Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I realise it has been a while since I updated my blog and a lot has happened since my last entry. Although I won't go in to all of that just now, I promise to post a full write-up of the Italy trip along with a video and photos when I have time, which should be in the next couple of weeks.

For now, the following article came together after I noted down some potential solutions to the worry that despite training hard and often, I might be neglecting certain aspects of Parkour in favour of others. This one is a combination of my training ideas, methods and thoughts of late and is primarily aimed at slightly more experienced traceurs, although there might be some ideas in here for everyone...

I find that one of the toughest obstacles I regularly face in Parkour is not a physical barrier, but the challenge of managing my time and ensuring that I am progressing as a balanced and complete practitioner. With so many different aspects of training needing equal attention it can be tough to manage your time so that you can keep on top of the various technical and physical goals that you might have.

Never have I claimed to have found the ultimate method of training for Parkour and everything I have shared on my blog thus far is a work in progress that will hopefully continue to evolve and improve as time goes by. With each evolution of my training I try to strip away that which I have tried, tested and then found useless... whilst holding on to that which helps me the most, to ensure my training remains as productive as possible.

When I began my training in Parkour I would simply go out and try to do as many new jumps as I could. I quickly realised that this was not the best way to progress and knew that I needed some kind of structure to my training that would allow me to grow stronger whilst continuing to develop my technical ability.
So for a long time I created complex and rigid training plans that would have me training certain things on certain days and it worked quite well, until I began to suffer from small overuse injuries, frustration, plateaus and I found that my training had become very mundane.
I then threw my rule book out of the window and simply listened to my body, mainly using careful technical repetition to condition and strengthen my body, specifically for Parkour.
Now, I find that the best way for me to train is to employ a variety of different training methods and make each training session very different from the last, to prepare for the widest range of circumstances and keep my body guessing.

But one issue I find with such an open-minded approach to my training is that it can be difficult to ensure that I am training everything I need to in equal proportion. When you allow yourself to listen to your body all of the time it can become easy to subconsciously choose the exercises and training that you enjoy the most, perhaps to the extent of neglecting some other important aspects.

If you find yourself facing a similar dilemma then as I once tried you could come up with a precise plan that sees you training specific things at specific times on specific days and this would work well in an ideal world where we did not have to factor in the various drawbacks that accompany such an unyielding routine. If you fall sick one day and cannot train then suddenly you have a hole in your wonderful new plan and will miss out on a particular type of training for that week...

So how can you maintain a flexible and sympathetic training approach that allows you to listen to your body, yet simultaneously organise your time to cover each aspect of your training?

One possible solution is to use what I will call a 'rotary system'. This rotary system will allow us to organise our training despite the various obstacles life might suddenly throw at us in the form of injuries, illness, work, studies, family, friends and the other countless things that require our attention.

First, let us look at a handful of the various training aspects that I feel I should maintain and develop in equal measure…

1) Physical development and maintenance

1.1) Conditioning
1.1.1) Low-medium resistance exercises and a higher repetition count to promote the development of greater muscular endurance.
1.1.2) Isometric exercises to promote the development of greater muscular endurance.
1.1.3) Lower intensity exercises that raise the heart rate for a prolonged period to promote the development of cardiovascular endurance.

1.2) Strength training
1.2.1) Higher resistance exercises combined with a lower repetition count to promote the development of muscular strength.

1.3) Power training
1.3.1) Higher resistance exercises with an emphasis on performing less repetitions but at a quicker pace, to develop power.
1.3.2) Sport-specific power and resistance exercises employing dynamic Parkour techniques.

1.4) Stretching
1.4.1) Stretching the muscles to increase the safe range of motion permitted by specific joints.

2) Technical development and maintenance

2.1) Repetition
2.1.1) Perfect repetitions of a particular technique or sequence of techniques to a predetermined number.
2.1.2) Perfect repetitions of a particular route using various improvised techniques to predetermined number.

2.2) New movements
2.2.1) Training in old or new environments with a specific aim to achieve or 'break' new jumps and overcome new obstacles.

2.3) Improvised moving
2.3.1) Moving from one destination to another using improvised techniques best suited to the obstacles encountered.
2.3.2) 'Stealth' training with an emphasis on moving with minimal sound where speed is not a priority.
2.3.3) Moving around with no particular destination.

That is just a simplified version of what could become a very complex list of things I should be training and I have not taken specific techniques or exercises in to account simply because it would take too long and there are too many variables. If you are interested in testing this training method then I encourage you to create your own list of things that you wish to train in equal measure and plan around that.
You may notice some of these training aspects cross over in to more than one category, for example it would be quite possible to train 'Sport-specific power and resistance exercises employing dynamic Parkour techniques' and 'Perfect repetitions of a particular technique or sequence of techniques to a predetermined number' at the same time if you happened to be repeating a precision jump. Nonetheless I included them separately for they could either be classed as technical or physical training methods.

I normally begin my training sessions with an analysis of my current condition to determine which parts of my body are ready to train and which may benefit more from rest. Based on this analysis I will then look at my rotary system and decide what to train.

Since the vast majority of technical training demands the whole body to function as one unit, I tend to only train technically on the occasions when my whole body is feeling good. If you train technically when you are tired and not at your best then there is a good chance you will be sacrificing form and committing poor technique to muscle memory, which is not good. However, it can be beneficial to occasionally train certain techniques whilst you are tired because you can never predict your physical condition in the unlikely event that you may need to do a technically demanding jump to save your life.

Although it does not matter where in the rotary system we begin, for the sake of simplicity I will follow the order I described in the earlier example to describe the process in more detail.
After the initial analysis, if only my upper body is fresh then I would spend that session conditioning. Next time I feel that only my upper body is ready to train, whether that be two days, four days or one week later, then I will spend that session developing my strength. The next time only my upper body feels good, I will focus on power training. After that session I will return to the beginning of the rotary and condition. This will ensure all aspects of my upper body training are being developed equally regardless of how little or often I find the time to practice.
Similarly, if only my legs feel fresh and my upper body is needing rest, then I can condition them, then next time I can work on developing my leg strength and finally my power... before returning to conditioning.

When your whole body feels good then this is a great time to train technically and really make the most of your fine condition. You can repeat techniques, go looking for new challenges and obstacles or just move around freely, improving every aspect of your training. Once again you could use a rotary system here to ensure you are training all that is important to you.

Here is one possible rotary system based on the aforementioned plan:

Training when only the upper body is in good condition:
  • First session - Conditioning (1.1.1 + 1.1.2 + 1.1.3)
  • Second session - Strength training (1.2.1)
  • Third session - Power training (1.3.1 + 1.3.2)
Training rotation when only the lower body is in good condition:
  • First session - Conditioning (1.1.1 + 1.1.2 + 1.1.3)
  • Second session - Strength training (1.2.1)
  • Third session - Power training (1.3.1 + 1.3.2)
Training rotation when my entire body is fresh:
  • First session - Repetition (2.1.1 + 2.1.2)
  • Second session - New movements (2.2.1)
  • Third session - Improvised moving (2.3.1 + 2.3.2 + 2.3.3)

With regards to balance training and stretching, I personally prefer to include these to some degree in every training session and sometimes I dedicate a whole session to just improving my balance if my body is needing rest, therefore I don't include this separately in the example above. I also spend time at the end of most training sessions stretching, except on the rare occasion that I may pull a muscle or injure myself in which case stretching that area can be detrimental to its healing or can even damage it further.
The core muscles are worth a special mention too since these can be greatly affected by both upper and lower body training and are involved to some extent in almost every movement we make, acting like a hinge between both halves of your body. I tend to spend some time training my core muscles whenever they feel good, which normally works out to be three or four times per week.

If you would prefer then it is possible to further break down the rotary system above and rotate around at least six aspects of training for upper and lower body, by only training one specific kind of conditioning or power training each time you practice, but I prefer to include different types of exercises even when I only work on one aspect of my training. If you wish to adopt a similar rotary system then feel free to adapt mine to suit your needs and preferences, making it as simple or as complex as you require.

The reason this system works so well is that it is a sympathetic yet complete method of training specific to your goals. Used alongside a training diary you can easily keep track of your place in the rotary and clearly see what has not been trained in a while.

Below is a simple flow chart to explain more or less how I tend to plan my training sessions. The chart does not take stretching, balance, core development or various other particular training aspects in to account and is just just intended to be a general guide.

I will road test this system thoroughly over the next couple of months and come back with my thoughts... I just wanted to share my ideas on the matter first.