Friday 26 April 2013

One step at a time

Hey all,

Few things to say in this post. I'm really happy with how parkour is going so far this term, it's great to have 12 people at each session when 6 was the average last term, and it seems that some of the newcomers are going to stick around, which is great! I've also found a couple of new locations for sessions so we can increase the variety so we don't get bored now that we're doing 3 sessions each week. Also the OxStu is writing an article about us which I'm told will be in print on Thursday, so we might even get more people joining us after that!

This does give the problem that it's harder to coach a larger group (the recommended ratio and limit for insurance is 8:1, not that it matters because I'm not a proper coach or insured), but that's a fairly nice problem to have and I'll do my best with it and split the group up and/or give more freedom and less structure.

Second thing I've got to say is a couple of announcements. Firstly, the Freemove tour is hopefully coming to Oxford – they're a company which make parkour equipment and they're doing a national tour for publicity and want to come to Oxford. They turn up with some low-loaders and vans and make a parkour park for one day, I went to one a couple of years ago and it was great. It's on the 20th May 2pm-8pm and there will be sessions coached by proper coaches as well as freedom to play – hopefully we can introduce a load of new people to parkour there too! Still waiting on confirmation of a venue for that though, Oxford is a hard place to find space in!

The second announcement is regarding a parkour project in Faringdon. Called “PumpHouseParkour”, a group consisting of a couple of teenage practitioners parents has managed to find funding and got a lease to turn an old theatre into an indoor parkour venue. It won't be completed until our summer term finishes, but hopefully we'll be able to use it sometime next year - it's a ~40 minute bus ride or drive away but sounds like it's going to be pretty good! This also means that there is a parkour coach not too far away who we might be able to get to come to Oxford, but that's just an idea at the moment.

Apart from that, I just thought I'd share a reflection I've had the last couple of weeks. Over the Easter break I managed to learn a couple of new tricks which I've now managed to do outside, and looking back on it, I've realised that I've got to a level of parkour that I'm quite happy with. I can remember when I started out with parkour I had massive mental blocks with doing flips and a few times was considering giving up (I took a half-year break at one point) and saw some of the things I can now do as really difficult and scary, but without noticing I've brought myself up to that level I looked up to. I'm not claiming to be great, but I've got to a stage that I had doubts I would get to, which makes it encouraging looking to the future about what else I'll find myself able to do.

With this, I had the thought that although it's nice to have a vision of where we want to get to, that can often limit us by making it seem too far away. Instead, what's important is that we keep improving ourselves and making continuable progress. Often we don't notice the change as it's gradual, until we go back somewhere and have vague memories of something which is now done with ease being difficult at some point – I know that's what's happened with me. It's also important not to get stuck in a rut – focussing on one particular thing or movement might get us stuck, but forgetting about it and coming back to it after doing some other things often helps. I tried learning backflips for three to six months, then gave up on them for half a year, and when I tried again, the first one I did was the best one I had ever done!

A journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step – and you're only ever getting one more step further from when you started.

Monday 1 April 2013

Using time and training smart(ly)

Aged 15, I spent one two-week school holiday doing nothing apart from playing computer games. At the end of it, I felt pretty terrible: I looked back and realised I had wasted two weeks and got nothing out of it. I resolved to do better next holiday, and the following holiday I ran 3 miles every day for two weeks. To begin with, it felt like a chore, but towards the end I was enjoying it. That was definitely better than the wasted holiday, but looking back I could've done better. The point of this post is firstly, to encourage you to use holiday time to train, and secondly, to try to give some tips on how to train well.

I'm sure if you sat and thought about it, you'd agree that it would be beneficial to exercise - it probably isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that during holidays we waste a lot of time, and I know I could easily fit in a lot more than I currently do. So what are you waiting for - do it! A couple of weeks of decent conditioning will mean that when it comes to parkour next term, you can spend more time learning and improving and less being tired. So use your will power. Don't procrastinate - if you're watching TV or on your computer and have nothing better to do, do something right now! Or put it as part of your schedule in the morning, either before or straight after breakfast.

So, now that you've got off your bum to do something, what do you do? Whatever it is, make sure you're training smart (or smartly, for those who follow rules of grammar) - at this point my example of running 3 miles each day was not such a good one. Firstly, mix it up: don't repeat the same thing, as while it will be beneficial, the benefits are limited, and without variety it's harder to continue improvement once you reach your first plateau. If you want to get fitter, don't just do continuous running: do interval running, vary your speeds, etc. This applies both to speed work and endurance work (there's more variety than that, but we'll keep it simple). So an example of different sessions that a distance runner might use: 30 minute continuous run, 20 minute fast run, 5 x 2 minute runs (2 minutes break between), 15 x 200m runs (but break it up, so 3 lots of 5 or 5 lots of 3, with a certain time between each 200m - can be 30 seconds or 2 minutes depending on the speed you want to run!), and so on. The same is true for speed stuff: sprinters do sessions which range from 20m to 600m with a variety of recovery.

But we don't simply want to get good at putting one foot in front of the other: this is true for all exercises. For press-ups (for example, a staple upper-body exercise), don't just do as many as you can every day in one sitting - yes, this will help, but a smarter workout would help more. Mix it up between explosive press-ups (for example clap press-ups, but if that's too hard then just try and get a bit of airtime) and slow ones (taking 10 seconds per press up). Make it so that on some variations the most you can do in one go is 3, and on others go up to 15. Also repeat it - don't just do one lot, but give yourself a few minutes rest and go again. So, an example: three sets of press-ups with 5 minutes inbetween, in each set do as many of a certain type as you can. Another way of making press-ups harder is by raising your feet (incline press-ups) so that more bodyweight goes through your arms.

Make sure you're working towards a certain target too. If you want to be explosive, do exercises that work muscles explosively. If you want improve your endurance, do exercises that work that, remembering that what you're working is endurance at a particular strength. For example, if you want to improve your strength, don't do 20 press-ups, as this works the endurance more (it will improve your strength, but not as effectively as something targeted). Instead, find an exercise where your maximum is around 5.

Mix up your exercises too. Don't do standard press-ups all the time - I can think of around 15 different variations on press-up that work the same areas of muscles, but in different ways. Wider or lower hand placement or uneven hand placement, for example. Doing panthers/dive monkeys (same thing, two names - google it!) are also good for this.

As well as mixing up your exercises, make sure you're working the whole body - legs, core (both abs and back), chest, arms, and upper back.

I'm not going to list exercises or plans - there's plenty of information out there - but if you are stuck feel free to ask me anything.

Aside from standard conditioning, get out there and practice parkour! I improved my balance a lot simply by using the road sign at the end of my street - every time I went past it I would jump on it. Either two-footed facing it, taking off one foot facing it (alternating feet), or running from behind it and trying to jump on and carry on running. Once you're on it, walk up and down, turn around, try standing still facing forwards, or even do squats (or one-legged squats!) to practice balancing. Similarly, there's a lot to be done on a simple kerb or wall. Doing ten minutes regularly will make a noticeable difference! Again, if you're out of ideas, search the internet or ask me.

This has dragged on a bit, but hopefully you can see there's a lot you can and should do!