Hello traceurs and traceuses! The theme of the week is Flow! We have been looking forward to doing this one for a long time so here is a nice blog post all about it!
Flow is one of the most important factors in Parkour simply because it looks good. This isn’t about showing off or making sure that you please other people though, so let’s talk about why flowy movement looks good.
In Parkour to get flowy movement you need a number of skills: Strength, flexibility/mobility, technique, timing and experience. So let’s go through each point in a bit of detail.
Strength plays a key role in flow as without it you cannot absorb landings well, keep and consistent speed and aid some of the other skills further down. Imagine a kong > pre > plyo > dive roll over an object > run out. Try to imagine this run over and over. Now imagine that this person does not have enough strength to push himself/herself out of the kong properly. The precision wouldn’t be successful and even if they did make it they wouldn’t be ready for the plyo to another obstacle.
Now obviously if this person wasn’t strong enough then they wouldn’t be going for that size kong > pre anyway, but I find that a lot of students have a consistent problem which breaks their flow; they have enough strength to jump far, but not enough to take the landing. At first this seems peculiar, but when you look into the biology it makes sense and we can see how to change this fault. You use, let’s say, 60% of your muscle fibres in your legs, feet, back, abs and shoulders to jump or to propel your body towards the floor or an object, but when you need to land you are absorbing your body weight plus the amount of extra force that has been accumulated by gravity and you also need to focus on landing in the right place and dispersing the weight correctly which all in all could amount to you using around 80% of muscle fibres in the same places. It’s easy to throw a ball as far as possible but harder to catch it when it comes back down. So we need to make sure our ankles, legs back and abs can take good impact and we need to work at 70%-80% of our maximum jump until we feel that we are lading solid and sticking them, after that better technique is needed.
Flexibility & Mobility
Flexibility or mobility is another incredibly important part of Parkour. We often use the phrase “it’s better to bend than to break”. Mobility is key for the times that we land wrong as if our ankle rolls due to lack of strength or poor technique at least our muscles and tendons are a bit more used to this movement so you have a larger margin for error, don’t get me wrong it will still hurt, but it will reduce the amount of damage caused. Realistically that is just one small advantage to mobility, mobility comes into its own when we talk about longevity or training. If we can bend into fully extended positions it often means that we put less strain on other body parts. For example: If we can squat well so that our feet are straight, knees slightly out, bum touching our ankles, back straight and shins vertical then this is a full range squat. This means that when we land a jump our muscles can work on absorbing the pressure through this whole range instead of having to stop half way and putting untold amounts of pressure on your knees, which will lead to them falling off in your trackies a couple of years later. Get those joints open full range and strong as you will be able to get closer to your obstacles, move in different positions and have a bigger arsenal of movement in you book of tricks to keep that flowy line going.
This is one of the first things that you pick up when learning Parkour. Your body is already capable of a lot, and your mind is open to trying them, but you need to figure out how to make your body do them. This is possibly one of the biggest advantages of having a coach, we spend years of training, falling, failing, testing, resolving and succeeding so that we can pass this knowledge onto you so that you are ahead of the game. Technique is all about figuring out what parts go where to make the movement the least complicated, most efficient and effective it can be. Put it in the context of a speed vault, people usually start using both hands, taking off close to the obstacle and swinging their legs over, this by no means could be classed as speedy. So using the correct technique (and a lot of practice) we can slowly but surely make sure that you are getting more speed in (with confidence) taking off further back, tilting your body sideways, tapping the obstacle as you shave over it, regain the upright position, place your feet ready to run and sprint out, which looks like the true definition of speed. So this person has gone from a slow, unconfident and highly variable movement in to a sleek, fast and confident one. What I mean by highly variable is from large crashing waves to a smooth steady stream. Without the correct technique all the strength and mobility in the world couldn’t get you flowing like a steady stream.
This is almost just part of technique, but I’d like to highlight it as an individual aspect as it’s something that people struggle with a lot. Timing affects all movement whether it’s a somersault or small precision, unless all parts of your body work together at the right time you will find yourself somewhere not where you wanted to be or in a pile of failure where you wanted to be. In a front somersault you need to jump at the same time as using your arms in an upward motion, then your arms pull into your mid area as your hips go up, then your leg fold in like landing gear and you tuck in to a small ball. As quickly as you got into the ball you are unfolding and the landing gears is coming down pointing towards the ground like an eagle’s talons and your body spans out to stop the rotation. It’s a very beautiful thing when you break it down. A precision is very similar but without rotation, you are gaining height by propelling everything object-bound then catching the object with your feet.
Timing affects flow mainly when you cannot get your feet in the right place at the right time. If you come out of a vault and need to go into another straight away you need to either take two steps to get over the next obstacle well or take a double foot jump which I found usually works best to get you on top, then into a plyo to carry on momentum. I’m trying to tell you which way you should get over obstacles as this is completely up to you, but simply trying to get you to see that by timing the feet right when you aren’t connecting with the obstacles drastically changes the way you interact with the next two or three obstacles. Just like time, if you go back and make a small change you can dramatically alter the future.
Nothing holds more weight than experience. You may be great at doing massive front flips off of the highest thing that you can find, but without experience how do you know that you are doing this correctly or if this is the sort of thing that you should be doing anyway. It’s something that we as experienced Traceurs have done ourselves and something that we see all the time, people rush into trying to do the biggest and best they can straight away because they are physically capable of propelling their body that way. However, we know that, for reasons stated above, they are probably not strong enough, not mobile enough and do not have good enough technique to keep this up for years, and after all the whole point of being able to move is to be and to last. This being said, people usually either hurt themselves and give up or they soon realise that the ego fuelled movements that they have been doing no longer bring them joy and they find technical jumps and advanced movements a thousand times more fulfilling than the previous antics. Sometimes you have to go through this experience to see the truth and is the same with life, and sometimes as coaches we allow our students to get it out of their system in a controlled environment so that their bodies can still be prepared for the strength, mobility and technical training we are about to put them through.
Without the experience of all of the other points, without the experience of falling and trial and error it is hard to flow. Flow isn’t about looking good, it’s about feeling good and feeling that way in everything you do until the day you leave this life. Let’s make sure our bodies last as long as our brains do and aim for a flowy, quiet and fun movement.