Tag Archives: Parkour

An eventful night at parkour

The night started like any other parkour training night. We ran, climbed steps and practiced techniques. Tonight we focused on vaults and tic tac. It was hot tonight and I was sweating from the exertion. My sore toe / ball of my foot is still giving me trouble but I’m not letting it stop me because I’m enjoying my training particularly parkour.

Then, when we were about 90 minutes into our 2 hour class one of our classmates fell and broke his arm. We weren’t doing anything particularly dangerous, just vaulting over a rail – something that many people do in their daily life. But, unfortunately, our classmate slipped and fell with a loud thud. I only heard the accident from where I was, vaulting over a different rail.

When the incident happened our instructors did everything right. They cleared the area around the injured person, leaving only his friend and a first-aid trained classmate with him (and an instructor of course). The rest of us were directed to take our bags and move to a safe location out on the main road (we were in a small alley) where we were to do some strength exercises while we kept lookout for the ambulance with our other instructor. The strength exercises were safe activities such as plank, push ups and squats. The two instructors stayed in phone and visual contact until the situation stabilised. Their ability to both maintain control and prevent hysteria or panic was admirable, particularly given their youth.

After the ambulance arrived those of us not directly involved in helping our injured classmate returned to base. Our instructor made sure everyone was okay with what had occurred but also kept us busy rather than allowing us to speculate about what had happened or focus on it. We quadripedalled hundreds of metres to give our strength to the classmates and instructor who couldn’t continue our training – it seemed like a good way to ‘help’ them at a time when the rest of us felt helpless wanting to do something to help our classmate.

While it is never good to see someone injured, it’s comforting to know that our instructors knew exactly what to do to keep both the injured person and the rest of the group safe. We debriefed afterwards and I know it won’t scare me away. Freak accidents can happen anywhere and anytime. I could fall of my pushbike or motorbike anytime, or could just slip on a wet floor. The accident wasn’t ’caused by’ parkour but was an everyday slip that could have happened jumping a fence in normal daily life.

Our class is becoming quite close and supportive of each other and together we pushed ourselves to work hard on our strength for the last half hour of the class – pushing out for our team mate. I’ll be back next week to continue my Tough Mudder training and to become strong to be useful.

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Tough parkour session

It’s 4pm on a hot and steamy Saturday afternoon. There are about 30 people waiting at Jacobs Ladder for today’s parkour training. Most are teenage boys who are playing at climbing the old bomb shelter dug into the side of the hill. Their skills are impressive and I watch them practice their skills with admiration.

We separate into three groups for training. The first timers head off in a class together while I join a group who have been training parkour for less than six months.

We start by running 700m to the court house’s retaining wall. Every time we are stopped by a red traffic light we stop to do plank or squats. On the way we walk backwards down a flight of stairs to practice our balance. I’m drenched in sweat by the time we reach our first training location. We practice dead arm hang and wall climbing. The red brick retaining wall is about 1.8m high. We start by all dead hanging at the same time. Then we practice our dead hang in the style of a Mexican wave, each starting our hang when the person to our left is hanging. We then do the same for our climb before jumping safely down off the wall back onto the footpath.

We run another 500m dropping down a ramp to the Brisbane River and then up a flight of stairs to a park next to the Commissariat Stores on Queens Wharf Road. We’re going to train in the park, but first have to get into it. There’s a 2m wall blocking the entry to the park. Yes, there’s a flight of stairs that we can use but this is parkour training so the point of the exercise is both to try to scale the wall in one move and to ask a training buddy for help if we need it. I fail to scale the sandstone block wall on my own at the first  attempt and ask one of the men for a boost. On my second attempt I attack the wall with more confidence and, while I ask for help, I don’t end up needing it. I grazed my arm on the first attempt but am unphased.

We practice ‘flow’ in the park. The park is cut into a hill so there are stairs, railing and gardens. It’s fantastic fun to find my own route from top to bottom. I do some vaults, some wall drops and some balance, both standing and in quadrapedal. After a few flows we practice trying to flow silently. This means landing softly on our feet when we jump, vault and run.

After about half an hour of flow practice we run 850m to the city Botanic Gardens. Along the way we practice stepping across bollards, from one to the other and traversing a low barrier between two footpaths. There are some large boulders set in the lawn at the gardens and we play on them, jumping onto and over them. I practice some precision jumps from ground onto the rock then off the rock, finishing with a parkour roll. It’s playful fun. Our activity here is to learn how to fall backwards safely, spreading the momentum of our fall with a backwards roll. It’s a run exercise but I definitely need a bit more practice with this technique because I bump my head a few times (you are supposed to roll over your shoulder but clearly I missed the memo 🙂 ).

After our backward roll practice the instructors tell us to pair up with someone our size and chose a number: 21, 31, 41 or 51. I pair up with the only other adult man in our class and we select number 51. Our task is to piggy back carry our partner for the number of steps we have chosen. My buddy carries me for 51 steps. Then I carry him for 51 steps. We swap and he carries me again for another 51 steps before I take my turn again. The third time he carries me my buddy decides to push himself for 102 steps. I just do 51 steps for my third turn. He then does about 200 steps for his third turn, including carrying me up a flight of stairs (not part of the route our instructor selected). To finish I carry him 102 steps to push myself. I ask how heavy he is and he tells me that he’s 84kg plus his hydropack. That’s almost 10kg heavier than I am. I am both pleased and surprised that I was able to carry a full grown man on my back like that. We have covered 600m in our carry hike.

To finish our session we run 1.3km back to Jacob’s Ladder. The run is largely uphill and we keep running on the spot at every red light along the way. We sprint the last 500m up Edward Street and finish with core muscle exercises at Jacob’s Ladder.

This training is probably going to be perfect for Tough Mudder in Sydney. We’ve covered 3.95km in short bursts broken up by obstacle work. This type of running is similar to what we’ll be doing at Tough Mudder and the obstacles are similar to those I’ll be tackling in that event. Even the training duration (2 hours 15 minutes) is similar to how long Tough Mudder is likely to take.

I was fatigued already when I started the parkour training session after my 2 x 1 hour MTB rides but I made it through with a smile on my face.

Total: 3.95km fast running + obstacle training.

Parkour fun

Balancing on a wobbly rail

It’s a hot and humid night in Brisbane’s CBD. We meet at Jacob’s Ladder at 6pm for the Parkour Basics class. We start with a warm up of light stretches and quadrapedal walking around the base of Jacob’s Ladder. I find quadrapedal walking is a really good full body workout – something that will come in handy for the Tough Mudder event in Sydney later in the year.

After our warm up we hit the streets for a long run. We run a few kilometres along the city’s streets and I admire the beautiful mix of heritage and modern buildings as we run. We are running quickly but still manage to find just enough breath to have a laugh as we go.

About half-way through our run we stop to do some finger strength work on the side of a building. I stand on the narrow ledge at the bottom of a pillar and use finger crimping to hold myself in place. It’s been about half a decade since I last did any finger crimping (that was back in my rock climbing days) and it’s going to take a little while to get my finger strength back. I manage to stay on the pillar for ages.

We continue our run until we are in a big square with lots of obstacles in it. There are stairs, benches, planter boxes, rails and walls. We start by practicing backwards jumps down a small flight of steps. It sounds simply but is actually good balance practice. We move on to jumping backwards down the steps and then turning to run forwards again.

We then move on to practicing forward and backward rolls. I wasn’t terribly good at forward rolls last time I practiced but this time I manage quite fine. I still can’t walk straight into the roll but at least I can consistently drop into one from standing and then roll backwards. We move up to a low section of wall where we hang by our arms, drop to our feet and roll backwards. I bump my head a few times on the hard tiled floor before giving in on rolling for the night.

I play a little bit walking on some rails. It’s fun to practice this newfound skill. The rail is wobbly in one spot but that’s where I get a photo taken.

We move onto flow practice next. This is moving through a space flowing over and around obstacles. It’s heaps of fun. The instructors make rules to limit the space we are allowed to use, forcing us to negotiate obstacles rather than taking the easy way out. I have a blast, finding myself becoming more confident with vaults, walls and ducking under rails as the practice goes on.

We finish with some strength and conditioning before we run back to Jacob’s Ladder, stopping on the way to do plank while we wait for traffic lights. For strength and conditioning we do calf raises with a partner standing on our shoulders (balanced against a wall), push ups across two bars and then reverse rows on the bars.

It was a tough and enjoyable two hour session.

Look! No hands!

I felt anxious all day yesterday; worried that I would make a fool of myself at my third Parkour class after being one of the slower learners in my first two classes. Only three things kept me committed to going: (1) I had already booked a spot in the class and that might mean someone else was missing out, (2) I really need the strength and conditioning training, and (3) I felt the same way when I first joined my old university rock climbing club but ended up staying hooked on the sport for 2-3 years.

I arrived at the meeting point on the top of the Kangaroo Point cliffs a few minutes early for class. The view out over the Brisbane River and CBD was beautiful. I joined my classmates, paid my $10 for the class and signed my consent form. No turning back now – not that I wanted to because my instructors’ and classmates’ enthusiasm was catching.

As with the previous two classes we started with a warm up and some quadrupedal movements. At first I was nervous when I saw the instructor and my classmates move along a small section of wall near the edge of a low section of cliff but then I stopped, relaxed and remembered that our instructors are concerned for our safety and wouldn’t ask us to do anything that we weren’t able to. So I performed my quadrupedal along the wall, feeling secure and confident the whole way (though my legs were starting to hurt from fatigue the morning’s hard bike ride).

After our warm up we crept down the stairs focusing on silence. Our task was to be totally silent, including making no audible footfalls. This is to practice the art of efficient and low impact movement. One of the things our instructors like to focus on is low-impact movement and forefoot running. We are often asked to perform techniques, such as running and jumping, in silence so that we learn not to jar our bodies.

I was nervous as our instructors gave us our next task: to walk along the 2 foot high rail at the base of the cliffs. Unlike last class when I had a light post to hold onto, this week there was nothing to use for stability. I didn’t think I could do it and, at first, I couldn’t even crouch on the rail. But then I stopped, took a deep breath and told myself to relax. Just before I left work before the class I had read an article that said that walking on a fence or rail is all about controlling the mind. We don’t fall over when we walk on the ground so there is no reason we should fall when walking on a rail. So I told myself this.

I crouched on the rail with my hands in front of me. I take a deep breath and rock back, shifting my weight onto my back foot and lining my second toe along the fence. I release my hands and don’t fall. I stand up slowly, concentrating on using my leg muscles to push me up smoothly. “Yippee!” I cheer as I stand on the rail for a few moments.

I try to take a step but fall; I realise I’m tense and distracted by fear. But fear of what? Falling? There’s grass next to the rail and it’s only 2 foot off the ground. Fear of not being able to do it? Well, the first step is to commit to giving it a genuine try. Fear caused by my personal insecurities? But what insecurities should I have? I’m healthy, successful in my own way and live a good life. Hmm … I get back on the rail. I take a deep breath and relax. I rock my weight back. I use my legs to push myself into standing. I clear my mind as if I’m about to do tai chi and I start to move forward. I walk about 20m before I realise what I’m doing and start to laugh happily. I guess I can’t yet walk on a rail and laugh but at least this time it’s happy laughter that causes me to fall off the rail, not fear. I continue to hop on and off the rail, walking about 30m at my best. I also resolve not to do a big bike or run training session before next week’s Parkour class because I am being held back by muscle fatigue.

After a lengthy balance session we run the length of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, practicing our stealthy steps before running up the 107 steep and narrow concrete steps that lead to the small park at the top. Here we spend time practicing step vaults and speed vaults. We use a small wall about 1m high to practice our step vaults. I find these easy and enjoy the sensation of clearing the obstacle with ease. I manage the speed vaults well too but have some difficulty with my depth perception in the dim light (we’re practicing these by street light in the dark night) so I need to use two hands rather than the requisite one. But the instructors still give encouragement and congratulate all of us on our progress.

We finish the skills part of our session with precision jumps. There are two low walls running along either side of a path that’s about 1.5m wide. One wall is about 1 foot high both on the path side and the outside. The other is 1 foot high on the path side and about 1m high on the outside. I’ve not done precision jumps before so I’m not yet familiar with how much power to use to clear the gap. I decide to play safe and only jump towards the low wall, rather than risking skidding off the high one or jumping too far. Just jumping to the low wall is already a mental challenge and I’m proud of my achievement in managing to both complete the jump and follow the technique.

We finish our tough 2 hour session with chin ups and squats.

When I first started with Brisbane Parkour three weeks ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I would find a group of young gung-ho men and women who were interested in doing big tricks and jumps. What I have found is that the classes are run by highly experienced young instructors who want us all to enjoy ourselves while learning skills safely. They don’t put pressure on us if we feel insecure about a technique and they congratulate us when we overcome our own challenges to try techniques, even if we don’t succeed in them all the time. Mostly, they are patient and cheerful, never making us feel we aren’t good enough.

I don’t think I’ll get anxious about attending class anymore. I am looking forward to next Thursday night’s adventure and might just go for a swim in the morning so that I can focus my energy into techniques rather than fatigue. Besides,  I think the techniques and strength I am gaining from Parkour are going to be invaluable come the Tough Mudder Sydney event in September where I’m due to participate on both days.

Parkour fun

Jacob's Ladder: The parkour playground

I rush out the office door at 5pm and jump onto my motorbike only to find myself sitting in traffic. I didn’t expect there to be any traffic heading into the city on a Thursday evening but apparently it’s a popular destination. I have to be at Jacob’s Ladder by 6pm and am worried I won’t make it. But I do; just. It’s taken me just under an hour to ride my motorbike 30km and I wonder whether I’m hoping my second parkour lesson is worth the effort.

I join the students and instructors from Brisbane Parkour who are milling around at Jacob’s Ladder. Tony takes us for our ‘body wake up’. We stretch our muscles and limber up our joints before starting our warm up. Tonight we cat crawl all the way up the Ladder (see red steps in photo above). We alternate between crawling one flight forwards and one backwards. Crawling backwards  confuses my brain and makes my quads scream (cycling this morning was probably not a good idea). It is a good pain though. Once at the top we run back down Jacob’s Ladder touching every step, then we run up a path and balance along a ledge. It’s good practice.

After our tough warmup we run through the city to a lane next to a hotel. There’s a fence along the lane to protect cars from falling down onto the lower roadway below. I’m nervous about what we’re going to do here; my nerves are well-founded. We start by doing rotating vaults over the rail. The instructors make the technique look effortless but they are patient and show us a slow way to do the vault. It’s my first time doing the vaults and I struggle with confidence and technique but with the instructor’s help I manage to understand how to move my body and speed the vault up slightly.

If I thought vaulting the fence was difficult, the next technique blows my mind. The instructor steps onto the fence and starts walking along it. My mind freaks out but I decide I’m going to do this. I move to a spot where there’s a light post next to the fence and use it to help balance. While we’re meant to learn this technique by starting crouched in cat crawl stance I am quite scared so I use the light post to balance and then let go of it; standing on my own. It’s not much but it’s a start and I’m pleased with myself.

Parkour is going to be a difficult mental challenge for me. I don’t naturally take risks or do tricks but I want to learn some techniques for the Tough Mudder. The parkour skills will help me make it through the Tough Mudder obstacles so I am going to stick at it. It’s a bit like rock climbing. I was once afraid of heights so I joined an outdoor rock climbing club. The first month or two were really tough. It was only the patience of the instructors and encouragement from my new friends that kept me going. Two years later I was comfortable seconding on trad and bolted routes clearing gear as I went on multi-pitch climbs. I was also able to hang from the tips of two fingers or jam my arm in a crack to keep myself from falling 50m off the ground. While I was never comfortable leading or doing overhangs, I was proficient within my limits. The fear I experience doing some parkour moves is similar to the fear I experienced climbing and I ended up loving that sport for the two years I participated in it. After a month or two my brain will accept balancing on a fence or doing rolls as normal and then I will be able to focus on technique. Fence walking is going to help me a lot in the balance beam obstacles of Tough Mudder.

After our balancing game we run through the city to our next location, vaulting and climbing walls along the way. Our next location is another lane, this time between two buildings. There’s a 2.5m high wall on one side that we use to practice wall running. The idea is to run at the wall, place one foot on it and launch ourselves up the wall to try to reach the top and pull ourselves up. It’s my first time wall running so I concentrate on trying to get the technique right. It’s more difficult than it sounds but I make good progress. This technique will help me get over both the Berlin Walls and the Everest half-pipe at Tough Mudder. So I have until September to get it right.

I’m starting to get tired and sore now; we’ve been training for over 1.5 hours. We run around to Post Office Square where we start out strength and conditioning training. We start by moving forward along the ground by doing a push-up, dropping back onto our elbows, doing another push-up then jumping forward before doing it all over again. We do this for about 50m. Then we cat crawl backwards for 50m before doing some core work. Our next task is to put our feet up on a waist high wall and walking sideways with our hands on the ground. Then we run around the corner, do more backwards cat crawl up a flight of steps before running another 100m. We do precision jumps for 50m before sprinting back to Ann Street outside the ANZAC memorial to finish our session. It’s now 8:10pm and we’ve been working hard since 6pm.

Jacob’s Ladder is beautifully lit up when we return to do our cool down stretches. I’ve had a fantastic time.

Parkour

Our Parkour training ground: Cathedral Square

There are at least thirty people milling around Jacob’s Ladder when I arrive. Only two are female and their ages range from 12 to their mid-30s. While most are young men in their late teens and early twenties I don’t feel like some strange 30-something trying my hand at an activity usually reserved for teenagers.

A young man in his late teens greets me and asks whether I’m there for the first timers’ Parkour class. I confirm that I am and am ushered over to meet Tony, the instructor who is taking our consent forms and money. I heard about the Brisbane Parkour through a fabulous local blog Friday’s Five Cents, which I stumbled across recently. The classes are held most days of the week regularly in the Brisbane CBD and only cost $10 each for outdoor classes / $18 each for indoor classes.

The group is split into first timers and beginners. Our first timers’ group has about 20 participants. We set off up Jacob’s Ladder. At the top Tony tells us about the philosophy of Brisbane Parkour’s teaching style – they focus on teaching students how to cross a particular space efficiently. He starts our training by teaching us how to run efficiently. The key is to strike with the forefoot instead of the heel. This is consistent with the way I have learned to run barefoot but contrary to what most of us were taught in school athletics. I find this exercise easy. It will be the only exercise I find easy this afternoon.

We run back down Jacob’s Ladder and cover about 500m to Cathedral Square where our training continues. Under the watchful eye of the new Cathedral we wake our bodies with some stretches and squats. It’s hard work and I’m sweating profusely by the time we are done. We walk over to a patch of grass where we do our warm up; yes, there’s a wake up and then a warm up. We learn how to cat crawl efficiently on all fours. By the time I’m done with my lengths of the grass patch my body is starting to get sore; a good sore.

After our crawling we return to the tiled part of the square where we all line up on the edges of the garden beds to practice landing from jumps. The garden edges are about two feet high and we spend the next twenty minutes jumping off them, learning how to land softly and strongly. We learn how to bend our legs, tuck in our hips and land on the front of our feet. We also learn that we have to keep our eye on the spot where we want to land. I do well at this activity.

After the jumping we move to a large open area of tiles where the instructor shows us how to do rolls. I find it mentally challenging to bring my body down into a roll from a standing position on tiles. But the instructors teach us in steps: first we practice getting up and then we practice the entry to the roll before we put it all together. I bump my head against the ground a few times but it doesn’t hurt and it teaches me how to keep my head safe in future. I’m going to need a lot more practice on my rolls but am determined to become more confident with the technique.

After rolling on the ground for at least twenty minutes we move near two six foot high walls, which we learn to scale. This is another technique that I’m going to have to practice. Unlike rolling, I can see the benefit in learning this skill because I will need to  scale the Berlin walls during Tough Mudder, Sydney.

We finish the two hour session with strength work before walking back to Jacob’s Ladder.

I enjoyed the session. I can see that Parkour skills will be beneficial both to my Tough Mudder and trail running training. It will build my upper body strength, flexibility, confidence and ability to traverse obstacles. I’ll have a look at the training calendar on Monday and decide which session I’m going to attend this week.