THE FOUR PILLARS OF PARKOUR
If you’ve been following the STORROR team for a while, you’ll probably know that Callum has been writing a series of tips on his Instagram since 2016. Many of these are tongue-in-cheek, while in others he actually makes serious points or has a rant about issues that annoy him, always peppered with his trademark humour and wit.
Usually these tips are short and sweet, but occasionally he outdoes himself and writes an epic. These deserve more than a fleeting Instagram scroll and are published as a fully fledged blog post (read his previous). So, by popular demand, here follows the long-awaited Callum Tip No. 500.
How to get better at parkour
What does it mean to get better at parkour? It seems hard to find one universal spectrum for ‘better’. Given that the movement skills used in parkour are so broad and far-reaching, which can be performed and built upon on a seemingly endless variety of obstacles, there are so many avenues of speciality one could pursue. While at the same time, there are aspects that could be neglected.
But that’s fine. As who the heck is to say what you should and shouldn’t practice, bro? Specialise and neglect to your heart’s content.
Unless, of course, you wish to do well in any competition circuit. Even due to the varied ways in which the sport can be practised, three different competition formats have developed – style, speed and skill. In this sense, better can be measured by how well you place in a competition compared to other competitors. Better can mean being well-rounded, accumulating medals from all three competition formats. Better can mean excelling in one of speed, skill or style.
These categories are still very broad though. Someone might still naturally excel, or want to improve, in an area more niche within the sport that doesn’t fit into the the umbrella categories that have emerged. Something that just appeals to them, just cos – e.g. jumping, swinging, descents, ascents, bar tricks, flip pres, platform tricks, long runs, short, intense and compact runs, rail flow, tumbling, rolls, dive underbars, and even endeavouring to get evermore stupidly low cast-backs. In this sense, there are many spectrums for ‘better’.
Better can also be measured numerically by views, followers and likes on social media. A sign that you’re on a good path is quantifiable by these clear parameters of positive signalling. You can do something and film it, upload it, and receive a bunch of data from strangers in cyberspace letting you know how good you are.
If your numerical data is lower than that of your friend’s, that means your friend is better than you. If your data is worse this year than the last, you have regressed. You must toil endlessly to figure out what content results in better numbers and filter out anything that doesn’t.
That post where you did a very technical traverse and dyno didn’t do so well for engagement. Right, we’ll never do those again then, despite it making you proud of yourself in the moment. That jump over water, on the other hand, did exceedingly well, so now you will strive to do more along the lines of that.
What a great criterion to adjust your compass to. What better way is there to give us direction in our practice? Although, of course, the waters do start to muddy when things go off course and Kirya Kolesnikov starts slapping his girlfriend’s arse before doing a flip for posts… yes, I am mean, but in my defence, it wouldn’t be a centennial Callum Tip without singling someone out for their previous unforgivable atrocities. Such an easy target too!
But no. For all our intents and purposes, what I shall be addressing in this tip is becoming better by our own standards. Building on our own ability for none other purpose than it being what we want to do and it being what keeps practising parkour enjoyable. Measurable only to yourself compared to your ability yesterday, last week, or last year. Isn’t that cute?
WTF am I getting into?!
Chances are, by now you’ve had a scroll down the page to see what you’re getting yourself into by starting to read this gargantuan bulk of text. Yes, it’s a fucking long ting. This is a large coagulation of ideas that I’ve laboured to tie into one big fat fucker of a Callum Tip. It is, in essence, the Callum Tip to end all Callum Tips (but, to be honest, I’ll probs keep doing them for a bit longer).
It is pretty specific to parkour, especially in its terminology and examples, although if you do a similar activity you could probably eke out some useful ideas that are somewhat applicable to your sport. But if you don’t, now is the time to say, there are likely far more productive uses of your time than reading this bullshit.
These ideas might already seem very simple and intuitive for a lot of us. My goal in writing this is, pretty much, to inspire and promote some productive in-depth thinking about parkour training. Hopefully helping to give some direction or to give you a nudge to practise underlying weaknesses. Or motivation to practise more in general.
Another incentive for me writing this is the pressure from my wretched and adoring fans to produce something above average for Callum Tip No. 500!
Being the best you can be
Whatever direction you wish to take your training, no matter how broad and all encompassing or how specialised and niche, I guarantee there are four factors that determine how you excel – mental, technical, physical and creative. I like to think of these factors as The Four Pillars of Parkour.
These four pillars don’t just make the foundation of your parkour practice. They are your whole practice. You simply will not be the best you can be if even one of these factors is lacking and isn’t progressed equally to the others.
The Technical Pillar
I consider technique to be the very base of everything we do, at least at the most basic visual level. When talking about the Technical Pillar, I’m not just referring to knowing a multitude of existing techniques. Obviously the more techniques under your belt the better, and you should never stop striving to continue adding new movements to your repertoire.
I also mean how dialled each technique is through practice and refinement, making it consistent and safe. Also, how that movement can be applied over various obstacles and terrains. For example, solely ticking off as many vaults and flips one by one in a gym onto a crash mat is a lousy way to train as a whole. At least for anyone other than someone just starting out training. One obvious reason being the lack of applicability to the greater environment outside those four walls.
For example, once a standing precision jump is learned and stuck a couple times, over a small distance, six inches off the ground, as can be done in most people’s first ever session, it doesn’t mean that basic little trick is ticked off and complete. There are infinite ways it can be built upon and applied to endless possible environment scenarios and dimensions.
If this same jump, which was thought to be complete, changed even slightly, the technique would break down and become a different challenge altogether. If the landing were changed to a rail perpendicular to the take off, it would be entirely different technically. If the take-off and landing were raised eight feet off the ground, it would become entirely different mentally. If the landing was moved eight feet further away, it would become physically, technically, and mentally entirely different.
The Creativity Pillar
Creativity can be simply your vision for challenges, moves, and lines pasted onto a space, based on the techniques you know already. Also creativity can be creating completely different movement patterns built on techniques you know already, often inspired by a unique obstacle or space. Some people struggle for ideas at a spot. Some people struggle to see beyond the glaringly obvious challenges.
You see two walls and immediately think ‘kong pre’ and once that idea has been exhausted you are slap-bang out of ideas, and it takes a whole lot of thought to scrape the barrel to come up with something. Sooner or later, you’re bored and pressuring your mates to move on to the next spot, while they’re happily cracking on with the lines they’ve conjured up.
Either that or you only follow your mates’ footsteps, and copy every challenge and line they do. Which is grand and everything, because that’s a big part of training with friends. We want to throw back and forth ideas into the melting pot, as that’s how people and ideas develop and progress. But sometimes, when content creation is concerned and people are out here trying to manifest their gosh darn individuality and such, there can be a level of copycatting that smacks of downright poor etiquette.
On the other hand, some people have a keen parkour vision, and have very little trouble coming up with ideas and stringing together lines at a glance. We can all think of athletes who are great examples of this. This can occur naturally and it can also be developed. It doesn’t have to take a lot of thought. It often just needs a pinch of curiosity and playfulness. Starting simple and building on it.
Could be a simple as taking something you saw online and replicating it in a different way on a different space. Don’t just consume with a dead end when scrolling on Instagram. Consume with a mind switched on, collecting ideas and thinking how you can apply those ideas to your own local spots. Original ideas don’t exist. Everything is built on ideas from your past experiences and ideas borrowed from other people and manipulated. Every idea has a source. Even beyond the founders of parkour as well, of course.
The Physical Pillar
This is everything physiological. Every quality that can be attributed to the tissue of the body, rather than the mind (on any cognitive level at least – that’s another topic for another day, and from another person who actually understands that area).
This can include everything under the umbrella of strength, like force production and the rate at which we can produce that force (power/RFD) and absorption of impact. It includes flexibility and mobility. It is endurance – how long we can exert ourselves whether just for a long line, readiness to repeat a long line or challenge again with limited rest period. Or endurance throughout a training day or week even, as in the ability to train the same volume and intensity multiple days consecutively.
It includes stuff you’d think is trivial, like skin toughness (e.g. hands), pain threshold, and even sweat glands (e.g. hands again). It includes your height, body type, limb length, and size of appendages (e.g. hands again. And feet too. Get your mind out of the gutter, you scumbag!). Yes, the physical pillar is seemingly the holy landscape upon which excuses are born! Depending where you sit on the spectrum with any of these physical qualities, whether by nature or nurture, it can help or hinder you.
A very obvious and, for most, relatable example is when you’re fresh from an injury and you cannot even walk properly, let alone take any impact or leave the ground with any considerable force and velocity that would help you execute the most meagre of jumps without a whole world of discomfort. This immediately puts you in a very low place on the spectrum for physical. Same goes for another highly relatable example – the ubiquitous, inescapable, beloved phenomenon that is chronic patellar tendinitis! The Physical Pillar needs to be rebuilt with time and rehab before it is more even with the other pillars.
With these examples, it should be evident that the Physical Pillar is very important. The physical clearly affects everything. You won’t make a great parkour athlete if you’re a limbless, atrophied, brittle boned nub person. There’s no amount of technical, mental or creative qualities that will ever make up for that low of a physical pillar.
This reminds me of the old Ryan Doyle quote from one of his Red Bull videos. Something along the lines of “If I could not move for the rest of my life I’d still be doing parkour through efficient thinking”. Tell that to limbless nubby boy, mate! He’ll be chuffed he can still do parkour. Maybe he’ll start a YouTube channel and upload some dank lines of efficient thinking. I’m sure Ryan meant it in some cringe philosophical way, but still… yeesh!
On the opposite, less ludicrous, end of the spectrum, if we had a robust, strong, fast, dense-boned person with healthy and functional range of motion in all required joints and a near pathological pain threshold, they’re in a position where they’re much more likely to be able to build their mental, technical, and creative pillars as well – becoming a better athlete.
I’m aware that I’ve just pretty much described Dom Tomato (bar the good flexibility). But Dom is, in fact, a great example! He’s so goddamn good because his amazingly strong physical pillar, allowing him to be amazingly resilient to impact, resistant to injury and pain, makes him confident to put himself in situations that would make most of us shit a brick and get chronic patellar tendinitis just thinking about.
Of course, Dom is known to be somewhat of an anomaly among mere mortals, likely due to both an amount of good genetics and rigorous training background. He was a figure skating fairy boy before he started parkour, in case you didn’t know. But that intense fairy boy training, in high volumes and frequencies, no doubt helped carve his Physical Pillar out of stone… (yes, most pillars are generally made from stone anyway. I’ve made The Four Pillars of Parkour the title, so I’m stuck with working with the analogy now).
Although we all have different genes that either aid or hinder our potential in any of the physical qualities above, that doesn’t mean most of these qualities can’t be worked on. Except apart from people with irreparable debilitating injuries or disabilities, etc. Sadly, no amount of training is gonna help poor nub boy achieve his lifelong goal of doubling IMAX2. But uninjured you, on the other hand, are very capable of building your physical pillar with training.
The Mentality Pillar
Mentality refers to the choices you make dealing with fear. Mentality is the consolidation of factors leading to a decision to commit to a challenge. Try to imagine, committing to a challenge is like a knife’s edge. When you’re facing a scary challenge, you’re in the balance of it going one way or another. You commit to the challenge or you don’t. There are factors that can lead to deciding to commit and factors that lead to taking a step back.
The most rational way to making the decision is to base it on prior experience, and knowledge of our physical and technical capabilities, or lack thereof. Also, I should say, a big part of it is based upon experience with surfaces as well.
That includes stuff like, for example, a precision landing, how different landing velocities change how you’d land on a slippery surface. How a cat 180/retour on a slippery vertical surface completely changes the move compared to a grippy one. Especially with slower upper body pulling power and core strength keeping the feet from sliding down.
I also mean whether a surface is strong and reliable enough to take your weight, either statically or at different landing angles and velocities. I’ve said in the past, it doesn’t make you a better athlete trusting untrustworthy surfaces. It just makes you a sketchy rat bag that plays with the odds.
Experience and knowledge of this stuff matters, as they’re all important factors for making grounded and rational decisions helping to push us over the knife’s edge when committing to mental challenges. You gather little nuggets of data about your technical ability, your past experience with similar challenges, the surfaces, your physical capability and physical preparedness in that moment (whether you’ve got a knee that’s giving you grief, etc). You weigh up these factors and make a decision.
Having a strong Mentality Pillar is being able to quickly and efficiently use that data to help bridge the gap between what you CAN do physically and technically, and what you WILL do. They are very different things.
The best way to illustrate it is this – imagine you have two circles. Your outer circle is what you are physically and technically capable of doing (that which you CAN do). The inner circle is what you are mentally capable of doing (that which you WILL do). So someone whose inner circle is a small dot in the middle of the outer circle, which will look like an eye that’s just been dazzled with light, is someone who’s capable of a lot but their mental pillar is limp as a floppy, flaccid willy.
Now, the goal should be to close the gap and make the two circles meet. That’s when your mind and body are fully in tune with one another. You look at something, you know without a shred of doubt that you can cream it, and you do with next to no deliberation. Merging these two imaginary circles should be the goal for everyone training.
On the negative end of the spectrum, there are those whose confidence is higher than their skill level. Those who throw themselves over the knife’s edge into uncertainty. Those whose inner circle has leaked out over the outer circle.
If I use the eye to illustrate again, the pupil would have dilated beyond the whole of the cornea and it looks like something from a horror film. That would be those who go for stuff beyond their physical and technical capabilities and injure themselves pretty often. Each training session looking like a train wreck isn’t conducive for a long and injury free career. In other words, your Physical Pillar is likely going to be consistently crushed to rubble again and again. On the plus side, you could join old nub boi in his YouTube exploits.
Dom Tomato might spring to mind again, given he’s a creature that you can count on releasing a new bail compilation every month. But maybe his amazing ability to take stupidly hard bails, and bounce back, is factored into a lot of his decision making when committing to the shit he goes for. If you consider that failure is also collecting valuable data. Maybe the most valuable even, considering it stops you making the same injurious mistakes again. For Dom, each bail may teach him that he can take the hit, should things not go to plan. Or maybe he’s just silly old Dom.
But if you’re not like silly old Dom, and your proverbial inner circle is dwarfed by your proverbial outer circle, you need to work on mindfully collecting more data by practising and gaining experience to know yourself physically and technically, so you can better arm yourself to tackle future scary challenges.
If this still fails, there’s an issue with your process, how you use the collected data in the moment when staring down a scary challenge. You need to get better acquainted with logic and assess your mental process. Recognising what it is that causes you to commit and what results in you stepping back. Pay attention to what flicks the switch, pushing you over either side of the knife’s edge.
Structure your training
For each of these Four Pillars of Parkour there is a continuum. All of us are on different levels on the continuum for each pillar, then also on different levels of each pillar’s subcategories, whether by practice and intention (or lack thereof) or due to our genes. There are ways to progress each of them, building the pillars higher and higher, helping us grow in the direction we want to grow.
Above, there are already pretty clear examples of how the four pillars can be intertwined. It’s worth thinking about how they are connected in our own training, in order to understand what pillar might need building upon to help bring the others up to level the playing field. Or at least a bit of chiselling for definition (yes, I’m having an awful time keeping up this pillar analogy). Let’s explore ways we can chisel those mother fucking pillars.
Which pillar is lacking, thus holding you back from achieving specific goals or progressing as a well-rounded athlete? When I say well-rounded, I don’t mean by our conventional terms where someone can jump good, flip good, swing good, and flow good, etc. I mean well-rounded in terms of pillar equality.
Take someone whose Physical Pillar is far taller than their mental, technical, and creative pillars – let’s say, for example, a competitive long jump athlete. In many ways, they’re built for parkour. Their tissue is already primed for jumping stupid distances and heights and absorbing impact forces.
But none of that means shit when they come to a brick-width take-off running precision to a brick-width beam, over a three storey drop. Or, more far-fetched, putting together a podium worthy line at Red Bull Art Of Motion. This long jumper will school you if only the raw physical were concerned, but in our sport that is very rarely the case.
It’s worth considering which of your own pillars are shorter than the others, causing your training to plateau or even leading to enjoyment stagnating and, god forbid, you end up becoming bored with parkour. I know, it’s hard to believe, but it does happen to people. Crazy, right?! This line of reflection should be important so you can begin to structure your training time in more proactive and deliberate ways.
I know a lot of parkour people are repelled even by the thought of adding any kind of structure to training. For many of us, training is going out with mates, finding challenges and hard lines with one another, and maybe ending up filming it for the gram.
If you’ve got some mates with close to equal general ability you’ll attack challenges together and bounce ideas off each other ’til the cows come home. Usually there’s a fair amount of shooting the shit with the lads/lasses in between. And often multiple snack breaks. We call this training. I’m not sure how many other sports would call this training, but I think we call it such due to it just being embedded in the parkour lexicon for so long.
I’m not arguing that this is a bad way to practise and progress, or that we shouldn’t call it training. So far from it, in fact. Especially as that’s been maybe 75% of my practice since I started in 2006.
There is, however, a more deliberate and acute way of training with respect to our goals. Structure is perhaps a thing a lot of athletes are lacking to take their training further. We often call ourselves parkour athletes but how many of us train like athletes? I’m not talking about structure as in having a well thought out and regimented schedule and program, like a total friggin nerd. I mean by setting some gosh darn goals.
Gosh darn goal setting
Try setting some measurable and attainable broad goals, and some smaller intermediate goals that align with the broader goal to see you on the right track to reaching them. The intermediate goal will be giving a measurable amount of attention to something that directly aligns with the broader goal. Keeping it measurable is crucial for being able to hold yourself accountable.
If you miss a session on one day where you were meant to practise something specific, you know it, and should try to make up for the missed session in some way that will keep you on track to your broader goal. Pretty simple right?
So simple that you shouldn’t need an extra million paragraphs with various examples to solidify the point. That being said, here’s a million paragraphs with various examples to solidify the point.
A million paragraphs
Let’s start with a very basic example. Imagine your climb-ups suck. You get by in other aspects and you can cook up some tasty lines, but if your planned line requires a snappy climb-up to connect the other half of it, you’re in trouble. The flow and aesthetic of the line is completely compromised by this one seemingly insignificant weak link.
You’ve been stuck at the stage where you have to first set your feet up in a prime position before a slow pull, scarcely getting your chin above the top of the wall before the palms come up and the ‘wings’ come out. Your right elbow comes up asymmetrically to the other, and the rest is a struggled wiggle to waist position before an inelegant top out, surprisingly to two feet but sadly finishing in deep squat.
In this case, the problem lies mostly in a fault within the Physical Pillar. Your ability to produce enough force quickly stops you performing a snappy climb-up that doesn’t look completely out of place and disruptive in a line.
I recently asked one of my students, after not having seen him in a while, how his climb-ups are. He went on to demonstrate one, and upon seeing my facial expression not light up with pride and elation after witnessing it, he said “I haven’t really been practising them”.
And so, the groundbreaking master coach advice I gave him, which could only have been bequeathed unto another after the accumulation of wisdom and experience from 14 years of dedicated training, study, and devastating trial and error, was “You should probs practice them then”. To which he replied with a clear tone of stark admiration and veneration, “yeah probs, lol”.
The climb-up is a great example to prove the point that accumulation of practice of something, in general training without frequent deliberate intention, is not enough to make any considerable gains. How many climb-ups will you do in a standard training session like the one described earlier? Not enough on average to see any great improvement.
Of course, there will be other things in general training that will transfer to applicable strength for climb-ups, but will that really be as productive as setting aside a measly half an hour to bang out 10 sets of 5 climb-ups? Or even hanging on a wall in cat hang and doing 10 sets of 8 pulls as high as you can go (with or without a knee drive for technique)? This will be far more productive than just accumulating random climb-ups after cat leaps, session to session, hoping they’ll eventually get better on their own as everything else gets better.
So, a clear and measurable broader goal for our asymmetrically winged climb-up person can be to be able to perform a climb-up to waist. A clear and measurable intermediate goal to see them on track to achieving this broader goal can be to complete the workout sessions (above for example, some wall dips or something) three times a week. Hold yourself accountable to hitting this simple intermediate goal.
You will undoubtedly see noticeable progress in less than a month. It might take a much longer time to reach the broader goal but the wheel of progress is turning and you’re on your way.
No doubt, the strength gained chasing this broader goal will transfer to many other aspects of your Physical Pillar, providing a bleeding effect to the other pillars too, allowing you to execute various techniques with more ease. You can progress by creating quantifiable broader and intermediate goals for almost everything with the Physical Pillar. Apart from the obvious physical characteristics, like height.
Try to be creative for ways you can provide structure to work around a problem. Rather than just providing excuses. Although having smaller hands for gripping and swinging on bars is a limitation, you can still improve your grip strength to compensate. Limbless nub boi will definitely have his work cut out for him. He’s beyond saving with any form of structure. But you, on the other hand, are not beyond saving, in so many ways.
The same goal format can be applied to the other pillars. Granted, a good climb-up requires nearly a 50/50 split of physical and technical qualities but it is my chosen example, all the same, because for most beginners pulling strength is the bigger missing piece of the puzzle. Most skills in parkour have different percentage splits between each pillar.
I will use foot placement proficiency as an example for the Technical Pillar. Foot placement is a motor skill that can be progressively built upon. Doing so has dramatic positive effects on your skill across the board (or across the pillars), mainly because where your feet go, in most scenarios above ground, determines whether you fuck yourself up or not. How many bails have you seen caused by a footfall not hitting its mark? Most of them, right?
I don’t mean just on the landing of a precision or the take-off for a jump, vault or flip. Every seemingly non-crucial footfall can often mean the difference between success or failure. In some cases catastrophic failure. Everyone reading this can relate in some way. Even if it’s rolling your ankle on a curb and being out of training for up to months. Like me, without fail, a few times a year. Anyway, I’m probably preaching to the choir with this point.
So, our scenario could be that your foot placement sucks, and is consistently giving you trouble and causing you injury. Some deliberate practice in the same way as I suggested for climb-ups can be the answer. Since foot placement training in the form of varied small precision take-offs and landings, or running on low rails or curbs, is not overly physically taxing, there’s not much stopping you dedicating at least half an hour a day to different foot placement drills.
One day you could set yourself 50 total reps of the same jumps. Another day, set yourself 5 reps of 10 different jumps. Set yourself a ‘floor is lava’ course you have to complete a certain amount of times without mistakes. For a more goal specific based session with more systemic stress, try drills with higher velocities, with bigger jumps, quicker steps or higher consequence.
Over time your ability for aiming where you put your feet will get better, and with this your Mentality Pillar will improve too. You’ll be more confident to go for bigger distance and higher consequence precisions and take-offs, and run faster across thinner and higher obstacles. Ultimately, you’ll have earned trust in your ability to put your feet where they’re intended to go. A good Mentality Pillar should only come from having earned adequate trust in your Technical Pillar.
Which brings me to an example for the Mentality Pillar. Imagine you’re someone who is fairly confident at ground level. At curb level you’ll happily go for your maximum standing precision and even your maximum step-in side flip precision. As the obstacles get above hip height, the less confident you become (I should hope it’s generally like that for most of us). You become more sceptical of your abilities, due to the physically small but still substantially higher consequence.
Then when it gets about 12ft/3.5m up, your confidence in your ability drops hugely. The ability to perform the simplest of tasks, like lowering down to a cat hang to start climbing down, raises your heart rate dramatically. Standing close to an edge with a death drop causes nauseating and paralysing angst. The thought of performing any sort of task or movement, which on hip height walls would require next to no amount of deliberation, now invokes within you the most overwhelmingly profound sense of nope. For all of us, it is at this height where our outer and inner circles (what we can do, versus what we will do) are at their most dilated.
But for this imaginary scenario, using the outer and inner circles to illustrate again, the inner circle would be a football in the centre of Wembley Stadium. Now, let’s say one of your broader goals is to do a sub-maximal standing precision, 12ft/3.5m off the ground, with a safe option to overshoot. Something that on hip height walls is physically, technically, and mentally a piece of piss to knock out with consistent quality for countless reps.
At this point, with your level of paralysing fear at height, you can keep practising the same hip height precision until the cows come home, or even until the cows die of old age, but you will still not be any closer to committing to the broader goal jump at height with the same dimensions. Instead, the intermediate goals you set should be far more specific to your broader goal, which is in essence purely a mental undertaking, unlike a lot of mental challenges where your readiness is down to differing degrees of technical, physical, and mental readiness.
The first step would be to progressively overload your exposure to heights, to try and depress the paralysing irrational fear and lack of trust in your ability. Your intermediate goal is to complete a certain amount of height exposure sessions a week.
Let’s say, three times a week you could perform the most benign of tasks at height, while staying grounded in logic and trust in yourself throughout. You could structure it similarly to how you would technical and physical drills. It’s best to keep volume and frequency quantifiable so to easily keep yourself accountable.
For the first session you could choose a high edge. High enough that if you fell it would cause you serious injury (while, of course, knowing that what you’re standing on won’t crumble under your weight), and just stand a couple of inches from the edge, keeping your composure for 30 seconds before stepping away from the edge. Do this for 10 sets of 30 seconds, and I guarantee the tenth set will feel drastically different from the first set.
The second day, you could lower yourself to sitting on the edge for 30 seconds before standing again. Perform the same amount of sets as above. Another day, you can walk within one foot from the edge for 30 seconds or 30 steps.
Do not overreach and give yourself a task that is too hard too soon. Just as with going for something too technically complex too soon, you will only freeze up. Freezing up at height is no good. It must be gradual, as with everything.
As the days and weeks progress, the drills can be more parkour skill based. Walking on brick-width walls at injurious heights, different shimmies, and smaller low risk jumps for reps. So long as you’re holding yourself accountable to submit to this certain, quantifiable, and realistically progressive amount of stress, you will see improvements. You will gain trust that your life is in the hands of you and your ability. This trust keeps you calm in the moment.
Eventually, although the dimension of the jump that you’ve set as your broader goal has remained the same, your perception of it has changed massively. The jump should come to appear no more daunting than the jump at hip height walls.
With this example, there is a very clear split between how much of it is mental and how much is physical and technical. But the same intermediate goal format can be applied to scary challenges where fear of height isn’t the main limiting factor.
By now I’ve probably beaten this point into the ground but, still, we need to touch on the Creativity Pillar. It’s more difficult to set quantifiable broader goals for creativity. Rather than a clear yardstick to measure progression against, like setting a specific challenge as your broader goal, creativity is a lot more subjective.
You know and feel that you’ve become more creative, in whatever way, but there’s no clear point or deciding factor to aim for. However, the spectrum, of course, still exists. With this in mind, your broader goal can simply be to improve on the spectrum of creativity for challenges in a space, or creativity for lines in a space, or creativity for creating strange and new moves on a space.
If you’re someone that struggles to see beyond the glaringly obvious challenges at a spot, set yourself to find 5-10 new challenges at a spot. If it’s a spot that is new to you, maybe crank the numbers up a bit. The same goes if the spot is huge. If it’s a classic old beaten track spot, it should be more difficult to envision things you’ve not done or seen before. Challenge yourself further by setting yourself a small space to work with, like a non-spot.
The challenges or moves can be anywhere on the scale of difficulty, so long as they are new challenge ideas. If you go to three spots that day, you could set yourself to do the same at each of them. It’s probably something best to do alone so you’re not stealing any influence from other people training, even if unintentionally. Think what techniques you have in your movement vocabulary, and how you can apply them to the space. Your intermediate goal can be to train like this a certain number of sessions a week.
If you’re someone whose vision is pretty alright when it comes to seeing individual challenges or movements at a spot but struggles to connect them together into a line, or to fill space before and/or after the centrepiece move of a line, the same as above applies. Set an intermediate goal to have, say, three sessions a week to form 3 different lines and 3 different spots. If you’re someone that struggles to build upon pre-existing moves in order to create something strange and fresh, the same means as above applies.
Nah, I’m good, bro
If you read those examples with one eyebrow raised, thinking ‘This sounds boring as fuck! Why would anyone, willingly, limit their training in this way and make it so meticulous and bleak?’, well firstly, this isn’t to completely blot out all unstructured training. It isn’t black and white. As I’ve said, the majority of my training has always been unstructured jumps with pals. This is just another way in which you can practise, with a clearer direction to making you better, rather than just accumulating practice as it comes your way naturally.
Secondly, you don’t have to be a slave to the sets and reps format. If you want to improve your flips, you could set yourself the intermediate goal to just go to the gym once a week. If you want to improve your standing broad jump distance, your intermediate goal can be to squat or deadlift once a week. It is still taking steps toward a broader goal.
Thirdly, there’s nothing to say it has to be boring. Assuming most people doing parkour want to get better at it, I can’t see it as such a bleak idea. I enjoy doing something if I know full well that it’s going to have a positive effect on my training, leading me to ticking off the jumps that I want to do.
Personally, I find nothing inherently great tasting about spinach, but there’s something psychological that makes me enjoy it because I know it’s good for me. Using this analogy, for me, flexibility and mobility are anal suppositories, as they are the least enjoyable and most uncomfortable things that positively affect my Physical Pillar. It’s dreadful, but you’ve got to do it for the greater good. I like progressing, and hitting training milestones makes me feel fulfilled. Every step leading to personal progress gets me hyped. In a sort of ‘Rocky training montage’ kind of way.
If your enjoyment of parkour mostly stems from being with friends and chatting shit the majority of the time, and you have only meagre and transient inclinations towards reaching any goals, you will not last doing parkour. I’ve seen people so excited, and deeply embedded in parkour, only to drop off the face of the earth and stop altogether. Sometimes it’s easy to tell those types of people when out training with your friends. The ones that are always talking more than they are training with everyone. In my 14 years, I’ve seen dozens of real ‘PK4LYF’ mother fuckers come and go.
Maybe now, in the midst of all this social isolating due to COVID-19 (assuming you’re reading during this period!) is where the people who are more reliant on the social aspect of a day’s training really show their face. They show their face by not training solo. Or when they try, they lack any direction or motivation. The ones so alien to solo training because their main motivation is grounded in being around friends or earning validation from them. Granted, there are many countries where outdoor exercise is currently prohibited – to those peeps, my heart goes out.
These ulterior motives for training aren’t inherently a bad thing. Whether it’s the friendships or the passion for the culture that keeps you coming out training, it’s all good in my book. But, if the above ideas seem grossly outlandish to you, take a look at yourself and your purpose for training.
Summary and cheesy metaphor
The examples I’ve given for each pillar are far from all encompassing. However, they should do well enough to drive the point home that you could be better at parkour if you applied these basic principles to your practice in each of the four pillars.
Whatever you wish to improve with your parkour, determine which pillars are required and to what degree, and assess which of them are underdeveloped. Then put a structure in place by setting yourself some attainable broader goals, and some aligning intermediate goals that are measurable, to keep yourself accountable.
What does it mean to get better at parkour? If getting better means building on our own ability, which is purely unique to ourselves, only comparative to ourselves, whose terms would you rather choose – your own, or the terms of the blind and aimless blowing wind?