the joy of strength training


November 3rd, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Review: Crossfit London i-Course

Kettlebell training

On Sunday I attended the Crossfit London i-course in east London, a full day event aiming to teach participants all the essential Crossfit skills, from olympic lifts to rings to kettlebells to bodyweight exercises. I was invited to attend and review the course by Andrew Stemler of Crossfit London, whom I have trained with before.

About the i-Course

The i-Course concept is, as far as I am aware, the only course of its kind in the UK and certainly the most comprehensive workshop programme I have seen that is open to all. This unique proposition has proved popular: the next session has already sold out and Crossfit London is booking well into next year.

Why are tickets selling like the proverbial hotcakes? Well, the agenda for the day runs something like this:

  • How to squat
  • How to perform the olympic lifts, including the nine fundamental moves: squat, front squat, overhead squat, press, push press, push jerk, clean, snatch, sumo deadlift high pull and deadlift
  • How to swing and snatch a kettlebell
  • How to practise handstands and the handstand push-up with all the assistance exercises currently recommended
  • Core including L-sit
  • Crossfit kipping pullup
  • Parallel bar and rings looking at ring dips and muscle-up progression

For anyone interested in functional fitness or Crossfit, it ticks all the right boxes, but it is a lot of learning to pack into one day! The agenda makes it look like great value for money, but can you really learn all of these skills effectively in a single session?


What you get out of the day depends to some extent on your level of knowledge and experience coming into the session. Those who are totally new to the exercises and concepts may not remember much of the technical detail but will come away with an understanding of the most important principles and the range of skills that can be acquired: plenty to build upon and be inspired by.

People who are already familiar with some of the material (perhaps they have done squatting and deadlifting but have never attempted a clean and jerk) will learn a good deal and will come away with better form in the exercises that they thought they knew.

However it is essentially an introductory course so if you have been practising these skills for a few months or more, you may have gone beyond what the i-Course can offer – unless you want some reassurance that you are doing the right thing.

On the day, participants told me that they did learn a lot, even if they won’t remember absolutely everything. I was impressed by everyone’s concentration throughout an intensive day. It was a motivating atmosphere to be in and even though I was getting pretty tired towards the end of the session, I tried to hide it as everyone else appeared to be in fine fettle and as keen as at the start!


This concentration and application is testament to the motivation of the group but also to Stemler’s organisation of the session. He starts right on time, which sets the tone for the day, and keeps things moving along nicely.

The team consists of Andrew, a Crossfit Level 2 certified instructor, aided by three Crossfit Level 1 instructors (Miles, Chet and Simon) and police PTI, Colin. The quality of the teaching is very good, especially from Andrew who is a natural communicator and has boundless energy.

The emphasis is on drills and cues that help you get into the correct position for the exercise, rather than a litany of instructions about the relative position of each body part. This will save people from hours of struggle or the misguided belief that they are unable to do particular exercises. ‘Teaching the teachers’ is also built into the course, for those people who are there to learn how to instruct others.

Supporting the instructor team are a number of ‘helpers’ who are themselves experienced Crossfitters. Having this many people helping to run the course ensures that everyone gets attention and things run smoothly. My thanks in particular go to one of the helpers, Steve, for taking these photos when he wasn’t actually helping people with their exercises!

What sort of people attend the i-Course?

I had assumed that most of the participants would be Crossfitters looking to improve their skills, but there was in fact a variety of people attending: personal trainers looking to expand their repertoire for their clients; people just starting out in Crossfit or just wanting to get fit; those interested in a particular element (such as the olympic lifts or the gymnastics) who thought this course was the nearest thing available; and military personnel looking to increase functional fitness.

core exercises

The exercises and drills are pretty challenging, although different levels of strength are catered for (for example, you don’t have to be able to do a pullup). It probably could have been made clearer at the start that you are not expected to be able to do everything perfectly within this session: the idea is to equip you with the knowledge to practise on your own or coach others over a period of time.

However I know that some people were inspired and motivated by the difficulty and the fact that some exercises did not come easily! There were some pretty strong lads who were very confident on familiar exercises like pullups, but were humbled by a simple L-sit progression. I spoke to one chap who is an experienced runner and was used to thinking of himself as reasonably fit and yet had real trouble with one or two of the more unusual exercises. But he seemed delighted by this discovery and keen to improve.

It would be a rare person who could turn up to a session like this and be able to do everything easily. This goes to the heart of what Crossfit is about: improving every aspect of fitness rather than specialising in one area. Stemler takes it as far as to say that sports people are not “fit” because they specialise too much. As soon as you start to focus on one particular sport, you lose fitness in all the other areas. I find this a controversial idea as the same argument could be applied to Crossfit: that is, doing Crossfit really only makes you fit for Crossfit! However the point is that a wide variety of skills are being taught.

Do you have to be drinking the Crossfit kool-aid?

The short answer is ‘no’ and you can get an enormous amount from this session without being or becoming a Crossfitter. Stemler refrains from trumpeting the benefits of “Crossfit” (except in a jokey manner), allowing the workshop to speak for itself. And rightly so: Crossfit didn’t invent these exercises, it just puts them together in a particular way and has a particular approach to performing them.

The verdict

A very worthwhile course for the motivated functional fitness fanatic! If you like learning new skills, want to work hard and don’t mind a bit of constructive criticism, this is a good use of your hard-earned money. Whether you ‘do’ Crossfit or not, you will come away with a fine array of skills that you can put to whatever use you like.

To book an i-Course, click here.

Have you done the i-Course? Post your comments below.

Further information

Get the i-Course manual here – your 85-page guide to elite fitness from Andrew Stemler

Crossfit London sunday workouts

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