Crossfit by candlelight [February i-Course review]

28 Feb

Well, the i-Course was going well; we were a good way through the cleans, when disaster struck…the building was plunged into darkness (semi-gloom really, but that doesn’t sound so windswept and exciting!), and nothing we could do would get the lights back on again…not swearing,  not moaning, not blaming shody workmanship, so…leaving the calm, and very cool Sally Dixey teaching the kettlebell swing and snatch in the bracing outdoors of Gales Gardens in Bethnal Green (but at least the all day rain held off for a few minutes), the intrepid Andrew Stemler dashed off in his (yet to be washed) car and got hold of a jolly bright light, and saved the day…hoorah!

A fantastic well done to Steven, Kate and Twyla for entertaining the troops during the lunch time, with rousing songs and face painting, while nervously waiting for the emergency lighting to appear…phew!

The afternoon was fantastic with a few of the attendees getting muscle -ups…wooo hoooo. Lots of shadows too!

Brian's first muscle-up

It was a bit cold , so thanks to all the attendees who tolerated cold butts for most of the day…

i-Course attendees, February 2010

This course is such fun you you still learn in the pitch black (this really is a fearful fib). But this is typical British spirit…( not the  invading other peoples countries and nicking their natural resources, thing) but jolly well getting on with stuff.

Chin Chin, pip pip!

Book your space on the next “guaranteed to be  a bit lighter” i-Course, by hitting the “Getting Started” button

Notice that the Crossfit London neck scarfs are back…. big time!

Why Olympic lift? The clean and snatch in functional fitness

26 Feb

I’m sometimes asked why people who want to develop functional fitness should Olympic lift. Here is my answer.

Depending upon your view, I have either a very narrow or very broad definition of functional fitness. I simply look at those people I would want to take with me into the unknown. Recent crises have seen buildings collapse, crowds riot, aid in need of unloading and rival villages or postcode gangs in need of killing or a good shanking.

I know I annoy a lot of strength trainees who expect me to marvel at their deadlift, and wee little runners who want me to stand drop-jawed at the fact their genetic profile means they can prance around like a gazelle all week. My problem is this specialism produces useless gits. There, I’ve said it. Are you  are kettlebell specialist? Yes, no, sorry – you’re a git. Same with 400m runners,  same with deadlifters:  Introverted, useless gits.

In a normal world, nature does not throw you component challenges of strength or distance or flexibility – it just drops you in holes, floods your home, collapses buildings on your family. Are you a fantastic deadlifter, tough, because you now have to run 10k to get some water? A yoga specialist? Damn, you now have to shift a ton of rubble to rescue your family. A runner? Now you have to  pull yourself out of a hole. Bugger!

So that’s my view. Agree or not.

But what are the Olympic lifts?

According to me, in a less witty writing style:

“The Olympic lifts are a sole-participant, self-paced skill performed in a static environmental context.  The move is initiated by the performer, which  according to Gentile (Schmidt  & Weisberg, 2000) makes this a closed motor skill. It is an object manipulation action function involving the change of position of a barbell  (Magill 2007), requiring correct management  and the adjustment of body position to counteract the in-balance created by the object and conforms to  skill definitions suggested by both Knapp (cited in Guthrie 1953) and Magill (2007): a learned ability, maximum certainty, minimum of time and energy with predetermined results and, according to   Schmidt & Weisberg (2000) produced as a function of practice.

The snatch  for example is   a ground based  multi-joint weightlifting exercise. The athlete exerts large multiple-muscle group force whilst standing on his own feet, thus developing balance and  coordination. The speed develops the nervous system (Garhammer, 1985). The move requires a triple extension at the ankle, knee and hip – a  jumping athletic movement, which  demands the athlete recruits muscles in  a synchronized pattern. The move develops explosive power:  and requires a high degree of kinesthesis or proprioception (Magill, 2007) The larger muscles are mainly used, making this a gross motor skill,  requiring both gross motor and psychomotor ability (Magill, 2007)” (Stemler, 2009)


But for those who like multiple references:

According to Arthur Drechsler, author of The Weightlifting Encyclopedia often cited as “the single most important book ever written on Olympic weightlifting” (by people who cannot possibly have the read this boring book),

1. Practicing the (Olympic) lifts [the snatch and the clean-and- jerk as well as related lifting techniques] teaches an athlete how to explode.
2. Practicing proper technique in the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete to apply force with his or her muscle groups in the proper sequences.
3. In mastering the Olympic lifts, the athlete learns how to accelerate objects under varying degrees of resistance.
4. The athlete learns to receive force from another moving body effectively, and becomes conditioned to accept such forces.
5. The athlete learns to move effectively from an eccentric to concentric muscle action.
6. The actual movements performed while executing the Olympic lifts are among the most common and fundamental in sports.
7. Practicing the Olympic lifts trains an athlete’s explosive capabilities, and the lifts themselves measure the effectiveness of the athlete in generating explosive power to a greater degree than most other exercises they can practice.
8. The Olympic lifts are simply fun to do.

Chiu and Schilling (2005) observe that Olympic weightlifting is associated with improvements in motor control, noticeably improved activation of muscle groups and motor units, and activation of more fast-twitch fibers. Hence the skills are also taught to many athletes as part of their strength, conditioning and power  programmes, and are not pursed as a sport  in their own right.

How do you learn this stuff.

Without a doubt, you must learn the snatch with a bit of PVC pipe in a Crossfit London UK – style of seminar. A good 2 hours of marine-type drilling will get you the basics of the snatch .You can build on this in the years to come. I recommend this  because it was the way I was taught.  It’s the method we use on the i-course, and I have used it for  5 years of one-on-one and class training. It has received praise in scientific literature.

I think it’s very superior to throwing a  20kg bar at someone and telling  them to get on with it. I see this approach too often in the few remaining “authentic” lifting clubs around – or certainly those that are competition-orientated who believe that your training should be as abusive and poor as the training they had, combined with the belief that breaking complex skills down is “spoon feeding”.

Me,  I love being spoon fed.

Once you have the basics, start adding weight. It’s as  simple as that.

So Olympic lifting is essential to be  a functional athlete?

There are generations  of strong, effective, functional people who have destroyed whole civilizations, and mutilated acres of this  planet’s surface who never  heard of the Olympic lifts, let alone screwed one up. (Incidently, missing a lift is the more fun part of lifting: hence the famous books, “When Lifting Goes Bad”,” Missed Lifts That Amost Killed Me”, “Missed Lifts That Almost Killed The Cat”,  “Missed Lifts That Actually Got The Cat”,”Why Your Cat Doesn’t Want You to Olympic Lift”.)

So, no, it’s not essential.

In the same way it’s not essential to buy your girlfriend flowers.

If it’s so great how come its so underground?

For those of us who have lifted for a while, and see throwing a bar into the air then catching it as normal, we must remember that all this fun has all but been wiped out as a general fitness activity. Most gyms don’t have bars, certainly cannot be bothered to buy expensive bumper plates, and will go beserk if you drop  a weight on the floor. Above all they don’t employ staff with enough skill to teach the lifts. Those that have the skill at your local leisure centre, quickly leave.

As a competitive activity, lifting appeals to  a minority of a minority. As an all-day sporting event in anything below Olympic level, to watch or to take part in, it is viciously boring. I don’t intend to compete/watch again. If I do, I’m taking a spoon to scoop out my eyes with halfway through the day, just to break the boredom.

But to take an activity this effective and make it this unheard of, takes some doing. Until recently Olympic lifting has been seen as a dedicated sport (yawn, yawn, see above), controlled by a  very well meaning,  government handout-obsessed but incompetent group of old boys who have managed to make a boring sport difficult to access and learn. The years of mismanagement and introspective alienation of new trainees needs acknowledgement and praise. Their love and devotion to the sport is without question. If only that was enough.

And it must be said, if young athletes  giggle) are the lifeblood (tee hee) of any sport (humerous splutter), the fact that  the word “snatch” (hysterical out of control laughter) is also slang for female sex organs (lie on the floor, slap ground repeatedly), makes this a difficult activity to teach to yoof. However, it’s hours of mirth for any teenage boy, and earns the life-long animosity of any teenage girl, who will also be taught how to (wait for it) clean (woooha, geddit!!).

But why did the Olympic lifts come crashing back to life.

Rapid, force-generating hip extension has always been at the heart of athletics ( jumping, sprinting etc), but this force has always been seen as a single explosion  The few athletes who are encouraged to take up the Olympic lifts normally focus on low-repetition and high weight, in pursuit of Olympic weightlifting’s objectives of power and strength.

According to Greg Glassman, Crossfits founder, the value of the lifts outstrips their much-promoted development of strength and power.  Those who struggle to learn the clean often suffer from a lack of sufficient speed, flexibility and ability  irrespective of how much imagined strength they possess. Refinement of the move calls for exacting standards of coordination accuracy and balance which often outstrips the ability of most  strength specialists

His observation that directly proportional to the load you can clean are the benefits, strength, power, accuracy, flexibility, speed, accuracy, agility and balance, is a standard proposition. However his second, unique, world-changing, visionary observation was that your cardiorespiratory endurance and stamina are directly proportional to the reps and loads you can clean. Crossfit, to my knowledge, was unique in the early days in requiring repeated hip extension under fatiguing conditions which, arguably, is more functionally relevant than the best you can lift. The ability to do one thing explosively, once, is very overrated (there is the potential for a smutty joke here that I am rising above).

Heretically, Greg also goes on to state that you don’t need to be able to do the lifts super-well to get super-benefits. This must have a been a stinging slap in the face for the old boys who had spent years  of effort working out the most effective way to lift half a kilo more.

This is a complete exercise which incorporates a “super-useful” core to extremity motor recruitment pattern, along with learning how to generate and transmit large and sudden forces.

From another perspective, it builds bravery and stupidity, the two essentials for any elite functional athlete . The Olympic lifts involve throwing stuff from the floor to above your head (while standing). Visualise the issue – you have thrown something heavy into the air, and it’s now crashing down upon you…

You have two  options,

1) Run like hell or
2) Stay and catch it.

Option 1 is sensible and demonstrates a mature ability to identify risk. Option 2 is dangerous, foolhardy, bound to end in tears –  and – incidently, the right answer.

WOD 24 Feb: Pull ups, Leg raises & Back raises: Team style!

24 Feb

Well, we kicked off with a beginners class…

Tonight's beginner class (Vincent, Naim, Alina & Brendon)

…followed by a great team work out of:

Three rounds for times:

  • 15x Assisted pull-ups
  • 15x Leg raises
  • 15x Back raises
Team pull ups (Amelia, Helen, Ruairi & Julian)

It’s all go at the Crossfit London UK Blackboard Gym!

More photo’s on the CrossFit London Flickr page, here.

WOD 23 Feb: Fight Gone Bad Score

23 Feb

A massive “woo hoo” goes out to super star Warren for banging out a  fantastic 341 fight gone bad score. Well done!

A big congratulations to the 5.30, 6.30 and 7.30 pm teams who rowed, push pressed, sumo deadlift high pulled, box jumped and wall balled for all they were worth.

The 5.30 team hang-out for a post FGB muscle flex

But personal stories of pain and effort were the inspirational tales of the day.

Kieran digs deep
Mike push presses to 279
Yuri scores Amelia

WOD 22 Feb: Did someone dare mention box jumps?

22 Feb

Rosie, Kate, Helen, and more…hate box jumps!

“Physical, mental and emotional torture”, says Kate…

So this combo went down just brilliantly with the Crossfit London Women Only session (every Monday at 6.30pm)

Three rounds for time of:

  • 10 double unders
  • 15 box jumps
  • 20 kettlebell swings

But we had to stop Kate complaining so we hung her upside down.

When Kate complains about box jumps we hang her upside down...

We ramped it up for the 5.30p, and 7.30pm, classes with:

Three rounds for time

  • 20 double unders
  • 20 box jumps
  • 30 kettlebell swings

Yum, Yum.

The 7.30 team swing, jump, and turn!

Tuna and Avocado Salad [Paleo recipes]

22 Feb

Tuna and Avocado Salad

This is one of my go-to favourites when it comes to making a tasty salad that is high in protein and fat.


2 Large Hard-Boiled Eggs
1 cup ripe Avocado, mashed
1/2 cup Onion, chopped
1 can of Tuna (in water or brine)
2 tablespoons Mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of chopped Jalapeno peppers
1 Fresh Lemon Juice
Few drops of Tabasco sauce (to taste)
Salt, to taste
  1. Peel eggs, and mash with a fork
  2. Peel avocado and squeeze 1/2 lemon on it to keep from discolouring
  3. Mash eggs and avocado together well – do not be put of by the the ‘pale greeness’ of things so far!
  4. Drain water from tuna and mix with onions, eggs, avocado, Jalapeno peppers, salt, Tabasco sauce, and mayonnaise
  5. Serve over lettuce.

Note: the end result doesn’t look much like the picture above, but short of snapping a shot of what is smeared round a bowl in my fridge, it is the best that I can come up with!


  • I served this on a base of raw baby spinach leaves sprinkled with ground black pepper and lemon juice. It was well tasty.
  • The original recipe calls for ‘dill relish’, but I don’t know what that is. Jalapeno peppers both sound and taste better.
  • Obviously you can scale this up by doubling up on the ingredients to make a batch for the week. It seems to last quite well.
  • If you are Zone-ing, and need to get get extra fat in (perhaps subbing carb blocks of 2x fat) then go wild with the mayo and avocado
  • Red onion is a nice change of pace from the kind of sissy yellow variety. Just saying.

Original recipe can be found at the fascinatingly named, yet somewhat niche, Their picture also looks nothing like the final dish. Go figure.

Paleo Nutrition: Anthropological evidence? [30 day paleo challenge]

22 Feb

What does anthropological/archeological evidence tell us of the effect of nutrition on a wide variety of health factors?

Dr Michael Eades, author of ‘Protein Power‘, has long believed in the power of food to affect a wide range of health factors. He is also a great believer in the ‘paleo’ approach to nutrition, using this as a basis for a number of his publications. He holds strong to the view that the modern diet of refined sugars and grains is at least partially responsible for  a sharp downturn in health and  wellbeing in modern humans.

The anthropological record of early man clearly shows health took a nosedive when populations made the switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture. It takes a physical anthropologist about two seconds to look at a skeleton unearthed from an archeological site to tell if the owner of that skeleton was a hunter-gatherer or an agriculturist.

Dr Mike Eades has an interesting review on on his website of a paper written by Dr Claire Cassidy in 1980, comparing two populations living in the same region at quite different times. One was a hunter-gather tribe (‘Indian Knoll’), eating a typical ‘palaeolithic’ diet of meat, vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds. The other was a more modern agriculturalist group (‘Hardin Village’), who derived more of their nutrition from grains and other farmed crops.

A summary of Dr Cassidy’s analysis of skeletal remains, read as follows:

Here is the summary of the findings of this analysis of skeletal data as tabulated by the author:
  1. Life expectancies for both sexes at all ages were lower at Hardin Village than at Indian Knoll.
  2. Infant mortality was higher at Hardin Village.
  3. Iron-deficiency anemia of sufficient duration to cause bone changes was absent at Indian Knoll, but present at Hardin Village, where 50 percent of cases occurred in children under age five.
  4. Growth arrest episodes at Indian Knoll were periodic and more often of short duration and were possibly due to food shortage in late winter; those at Hardin Village occurred randomly and were more often of long duration, probably indicative of disease as a causative agent.
  5. More children suffered infections at Hardin Village than at Indian Knoll.
  6. The syndrome of periosteal inflammation was more common at Hardin Village than at Indian Knoll.
  7. Tooth decay was rampant at Hardin Village and led to early abscessing and tooth loss; decay was unusual at Indian Knoll and abscessing occurred later in life because of severe wear to the teeth.  The differences in tooth wear and caries rate are very likely attributable to dietary differences between the two groups.
Her analysis based on this data:
Overall, the agricultural Hardin Villagers were clearly less healthy than the Indian Knollers, who lived by hunting and gathering.

Overall Dr Eades’ reading of the data is very interesting, and the study itself is well worth digging out. It provides fairly compelling data in support of nutrition being a significant determining factor in disease resistance and general health and wellbeing.

Nutrition and health in agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers | The Blog of Michael R. Eades, M.D.

The Crossfit London Indian Club Swinging Masterclass

21 Feb

This was a fantastic way to begin our promotion of the ancient art of Indian Club swinging. The Crossfit London Blackboard Gym is devoted to bringing back old style physical cultural methods: What better addition could there be than club swinging? We already advance the causes of adult gymnastics, kettlebells, olympic weightlifting and good old fashioned hard work.

A select group of trainees had the privilege of watching a phenomenal demonstration  of heavy club swinging by 75 year old Krishen Jalli, (who will soon be taking a regular session at Crossfit London’s Blackboard Gym: more details to come).

Krishen Swings some very heavy clubs
75 year old, Krishen Jalli swings two 15kg clubs. Seriously!

From 2 till 5pm,  Dr Mike Simpson from Sheffield led the class in an introduction to British Military club swinging, and not only got through the basics, but introduced some fancy club swinging routines too.

The gang with Mike Simpson

According to Mike Simpson, swinging has a natural rhythm and movement that stimulates both the mind and the body while giving you a good workout. Many martial artists have used club swinging techniques in the past as a way of exercising and improving striking, flexibility, holds and co-ordination for weapons training.

for more photos, click on flicker

Indian club swinging also has other claimed benefits such as:

• Balanced development of the shoulders, arms and back.

• Increases flexibility and strength in the wrists, elbows and shoulders.

• Improves the range of motion in these joints.

• Improves co-ordination, timing and skill with the hands.

• Can be used to counteract some natural imbalances in the posture as a result of being right or left-handed.

• Can complement other types of training to increase strength, endurance, stamina and aerobic fitness.

• Some physiotherapists use light clubs to treat some shoulder injuries.

• Some claim that Indian club swinging can be used to improve the general health and well being of the practitioners

Check out the Sheffield Indian Club swingers, here.

WOD 21 Feb: “Diane”

21 Feb

Another chilly morning in Bethnal Green. Not chilly enough to deter the CrossFit London faithful from cracking in to a Sunday morning WOD, though.

And what was on today’s menu, you ask? Why, Diane of course.


21-15-9 reps of each of the following exercises

  • Deadlift
  • Handstand push-ups

As with all workouts at CrossFit London we aim to scale the workouts to meet (and challenge!) the capacity of our athletes. So while some will do the workout with the as RX’d (prescribed) weight of 100kg and full-range-of-motion HSPUs, others will use lighter weights and perhaps scale HSPUs from the box. In short, we make sure our workouts are ‘doable’ by anyone, from any background.

Congratulations to Alex and Temi who graduated from the Beginner’s classes to main CrossFit London WODs today!

Finally a big CrossFit London “welcome” to Aaron who joined for his first session today.

“Huuurghhh”, as Andrew and I are fond of grunting.

Sadly, I forgot my camera for this historic session.

In place of exciting/dramatic footage from today’s workout, I give you CrossFit London’s number #2 imagery-based teaching aid: the squirrel.

Imagine, if you will, that you are holding two angry squirrels...
Imagine, if you will, that you are holding two angry squirrels...
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