Ran to Jones Park and did a couple of almost pull ups (chin to bar, but not over bar), brachiated just a bit, then ran on home. 🏃🏻♂️
Ran to Jones Park and did a couple of almost pull ups (chin to bar, but not over bar), brachiated just a bit, then ran on home. 🏃🏻♂️
For the first time since I was in elementary school, I did a chin-up.
I’ve actually been working on pull-ups, which seems like a more useful capability: If you can do a pull-up, you have a shot at being able to pull yourself up onto a wall or up out of a hole. I’m not quite there yet. But along with my pull-up training I’ve taken an occasional stab at doing a chin-up, and today I managed it.
All it took was three years of ceaseless effort.
A true fact about me: I’m terrible at watching another person move and then moving in the same way. My coping mechanism for this limitation is that instead of doing what ordinary people do—watching and then doing the same thing—I go through an intermediate step of describing the move in words, and then executing my verbal description.
It’s a slow process. First I have to watch enough times to figure out what the verbal description is, and then I have work through the move very slowly, executing my verbal description while (slowly, and with difficulty) comparing what I’m doing to what I’m supposed to be doing.
Because of all this, I’ve always found it hard to learn things like dance moves and martial arts moves, but it also makes it hard to learn even just ordinary exercise moves.
I mention this, because it has a lot to do with why I’m only now starting to turn up the volume on my exercise: Over the past year, I have added a lot of new exercise moves, drawn from Katy Bowman’s Move Your DNA, from Ben Musholt’s Parkour Strength Training, from Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat videos, and from other sources. For a long time, I’ve felt awkward doing a lot of these moves, and am only now starting to feel like I’m doing them well enough that it’d be safe to start doing them in higher volumes.
One thing that Julie Angel’s book Breaking the Jump reminded me of was that the early parkour practitioners pushed the volume way up in their training, doing hundreds of push-ups, thousands of sit-ups, and covering long distances balancing on a rail (or hanging under a girder, or jumping from rock-to-rock or post-to-post) every day, often multiple times a day.
Of course I can’t do hundreds of push-ups or thousands of sit-ups. What I can do—what I’ve started doing this week—is add sets. I can do 40 meters of quadrupedal movement, and then do another 40 meters later in my training session. I can do 4 negative pull-ups, and then another 4, and then another 3. And so on.
In between sets, I can do the more flexibility oriented restorative exercises. (Right now I’m working on getting the ankle, knee, and hip mobility I need to do deep squats.)
I started upping the volume on the pull-ups and quadrupedal movement a while ago. Now I’m adding some of the newer exercises, such as lunges and squats, that I hadn’t done before, and that felt awkward enough that I wasn’t inclined to add volume.
So far it’s feeling really good.
Oh, and to bring things full circle, it turns out there is an upside to my coping mechanism for my inability to mirror movement—it has made me a better tai chi instructor. When I’m teaching a move, I already have a verbal description of how the move goes. I already have a vocabulary out of which to build descriptions. And I have a lot of practice at producing a verbal description of a movement. These things have turned out to be very helpful.
A few months ago, I wrote about my plan to do some strength training to prepare myself for parkour training this summer. As I’m now working on my plan for the summer, I thought I ought to evaluate how my winter’s training had gone.
There were four specific areas I wanted to work on:
Although my progress was mixed, I’m reasonably happy with how things have gone.
I’m most pleased with the hanging. I don’t remember for sure how far I had gotten last summer—I think I remember hanging for forty seconds—but I’m sure I beat it this year. (Recent best: one minute fifteen seconds.) In addition, I started adding negative pull-ups to my workout, and can now do four of them. (And do them with pretty good control.) I may be within striking distance of my first pull-up!
I’ve been quite lazy about the wall support and wall dip exercises. In my brain the reason for this is that I don’t have a good wall to practice on, which is crazy, because the window seat is right here about two feet from where I’m sitting, and it’s a perfectly good place to do the exercise. It’s not perfect, though: It’s too low, so I have to bend my knees to get my feet off the ground, and that means that I can’t do the most parkour-like version of the exercise in which my feet can contribute to the effort. Which is no excuse for not doing the upper-body part of the exercise, but that’s brains for you.
I’m not sure I made much headway with the squatting, although I figured out that ankle flexibility is my main limitation. If I prop my heels up a couple of inches, I can squat down, linger there for a while, and stand back up again. Without the heel support, I need some other aid—something to hang onto to keep myself from topping over backward. I’ve been doing a lot of stretching for calf (and hamstring) tightness, and also just spending some time in a squat (with heel support). I’ve also done some bodyweight squats, going as low as I can, and some goblet squats (where the weight allows me to get all the way down without toppling over, and provides some resistance).
I think I did gain some toe flexibility, or perhaps just a better understanding of my limitations. I’m hoping that I improved enough that I’ll be able to do things like quadrupedal motion barefoot without hurting my toes. In any case, I’m pretty sure that even my most minimal shoes will provide adequate protection that I can train while I continue to work on it.
Besides just progress, I thought I’d mention one further insight: For a while in the autumn I’d been just a little restless during the night—I’d wake up and toss and turn, and often end up getting up for a bit before I was able to get back to sleep. I was very surprised to discover that this immediately got better. My theory is that it was due to the stretching I’ve been doing to improve my squatting: My lack of flexibility meant that I’d start getting achy and uncomfortable after a few hours of lying still, and the stretching improved that almost immediately.
As I said up at the top, I’m working on my plan for the summer. I’ll be sharing those thoughts shortly.
A year or more ago, I came upon a pretty good article (linked at the bottom of this post) with some good, basic exercises intended to provide a base for parkour training. I’d had it in my head to do those exercises last winter and be ready to do some serious parkour training in the spring. I even did some. Then spring came, and I realized that I hadn’t done them consistently enough to have done myself much good. I felt like I’d wasted the winter.
I ended up not pursuing parkour the way I’d planned, mainly because I didn’t want to risk even minor injuries during the run-up to our big Kal-Haven Trail walk, but also because I really didn’t have the base to train seriously.
I want to avoid that this year, so I thought I’d sketch out a plan for building my base for parkour—and as long as I was doing that, I figured I might as well document it here for easy reference.
To help me focus, I’m holding the list to just four things (on top of my usual walking, running, taiji, etc.).
My goal here is to get to where I can do a full, deep squat, and then hang out comfortably in that position. I can get down into a deep squat, but to do so I have to curl forward and stretch my arms forward, to get my center of balance over my feet and not topple over backwards. I’m pretty sure this is due to flexibility issues, rather than strength issues.
I came across a pretty good page on diagnosing and addressing squat flexibility issues, which would have me believe that tight calf muscles and tight hip-flexor muscles are likely culprits.
I’m already doing calf stretches, both straight-knee and bent-knee. I’ll try and be a bit more consistent about that.
The suggested exercise for hip flexors is a crescent lunge, which looks pretty good. Based on other stuff I’ve read, I suspect that I also want to work on releasing my psoas, so I’ll include that as well.
In addition to all this prep work, I’ll also spend some time squatting with some sort of support or another. I know three ways to do this. First, elevate the heels, so that calf tightness doesn’t limit the squat. Second, just hang onto something (like a door frame or a tree trunk) so that I can avoid toppling backwards. Third, do goblet squats, where the weight of the dumbbell works to shift my center of gravity forward.
I might also try prisoner squats. I won’t be able to go all the way down, but it’ll give me a chance to keep my back nice and straight, and then see how low I can go with a straight back.
Success will be when I can get all the way down with a straight back, and then use my hands to manipulate things that are nearby.
Last summer, when I started doing some barefoot walking for the first time in years, I was surprised to discover how much a lack of toe flexibility was limiting me. It interfered with quadrupedal movement in particular, but also all sorts of transitions to and from a standing position while barefoot.
I’ve started working on toe flexibility. My main exercise so far is assuming quadruped position, and then—keeping my weight back on the balls of my feet—sinking my knees toward the ground. When I find the spot where my weight shifts forward onto the toes themselves, I ease off.
Along with that, I’m doing other foot mobility exercises: Lifting my toes individually, spreading my toes, relaxing my foot enough that it can conform around objects, etc.
Last summer I did quite a bit of barefoot walking, and was surprised and kind of sad to find that a few decades of wearing shoes seemed to have fused my feet into solid lumps.
Success will be when I can keep my weight back on the balls of my feet and still get into position for things like planks, push-ups, and lunges.
Hanging from a bar or a branch is one of the things I got started on last winter, and then got distracted and wasn’t consistent about.
Longer term, I want to be able to do pull-ups, but hanging is the place to start. I had worked up to hanging for 30 seconds last summer, but I did a bit of hanging yesterday and found that about 15 seconds was as long as I could manage. I’m ahead of where I started—a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to support my weight with my hands; I’d have been afraid to even try, for fear that I’d hurt something. Still, not being able to hang for even 30 seconds is discouraging. (Not to mention life-threatening, if I find myself in an action movie.)
The progression is straightforward: hanging, then negative pull-ups (where you use a step to get up to the top of pull-up position, then lower yourself), then pull-ups. From what I’ve read, once you can do a 10 or 12 negative pull-ups, you can probably do a pull-up. We’ll see.
I don’t have a perfect situation for this: The benches in the fitness room here are too low to get me up to the top of pull-up position. I can probably use one or another of the pieces of playground equipment. I looked yesterday, but the most likely playground had kids playing at it, so I didn’t try.
Being able to do a pull-up is a key capability for various parkour moves, such as wall climbs.
Success will be a single pull-up in good form from a dead hang.
This is where you put your hands on top of a wall and use them to push yourself up—like a push-up, but with your feet unsupported. I can currently do about one rep of this.
The progression for working up to these is just doing a wall support, where you hold yourself up in the top position.
I don’t know of a good wall for doing this exercise anywhere in Savoy, which seems odd. I wonder if architecture and construction fashions have changed—campus is full of low walls that are prefect for this sort of thing.
Happily, the edge of the window seat in my study is an adequate support, so there’s a spot to do this that’s literally less than one step away from where I’m sitting as I type this. It’s not a perfect spot, because it’s kind of low, so I have to bend my knees to get my feet off the ground, which means that I can’t use my feet against the wall to help. That’s fine for practice wall supports and wall dips, but it means that I don’t have a good place to transition my practice to more specific parkour skills like wall climbs.
Success will be when I can do a dozen or so wall dips with good form.
So, that’s my winter parkour-prep program. With some consistency, I should come into the spring with enough strength and flexibility to jump right into serious training on parkour-specific moves.
Just for completeness, here’s the article I mentioned at the beginning, with a set of basic exercises for building strength for parkour training. I almost didn’t link to it because I don’t like the title, but it’s really pretty good.