mercoledì 22 febbraio 2017

Qualitative parkour training - the sewers

It’s 2013. 

Gato, Saiu and me are on a mission. That night Bergamo’s sewers had to be explored. Do we want to do this? (we have a rule – 3 secs to choose whether you want to do something or not). Yes, Yes? YES. We go.

We get our stuff together: head lamps, black clothing, a small first aid kit, we share our position in case we get lost and we jump out of the house.

It’s a hot night, no wind. Very little people out on the streets. The lights of the city looked brighter than usual to me, as if my eyes already knew they had to get ready for darkness.

We get to the city’s High Walls: our starting point is a small aperture at the bottom of it. Last moments before getting into the depths of the earth, we breath some light air.

Gato leads the way. Crawling has never been that hard, I was feeling the weight of the mountain over my chest meter after meter. My senses were sharpened by the lack of sounds. I remember that the more it got narrower and noiseless, the more I could hear my breath and the beat of my heart giving a rhythm to my hands moving back and forth on the thick humid rock.

After an eternity (less than 5 mins) we get out of the tunnel straight into a cave. In a second, we realize that the only way to continue was to climb a small rope leading to another tunnel 4 meters above us. Is it going to hold our weight? Is it going to break?
 The bottom of the cave was made of sharp rocks that looked more like knives than stones. Gato goes up, the two of us spot him. Saiu goes up, I spot him. I grab the small ruined rope and I look back. Knives. Cool.

 No way back, I start climbing.

Fast Forward 2 hours from that moment, I am enjoying a cup of tea, after a hot shower. My right shoe was full of the worst fluid you can imagine, and the back of my right hand had a beautiful wide irregular cut, but it was not as big as my smile.
So yes, sure thing. I could tell you the full story, and maybe I will if you are interested, but I need to make a point here:

That day I did not just train my muscles or some movements, I did an incredible and unique experience.
At any moment, I was connected to what was happening. Every motion I was producing had a meaning. I was inspired first. Then scared. Then relaxed. Then tense, and so on. I was living an experience, not only a training, and my whole self was adapting to it, making sure to fulfill the task I had in mind and to make sure I would survive.

As humans, we tend to understand better complex tasks that are not only exercises, but require a higher demand. Approaching training in this a way will boost neuroplasticity, and allow you to gain something forever (1). Just as an example: would you expect to lose the skill of going on a bike? Or to be able to walk up the stair only after a tapering period? To stir the soup after a warm up?

..No! Don’t even try to say it’s different. You got my idea.

A more realistic approach to training leads to greater retention in the skill acquired. This is what I call a qualitative approach to training programming. I will leave down here an idea with this kind of approach:

1.     Week one – parkour qualitative programming

AM. Climbing (challenges) + QM metabolic conditioning and sprints
PM. Consistency training + agility drills.
AM. Technical refinement + stillness practice and mobility
PM. Urban exploration and skills application (can you do it? Do it now.)

AM. Rhythm and flow work + conditioning through movement
PM. Climbing (endurance) + heights training.

AM. Consistency training + parcours sprints
PM. Technical refinement – basic parkour skills with weighted vest (eg. Climb ups / Traverses / Precision box jumps etc).

AM. Technical refinement work + balance drills.
PM. Rhythm and flow work

AM. Acrobatics + fingers strength work.
PM. Technical refinement + consistency training challenge (pick a number – reach it. If you fail, you start over).
PM. Go in the wilderness, make fires, run, swim, hunt. 

Recovery day or ..not.

..and so on.

After a month of this kind of training, progress will be done and decision will be taken through your gut instead of your brain.
This is a way, it is not the best efficient path to reach some specific goals like a one arm chin up or a one arm handstand, but it is a great way to feel more connected to a personal growth and development. This can of course go even less scheduled, and more instinctual depending on the individual. 
This kind of approach is emotionally driven, and can create resilient and wise minds.

Some rules I keep in mind when training in this way.

1.     Most of the things you do should be challenging. A progress should always be there.
2.     What you experience, should be something you want to live.
3.     Don’t write down reps x sets but do use numbers to set challenges
4.     Make sure you listen to your instincts. Train hard when you can, train light when you need it.
5.     If you do not feel like you need to relax after your training, something went wrong.
6.     Make sure to survive to tell your stories.

And some questions to get closer to this paradigm.

Do you think this approach can be extended to everyone? If not why?
Why do people get so much attracted by more quantitative and scheduled trainings?

Until next time,

PS. If you do not understand what the hell I am talking about when I say something like “rhythm and flow work” or “skills application” don’t worry I will clarify those terms in later posts.

Interesting material:

1.     Carey, R. J., Bhatt, E., & Nagpal, A. (2005). Neuroplasticity Promoted by Task Complexity. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 33(1), 24–31.

lunedì 13 febbraio 2017

Decisions and information, two different layers.

Imagine this scenario.

You start practicing a discipline. Ten thousand hours of practice go by.
After that time period, you get the feeling of having something important to share with the people around you.
In that moment you will be asked to make some choices regarding what to pass on and how to do it.

The 10000 hours of your personal experience will be extremely relevant but you cannot be sure that everything that worked for you might work for everybody, nor that everyone would react to your experience in the same way. A lot of doubts will start to raise, and the directions you choose will be greatly limited by the small world you lived in.

Well guys, you know what? Good news, it’s not 600 BC anymore, you can choose to gather all the info you need. They are out there and considerably easier to grasp than in the past! Get you claws ready and transform into hunters and gatherers, like in the good old days. People are willing to share knowledge of any sort, everywhere.

One of the most important things I have learned is:

One cannot do what many can do.

Get on a plane and reach the people that can help you develop good answers and something even more everlasting: good questions.
It surely is expensive, hard and time consuming.
However, it is also very rewarding and I believe that’s what a well spent life feels like. From laziness nothing can grow, besides your ass of course.
Don’t get tricked by distorted perceptions and false gurus then.

His majesty, the diablo in one of his many shapes trying to convince you that you shouldn't leave the sofa to get better. You should give him your soul, instead. 

However, living authentic experiences and collecting the processes developed by others might still not be enough to make the best decisions when choosing what to teach.
The summative researches done by the people around us in different moments of time can help us get informed on how things happen and why they do happen.
Basically, my point is that travelling in time is also necessary.
To do that you will have two solutions:

  1. You ask these guys:

  1. You become an evidence based practitioner (EBP)

Even If I would love to try the first one, I chose the second.

Becoming an evidence based practitioner means to be able to get the best evidence developed in the scientific world about a topic, in order to make informed choices
...and informed decisions are the best, aren’t they?

Actually, it doesn’t even matter whether the evidence you are looking into are high or low quality, the importance is to try and understand everything that is out there and to critically evaluate it in order to create opinions on a wide variety of topics.
Once you know everything that has been created, you can move on into creating theories and consequently test them.

Careful now. Becoming an EB coach does not mean being an academic rat.
I believe it’s the very opposite.
In fact, I imagine an EBP more like Rambo with a notebook than a professor with a tie.
It is a process, it is a skill. And as a skill it takes time to be developed to good levels. And with time I mean decades.

Look at the diagram:
From a discussion with Dan Cleather and Jon Goodwin, my lecturers in my MSc in Strenght and Conditioning at St. Mary's University, Twickenham.

This is what being an EBC is about. Creating this pyramid with stronger and stronger materials in it, in order to be always as informed as possible. A single study will never give us the solution. Protocols and methods are not “answers”, since they are located on a completely different layer.
The decisions taken at the top of the pyramid should not be copied by anyone.
 If you find yourself doing so, you are probably failing in being a good researcher.

Surely, you might even come to someone else’s conclusions but this should happen through a personal, unique process. Taking others’ decisions and making them yours without questioning them, is dangerous. Choosing something over something else becomes a mere ritualistic practice.
Progress is made by challenging old ideas with (relevant) new ones.

Take home message

  • Becoming an evidence based practitioner and coach is a skill and needs time to be perfected.
  • Information and decisions lay on two different layers.
  • Copying others’ decisions will never let you grow.
  • Travelling is a must, both in time and in space.

I always make sure to keep this question in my mind: why do I choose what I choose?


Interesting article to look at to understand the EBP’s framework:

Leach, J. M. (2006). Evidence-based practice: A framework for clinical practice and research design. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 12, 248–251.

domenica 5 febbraio 2017

A year zero?

I have finally accumulated enough thoughts to start publishing some online materials about what I do.

This is not a year zero since my year zero is long gone. Rather it is a glance into my most recent trainings, philosophies, ideas, researches, evidence based studies and travels. I would say that I have no idea where this boat will end, but I have a pretty clear direction of where this is going. Pure jazz.

Cappucciata, Abruzzo, Italy - survival mode on
So welcome to my jungle you people - whether you are rigid scholars or wild animals, you will find some interesting (..ah! That’s what I say) material to relate to in this virtual platform.

You will not find any sort of plagiarism in my work here since that’s not how progress is made. To do that instead, investigation beyond the event horizon is required, and it is much harder. Anyhow, if a piece of writing is not a product of my creative process you will find a reference list at the end of the post.

Get ready for some action, folks!