Friday, June 18, 2010


It's my birthday next week and I've been lucky enough to receive an early present in the form of a 24kg pro-grade kettlebell from my girlfriend. I've known about kettlebells and had a vague interest in them for a while but have never really had the time or inclination to find out more about them until recently.

So a few months ago I ran a Parkour taster session with Dan at a new gym called OLF, or Optimal Life Fitness, in Hither Green, South London. On the day, we met BJ, who runs the place with his business partner, and a bunch of other guys who had come for the opening day to try Parkour, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kettlebell sport or any of the other sessions being introduced that day.

Now I'm not a big fan of gyms or places where you can go and watch TV, or enjoy air-conditioned treadmill sessions whilst listening to muzak or pan pipes. Give me a cold, dark, abandoned carpark with a rusty pipe and a weight vest and I'll be more at home.. but OLF? Well, this was no ordinary gym.

A converted warehouse, the first thing you notice when you walk in is the towering scaffold structure that is bolted in to the side wall and submerged 6ft in to the concrete to support even the biggest guys swinging around on it.. quickly followed by the climbing rope hanging from the rafters, a power rack, some benches and an armada of kettlbells. Not to mention the Bulgarian wrestling bags, rings, gladiator walls, straps and, well, the list goes on.

This is a gym. In the same way Gym Jones is a gym. And this is the home of the Trojans Lifting Club.

The taster was successful enough to allow for a regular Parkour session there that I've been running and I've enjoyed getting to know BJ and Tommy there who are both very intelligent in their approach to training, and strong because of it. It was BJ that introduced me to kettlebells and some basic weightlifting skills and I've been hooked ever since.

Fast forward a couple of months and here I am with my very own kettlebell and feeling humbled by this monster sitting next to me. Just picking the kettlebell up makes me think and when you actually start to try the basic swings and techniques you struggle to understand how someone can repeat this for a few minutes, never mind ten, which would be the typical amount of time you'd be swinging this beast for in a kettlebell competition.

So I'll start from scratch. I aim to begin with the basic two-handed swing and then progress on to the one-handed variations, switching between hands and repeating until I feel comfortable before experimenting with the cleans and snatches that these training tools are so famous for. Oh and of course, the infamous Turkish Get Up.

It's going to be a busy month ahead with next week in Leicester, then out to Nicaragua for a week followed by Brazil for a fortnight for teaching and training, so I won't get much chance to use the kettlebell until after that, but it'll be waiting for me when I get back.

And I can't wait!

Results and thoughts to follow..


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Training and Teaching in 2010

So it's been a while..

I’ve posted a few entries on the Parkour Generations blog but the main reason I’ve been so quiet on here is that when I do something, I like to do it properly and I’ve just not had the time or the motivation to update this on a regular basis. But, after taking a few trips recently and speaking to people from Mexico, Copenhagen, Rome, Ohio and various other places around the world, I’ve realised that more people read this thing than I could have imagined, so it’s to give this blog a bit more effort.

Now just because I’ve not been updating things here doesn’t mean things haven’t been happening. More than I can remember has changed since my last update and this entry will be more of a lengthy catch up than a discussion about anything in particular.

In future, I’m going to post smaller updates with what I’m doing, what I’m thinking about, what I’m training, where I’m going, what I’ve learned there and generally just make a little more effort to share my journey with all of you crazy people who choose to read this babble!

So, to the point and to the most important thing.. the reason I started writing in the first place, Parkour. Things here in the UK are huge now and the number of practitioners just keeps rising worldwide; but rather than fragmenting and growing too quickly, the worldwide community just keeps on becoming better and better, with more organisations keeping things.. well, organised. The vast majority of communities are doing their best to ensure that Parkour is spreading in a positive way in their own regions. With very few exceptions, I’m happy and proud with the way Parkour is developing on a worldwide scale.

On a more personal level, I’m satisfied with my training at the moment and whilst some things have changed drastically, others have remained the same or have been tweaked just slightly to continue challenging me.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made is that I’ve started lifting weights.

Adding resistance for upper body exercises is easy, you can take away one arm for all of the basic exercises, jump on the rings or train gymnastic techniques, or elevate your body. But for the legs? They’re that much stronger that it’s quite hard to add a great deal of resistance using just your bodyweight.

So my first (slightly reluctant) experience with weightlifting was maybe eight or nine months ago but it’s only in these past two or three that I’ve been taking it much more seriously after moving in to a new house and having access to an Olympic weight set.

I’ll admit it, I was wrong and I was uneducated about weightlifting. I realise now that used properly, weights can be extremely functional in increasing strength and especially in targeting that all important posterior chain.

HA! I told you so!” – I can hear them now. That’s great. I don’t care.

So for around three months I’ve been including some heavy lifts in my training schedule and twice per week I squat, deadlift, overhead press and slip on the bag for some heavy pulls. I spent a long time researching before I touched the iron and thought I owed it to myself to try it and see what would happen. My biggest fear was gaining useless bulk and affecting my explosive power, and I knew the importance of muscular endurance for those long traverses, so I didn’t want to lose that either.

I can say now that both my power and endurance have improved since I started adding more resistance to my training and I feel much more complete. I struggle to describe it in one word but I feel much more comfortable with impacts and more protected in general from the forces generated by the movements in Parkour.

Of course, an increase in strength gives you more potential for power and endurance too so I’ve been careful in balancing things and trying to progress in all directions at the same time, which surprisingly hasn’t been as tough as I thought it would be as long as I mix the training up regularly.

It all seems so obvious now but it’s often hard to change when you’re stuck in your ways and reluctant to risk a step backwards. In the end though, there isn’t a sport in the world, endurance based or not, where the top level athletes in that field don’t lift heavy to make gains. Sprinters are some of the most explosive athletes on the planet and they squat twice their bodyweight. Lance Armstrong? An elite level endurance athlete? Also squats his saddle-sore ass off with heavy iron. I had to get over myself and accept that iron is just another form of resistance, and increased resistance is what you need for strength gains.

The way I think about it now is that I’ve spent five years doing pushup marathons, thousands of lunges, thousands of squats, miles of quadrupedie and traversing so muscular endurance was the primary focus for so long that I forgot the old phrase – ‘the best exercise for you is the one you’re not doing.’

I have to admit, it felt strange to do just five reps of anything and feel destroyed after just thirty minutes of training and I almost felt like I was cheating something, but this was the bizarre new world of strength training for Parkour and it’s become a good friend of mine since then.

So my training plan at the moment sounds something like this –

  • Mondays and Fridays I’ll squat, deadlift, overhead press and do weighted pullups with as much weight as I can handle for five sets of five reps. If I don’t have access to the weights then I’ll do other heavy resistance work such as rope climbing with the vest, one-arm chinup training, levers, pistols with the vest holding a big rock or some other suitable form of resistance training.
  • On Wednesdays I run, jump and climb as hard as I can with a mix of plyometric drills, max precisions, strides and sprints, muscle ups, double tap drills, climbups and generally work on my explosive power with some time spent working towards breaking new jumps.
  • Tuesdays, Thursdays and on the weekends I work on light movement drills. I play, I stretch, I balance and try to be creative and vary those days as much as I can, working on whatever feels right at the time. Some clever chap would probably call them active rest days but they’re just good fun to me.

What’s that, you say? No quadrupedie? Where’s the muscular endurance work? Of course I still see a need for endurance marathons and training to failure because after all, this isn’t a competitive sport – I’m not trying to be the best athlete I can and win gold, I’m trying to grow as a person and push myself and if that means sacrificing performance then that’s fine, because performance is not everything. So once or twice per month if I’m away from home or just feel like something different then I’ll work through a long quadrupedie block, pushup ladder, lunge marathon, traverse to failure or something similar. It still has a place to me but its priority has just shifted for me at this time in my training, where I feel my weaknesses lie in other areas.

Training and teaching are two completely different things and it’s been proven time and time again that sometimes the ‘best’ practitioners can make the worst teachers in any practice, and Parkour is no exception. Teaching is another skill that has to be learned and improved constantly so I’ve really been enjoying that challenge too.

Finding ways to pass on the values and techniques of Parkour to a huge variety of students with different learning styles is challenging and forces you to understand everything on a much deeper level rather than just having a superficial familiarity with things. I also feel incredibly lucky to travel to other countries and teach but it comes with a huge responsibility since what you do out there can drastically change a Parkour community and the way they train forever. The result though is an incredibly rewarding experience when you see a student shine and do something they never imagined was possible for them.

Here in London, Parkour Generations is going from strength to strength and with our ADAPT course becoming increasingly popular, we’ve been busy delivering the teaching qualification to different parts of the UK. From next month, we take the show on the road with the first of many international trips to deliver the qualification in Brazil and ensure that, globally, continues to be taught and spread safely around the world, preserving the core values whilst encouraging groups to maintain their individuality and unique approach.

ADAPT itself was meticulously built from scratch by the founders of the discipline who realised that they had a duty to ensure that Parkour, Freerunning, Art Du Deplacement – whatever you wish to call it – has a standard of coaching and that a new student has the option to choose a coach who is recognised by the founders of the discipline to be competent. A good coach must deliver safe and accurate information to their students and set a good example, they must live the discipline, not just know it.

To summarise, teaching and training are both going well and I love my life and all its challenges. Typing this, I’m thirty-seven thousand feet in the air travelling at five-hundred and fifty miles per hour, half way between Toronto and London (and able to tell you that thanks to the handy computer built in to the headrest in front).

After spending the last week in Ohio running a seminar with the Yamakasi and a bunch of our guys, there’s one thing I can’t get out of my head and that’s the increasing size of this huge international family of practitioners all working together to improve ourselves, each other and push the boundaries of what was previously believed possible.

We start together, we finish together.