Nearly Halfway There

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Written by Anthony Nguyen
Published on Tuesday, 25 August 2009

What makes winners winners, is the fact that they want it more than any of the others. Given, there are a few exceptions where some are at the dis/advantage, the former is generally the case. When you find that something is difficult, ask yourself this question: Do I want this? If the answer is no, then either your heart or your body is in the wrong place. Reconsider and make changes until you are in the right place. If the answer is yes, then press on. This is why Bao and I sometimes yell “For the OAC!” at one another. Not that we dislike what we currently are doing, but rather, we use the object we want as an extra source of inspiration. Any feat is possible, if you truly want it.

Tonight, I wanted many pistols. Not the fiream; I’m talking about some quad crushing action. 6 pm finds me outside, on the deck. Here I start, looking to the light rain to soothe my beginnings.

I make with speed, pumping out pistols easily and efficiently. I find myself lost in thought, admiring the weather, and at other times, eyeballing my new 3 pound companion. I press on. Nearing 50, the rain gets heavy, and my journal on which I am keeping count begins to get soaked. I head to the front of my house for some decent cover. It takes me a bit to be settled in an area I feel comfortable.

I’m in the garage now, and I begin, again. After a good number, I find myself in a type of rhythm. The rain starts again as I near 80. I realize after 160 total reps, that I am still unsure of the origin of the name. Nonetheless I press on. At 100, the rain begins to settle down again, and I see the first few people ever since I’ve started. This is both discouraging and encouraging. While the rainy weather was something I preferred for it caused most people to retreat inside; it’s comforting to know that other people are at discomfort as well.

In attempt to repress my sadistic desires, I press on. 125, nearly halfway there. I pause and chuckle. “Nearly halfway there” has never been and likely never will be a motivating phrase. But why would I need a motivational line when I have just started? I tell myself, if I need anymore motivation aside from accomplishing these pistols, then I likely don’t deserve them. I pause and consider how long it has taken me, and begin estimating how long it will take. I restrain myself from completing this task, easily done, considering I had taken the precaution to isolate myself from any instruments for keeping time.

The rain has stopped for some time now, but it begins again as I reach 150, as if the skies were celebrating my small victory. A light rain covers the rest of my pistols. It must be time warping rain, as the rest of my pistols go down nicely, if you will. Every now and then I pause and shake out my legs, as they begin to feel strange, not a pain, but simply a confused sensation. I’ve developed a bounce in my step, sinking further down with each step. At one point during rest, I find that I accidentally walked into a kneeling position.

At 250, many distractions attack. I catch a whiff of mother’s fried rice. I notice a new sensation in my tendons; they feel as though they might explode. I push on, deciding to top it off at 300. And although the inspiration is strong, the pistols seem to be slower than ever. 1..2..3……4……5 1..2…..3…4……5, or 1..1..2..2..3..3.. and so on. I find that pistols usually seem endless, regardless of what reps or sets you decide to split them into. This doesn’t matter though, because anything is achievable given a strong enough want, and endless time, both of which I possess tonight.

Finally, I hit 300. Able to finally rest, I head inside, where luxury awaits me.

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Why Everyone Should Master: Juggling

Written by Daniel Hines
Published on Sunday, 16 August 2009

Why everyone should master: Juggling

‘Cuz it’s totally awesome. Duh. But seriously, while muscular strength and endurance are factors in parkour performance, neurological coordination (the ability for the right neurons to fire at the right time) is the most important aspect of the physiological side of parkour (or anything). Coordination at the neurological level is reflected by efficiency of movement. For example, David Belle expends less energy doing a precision (or any technique) than your backyard free runner, even though David Belle is a lot stronger (there are several reasons for this, but this blog is about parkour, not sports science, so I’ll spare you the lecture) Coordination is responsible for what we call “flow.” Good coordination also allows one to perfect techniques faster.

Coordination is expressed in seven abilities (according to the Science of Sports Training by Thomas Kurz):

  1. Kinesthetic differentiation (e.g throwing objects precise distances, landing different precisions)
  2. Spatial orientation (Perception of body in space, “air sense,” judging the distance of a precision)
  3. Reaction to signals (Exploding out of the starting block on the whistle, “hmmm, I should roll now”
  4. Balance …well, yeah
  5. Synchronization of movements in time (Rubbing your stomach and patting your head)
  6. Sense of rhythm (Juggling to a metronome, taking the right number of steps for a vault or jump)
  7. Movement adequacy (Choosing the right techniques for the situation in the most efficient manner, very important for parkour)

Unfortunately, most of us have missed the age at which coordination can be maximized, which, for most of these abilities, is around 8-10 years old. But don’t worry, coordination is definitely still trainable, and should be developed like any other ability.

One beautiful thing about coordination is that it’s not nearly as specific as other abilities (speed, endurance, etc.). For instance, a sprinter might suck at swimming (as speed is movement specific), but a baseball player might learn juggling really quickly (as coordination is not as specific). Thus, to improve your coordination, you can start with movements that don’t resemble parkour at all, but that hone the basic abilities listed above (eventually, like most things in training, you’ll want to get more specific by first incorporating skills necessary for parkour, then using actual parkour techniques).

Another neat thing about coordination is that learning new skills improves coordination, and coordination improves the rate at which you learn new skills. As such, when training general coordination, you want to change what kind of skill you’re working on fairly frequently, aiming for general proficiency, not perfection.

To develop coordination there’s a generally a progression in difficulty through the speed and conditions the activity is performed with. For example, one might learn how to shoot a free throw, taking all the time in the world to make sure they get it every time. Then, the might practice free throws as fast as they can. Next, they might practice free throws with another person blocking them. In this way, you can continually progress with a skill by making the conditions harder.

The chapter on coordination mentions various simple activities to improve general coordination, such as jumping rope, performing asynchronous exercises like punching with one hand and swinging another, playing acrobatic Frisbee on a trampoline (ok it didn’t really say that, but wouldn’t that be cool?!?). These are just a few, and all of them would work (be creative; the sky is the limit, unless you have a rocket), but what caught my attention and what I’m going to share with you today is juggling.

Juggling is such an interesting skill. It requires you not only to know where your hands are at any given moment, but your brain has to process throwing one object with precision, predicting the parabola of another object, and catching another object while preparing to throw it again, all at the same time, while adjusting for errors in real time. And that’s only 3 balls. Imagine more.

That’s another plus to juggling. It’s cyclic, and is relatively easy to imagine. One thing that separates ok athletes from elite athletes is “blind spots” in their technique. If a technique looks sloppy at a certain phase every time, it’s likely that the athlete isn’t really in total control during that portion of the technique. And what they’ll find is that if they try to vividly imagine everything that happens during that technique (body position, spatial position, sights, sounds, sensations, etc.) the part that they mess up on will be fuzzy, unclear, or lacking detail. When you start juggling, imagining where all three balls and both hands are at the same time (a necessary part of learning) is like an introduction to getting rid of the blind spots. As you get better, this skill will get easier, and eventually, you should be able to vividly imagine every technique you know, parkour or otherwise. If you can’t, there’s something wrong with your technique, and you should go back and make sure you really know and can do every thing you need to correctly perform the technique. This has really helped me with my martial arts techniques and basic break-falling.

So, now down to business. Get yourself 3 objects you think you can juggle. I started out with square beanbags. Hacky sacks would work nicely. Any thing would work; use your imagination.

Next, watch this video. Just watch it. Then watch it again, but pause it periodically so you can do what it says.

That video should talk you through everything you need to know. All the basics and fundamental techniques are there. After a month or 2 of working at it (and not very hard, mind you), I can now get 300+ continuous throws and catches with the 3-balls, and 50+ catches juggling 2 with 1 hand (I followed the video’s progression until about 20, and then I found I could get 50 catches, then a week later 100, 150, and so on). I have noticed that when my brother throws things at me, I’m more likely to catch it, which I will be so bold as to attribute to my juggling progress.

When you’ve mastered juggling 3 balls, you have several choices. You can apply the concepts of coordination from the first half of the post by making the act of juggling three balls more difficult, by, for example, juggle while running forwards, sideways, or backwards, juggle while hopping, or bouncing on a trampoline (very difficult, very fun). Juggle objects of different weights and sizes, juggling while traversing obstacles or doing basic tumbling/acrobatics, etc, (be creative). Or you could just pronounce the juggling skill done, and move onto other activities in your quest for coordination. Or, if you enjoy juggling like I do, you could continue juggling by learning all the variations of 2, 3, 4 balls and beyond.

So that sums it up. You now know a little about coordination, how to develop it, and how to juggle, should you so desire. Work smart, work hard, and in the words of Bao, get paid. But most of all enjoy your training, because that’s what it’s all about in the end.

Footwork in Training

Written by Nick Faircloth
Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009

Because our feet and legs are further away from our eyes than our hands are, we often forget to pay attention to them. However, in parkour our feet are at least as important as our hands (if not more so). They are in charge of our landings, our takeoffs, and everything in between the individual movements in a given run. It is extremely important to be aware of what is happening in the lower half of your body at all times

Next time you’re training, pick a line (high walls won’t work for this) and run through it using only your legs. Do it until you get it perfect. Rinse and repeat. If you train like this often, you will begin to see a marked improvement in your judgment of distances and foot-eye coordination.

Personally, one of my favorite movements in parkour is the stride. Generally this consists of moving on top of obstacles a set distance apart in a running/jumping motion. This is different than a series of static jumps in that you put only one foot on each obstacle in succession for the sake of speed. It is also different than a single jump with a run-up because you have to conserve your momentum in such a way that you can continue the run indefinitely. This requires coordination and balance. The best part is, you can do these almost anywhere. Use the lines on the sidewalk, in an empty parking lot, etc. Then, when you are confident, try it at a height. You can make it even harder by striding on a series of obstacles that vary in height and distance apart.

Ultimately, this exercise provides benefits to all your parkour transitions and run-ups. And while you may not be able to directly practice getting up a high wall with only your feet, the stride is a very similar motion to the last few steps of a run-up to a wall climb.

Happy training 🙂

The Goals of Training

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Written by Nick Faircloth
Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009

Since I began training, I have noticed a few things which set some apart from others, allow some to advance while others stay where they have been month after month. One of these all-important things is goal-setting. Believe it or not, setting a few realistic goals along with a schedule can make a world of difference in the way you train.

After the latest blog and forum posts, I’m sure there are many members of NCParkour who feel intimidated by the emphasis being put on physical conditioning, or who feel that no matter how much they exercise, they aren’t improving technically. This article is mainly for them, but hopefully others can take something away from it.

Now remember, we are doing this conditioning for a reason: to increase our physical parkour ability. So if you want to be better at a given technique, set goals accordingly. You can do all the push ups you want, but if you can’t get to the top of a wall they won’t help a bit. You can do all the squats in the world, but if you have no muscular coordination or balance, you will never get that rail precision. In one of Bao’s previous blog posts, he put it this way: “…the big dyno is a result of pull-ups, a high monkey from tuck planches, far precision through squats, etc.” These are great examples of useful goal-setting.

Say that I am completely new to the discipline. I’m in alright shape, but nothing special. My maximum amount of pulls is 6. A realistic goal, then, is to increase my maximum amount to 10 within a month. Give yourself enough time to do it, but make sure to limit your time. That way, you will force yourself not to procrastinate, and you will actually see results. This can be applied to literally any type of exercise. Once you get in the habit of setting goals for yourself, you can take on multiple goals at a time, and you will see results even faster. The real key here is knowing what you can realistically do, as well as managing your time wisely.

The training logs on the forums are a great tool to keep track of your goals and get feedback. Personally, I keep mine in a folder on my desktop. However you choose to keep track of them, make sure to update them regularly and keep pushing yourself. As an example, here is my list of goals for September:

1 min. 30 second horse stance

1 min. tuck planche

5 muscle ups in a row

dragon flag, 1 rep (similar to a body lever, but a bit easier)

As of right now, my progress is as follows:

1 min. 20 second horse stance

37 sec tuck planche

3 muscle ups in a row

dragon flag: I can go about two thirds of the way down, then I collapse.

As you can see, I am pretty close to having reached my goals, with over three weeks to go. When I realize this (which is literally right now for me haha), I should do one of two things: make my goals more difficult, or make the deadline closer. The rationalization behind this is that if I have three weeks in which to make relatively easy progress, I may end up procrastinating and failing some of them.

In this case, I’m going to increase the difficulty of the goals slightly. I’m going to up the horse stance to 1 minute 45 seconds, because that is the goal I am closest to. I don’t want to focus on one goal to the exclusion of others. In this way, I will continue to challenge myself, and I will see results in my training.

Goals do not have to be related solely to conditioning outside of training. Acceptable goals could also be “that huge rail precision” or “that 12-foot wall that was just built.” It takes literally two seconds to come up with goals (I just made those up) and they can help immensely.

Lastly, “working up” to things is a corollary to goal-setting. If you can’t get a high wall during your training, work on slightly smaller walls until you can. If you can’t get that 7 ½ foot precision, do the 7 foot one till you can. All this part takes is a little common sense and dedication. Safe training 🙂

Negative vs. Positive

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Written by Regina Spangler
Published on Sunday, 09 August 2009

Turning a negative into a positive

Today sucked. Yeah, I know. What a negative statment, right? That’s not me. I’m a sunflower. But listen to my day…

I woke and smelled something awful. My cat had used the bathroom floor as her litter box. Sometime during the night she had gotten sick in the kitchen -on the counter tops and the stove. …(UGH!) … Ten minutes after cleaning up the cat’s mess, I stubbed my toe on a very sharp corner of my coffee table. I actually had to ice the toe because it was swelling up. This threw my timing off for the whole day. … (AWE MAN!)… I called work to let them know I’d be a few minutes late, and I was told that I wasn’t needed today because someone else was taking my hours. …(FOR REAL?) … I’ve been wanting a dog. In order to get a dog, you must receive written permission from your landlord. So, today, I asked my landlord if I could get one. He said I’d have to pay an additional $300 non-refundable pet deposit. I’ve already paid this once for my cat, but he insists it’s for each animal. …(DOUBLE UGH!) … I hadn’t eaten so I decided to head to the grocery store. I got in my car and my rearview mirror had fallen off. It has lights on it so it was dangling by the wires. I gently cupped it to examine the situation and the wires snapped. …(WHAT THE HECK?)… As I headed to the grocery store, about a mile down the road, I got a flat tire. I now have a donut tire on my car. And I’ll have to take time off work to go get new tires. …(THIS IS NOT HAPPENING!)… I ended up parking the car on top of a bees nest and put the jack in the middle of it. I got stung 3 times. I’m allergic to bees. … (OMG is this day for reals?)

So here’s this horrible day, where one thing right after another goes wrong. Absolutely, terribly wrong. And I have a choice. I can either stay negative, pout, feel sorry for myself, be hateful and ugly towards the world, or I can look at the bright side.

The cat mess wasn’t hard to clean up, and I had all the supplies necessary to do so. My cat had actually killed a mouse in the house so I’m quite thankful. My cat was fine and didn’t need to go to the vet. … My toe was not broken and I can still walk. … I got a day off!!! I went for a walk outside, I was able to workout without worrying about the time, and I got to play with my LEGOs for several uninterrupted hours. … I can still get a dog. I convinced my landlord to cut the pet deposit a little since I’m an excellent tennant who has been here for several years. I can pay the deposit over several months so it doesn’t seem like such a huge chunk of cash. And I can bring home my puppy on Wednesday. … I have a second car -good thing I hadn’t sold it yet- so there is no rush for getting new tires. … While I’m allergic to bees, I’m not deathly allergic. I swell up and it hurts, but I’m not dead! 😀

So many times in life, people focus on the negative instead of the positive. They focus on the “I can’t” rather than the “I can”. Focus on what’s wrong and bad rather than the things that are right and good in their lives and in the world around them. I’ve lost 5 pounds this week. If I were to focus on the negative, that would never have happened. As in, “If you say you can or can’t, you’re right.” Or “the world has situations that happen to you, but YOU decide how you react.” Or “The pessimist sees the problem in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem.” It’s a simple case of mind over matter. I know, it’s easier said than done, but it CAN be done. Having a positive attitude is a CHOICE.

When you’re training and conditioning and dealing with others in the world around you, are you keeping a positive mindset or a negative one?

Non-training, or Why I Haven’t Been to a Jam in Months

Written by Daniel Hines
Published on Sunday, 02 August 2009

There was a post on PK Gen’s blog that caught my eye entitled “Improving through Non-training.”

The author, Johann Virgroux, talks about how he was so in love with parkour, he trained everyday for years…until of course he injured himself and had to stop training. When he recovered, he viewed training differently, and realized that if he trained safely and intelligently, he could improve his strength and technique without injury. Because of intelligent training, he’s improved more in the past 2 years than in his first years of training. He recognized that strength improves technique even with out practicing technique. He calls this non-training.

The fact is that most traceurs run into some form of injury during their career. Many people, including myself at times, cite that David Belle has never been seriously injured because of parkour, but maybe that’s because David Belle was ridiculously fit before he started, and had to learn parkour over the course of years, not in the course of an hour on youtube. The reason I haven’t been to jam/conditioning session/anything parkour related in months is when I did, my knees would flare up with tendonitis, I would constantly be sore, and I wouldn’t make much progress. I know this because since I began my parkour journey a year and a half ago, I go through cycles of getting psyched up, training real hard, developing some sort of pain, and then disappearing for a while. Well, I’m fed up with various aches and pains, and I’m disappearing for a long while. A very long while. But I have a reason…

About the same time I had to stop training because of knee and elbow pain, Andrew So made a post on the forum about gymnasticbodies.com. Run by renowned gymnastics coach, Christopher Sommer, the site is dedicating to bringing the methods of gymnastic strength training to the non-gymnast. I also discovered Tom Kurz, the world’s expert on flexibility, and author of numerous books on sports training. After reading his books, it was very clear why I was always getting injured: I was training like an idiot! From both these experts, I’ve learned several things. I learned that intelligent training means preparation. I learned that pain is usually caused by either a lack of strength or flexibility, usually both (by flexibility I do not mean just stretching). I also learned that if I can’t support my bodyweight in a gym, there’s no way I can do it safely in parkour.

If you treat parkour like any other sport, you can break it down into its various components. In parkour, the name of the game is strength and speed. The most important ability is to run fast. There are lots of heavy impacts on the legs and sometimes on the arms. There are many instances where the athlete’s supported by or explosively pushing with their arms. There are a relatively small number of skills (compared to something like martial arts or gymnastics), and it’s mainly about the speed or amplitude with which they’re performed.

From this, one can devised a rational training progression. A principle of sports training discussed in the Science of Sports training by Thomas Kurz is the progression from general to specific. For a beginner, any kind of strengthening would greatly improve performance, but the more advanced the athlete, the less the effect of general strength training. Adhering to this principle, one should start with general exercises that can be completely unrelated to parkour, and slowly advance to more specific exercises.

So what does that look like for me? First on the list is developing basic leg, core and arm strength through bodyweight exercises. Lucky for me, Christopher Sommer wrote a whole book on that, entitled Building the Gymnastic Body. Once I’ve developed a reasonable degree of basic strength, including the ability to back squat around 1.5x my body weight and a mastery of the planche, front lever, etc, it’s time to add explosive and reactive strength training and plyometrics. Of course, the whole time I’ll be doing various different kinds of joint preparation and flexibility work. When I can do all this with relative ease, only then will I begin parkour specific training.

Yes, I know, that’s a lot. It might be overkill, which is all right because sometimes training is training. If nothing else, my training will be an experiment in how to condition for parkour. I’ll be sharing various methods I come across, as well as the results of my experiment, so NCPK can judge for itself if my grand experiment in conditioning yields any useful results.