By Salil Maniktahla
One of the things I'd mentioned in my last column about parkour training was how to push yourself and when to know to stop. These two forces are inherently contradictory, yet keeping them in balance becomes more and more important the further you go with your training.
I'm frequently torn in my training between a mental desire to keep going, and a physical fear born of experience that I must not try too hard to exceed my limits. When I teach a class or group, I call it quits when a student has his or her first "near miss" towards the end of a class, and instead move on to the cooldown and stretching. Why? Because that's how I gauge when the group is getting tired--too often, the excitement of learning and trying a new skill that feels good overcomes the survival instinct, and our emphasis is on safety first.
My thinking is that you can always train more tomorrow--but if you get hurt, you can bring your training to a standstill.
So why is it that if I can see that point so readily in others, or even gauge the overall energy of a group, I have so much difficulty figuring out where my own limits are?
Partly it's because we're none of us very good at being objective judges of our own internal states. We're too busy experiencing them to be able to pull back and measure up sometimes, though if I force myself to take the time, I can say honestly whether I'm doing better or worse than I was five minutes ago. That skill is an important one for me: when I'm training, I have to notice that point where I feel like I'm no longer making progress like I might have been just a few minutes ago. I'm probably too tired.
It's not the same thing as being frustrated by a challenge, mind you. I'm not advocating quitting just because you can't pull something off. I'm talking about monitoring your energy levels and your rate of progress, especially when you're working on something where you have the potential to injure yourself. Rail work, cat leaps and precisions from any real height, most kinds of vaults...you can hurt yourself pretty severely with these things if you're not in the game 100%.
And while that point might be different for different people (and even variable for the same person, since if you train hard, your stamina will increase over time), it's also important for me to understand when I'm no longer in the zone. Most of my injuries occur when I've "left" that point of high energy and decent brain function, and am still trying to introduce or master a new skill. You can train effectively when you're not completely worn out, but sometimes the effort of learning something new can be dangerous when you're not fresh.
As I get older, I try and focus on what I think of as "progressions," both when I'm teaching and when I'm practicing on my own. Instead of going straight for that awesome-looking spinning wall-run to cat leap that Frosti pulls off so effortlessly, I break it down. I start with a basic move that I know how to do well, and then build on that, until I'm at the "edge of the envelope." I don't spend a lot of time on the easy stuff--but I don't skip it, either. I do it because it helps my confidence, it's good conditioning, and it has a way of taking a previously insurmountable obstacle, and lowering the "effort threshold" for it. After working my way up a progression ladder, it's just a lot easier to try that thing that was scaring the hell out of me before.
For example: there is a great tic-tac to cat leap across a doorway near where I live. The first time I tried it, I was pretty intimidated by it, so I decided to back up and just try tic-tacs on the wall, with no cat leap. I did that a few times, then tried a tic-tac for distance to see if I could make it across the doorway. Lo and behold, I nailed it! Physically, my body was ready to do it, but mentally I needed a little convincing.
I try to break most advanced moves down into progressions now. In fact, this week I watched one of the instructors at Primal come up with a new way to teach kongs, and now I'm actually anxious to try that same progression out for myself to "re-learn" them and erase my bad habit of approaching the box with my body too vertical, and a reluctance to let my rear rise high enough to do the move effectively.
I think this kind of training works pretty well for most people, and it's a great way to combat the feeling that you just can't do a particular move. Break the move into components, or find an obstacle that helps you feel confident, and then push yourself in incremental steps until you're able to do the "big move," In all likelihood you'll find that the thing you thought was insurmountable isn't so tough after all.