|Dynamic Arts - Conditioning|
This section looks at nailing a move, strength and flexibility training, nutrition, balance and peripheral vision.
Many beginners ask how to do a certain move. Generally the answer is: KEEP TRYING. Watch what other people do. If its complex, get a video and watch it frame by frame if that helps. If you keep getting it wrong ask someone else to watch you and see if they can spot what you’re doing wrong. Its usually about as obvious as an elephant standing on your foot. If it’s a strength move, then try to gradually increase the number of repetitions, or the duration you can hold a static pose for.
Most of the strength you need will come from everyday practice. There are probably only a few needs for extra grunting indoors, and they are to improve jump, grip, and pulling power. At some point, there is a trade-off between gaining muscle mass and being magnificent. Muscles are heavy. If you are over-muscular, you will be less efficient at running, jumping and holding on. Not many Mr Universes win the gymnastics medal or 100m sprint.
To be able to jump well is the combination of skill, weight, physical structure, strength, and the ratio of fast twitch muscle fibres to normal muscle fibres in the leg and lower back. One of the best exercises for strengthening jumping muscles is weightlifting squats. Squats are done with a bar of weights balanced across the shoulders, dropping to a crouch and then pushing to an upright position again.
Professionals often consider the amateur squat technique rather poor, so some initial advice in a weightlifting gym may be beneficial. Overdoing squats or using poor technique will lead to nerve problems like sciatica in later life. Here are a few pointers to good technique:
• Warm up first
• Keep the back straight
• Bend the legs no further than 90°
• Look straight forward, not down
• Breathe out when going up, in when going down
Do up to three sets of fifteen repetitions (reps) three or four times a week. If fifteen squats are achieved with ease, increase the weight.
An alternative exercise using dumbbells rather than a weights bar, is the lunge. Lunges take an exaggerated step forward, then push back against the forward move to return to the starting position. Side lunges are similar, but the step is taken to the side. Both can be done with or without weights, but without weights it becomes more of a dynamic stretching exercise. Again, three sets of fifteen reps three or four times a week is a good target. Training more times a week will increase the risk of injury as the muscles are not given time to recover.
In the absence of a weights bar or dumbbells, one legged squats, also called pistols, are the best alternative. Begin by using a balance point such as a table top, chair back or door handle. Stand with one leg out to the front and the other on the ground. Squat down and push back up. Try to avoid putting much pressure on the support and use it only for balance. After a while, you will be able to do without the balance.
If you cannot do a one legged squat, try by standing on a wall. Letting the free leg fall below the top of the wall makes it easier.
Each of these exercises strengthens slightly different muscle groups, and can be combined with others, or done as the sole leg strengthening exercise.
To increase fast-twitch muscle fibres, which are the ones providing the explosive force for jumping, the most effective type of exercise is plyometrics. One example of a plyometric exercise is to jump off a small wall, and on landing, immediately jump onto another wall. The feet move together like in a standing jump, and are in contact with the ground for about as long as a bouncing ball. Indoors, try jumping off a chair onto the ground, then bouncing over a coffee table. Remove the coffee first.
Beyond this, many jumping programs are available on the internet. They are mostly targeted at basketball players but equally applicable to other sports. Most of them claim to be able to add 30cm to your vertical jump, which translates to a metre or more to your long jump.
That covers strength and explosive power. Technique, and translating the strength and explosive power into a long jump requires lots of jumping. Jumping exercises are quite demanding, and two days or more may be required between sessions. In addition, for a good long jump, another factor comes into play, and that is speed. Greater speed, rather than power is the thing which takes the long jumper sailing past fellow competitors. The best training for speed is to train in short explosive sprints.
Although many of us learned in physics that a 45° angle would take the projectile the furthest, both long jump and standing long jump cover the most distance with a takeoff angle between 15° and 35°*. In the long jump, this is because the jumper has gained so much speed that they cannot get enough leverage to produce a greater angle. In the standing long jump, a lower angle converts more of the body’s energy to forward motion. It is probably not necessary to measure your jumping angle, just try varying it, and get used to the angle which takes you furthest.
A good grip is essential when climbing, to hold railings, roof and wall edges and climbing holds. The best method of improving grip is to practice on a climbing wall or by traversing along a brick wall. Failing that, there are various hand exercisers, or grippers, available, but be careful not to overdo it as you may end up with abrasion of the finger joints, and also ligament and muscle problems.
If your hands start hurting, stop exercising for at least two weeks. If they hurt even at rest, go and see a doctor.
When you’re hovering above a yawning precipice, having achieved the arm jump of a lifetime, you’ll want to finish it off spectacularly by hopping up on the roof. This ability may come with time, and that time will be shortened by doing pull ups. Do full length pull ups. That is, go to full stretch, then pull up as high as possible, at least until the chin is over the bar. Pull ups strengthen arms, shoulders and stomach muscles – all of those required to leap onto the roof. Do pull ups with palms facing away from the body as most pulls will be of this type, but change every now and then as palms facing towards the body will exercise slightly different groups of muscles.
To complete the transition from pull up to push up requires a lot of training. The most effective method seems to be doing the move (planche/muscle-up) in reverse. You may also try holding at the top of the pull-up with one arm, and lever the other elbow up above the bar, then rock onto it, pull the other elbow around and then push up. Practicing this, the power will increase and the transition time reduce until a smoother movement is possible.
If you can find somewhere to do pull ups where you can place your feet against a wall, try pulling up and holding the body as far away from the wall as possible while transitioning into the push up. Doing so will increase the leverage on your muscles and make your climb-ups smoother.
Bodybuilders eat more protein, like six eggs for breakfast, and whole cows and things like Desperate Dan. It is not necessarily the case that protein is converted directly to muscle, as muscles are formed in response to pushing them to their limits of endurance, but a high protein diet aids the muscle building process. There are plenty of sources of information on nutrition for sports performance, but when you get to living on brewer’s yeast and black-eyed beans, remember what Crocodile Dundee said when roasting an armadillo:
‘You can live on it, but it tastes like dung*.’
See the section on nutrition for more information.
To be more flexible, you need to stretch. There are three types of stretches: ballistic, dynamic and static. Static stretches are further defined as static active, isometric and static passive or relaxed stretches. To prevent injury when stretching, do not overstretch to the point of pain, and if doing dynamic stretches, the signal to stop is when the range of motion begins to decrease.
This is a very dangerous practice, where explosive motion is used to force muscles and adjoining tissues to stretch to extremes. Do not do it. It damages everything from muscle to bone.
A dynamic stretch uses steady motion to allow the full range of movement in the joints. While static stretching will produce greater flexibility, dynamic stretching is required to be able to reach the limit of flexibility while in motion.
Dynamic stretches can be done every day. A full set of joint rotations (see the warm up in training in the gym) will be enough of a warm up beforehand.
Here is a dynamic stretching workout. Repeat each movement 15 times, and move with a gentle pace, making each point to point movement last around 1 second. The leg movements are easier with one or both hands against a wall or on the back of a chair for balance.
Swing the arms back and forth, one up and one down.
Gently rotate the trunk clockwise then anticlockwise with the arms out horizontally. Excessive speed can create back and knee problems.
Stand with your side to a wall, and swing either leg forwards and upwards, then back down. Repeat with other leg. Bending the supporting leg will increase the height the other leg can be raised to.
Stand facing the wall or chair, with feet perpendicular to the support. Swing the leg up to the side like doing the side splits. Repeat with other leg.
Stand facing the wall or chair with the feet perpendicular to the support. Swing one leg up to the side, like doing a side kick. This stretch is slightly more awkward than the last, and the leg will not go as high. Repeat with other leg.
Stand facing the wall or chair with feet perpendicular. Swing the leg up to the back and side like doing a back kick. Repeat with other leg.
Stand with your side to a wall or chair. Lean forwards and swing leg up to the back. Repeat with other leg.
Each of these five leg stretches should feel slightly different as different groups of muscles are being stretched. The height to which the leg can be raised should be kept low at first until flexibility increases. Early gains will come from looser muscles, but long term gains require prolonged effort, where even the bone structure and joint surfaces can change.
Static stretches involve forming and holding poses where one or more muscles are stretched. In yoga, these poses are called asanas.
Relaxed or static passive stretches are the easiest to perform. Adopt a relaxed position where muscles are stretched and hold it. In static active stretches, a position is formed where one group of muscles (antagonists) are stretched and the opposing muscles (agonists and synergists) are tensed. These stretches are extremely important for ballet dancers and gymnasts to be able to hold extended poses.
Isometric stretches may require additional strength conditioning before and during a stretching programme, if the supporting and surrounding muscles are not yet strong enough to support the stretch. Isometric stretches produce the greatest flexibility as it is the strength of the muscle groups which define how far they can extend. The following set of stretches goes in sequence down the body. The stretch type is indicated by (a) static active, (r) relaxed or static passive, and (i) isometric.
Turn the head to the left, and with the right hand gently push the head around. Repeat in the other direction. (r) Pull the head over to one side with the hand over the top of the head. (r)
Push the hand back as far as it will go, and then in the opposite direction. The range of motion is about 180°. (r)
Reach the hands forward until they touch and the arms are extended straight forward. Push the arms forward at the shoulders. (a)
Arch the back slightly and push the arms back, keeping them around shoulder height. (a)
Lift both arms above the head and place the hands loosely together. Push backward, bending the arms slightly and stretching shoulders and chest. (a)
Join hands behind the back and try to straighten the arms while lifting them. Do not put too much effort into the lift.
Then move hands into middle of back and push elbows back. (a)
With feet shoulder width apart, lean over to the left bringing the right hand over in an arc. Repeat to the right. This stretch can also be done seated in the splits position. (r)
Place feet together and bend the knees slightly. Straighten the arms out in front. Rotate in either direction as far as possible. The leading arm should rotate between 180° and 270°. Note in the picture, the toes face towards the camera. (a)
Sit down with legs straight out and parallel. Tuck one heel into the groin with the knee pointing out. Point the toes of the straight leg towards the ceiling and reach for the toes with the hands. If you can reach your toes, pull them back gently towards you. (r)
Sit with the soles of the feet together and knees out to the side. Pull the knees downward using the muscles of the leg. Do not push with the hands or elbows. Baddhakona asana The Restrained Angle Pose (a)
Sit in the splits position. Lean left towards the left foot, then right towards the right foot. If you have no lower back problems, and adopting this position produces no tight feelings in the lower back, lean forwards and try to put your head on the ground. This last position can put excessive pressure on the base of the spine. (r)
If you want to do the splits and cannot get there with relaxed stretching, the following exercises must be performed to build the strength and flexibility required. Begin with a conditioning stretch. Sit in the splits position, and push forwards with the hands to increase the split angle. Holding the legs apart with the palms pushing against the knees and a thumb tucked under each knee, try and squeeze the legs together. (i)
Hold this position for fifteen to thirty seconds, or do fifteen reps of three seconds. This will increase your strength and flexibility enough to move on to the more advanced position. Stand upright with the feet in the splits position, and without using the hands increase the splits to the point of mild discomfort. At first this pose should be done with good friction between the foot and floor, wearing plimsolls or trainers. Squeeze the legs together and try to pinch the floor between the feet. Hold this position for fifteen to thirty seconds before resting, still in the same position for another thirty seconds. Repeat another two times, each time increasing the split angle. Doing this exercise more than four times each week will be counterproductive. (i)
Stretches go out of fashion. It’s not that they are inherently dangerous, but that they can be difficult to get right, or overstretch tendons and ligaments in people not used to stretching. To learn advanced stretches, it is best to go to a yoga class.
Instead of the crab or bridge (the wheel pose or chakra asana) or raising the torso on straight arms (bhujanga asana), lie on the front and raise the torso only onto the elbows.
Instead of a two legged hamstring stretch (powerful or noble pose or ugra asana), or straight legged touch the floors (forward fold or pashchimothan asana), or the hurdlers stretch, see the hamstring stretch earlier in this section.
Avoid the yoga plough or anything else compressing both lungs and stretching the spine unless you are in a yoga class or a yoga expert.
Avoid hanging upside down for extended periods, either with the legs straight, or hooked over a bar.
For more information on stretching, get the following: Stretching Scientifically by Thomas Kurz
Practicing balancing, either still or moving is the only way to get better. Try balancing with your eyes closed for extra fun, but only from close to the ground.
See balance in the Railings section.
Lots of clumsy people have lost the ability to see out of the corner of their eyes. During training, take a minute to look straight ahead and exercise your peripheral vision by looking all around you without moving head or eyes.