Thursday, 1 December 2011

To CrossFit or Not to CrossFit?

If you are not already familiar with CrossFit, in short, it’s a strength and conditioning brand that combines weightlifting, sprinting, gymnastics, power lifting, kettle bell training and plyometrics.  CrossFit is already very popular in America and has achieved some sort of cult status amongst its fans. It is growing fast across the rest of the world and you will now find affiliates all over Europe. I signed up for 10 sessions at CrossFit London to find out what it was all about.

CF girl using Rubber Bands
CrossFit London is based in Bethnal Green in one of the arches on Malcolm Place. My first impression of their studio went something like this in my head: "What a dump".  The place was messy and dirty and the shower and toilet facilities looked like those present at festivals or on construction sites. If you expect nothing less than white fluffy towels and shiny floors, CrossFit London is not going to be your cup of tea. However if you want to improve your strength, endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy, CrossFit can be pretty awesome. At the price of approximately £10 per class it is also good value and unlike the chain gyms across the city, where no one talks to each others, CrossFit London is a super friendly place.  At CrossFit London they prefer new-comers to start with their seven beginner sessions. Each of the sessions covers a specific part of their beginner’s syllabus, and you will need to complete these in order to ‘graduate’ to their main or foundation classes.

  • Session #1: Squats, Front squat, Overhead Squat
  • Session #2: Squats, Press, Push-press, Push Jerk
  • Session #3: Squats, Dead lift, Kettle bell swing
  • Session #4: Squats, Pull-ups, Push-ups and Ring Dips
  • Session #5: Squats, Sumo dead lift high pull, Box jumps
  • Session #6: The barbell snatch
  • Session #7: The clean & jerk
gymnastic rings are awesome
Each session covers the skills above, and ends in a structured, scalable Workout of the Day (WOD) based on the skills covered that day. CrossFit workouts are commonly centred around a timed "Workout of the Day".  The fact that workouts are timed makes some individuals very competitive. This can be a positive aspect of your workout if you keep good form throughout the session while pushing yourself hard, however if you compromise on technique to achieve higher intensity, be careful not to end up with an injury. The quality of the training is essential, so make sure you pick a CrossFit affiliate where they watch your form and the emphasis is not on kicking ass. Even if you think you know how to squat, kettle bell swing and dead lift, it is worth starting off with the beginner sessions and then progress onto foundation classes to ensure good form from the start. CrossFit London offers the ability to progress from a beginners program onto foundations and when you feel ready you can join the main classes.  There has been a lot of criticism of CrossFit in terms of the safety and quality control of their affiliates, so it is worth doing a little research before you get involved.

There are about ten or so movements that you do at CrossFit. They tend to vary the set and rep schemes of the WODs constantly, however you always seem to lift a barbell and you always do pull-ups from the same metal bars. Further variety could be introduced if they for example made you lift different objects besides barbells such as stones, logs and so forth. The same counts for pull-ups, if they changed the surface, thickness and the angle of the bar, CrossFit movements would be even broader. While on a MovNat workshop earlier this year I learned that this can make a huge difference. As soon as I had to climb a tree with a thicker branch or if the branch was sloping upwards it brought in new dimensions to the skill set required to pull yourself up. Also lifting a barbell is not the same as lifting a heavy stone or a log.

Having finished my beginner sessions and a few foundation classes, I have bought another 10 sessions so I can continue my CrossFit education. Despite all the criticism of the system in the press I really like going to CrossFit London and I am almost getting used to the slamming of weights on the floor, the heavy metal music and the grunting men. It's a great place to workout in the cold and dark winter days when access to parks become more challenging and less attractive. The workouts are always intense and different every time you do a session. Even if  my exposure to CrossFit is still fairly limited, I feel I have already improved my strength in a way I couldn't have done on my own. Do not think that you have to be able to do full press and pull-ups to participate. The exercises are completely scalable to suit all levels. As an example they have these huge rubber bands in various sizes to help you do pull-ups. The rubber band takes some of your body weight which then enables people with poor upper body strength to work on their pull-ups.

I would encourage anyone to attend a session to evaluate for themselves if CrossFit is right for them. I can highly recommend the guys at CrossFit London in Bethnal Green, I feel safe in their hands.  I intend to make CrossFit part of my own work-out routine but I will still continue doing many other movements like swimming and running to keep a nice and healthy balance.

Happy Holidays

CrossFit London in Bethnal Green
Global website

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