Fifth Ape 2012

Colin put together another great video. This one does an even better job of showing actual training.

Movement Experiment: Regretful Pop Vault

Here’s a fun little movement I came up with a while ago:

The technique is mostly just fun to do, but it has some possible practical uses too. If you need to quickly get off the wall you just hopped onto (hence the “regretful” name) either versions of these versions work nicely. Just pushing yourself backwards off the wall works, but forces you to land and pivot without seeing where you are going - not good especially when moving quickly. Because this little movement spins you around before you hit the ground you’re able to spot your landing and pick the direction to continue running before you make contact.

I generally prefer to use the first version, the second one creates more stress on the shoulders and relies more on power to actually complete, whereas the kick-out version is almost purely technique - taking advantage of the momentum generated by the kicking leg to create the rotation. Bonus points: great way to practice and apply the sit-out technique with more speed.

Try it out, it’s strange how fun just adding a little spin into your movements is.

And so the journey begins

“I really don’t know what happens next-one so seldom does.” -E.M. Forster

Today I leave for Europe. I’ve been talking about doing this for what feels like at least three years now, and it’s finally happening. It was a good thing that it took as long as it did, as my original plan transformed from “live in Europe” to something far more specific, and far more interesting, the beginnings of which you see with this website, Prime8 Movement. I wouldn’t have gotten here without the help of Colin Pistell, who has been an excellent mentor, friend, and training partner. If Colin hadn’t offered to let me coach with Fifth Ape I wouldn’t be here right now, writing this post, and for this I am eternally grateful. I also have to thank the Fifth Ape community, family, and friends who have been supportive of the idea. I was honestly expecting to hear plenty of objections, but I’ve received few outside of practical/logistical hurdles to bear in mind. I’m already pretty stubborn once I’ve decided to do something, but the positive feedback made it even easier to keep on moving towards the goal.

Now with that goal just about to complete, I begin the next.

To start I am spending about two months in Switzerland volunteering with WWOOF. I’m diving straight into the deep end of French immersion (my host farm only speaks French), which should push me rapidly towards fluency before I start Prime8 Movement up. It should be a fun couple of months of learning and exploring the area around Lake Geneva. I’m definitely going to be searching for this spot. Plenty of work will also be happening behind the scenes in preparing a French version of the site for launch. May even be able to improve significantly on swimming before the MovNat swimming cert comes up. All of this beats just waiting for the visa for Belgium to be approved. Once that happens then the real work begins.

With all this happening I’m going to be largely offline most of the time, so I may respond very slowly to comments and emails. Same goes for social media. I think two months should be enough time to break several bad habits (facebook, I’m looking at you). Likewise posting will be pretty slow. I’ll be writing for sure, but actual posts may take longer to come out than usual, depending on the internet situation.

And now I have a flight to catch, à bientôt!

What if...? Limits and Play

Voluntary limits are one of my favorite ways to keep training fresh and to come up with new ideas.

But why would you choose to limit your options in the first place? Everyone loves having choices. Having even more choices then could only be a good thing, right? Nope. When you have tons of options it can be difficult to choose what to do. Indecision is a great way to let that lazy part of your mind take over and think, “well, since you don’t know what you want to do…why don’t we just stay in this comfy seat right here instead?” Putting limits (rules if you prefer) in place narrows down your options and makes it easier to make a choice. In other words it removes the excuse of “but I don’t know what to do!” You know what’s really awesome about this entire concept? Limits can also be used to take a space devoid of compelling options, and turn it into a something better. Will it compare to the best training spaces? Nah, but it can still turn a bland space into a good one.

Turn sidewalks into something more interesting
Bland sidewalk, meet suddenly awesome sidewalk.

The easiest way to do this is to set rules for how you can navigate an area. The option I hope hope hope everyone is familiar with is the “floor is lava” game. One hell (hah?) of a way to inject some context and difficulty into any situation. In my last post I was using that during some parts of the video. What are some other simple limitations/rules to try?

  • What can you do without one hand? One foot? How about no hands or no feet?
  • What about using the same move twice? Or make it only usable a second time when linked to another.
  • Stay on all fours the entire time. I love this one, but it can be super tiring. You’ve been warned. ;)
  • Choose one route, but traverse it different ways each time.
  • Pick a movement and play with different combinations. Make it more complicated by turning it into a sequence that you add onto gradually. Every place will have its own unique options you can try too, and that list is definitely not exhaustive either. I just find myself asking the question “what if I could only do this?” often when I’m training and that leads to all sorts of interesting situations. If you let yourself be creative and don’t dismiss ideas because they seem silly, absurd, or even impossible then you will discover all sorts of things. It’s all about having fun and enjoying the process, don’t worry about trying to discover something amazing; if it happens it will; if not, then you still learned something.

With a piece of chalk

I linked this video a little while ago on Twitter:

Cool message right? I want to focus in on just one part of it which reminded me of some stuff I was working on earlier (more on that shortly). Playing within the lines of chalk, transforming the otherwise unremarkable surroundings into a space for play and dance. That’s a really good idea, and you definitely do not have to be an ultra skilled breakdancing kid to take advantage of it (or a breakdancer at all). Drawing, or imagining, some lines on the ground is just a way to give yourself a specific context which then can be used to create games or challenges. The best part about it? It can be done anywhere.

You don’t have to create a hopscotch setup either, a single box, circle, or even a hexagon (why not?) can work great. Drawing straight lines is hard enough for me already, so I’ll stick to just drawing four of them. When I first did this at the beginning of this year it was completely accidental. I was still recovering from a bone bruise on my right foot, I had four puzzle mat pieces in my living room (these guys), and I wanted to move around. Queue me trying to move around on all fours (okay, mostly threes) while staying on the mats. Of course I forgot to record any of this…so I did some quick video of the same idea earlier this week, now with all four limbs fully functional! Harder to see the lines than I would like, but it should help with picturing the idea:

In this case I was so focused on trying to show different things that it didn’t flow together very well. Ideally to make this work well you should avoid thinking too much about what you want to do. Just move, let your body do what feels right at that moment, and play with different ideas. This sort of play will make strongly ingrained patterns obvious. Even in those two minutes I used the same things multiple times, because that was what came to mind automatically—it becomes more obvious the faster you try to link movements especially.

Just moving in the box is pretty interesting, but I try to place even more limits to force myself to try different things. I have three basic rules I like add on: only the border is safe, can’t touch the border, or I cannot use one of my limbs. In the video most of the stuff was using the first rule, as in a smaller box like that it’s the most interesting to me. Making a larger square (or circle) can give you the room necessary to try more dynamic movements and combinations. There are also tons of other ways to change this up and/or make it more difficult, but they would take forever to list. Take the basic idea from here, tweak it to your preferences, and make it your own.

Mindfulness

Wanna know how I got these scars?

Clearly I have been watching way too much Batman lately, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of mindfulness comes up. More to the point, scars are what I find myself getting when I am most definitely not being mindful during training. In fact, almost every serious cut, bruise, or injury that I have ever received during training has been the direct result of in some way not being completely mindful; sometimes from not taking a jump seriously, overestimating my abilities (usually when tired), or for some of the stupidest ones thinking I was “done” for the day then getting hurt on they way back home…

I think I might have a handle on this mindfulness business now though. Most of my scrapes lately may as well be considered self-inflicted, since I somehow think grappling in the dirt is a good idea. Anyway, to me there are a three big components to mindfulness:

Focus

Probably the most straightforward of the three. Multitasking doesn’t even work when you’re just sitting down and trying to get something done, so it most definitely ain’t gonna work if you’re performing a complex physical skill. Getting distracted by a squirrel showing off in front of you (it happens) or talking with friends while working on the technique is a good way to screw it up. All of this is especially true for any kind of balancing. Focus on the task and the situation relevant to it, which leads into the next part.

Awareness

Awareness has three parts that I can think of:

Environmental: Is it wet? Lacks grip? What are the surfaces you are looking at like? Stable, uneven, will they hold your weight? Is there anyone that will get in your path during the movement?

Physical: Anything related to your current physical state. Tired or sore? Maybe an ankle is feeling a bit weird right now? Do you have the energy in you right now to complete the technique cleanly?

Mental: For me at least this one has way more of an impact on performance and safety then the rest. Did you get enough sleep? Are you feeling confident in your technique? Distracted by other thoughts? Worried by the environment or because you’re pretty tired? All of these influence both the ability to focus and the last part…

Commitment

There is a huge, huge, difference between trying something with 70, or even 80% commitment vs 95-100%. There is no magical way to do this, especially because every person does it differently, but it’s important regardless. Now, there are some skills that don’t require 100% of your power or strength to perform of course, but they do need to be taken seriously. If an obstacle is regarded as simple, it’s easy to not pay full attention to it (ooh look, focus again) and only put in 50% of the effort you normally would. My knees really hate me for doing that. Good thing they can’t get a lawyer, otherwise I’d be in deep shit for all the unnecessary abuse they have been through. Okay, that was pretty bad, be thankful I didn’t slip a pun in there too…

For those that do require close to 100% of your effort, well, quite simply if that doesn’t happen the technique will fail. In the cases where you can technically make it with less, committing 100% will take a technique from passable to excellent. Two examples of my own (one old, one recent) that I can provide are the stairs broad jump and a huge lazy vault. Both of those didn’t happen until I could get myself to push to 100% effort.

Knowing all this probably won’t make you mindful at all times just yet, but I hope it takes you fewer scrapes and bruises to become consistently mindful during training (and out of it) than it did for me.

Have any interesting or instructive stories about injuries from not paying full attention? Talk about them in the comments, everyone loves a good scar story.

The Big Shoe Post

Shoe Post (tree?) flickr: Allen Gathman

OK, not that literal.

I get asked about what shoes I recommend pretty often, so it makes way more sense to provide a general overview of which shoes I have used and my thoughts on them. There is no perfect shoe for everyone. You should take into consideration your own preferences and specific activity requirements when trying to choose which shoe to wear; with that in mind the information here is based on my own subjective experience of all these shoes. Have any experience with some of the models talked about here? Share your thoughts on them! I will add any extra useful information to the notes.

Note: this post only covers minimalist shoes. I haven’t worn any other kind of shoe in years so I cannot offer an informed opinion on any of the more conventional shoes on the market. (You would have to glue them to my feet to make me wear them long enough to properly test anyway…)

I will be regularly updating this post as I try out other shoes and when I get feedback about them from the community. More likely this will get turned into a page in the future.

**Currently testing: Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81

Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81

Brief thoughts: Amazing durability and grip. Great shoe, with the major cons being the heel padding (somewhat removable, but required me ripping out the insoles) and narrowness of the shoe.

KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

Vibram Five Fingers KSO

The most minimalist, in terms of rubber between you and the ground, of the shoes I have tried. Overview: Extremely good ground feedback, second only to actually going barefoot. Super lightweight with a good breathable cloth upper that keeps most of the random crap out except those pesky sand particles. As with all VFFs they are washable, so getting absolutely wet and muddy isn’t a big deal. They require washing occasionally anyway as they get stinky quicker than most other shoes.

Grip: Great. Solid grip on just about everything, and they handle wet conditions well.

Durability: Good. Despite the very thin rubber it seems to last forever. Took me over a year to start to wear a hole into it.

Special Considerations: Fitting is very precise and for some people these just won’t feel right. The articulated toes have some pros and cons.

Parkour specific considerations: Most VFF models (especially this guy) have a big weakness: the stitching around the toes. Wall passes, traversing, and tic-tacs are all extremely hard on the seams in the sewing. It only took me a couple of months to bust open the inside seams on the big toe and second toe. Expect 2-3 months out of them with regular training, not really worth it given the price tag (~$90).

KSO Trek / Trek LS

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Vibram has phased out the original KSO Trek and replaced it with a similar model, the Trek LS.(Side note: I’ve spotted a different model at REI that might be a cheaper and better version, will update soon) Basically the same, except the laces, so the overview here should largely still be the case. A tougher variation on the KSO design; it replaces the cloth upper with leather and has thicker weaved fabric around the toes. The bottom is thicker and more rugged. Still very light but sacrifices some ground feedback for extra grip and durability from the rubber. Like the KSO they handle water and dirt super well; it is surprising how easily cleaned the leather is even after becoming coated in mud.

Grip: Excellent. Another all around good grip on every surface with good wet weather grip too. The Trek rubber seems to handle rougher surfaces much better than the normal KSOs. Way better for any kind of rock climbing or wall traversing.

Durability: Excellent. After over a year of regular use the bottom isn’t even nearing worn out. The sewing around the toes has also proven to be far more resilient.

Parkour Specific Notes: If you are going to wear VFFs for Parkour this is the best pair to get. They won’t die early on you because of the weakness in sewing and the grip is noticeably better on urban surfaces. With the price increase from the new model ($125 to $140) is harder to recommend over other options unless you absolutely want to rock the feet glove look for some reason.

Feiyue

Feiyues Marketed as wushu (martial art) shoes they are surprisingly good all around shoes, especially when you consider the price tag ($20 on Amazon). These have a thicker sole than the other options, so they give weak ground feedback, but that means they are a good choice to gradually transition from thick soled shoes to barely there soled shoes. Also (marginally) the heaviest of the shoes I have tried, but that really isn’t saying much.

Grip: Good. Particularly grippy on painted metal and otherwise solid.

Durability: Mediocre. The rubber will last you 2-3 months (see the Parkour specific note), but they are so damn cheap that three pairs could cost less and last longer than one better pair of shoes.

Special Considerations: As they get worn out the grip on some types of floors (waxed wood, polished stone) gets totally ridiculous. Bad combo with any kind of spinning movements (what? I’m get bored sometimes and practice kicks while waiting).

Parkour specific notes: The Feiyeus get most of their traction on walls from the ripple like pattern of the rubber. The overall durability is crap because it doesn’t take long to completely wear away the pattern, leaving a very flat surface that offers much less friction for wall passes. As that happens they gain a freakish amount of traction on painted metal, to the point where you almost can’t slip off of some rails. Seriously, I tried.

Inov-8 f-lite 230

Inov-8 f-lite 230 shoes

Crossfitters absolutely love these things, so if they are ever out of stock, blame them. The 230 designation is their exact weight, in grams (because they’re British, of course), which makes them almost as light as the VFFs – they have a lighter model, the 195s that I haven’t tried. They use climbing rubber for the soles and have a thin mesh upper. This model, despite being extremely light, has a small amount of heel drop and some padding in the heel. Not 100% minimalist but still excellent.

Shoes I haven’t personally tried, but know are good:

Merrell Trail Glove

Merrel Trail Glove shoes The number of Fifth Ape students with these seems to increase all the time. Haven’t heard anything bad about them yet.

Five Ten Dæscent (Beluga)

Five Ten Dæscent Beluga Sometimes I think Five Ten doesn’t want this to ever be found in searches, because of the æ character. I’m cheating and using a French keyboard layout so I have quick access to it. The rubber on these is supposed to be amazing. The joke being that it’s cheating to wear them when talking about wall passes, as the extra grip will add upwards of a couple inches to the maximum heights you can reach. A bit weak on painted metal, but superb grip on most other things, while still being pretty light.

Lightness

Thanks to Blake over at Making the Jump for the find.

Barefoot Training and Parkour

Ryan Ford from APEX Movement released a two-part series on adding barefoot (and minimalist) training into Parkour practice. Much of what is discussed will be familiar to those who have read anything by Daniel Lieberman or Lee Saxby but it also includes some useful recommendations for selecting appropriate footwear (similar to what I’ve recommended when asked) for Parkour. It does lack a discussion of technique, but the video (above) from Lee Saxby does an excellent job of covering the key points. In any case it’s very good to see well respected (and highly visible) members of the Parkour community promoting the benefits of training barefoot (or as close to it as possible).

I would like to add some observations from my own experience, but first some (quick) background on my own training history. From the outset of my Parkour training I was exclusively training with Vibram’s KSO shoe for close to a whole year. It was only later that I added in more traditional options (Feiyues and more recently the Inov-8 230s). This probably would have ended badly, but (fortunately) I had spent the past 1-1.5 years walking around all the time in minimalist shoes. If it weren’t for that I would have likely have quickly stalled my progress due to a long-term injury. Even after that baseline of exposure to barefoot conditions I still found that after a particularly long days worth of training my feet would be feeling pretty sore.

The recommendations mentioned during the second part of the video are all excellent. I have an additional, if a bit odd, of a suggestion that has helped condition my feet a little more. If you spend a lot of time sitting during the day consider trying out a standing desk and be barefoot (ideally) or wearing minimalist shoes while working at it. It won’t necessarily condition your feet to handle bigger impacts, but your feet won’t feel nearly as sore/tired at the end of a long day of moving about. Plus we should all try to sit less”) anyway. There are lots of ways to achieve it, personally my setup cost $20 and works perfectly.

I have some general suggestions and tips from my own experience (some are mentioned in the video) in no particular order:

  • Drill small drops often. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing them all the time before in other shoes, the mechanics will most likely be slightly different and require more consistency to avoid landing painfully. Keep the volume (repetitions) low but work on them every day if you can.
  • Train vaults that require landing on a single foot (this applies to big strides too) sparingly, especially at first. I found that any day where I worked on a lot of speed vaults that my feet would feel particularly sore.
  • Rail precisions are going to be noticeably harder, because you absolutely cannot land anywhere near the arch and expect to stay on the rail. On the upside with practice your rail precisions should become extremely accurate for the very same reason.
  • Working on footwork drills that require precise foot placement will teach you a lot about how you can and cannot place your foot safely. Uneven surfaces and odd angles are especially helpful. personally I played “the ground is lava” game on small root systems that I found around campus. There are a lot of ways to do this, be creative and have fun with it.
  • Pure barefoot Parkour training is particularly abrasive on the feet so do that very sparingly. Ryan’s suggestion to confine that to warm-ups is excellent, especially if you practice any type of quadrupedal movement during it. Wall-runs and tic-tacs are particularly nasty and I’ve personally only met one guy so far whose feet seemed to handle it okay (and he had 3+ years of barefoot experience prior to bringing it to Parkour).
  • It pays to be extra vigilant about looking for edges and corners on anything you are jumping to, they might hurt a little when you’re wearing thicker shoes, but man do they really hurt in any kind of minimalist wear. Because of this training (reasonably sized) precisions on rocks is extremely beneficial, as they will teach you how to handle all kinds of odd landing angles and differences in surfaces.
  • Listen to your body, if your feet are feeling pretty sore the next day take a day off (maybe more) of training. Bones take a long time to strengthen and an even longer time to heal.
  • Last but definitely not least run barefoot. As with everything else progression is key, start out very small and gradually ramp up the distances. For a greater challenge try running on trails instead of pavement. I’m a bit torn about their comments towards Vibrams. On the one hand I completely agree with the two big weaknesses mentioned: uniform sizing and potential to damage/break individual toes (rails are really good at that), but at the same time I’ve spent a long time training with them and have no huge complaints. The articulation of the toes in practice is actually more of cost/benefit situation than something that is absolutely bad for you. You can definitely catch individual toes while doing things, but in my own experience the worst that I’ve done is stubbed them (occasionally). At the same time the individual toe pockets, mostly the big toe, offer interesting control options while moving along rails, traversing, and climbing. The bigger issue that Vibram’s have as a Parkour shoe is their durability. Most of the designs, due to the articulated toes, will tear along the inside of the 1st and 2nd toe pockets (primarily from wall runs, tic-tacs, and traversing) well before the rubber on the sole even nears wearing through. I’ve been testing out the KSO Trek for a long time now to see if they address this problem (so far they do), but that’s a subject for a different post. There are probably better overall minimalist options, but unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to test any of the others so I cannot confidently give out any suggestions.

Personally, I think I will be trying out the Inov-8 F-Light 195s next to see if they are properly minimalist (the 230s have some padding in the heel) soon. I was very happy with the way the 230s performed and for that matter, how long they endured (it took 6 months for this to happen). If they are at all like the 230s then I will quickly be recommending them as an all-around good choice.

[Site related news: New theme and layout is up. What do you think about it? A proper banner is in the works, but I’m curious about the feel of the rest of the site content.]

Update – Some nice training from a couple of the kids at Parkour Visions, both wearing VFFs:

Fifth Ape 2011

Colin finished editing our end of year video earlier this week. It has been a pretty amazing year. Started out slow with some injuries preventing any real progress for a couple months, but the summer and fall have been very productive. Broke new jumps, improved a bunch of techniques, and even learned some entirely new things (particularly the monkey flip at around 5 seconds into the video) that I hadn’t expected to be able to do. Have a look:

Totally unrelated, but very much worthy of posting here is a new article by Gray Cook that just came out. The TED talk linked half way through is particularly insightful. It is a long article, but well worth the read.

If the blog starts to look odd in the next couple days it is because I’m going to be fiddling with the CSS to improve the site. Odds of breaking things while I poke around the internals of the theme is high.