yourself is key, and you can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. There’s a phrase we’d say all the time back home – ‘all yak and no yakka’ – to describe someone who’s all talk and no action.”

Perfection is Unattainable: The book continues as Toomey-Orr takes us on her life’s journey past winning the CrossFit Games for the first time, then the second time, and shares that while she has set records in the sport, absolute perfection is unattainable and comparing oneself to others can be toxic. While this is inevitable, we must focus on “competing, not comparing,” as the two are vastly different. She speaks to vulnerability and the specific challenges faced by women in the sport of fitness in the areas of body image, social media, and sexual discrimination. 

  • “There’s a fine line between striving to be unstoppable and striving to be perfect. If you try to be perfect, you will constantly disappoint yourself because perfection is unattainable.”

Sharpen the Sword: In the final third of the book, Toomey-Orr warns against complacency and comfort, as she states these are enemies of greatness. Never being satisfied is what drives one to relentlessly pursue a goal, and work hard in the process. 

While this all takes time and dedication, Toomey-Orr stresses being astutely aware of creeping complacency in training and surrounding yourself with like-minded, focused people who can contribute to the end goal. 

The book rounds out with advice on specific day-to-day practices, such as mindfulness, nutrition, and recovery advice which stress a balance between adherence to one’s plan for success and the enjoyment of a night out or a special meal every so often and a bag of M&Ms.

The Heart Is the Strongest Muscle is full of powerful anecdotes, quotes, and takeaways for anyone looking to push themselves in the sport of fitness and “take their mindset from great to unstoppable.” Toomey-Orr lays out the book in easy-to-digest sections, with advice as she speaks directly to the reader: that man or woman out there looking to become the next Fittest on Earth.

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