Gymnastics: do some

As some of you know, Im always playing with gymnastics. Im doing this  as part of my on-going “remember what its like to be a beginner”,  because as a gymnast, I suck big time.

Im appalling.

But equally, Im  a crossfitter.

As a crossfitter, I’m led by the 100 words. These words, written by the only fitness genius of  our times   are  not, unfortunately what happens in most crossfit gyms.

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups. Bike, run,  row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. “

~Greg Glassman

What wrong with that you may ask?

It seems to be the pool from which Games WODs  are drawn: I suppose we kettlebell,  do  “pull throughs”  and bench, but thats not too bad. Is it?

I’ve been nasty. Ive amended the above  100 words to reflect what most people  want Crossfit to be: Below is the often ignored  true  100 words .

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports. 
~Greg Glassman


So here is the Crossfit  message: Whatever effort you put into your snatch, you must put into your flip. The deadlift must be trained as much as your pirouette.

I know its very common  and attractive  to proclaim that  the “snatch is king”, or the secret is “Deadlifting” or simply having a big back squat will get you through. These are important moves and its fantastic that we both train and practise them as the 100 words always told us to do. My apologies if anyone  thought “Outlaw” had produced a novel training approach. They simply read Greg Glassman.

Long term we need more gymnastics in our classes. This is  part of my long term mission: learn it, learn how to teach it, teach it, then teach others how to teach it. This formula has worked so far.

The problem with Gymnastics is that its easy to mistake  hot air, hanging around in gyms,  feeling sorry for yourself and  cruising the internet,  as practice. Many people give up  on gymnastics  as the skills seem too hard. The reality is that most people only spend about  2 to 3 minutes on  a skill before  throwing in the gym towel.

We need to deal with this crushing blow  to the ego, before we push more gymnastics onto our poor crossfitters.

A gymnastics lesson doesn’t focus on one skill: it focuses on many skills, or certainly the foundational skills that  underpin most  obvious gymnastic skills.

To be very specific, most clients will attempt 5  (4 -8) handstands in most sessions.  Maybe each attempt takes 10 seconds ( Oh, who cares… call it 20 seconds) Even being generous that amounts to  less than 2 minutes practice of  handstand skill. Of course the dish work is a handstand prep drill,  blah, blah, but the hanging around before class starts,  moaning about how band your handtand is, loosing yourself in internet articles about handstand mechanics, is not practicing. If you went to one gymnastic class this week, you practised the handstand for maybe 2 minutres ( you also, rolled and  jumped etc, but  at 2 minutes a time: it takes a while)

So I thought Id invent the Stemler Grid  for those times I get demotivated.

I cannot judge my current improvement in the numerous  teeny improvements I always make: I unfairly judge,  can I now “back tuck” can I  now “front flip”. If i cannot do the whole thing now, I declare the lesson a failure (the medical  term for this is  “being a tosser”).

So, if Im going to judge myself so unreasonably,  I ought to record what practice I actually  do .

So, if you do the same,  draw up a Stemler grid: Make each square  30 seconds and record the amount of time (each week /day/month) you  actually do the skill.

If its  handstand, are you on your hands? Thats the amount of time you record. When your feet  get back on the floor, the clock stops.

Thats what you record.

The lectures, the feedback, the diagrams, the  group observation, the videoing, the self pity, the “whatever”, at this basic level, doesn’t count. Of course  this is an extreme view, because in reality … it all helps. Even self pity (believe me I know!).

Sure its skewed , you still have to get to the gym,  and that takes time. But before you give up on skills that are supercool, and properly demonstrate that you have control of your body because ” I cannot do it”,  do make sure you have spent enough time  on that  skill to judge. Why not shoot for 30 minutes?

The romance of strength Training

Successful Strength training like marriage  is measured in years not  weeks or months

Pay attention to the basics . Lift often, lift heavy (5 plus, but vary from 5 to 1)  be happy with small increases. Every relationship or  “thing”  in your life requires consistency

Don’t panic if  you plateau.

In what other part of  (real) human existence  do we expect to have increases all the time . We can tamper with economics and pretend we have yearly growth:  some  NHS workers ( apparently ) get a  grade increase each year , but that always, always  unravels. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…….’

The hall marks of successful  strength training  (marriage) is patience and maturity: watch for the opportunity to improve but don’t obsess., be happy with consolidation,  treasure consistency and above all, be confident enough to rest and take it easy.

Eat well and sleep well

Bear in mind  that all advanced programming is dedicated to one phenomenon, failure.   Many marriages fail because one partner isn’t happy with the perfection they have, and instead   indulges in fantasy . Don’t let the strength porn of a few gifted ( psychotic) individuals deprave and corrupt your  normal image of how things are.

Failure is rushing at  fantasy  target too hard and fast.

Having preached consistency, it’s equally essential to mix it up and be creative. Add  and vary assistance exercises.

Variety has always been the spice of life   But variety is still just a spice. It makes the fundamentals seem a bit different that’s all. It still needs the fundamentals/

In short, don’t see strength as something geeky or the preserve of experts. See it as the perfect romance or marriage, demanding consistent loyalty commitment and work , along with romance and variation.

So to be successful, research how to be romantic and simply build it into your strength regime

the 48 injuries I got not doing crossfit

Misrepresenting Crossfit injuries is simple click theft!

Obese reporters, lazy bloggers out to “steal clicks”, and those seeking to curry favour with critics  throw their hands up in horror at the thought that any sporting activity could result in any type of injury.

“Surely”, they ooze, “If we could rid ourselves of rugby, MMA, boxing, indeed all martial arts (except that nice Tai Chi, that’s ok) and Crossfit, no one would be injured again.”

I reflected on this and thought about my Crossfit injuries, then I thought about my pre-Crossfit injuries as a “fit” person, then I thought about my injuries as a normal member of the public.

I’m proving nothing, other than saying injury, biffs, cuts and stuff are probably part of life unless you are very unfit and sedentary. In which case, it’s just the bed sores.

An overview of my injuries

As a sedentary 100 day a smoker who avoided physical activity till I was 37.

  • I got run over by a car.
  • I fell of a ladder while painting,
  • I burnt my chest in a garden fire.
  • I had back pain from slouching.
  • I had back pain from moving stuff badly.
  • I had numerous hangovers from drinking too much.
  • A disastrous smokers’ cough with the associated high blood pressure.
  • I skipped down a low corridor and bounced so high that I smashed my head on the ceiling and landed on my elbow.
  • I stood up too fast while filing and smashed my head against the bottom of a draw that was pulled out above me.
  • I cut my lip by trying to lick the top of a soup tin, which I had opened with an opener .
  • I  nearly mandolin-ed the top of my finger off.
  • I’ve caught my fingers in the car door,
  • I’ve banged my fingers with hammers, sliced my skin open with knives so many times that I should have therapy for self harming.
  • I’ve electrocuted my self, twice.
  • I’ve burned myself on the iron, on the oven, and by seeing what would happen if I poked a straw into the 2 bar fire in the lounge.
  • Cigarette burns galore.
  • I’ve walked into too many doors.
  • Tripped down stairs, and slipped on slippery things .
  • I have left shoulder pain as I sleep on it… (for 54 years!!)
  • I got several bouts of carpet burn knees after having sex on the floor
  • I’ve caught my foreskin in my zip, unbelievably, 3 times.
  • I fell off a wall while having a cigarette and dislocated my finger.
  • Why do I continue to stub my toe?

As a child learning to ride my bike, I scraped both knees, badly, and my mum screwed up the bandage so the scab meshed into the material, so that had to be ripped off. I often slammed the breaks on  and often went sailing over the handlebars.


 From when I started to get fit  at  age 37

  • I tumbled off the treadmill,
  • Dropped a dumbbell on my foot,
  • Caught my finger on the safety catch on the leg extension machine
  • At martial arts, 5 years of black eyes, numerous with kicks to my poor testicles.
  • Learning to swim at the age of 40 (God knows how much pool water I drank).
  • While wrestling, I caught my big toe between two mats and twisted it.
  •  As  a doorman and on security contracts, I got slashed with a bottle on my arm, then split a knuckle punching someone in the mouth. And I had someone try and scoop my eye out with their finger (I’m sure I got a knee in the groin too).
  • From running  I developed severe knee pain and shin splints, and Achillies tendonitis. I compounded my shoulder damage by dropping that bench press
  •  Since I started Crossfit: 
  • Callus tears
  • 4 bouts of deadlift- induced bad back pain (1 during a wod, the other 3 during strength sessions)
  • A nasty psoas injury, which I got demonstrating an unweighted split jerk.
  • My Achilles and shoulder continue to bother me.
  • I got a nasty dose of  plantar fasciitis
  • My wrists don’t like high rep bar push presses.

There are injuries in Crossfit, but bearing in mind it taught me sooo much, I think, on balance, for me, it was safer than normal living. Certainly I’ve not zipped up my foreskin since I became a bit more co-ordinated.

Get me to the safety of 30 power snatches for time.

The Stemler Bag

Self defence is a misunderstood subject.

 Self defence is a bundle of activities that you may on rare occasions be forced to use if you are unlawfully attacked or threatened . it’s not nice, it’s certainly not pretty

Self defence is not a sport, a martial art or a spiritual pursuit. It is not a pleasant restraint that you can use against an angry customer, a hysterical child or for that matter a slightly over amorous date.

It’s what you will do to someone who wants to rob,  beat,  rape and kill you.

Self defence begins with a thorough understanding of the law of self defence and a thorough appreciation of the human rights of others .

Self defence  also begins way before  any physical attack occurs. It relies on an effective scanning and awareness system. Most effective attacks take the victim by surprise. The attacker ” suddenly turned  nasty”  or “jumped out of no where”

There are a few courses that teach awareness : however, they lack the “Stemler bag” concept. It’s simply a sobering security visualisation.If you “Stemler Bag” properly, you will probably never have any type of physical confrontation

Imagine a see through bag stuffed full of cash. A lot of cash . Its yours. You can keep it, but you still have to do your normal week and carry it around with you, so its visible.

How would It change  your behaviour ? Would you take it to dark strange places where you are not familiar . Would you get drunk and take a snooze in a park. Would you willingly chat to strangers who wanted to ask where you alone? Did you have any martial arts experience ? Was the money bag a joke and where you being filmed.? Or, would you be a bit suspicious of absolute strangers approaching you and being weirdly friendly ? Would you listen out and notice if someone was following you  or would you listen to your i-pod instead? Would you  fumble for your keys while you put your bag down at your front door or would you have your keys ready to go. Maybe you would plan your journey, maybe you’d have a back up plan ?

I think it was James Coburn who said, ‘avoid arseholes and big egos, avoid places where arseholes and big egos hang out’. A good friend of mine, Geoff Thompson added ‘don’t be an arsehole and don’t have a big ego yourself’. It helps”

If you breach this Rule: you have screwed up: everything from here on is making the best out of the poor situation that you created!

If you are approached and a dialogue starts ( known as the interview), take up a small inconspicuous 45° stance place your lead hand in that all-important space between you and your antagonist to maintain a safe gap. This is called The fence. It gives you a degree of control without  alerting your  potential aggressor

Don’t let a potential attacker touch you at any time, The more weirdly friendly, the more deadly and dangerous

You will get scared. Its ok to be scared. The shaking leg, the swirling  tummy is your body gearing up for a fight. You may need that extra energy buzz

Try and talk your way out  If talking fails , it can you could try posturing.

Create a gap between you and your attacker by shoving the attacker hard on the chest. Once the gap has been secured “go crazy; shout, salivate, spread your arms, bulge your eyes and drop into single syllables” ( Geoff Thompson) This triggers the opponent’s flight response and often scares him into capitulation.

If that fails, one of 2 things happen: the language and the look of the attacker changes: their speech will become more and more limited, you’ll notice them scanning the area to see who could help you or be a witness , they will try and get super close the moment they close the gap, you are getting hit OR the attacker steams back in . Either way, after the shove, if they touch your fence for a second time, knock them out.

If that fails ( and you have really screwed up, we will teach  you an eye gouge, groin strike, so at least, on the way down, you do some damage).

Im always slipping the Bulgarian split squat in

Its impossible to run an effective programme without some consideration of  the work of  Mike Boyle and , for this article, the way he has popularised the Bulgarian Split (see here for his view point).

All it offers is better, stronger  bigger legs, but without back stress,  balance ,  hip flexibility, and a high level of safe training discomfort.


This will be making a regular , structured feature in most of my programmes Start practicing at home now  if you haven’t seen it before . It often features in our Metcon classes , but I know most of  our coaches sneak this into their training, so grab a PT session to get up to speed.

You’ll be grateful for  all that walking lunge practice you’ve had.  Pillow on the floor as a comfy knee target,   top of the rear foot on the sofa  and go!  Start off  with a lower rear surface if it helps, and “split”. If you need to revise for exams, while practicing, so be it. Do keep your torso upright if possible. Obviously an appropriate abdominal brace.

Get to 20 each side, 30 seconds rest between each leg, 2 minutes rest  then 2 more sets. Once you have  learned  this, we will be looking to load this .

The Bulgarian Lunge: apart from the fact that it isn’t a lunge and didn’t come from Bulgaria, its great.

Exercise-related transient abdominal pain” Opps, I’ve got a running stitch”

For those of you who enjoy a bit of science while suffering should read  MORTON, D. P., and R. CALLISTER. Characteristics and Etiology of exercise-related transient abdominal pain. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 432-438. Is as good a place as any to begin to get up to date with what causes the stitch. Obviously you need to clarify what you are talking about . Its that sharp abdominal pain that some people get while being active. Not an aspect of needle work. (BTW ETP=  exercise-related transient abdominal pain)

This study issued a questionnaire to different types of sports people and asked them about the stitch ETAP appears to be most prevalent in activities that involve repetitive torso movement, whether ” vertical translation or longitudinal rotation”. Its normally  a local pain  mostly experienced in lumbar regions of the abdomen. Some  unlikely people also also experience “shoulder tip pain” (STP) too, famously known as the  diaphragmatic-referral  site, suggesting a miffed diaphragm

Note. No one has actually done anything in this report. They havent got runers, held them down and cut them open, or ultra sounded them, or poked them with sharp sticks. All they did was to ask some people if they have had it.  Thats not being a scientist, that being a pollster and a gossip

Conclusions:   This gives “perspective” to suggested etiologies of ETAP, which include diaphragmatic ischemia and stress on the visceral ligaments, and suggest we should be looking at other causes  such as cramp of the “musculature and irritation of the parietal peritoneum” ( who knew)

Interesting to note that the condition that is mostly associated with runners, is suffered through all sports. Its merely that runners whine more.

And the cure, after all this science?…. “factors that provoke and techniques that relieve ETAP, are not well understood” ( All that money, all those surveys, for this. Fu@%ers)

Several causes “theories”  make the rounds in gyms ;ischemia of the diaphragm and   stress on the visceral ligaments  have gained the most credibility. Im surprised my theory about irritated pixies hasn’t got more coverage. “Further examination of the characteristics of ETAP and the stimuli that provoke it may be beneficial for evaluating the integrity of these and other theories”. Oh, and guess what, more studies, funded by the tax payer is some secret roundabout sort of way, is needed. Oh yeh!

With my Therapist and Crossfit hat on, it was interesting to note that rotational movement through the torso played a part.  A lot of what we try and achieve  at Crossfit is to maintain a solid “core” which acts as an anchor for the limb to swirl about. We train you to use your legs to Deadlift, while keeping your  torso “locked down” Clinically we have noticed a tendency among aerobic athletes, when they come to us, to be unable to initiate a leg movement without a body movement. ( If they swing a leg it begins from the lower back, not the hip. load is lifted from the back, not the hip) in short, if every time you move you have to wiggle your core.

Thats a lot of additional movement for a biological box with lots of other stuff to do

Immoral Shoulders: too forward for their own good?


There seems to be a  developing debate between ‘shoulders shrugged’ and ‘shoulders down with external arm rotation’ when overhead squatting, or hanging from a bar. As happens, too often. a therapist decides that their simplistic view of the world is “king” and attempts to foist it on others. The explanations they give often seem credible as they have quite good anatomical knowledge .

Here are some ideas and observations: I dont claim to be right. I do claim to be inspired by Greg Glassman and all those who teach the level 1 certification. The  Crossfit gift is  it’s encouragement  to think.

At first glance the debate seems to be about the elevation of the shoulder; and that,  by implication is wrong and bad (sorry, I have  a very childlike view of the world; wrong and bad, nice and good!
)So when I heard the advice ‘shoulders down’, I panicked (I do this  a lot; I’m 50 and already practising to be a bewildered OAP)In a real world, a pull up from the ground begins with shoulders elevated (especially if you are small and the bar/branch is high). We train the pull up because it is functional. It lifts us up from unfriendly places towards, hopefully, friendlier places; out of rivers onto the bank, from the ground into trees. The hang is a totally natural move and part of our physiology. An elevated shoulder girdle is, surely, part of the reaching-up process.

The shrug has also been part of physical training for many years. Paul Kelso produces an excellent book (Kelso’s Shrug book) which details (too) many types of shrugs.

But Jeff Martone  said in his Kettlebell Certification, “Pull your shoulder down when Turkish get-upping”, er, people” (he does that a lot). This didn’t make sense to me. If something is bearing down on me, I naturally push back (this is probably a psychological thing that  few years in therapy could sort out.  Its also the basis of an anti- welsh sheep joke)

I though about Olympic lifting, and as a result of an hour watching You Tube (and bearing in mind different camera angles and musculature) I’d subjectively say 80% had ‘active shoulders’ while attempting to shove their shoulders up.

However, on the cover of Kono’s book,” Weightlifting, Olympic style (a world champion)”, Kono’s shoulders appear to be down and packed. However the text states he ‘uses traps violently in his pulls’ and suggests you ‘should be fighting against the compressive force that the arms and body are subjected to by exerting a counter force to stretch as tall as possible and at the same time, pushing the bar as high as possible’.

Greg Everett was in his book  olympic weightlifting, is anti packing ( see page 61, 62), so well and truely on the side of the shruggers.

Then I saw an article by Craig Liebenson “ Y exercise for correcting the most common faulty movement pattern of the shoulder/neck region” (J body work 2011 15, 391-394)

“in the upper back . shoulder girdle  or neck area  the key faulty movement is an abnormal  scapulohumeral rhythm. this causes the shoulder girdle to shrug up towards the ears and results in increased neck/shoulder muscle tension, rounded shoulders and forward head posture. these are the hall marks of dysfunction which predispose to either pain or loss of athletic performance”

His  key solution is to learn how to “pack the shoulder”:

Then I started thinking. Up to now my thinking (above) had been  that of a  tearful 4 year old, “he said, then  she said  then he said…sob”

If you have been taught   how to squat properly its the same shoulder position as for the deadlift and the front squat: Shoulders back and  down ( not pinched!) There’s a natural place for them which make  you look as if you have  a noble posture and are worth procreating with ( probably what the therapists mean by packed)

Noble, shoulders down..good breeding stock…

If  from this position you shrug, or overhead squat, when you shrug your shoulders, they elevate nicely, they dont roll over. and here  I think is the main cause of the confusion.

unless the set up is correct, and especially if the trainee has rounded shoulders( and a forward head posture)

dont stoop.. and dont carry this into your physical training

The upward driving shrug becomes  a functionally misconceived  and misdirected forward roll of the scaplua,  no doubt lured by a tight and cheeky  pec minor( along with its tight chest cronies, the pec major, the subclavicular, and tight intercostals  under some  locked down fascia) thus changing the direction of the glenoid fossa into  in a sub optimal position could probably result in injury.

the immoral shoulder.. shoulder too forward

In short, there is nothing wrong with the core crossfit cue  of “try to get your shoulders into your ears”  Firstly Remember cues are quick  “fun” summaries. After all “hips, hips hips”  or the often heard “iipsipsipsips” doesn’t really summarized hip extension, so shoulders in ears isnt  the whole story.

i wonder if the better advise is to set the shoulders back and down, and then, as long as the movement is in that plan, its ok to shrug?

At Crossfit London we have always been lucky, We have always had the coaching point “kittens” to guide our training and shrugging: You want to bounce the (2)  sleeping kittems (the ones on your shoulder) straight up and off, not off to the front. For the overhead squat, raise those kittens as high as possible gets properly set shoulders to  engage and brace against the weight to come in the overhead squat and snatch: Up is, by the way, up there, not towards me… good job!

Feedback much appreciated.

Some Extra Research Observations

While researching this, I came across some interesting articles and observations

1) Median nerve and Overactive traps

There is much concern about the constant elevated positioning of the shoulder girdle., this can be due to the  preconditioning  of the median  nerve . the upper trap becomes over active to reduce tension in the median nerve, by elevating the shoulder girdle.

2) Perhaps Depression Not so Good

According to “Influence of scapular position on the pressure pain threshold of the upper trapezius muscle region “ 2008 (European journal of pain)  a position of scapula depression ( could that be scapula packing) will maintain the upper trapezius muscle region in a lengthened position, causing excessive strain. Hmm, Put that in your theraputic pipe, but don’t smoke , it as it will ruin your karma..

3) Single arms

interestingly, many commentators on  shoulder function, were  based on open chain activity, tennis, swimming, dumbbell where the movement has instability,,, unlike a pull up, bar, which is locked…..Im not sure if this means anything, but thought i mention it.

4) The Upper tarpezius Does not elevate the shoulder !!!
check out  “Anatomy and Actions of the Trapezius Muscle,” by Johnson and Bogduk, et al., nicely reviewed by Warren hammer. The Upper Traps, dont elevate.

Who Knew