I had a post series on my previous blog, Primal Ninja, called "training games." The idea was decent, but I only had written descriptions of each game; that's not all that helpful. I think it's time I revived the training games segment, but this time with video! To kick things off I'll start with a game of my own creation, drunken rolling (do this sans alcohol, trust me). I've had the idea for at least six months, but only now got around to making a video out of it. Despite the name the inspiration was less alcoholic (I rarely drink, Parkour + alcohol: baad combo) and more boredom while waiting for a class to start. Boredom can be productive, sometimes.
I explain some of the rationale and benefits for the game in the video, but those are secondary to the simple fact that it's hilarious. Pardon any bad acting in the video, I loathed drama class when I was in high school. At least now I have an excuse to improve. :P
You'll notice that I used a mixture of front, side, and back rolls plus some break falls in the video; if you don't know some of those that's fine. It is possible to handle most falling directions (except straight back) with a front roll if you can torque your shoulders and hips around before initiating the roll. You do need solid front rolls before you try that however, so if you haven't already look at these two excellent tutorials from APEX Movement on forward rolls: Part 1 - Part 2. I'm not aware of any great back roll tutorials...guess I just gave myself yet another video project to get to workin' on.
The more you get "in-character" for this the more fun (and effective) the game is, so really let go and play with it. You're going to look absurd in any case, so you may as well go all in. Bonus points if you have a sake gourd or something similar...or just play an (almost graceful) drunken pirate. Seriousness is overrated.* ;)
This is coming from a guy who used to be intense and serious all the friggin' time. Funny how time changes things, isn't it?
Sometimes I get the feeling that I can get little over obsessed with seeking big challenges. Whenever I'm wandering around I scan the environment constantly for stuff to play and jump around on. The problem comes when searching too hard for impressive obstacles and areas; when that happens I get tunnel vision for big jumps, walls, or elaborate obstacle combos and miss all kinds of opportunities. If you're looking only for the big stuff then it's easy to walk right by the smaller, less obvious, obstacles. Why does that matter? You can only safely practice the huge things for a brief time. As an example, I found the famous IMAX gap in London last week and looking at that drop just three jumps is plenty for a day of practice there.
On the other hand more manageable obstacles can keep you glued to the spot, unable to stop yourself from experimenting with them for hours. Plus, sometimes smaller obstacles also have more difficult challenges; especially ones that require more precision and control. Often times these small obstacles are everywhere. Perfect example? Parking stops, or whatever they are called. I ran across a great set of them around Lausanne, Switzerland and spent easily close to an hour trying different things on them, then I came back a second time and made a proper video out of some of it. Have a look:
I'm certain that there is way more stuff you can come up with that I didn't show in the video. I certainly have a couple of new ideas already for the next time I find more parking stops. The best thing about them is they are so small and low to the ground that you can try virtually anything without worrying about getting hurt; so go crazy and experiment with what you can do. Also, something to keep in mind: different opportunities will present themselves when the parking stops have different widths, spacing, and even other obstacles nearby (for precision jumps particularly). Bonus: if you're bored while waiting for someone there are usually some of these around to keep yourself entertained. Sure beats staring at your phone. ;)
Think you've exhausted the options? Get a friend or two involved and play some games with them. When I was training in Ohio with some of the NCParkour guys we must have spent at least an hour using a cooperative variation of the "floor is lava" game with a set of them near our hotel.
Now, enough of my rambling. Next time you find some parking stops take a minute (or thirty) and play.
Ever had a time where you really wanted to improve something more, but couldn't dedicate even more time to practicing? It is a frustrating experience, but I have one possible solution. There's a trick, of sorts, to getting around that little problem; sneak movement practice into your daily habits. Many skills can be worked on gradually through the day, you don't need to devote 15 minutes to an hour to working on them to begin seeing progress. Now, you aren't going to see quantum leaps in skill from brief daily practice, but you will make gradual improvements everyday which add up quicker than you think (similar to the concept of kaizen).
Now, there are tons of ways to inject some quality movement practice into your day, but I'm going to focus on three areas. I believe that these three: squats, balancing, and footwork are simple to add in and can be done just about anywhere. These three are also all essential parts of any good movement discipline; everyone can use better hip mobility, balance, and more precise footwork. Note: while it's tempting to want to work on all three right away, I would suggest picking just one habit and focusing on that before adding in the others.
Hinge them hips (squats)
If I had to choose one habit, improving squats would be it without question. Working on improving hip mobility through squatting is an excellent way to counter some of the negative effects of sitting for prolonged periods. I have two options (which can be combined) to add this into your routine. First, use good form anytime you go grab something out of the fridge. Keep your back straight and push your hips back, instead of leading the motion with your head and shoulders. If there's something at the very bottom that you need, continue that motion by dropping as far into a squat as needed (and is comfortable for you). Working on this has the HUGE bonus of developing good posture habits for lifting too.
Second, I really like Erwan's suggestion of squatting at least once every hour throughout the day. I started adding it in and found that it was making the squat more comfortable; that paid off massively for me during the whole farming experience.
For physiological reasons balancing benefits even more than other skills from daily practice, and it is super simple to add in. Here are two ways I like:
While waiting stand on one leg and see how long you can maintain balance. Be sure to work both sides, of course. You can also do this while cooking or other standing tasks. Waiting with a friend? You can do simple push-pull games to make it hilariously fun.
My personal favorite: when walking find edges (imaginary or real) on the path and balance on them as you are walking. If it's becoming too easy, walk faster. Really want to take it to the next level? Try running along the edge.
Fast and precise footwork is super important for everyone, especially if you are spending a lot of time barefoot or in minimalist shoes. I have one simple drill that I talk about all the time that will develop accuracy, especially during running and approaches.
As you are walking (advanced option: while running) pick out some object or feature on the ground about 10 paces in front of you. Decide which foot (for more challenge, which part) will land on that feature. Do not make any noticeable adjustments to your stride; doing so teaches your body to make small changes to your stride that won't interfere with the flow of your run. You should notice that you stutter step far less often after practicing this regularly.
That's it, if you like this idea you can easily apply it to other, sometimes more specific, situations in your daily life and habits too. Remember that especially with little habits like these the changes are going to be very subtle at first. You might even think they are doing nothing. If you stick with it though, then you'll start to notice some small but powerful changes in how you move in the months and years to come.
The movement came from two ideas: the floor is lava game and attempting to slalom the entire bike rack. With this much bigger movement doing the latter is really hard, it may be possible but I wasn't making much progress with it. The move is a fun way to work on generating and then controlling momentum precisely (unless you like banging your shins into metal poles). Be mindful of the width of the bike rack, if it's too wide then this particular version doesn't work.
I'd give some hints about little tricks to make the technique work more fluidly, but in this case it's far more interesting to discover what works on your own. ;)
Here's a fun little movement I came up with a while ago:
The technique is mostly just fun to do, but it has some possible practical uses too. If you need to quickly get off the wall you just hopped onto (hence the "regretful" name) either versions of these versions work nicely. Just pushing yourself backwards off the wall works, but forces you to land and pivot without seeing where you are going - not good especially when moving quickly. Because this little movement spins you around before you hit the ground you're able to spot your landing and pick the direction to continue running before you make contact.
I generally prefer to use the first version, the second one creates more stress on the shoulders and relies more on power to actually complete, whereas the kick-out version is almost purely technique - taking advantage of the momentum generated by the kicking leg to create the rotation. Bonus points: great way to practice and apply the sit-out technique with more speed.
Try it out, it's strange how fun just adding a little spin into your movements is.
Colin put together another great video. This one does an even better job of showing actual training.
Voluntary limits are one of my favorite ways to keep training fresh and to come up with new ideas.
But why would you choose to limit your options in the first place? Everyone loves having choices. Having even more choices then could only be a good thing, right? Nope. When you have tons of options it can be difficult to choose what to do. Indecision is a great way to let that lazy part of your mind take over and think, "well, since you don't know what you want to do...why don't we just stay in this comfy seat right here instead?" Putting limits (rules if you prefer) in place narrows down your options and makes it easier to make a choice. In other words it removes the excuse of "but I don't know what to do!" You know what's really awesome about this entire concept? Limits can also be used to take a space devoid of compelling options, and turn it into a something better. Will it compare to the best training spaces? Nah, but it can still turn a bland space into a good one.
The easiest way to do this is to set rules for how you can navigate an area. The option I hope hope hope everyone is familiar with is the "floor is lava" game. One hell (hah?) of a way to inject some context and difficulty into any situation. In my last post I was using that during some parts of the video. What are some other simple limitations/rules to try?
- What can you do without one hand? One foot? How about no hands or no feet?
- What about using the same move twice? Or make it only usable a second time when linked to another.
- Stay on all fours the entire time. I love this one, but it can be super tiring. You've been warned. ;)
- Choose one route, but traverse it different ways each time.
- Pick a movement and play with different combinations. Make it more complicated by turning it into a sequence that you add onto gradually. Every place will have its own unique options you can try too, and that list is definitely not exhaustive either. I just find myself asking the question "what if I could only do this?" often when I'm training and that leads to all sorts of interesting situations. If you let yourself be creative and don't dismiss ideas because they seem silly, absurd, or even impossible then you will discover all sorts of things. It's all about having fun and enjoying the process, don't worry about trying to discover something amazing; if it happens it will; if not, then you still learned something.
Clearly I have been watching way too much Batman lately, but that's the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of mindfulness comes up. More to the point, scars are what I find myself getting when I am most definitely not being mindful during training. In fact, almost every serious cut, bruise, or injury that I have ever received during training has been the direct result of in some way not being completely mindful; sometimes from not taking a jump seriously, overestimating my abilities (usually when tired), or for some of the stupidest ones thinking I was "done" for the day then getting hurt on they way back home...
I think I might have a handle on this mindfulness business now though. Most of my scrapes lately may as well be considered self-inflicted, since I somehow think grappling in the dirt is a good idea. Anyway, to me there are a three big components to mindfulness:
Probably the most straightforward of the three. Multitasking doesn't even work when you're just sitting down and trying to get something done, so it most definitely ain't gonna work if you're performing a complex physical skill. Getting distracted by a squirrel showing off in front of you (it happens) or talking with friends while working on the technique is a good way to screw it up. All of this is especially true for any kind of balancing. Focus on the task and the situation relevant to it, which leads into the next part.
Awareness has three parts that I can think of:
Environmental: Is it wet? Lacks grip? What are the surfaces you are looking at like? Stable, uneven, will they hold your weight? Is there anyone that will get in your path during the movement?
Physical: Anything related to your current physical state. Tired or sore? Maybe an ankle is feeling a bit weird right now? Do you have the energy in you right now to complete the technique cleanly?
Mental: For me at least this one has way more of an impact on performance and safety then the rest. Did you get enough sleep? Are you feeling confident in your technique? Distracted by other thoughts? Worried by the environment or because you're pretty tired? All of these influence both the ability to focus and the last part...
There is a huge, huge, difference between trying something with 70, or even 80% commitment vs 95-100%. There is no magical way to do this, especially because every person does it differently, but it's important regardless. Now, there are some skills that don't require 100% of your power or strength to perform of course, but they do need to be taken seriously. If an obstacle is regarded as simple, it's easy to not pay full attention to it (ooh look, focus again) and only put in 50% of the effort you normally would. My knees really hate me for doing that. Good thing they can't get a lawyer, otherwise I'd be in deep shit for all the unnecessary abuse they have been through. Okay, that was pretty bad, be thankful I didn't slip a pun in there too...
For those that do require close to 100% of your effort, well, quite simply if that doesn't happen the technique will fail. In the cases where you can technically make it with less, committing 100% will take a technique from passable to excellent. Two examples of my own (one old, one recent) that I can provide are the stairs broad jump and a huge lazy vault. Both of those didn't happen until I could get myself to push to 100% effort.
Knowing all this probably won't make you mindful at all times just yet, but I hope it takes you fewer scrapes and bruises to become consistently mindful during training (and out of it) than it did for me.
Have any interesting or instructive stories about injuries from not paying full attention? Talk about them in the comments, everyone loves a good scar story.
Ryan Ford from APEX Movement released a two-part series on adding barefoot (and minimalist) training into Parkour practice. Much of what is discussed will be familiar to those who have read anything by Daniel Lieberman or Lee Saxby but it also includes some useful recommendations for selecting appropriate footwear (similar to what I've recommended when asked) for Parkour. It does lack a discussion of technique, but the video (above) from Lee Saxby does an excellent job of covering the key points. In any case it's very good to see well respected (and highly visible) members of the Parkour community promoting the benefits of training barefoot (or as close to it as possible).
I would like to add some observations from my own experience, but first some (quick) background on my own training history. From the outset of my Parkour training I was exclusively training with Vibram's KSO shoe for close to a whole year. It was only later that I added in more traditional options (Feiyues and more recently the Inov-8 230s). This probably would have ended badly, but (fortunately) I had spent the past 1-1.5 years walking around all the time in minimalist shoes. If it weren't for that I would have likely have quickly stalled my progress due to a long-term injury. Even after that baseline of exposure to barefoot conditions I still found that after a particularly long days worth of training my feet would be feeling pretty sore.
The recommendations mentioned during the second part of the video are all excellent. I have an additional, if a bit odd, of a suggestion that has helped condition my feet a little more. If you spend a lot of time sitting during the day consider trying out a standing desk and be barefoot (ideally) or wearing minimalist shoes while working at it. It won't necessarily condition your feet to handle bigger impacts, but your feet won't feel nearly as sore/tired at the end of a long day of moving about. Plus we should all try to sit less anyway. There are lots of ways to achieve it, personally my setup cost $20 and works perfectly.
I have some general suggestions and tips from my own experience (some are mentioned in the video) in no particular order:
- Drill small drops often. Doesn't matter if you've been doing them all the time before in other shoes, the mechanics will most likely be slightly different and require more consistency to avoid landing painfully. Keep the volume (repetitions) low but work on them every day if you can.
- Train vaults that require landing on a single foot (this applies to big strides too) sparingly, especially at first. I found that any day where I worked on a lot of speed vaults that my feet would feel particularly sore.
- Rail precisions are going to be noticeably harder, because you absolutely cannot land anywhere near the arch and expect to stay on the rail. On the upside with practice your rail precisions should become extremely accurate for the very same reason.
- Working on footwork drills that require precise foot placement will teach you a lot about how you can and cannot place your foot safely. Uneven surfaces and odd angles are especially helpful. personally I played "the ground is lava" game on small root systems that I found around campus. There are a lot of ways to do this, be creative and have fun with it.
- Pure barefoot Parkour training is particularly abrasive on the feet so do that very sparingly. Ryan's suggestion to confine that to warm-ups is excellent, especially if you practice any type of quadrupedal movement during it. Wall-runs and tic-tacs are particularly nasty and I've personally only met one guy so far whose feet seemed to handle it okay (and he had 3+ years of barefoot experience prior to bringing it to Parkour).
- It pays to be extra vigilant about looking for edges and corners on anything you are jumping to, they might hurt a little when you're wearing thicker shoes, but man do they really hurt in any kind of minimalist wear. Because of this training (reasonably sized) precisions on rocks is extremely beneficial, as they will teach you how to handle all kinds of odd landing angles and differences in surfaces.
- Listen to your body, if your feet are feeling pretty sore the next day take a day off (maybe more) of training. Bones take a long time to strengthen and an even longer time to heal.
- Last but definitely not least run barefoot. As with everything else progression is key, start out very small and gradually ramp up the distances. For a greater challenge try running on trails instead of pavement. I'm a bit torn about their comments towards Vibrams. On the one hand I completely agree with the two big weaknesses mentioned: uniform sizing and potential to damage/break individual toes (rails are really good at that), but at the same time I've spent a long time training with them and have no huge complaints. The articulation of the toes in practice is actually more of cost/benefit situation than something that is absolutely bad for you. You can definitely catch individual toes while doing things, but in my own experience the worst that I've done is stubbed them (occasionally). At the same time the individual toe pockets, mostly the big toe, offer interesting control options while moving along rails, traversing, and climbing. The bigger issue that Vibram's have as a Parkour shoe is their durability. Most of the designs, due to the articulated toes, will tear along the inside of the 1st and 2nd toe pockets (primarily from wall runs, tic-tacs, and traversing) well before the rubber on the sole even nears wearing through. I've been testing out the KSO Trek for a long time now to see if they address this problem (so far they do), but that's a subject for a different post. There are probably better overall minimalist options, but unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to test any of the others so I cannot confidently give out any suggestions.
Personally, I think I will be trying out the Inov-8 F-Light 195s next to see if they are properly minimalist (the 230s have some padding in the heel) soon. I was very happy with the way the 230s performed and for that matter, how long they endured (it took 6 months for this to happen). If they are at all like the 230s then I will quickly be recommending them as an all-around good choice.
[Site related news: New theme and layout is up. What do you think about it? A proper banner is in the works, but I'm curious about the feel of the rest of the site content.]
Update -- Some nice training from a couple of the kids at Parkour Visions, both wearing VFFs:
Colin finished editing our end of year video earlier this week. It has been a pretty amazing year. Started out slow with some injuries preventing any real progress for a couple months, but the summer and fall have been very productive. Broke new jumps, improved a bunch of techniques, and even learned some entirely new things (particularly the monkey flip at around 5 seconds into the video) that I hadn't expected to be able to do. Have a look:
Totally unrelated, but very much worthy of posting here is a new article by Gray Cook that just came out. The TED talk linked half way through is particularly insightful. It is a long article, but well worth the read.
If the blog starts to look odd in the next couple days it is because I'm going to be fiddling with the CSS to improve the site. Odds of breaking things while I poke around the internals of the theme is high.