Calibrating your meat suit, Episode 2
Updated: Sep 17
If you haven’t read Episode 1, have a skim of it here. This series of blog posts is to give you some ideas on how to improve and calibrate your senses to better serve your training and movement. There is a section focused on each sense, with suggestions for games or drills to calibrate that sense, or even just a framework for bringing attention and awareness to it. By no means exhaustive, so if you have more suggestions, please comment on this blog post, or send us an email.
Sense of Sight
Sight, for those of use who have it, can overpower the other senses. As such, it can be difficult to even fathom how to ‘improve’ it - it’s the water we swim in. (And also, often reduced in medical terms to just two numbers.) But just bringing your attention to the
Estimating distance and height
Estimating distance by sight, especially as it relates to your own body, is an important skill for parkour. (Can I jump that far? How many steps until that vault?)
To improve that, just try this simple game several times a day. (THis one is stolen directly from David Banks - check out his work! I’m a big fan of the sort of training games you can work into your day seamlessly, and this is one of my favourites. )
When you’re walking along the street, pick a small landmark a short distance away - just something simple like a park bench, or a change in the surface of the ground. Then, estimate how many steps it takes to get there. As you’re walking towards it, count steps, and see how close your estimate is.
Best to start with short distances and up the challenge from there
For a bit more challenge, as you’re estimating, guess which foot will land on the landmark. It’s pretty simple; if you step off first with your right foot, estimates in odd numbers will mean a right foot landing, and vice versa.
You can do a similar thing with height: pick a wall that you’re walking towards, and estimate how high it is in relation to your body. Waist height? Head height? Can’t touch the top? Etc etc.
Try the same game while running or jogging: how does your changed gait and stride length affect your estimates?
Your vision goes a lot further around that you think! Try this right now: hold your head up, look right ahead and focus on a spot in front of you. Now, without moving your head or your eyes, how far to the left can you see? To the right? Up and down?
Peripheral vision can be an invaluable asset, especially at jams or while training outdoors when you can’t control who is using the space and how. What happens if a kid runs into your line? Or if a cyclist comes out of nowhere? If you can improve your peripheral vision, you’ll get a couple more milliseconds in instances like those, which can make all the difference.
So, how do you improve your peripheral vision? Here are a few ideas:
Hold your hands out in front of you, index finger up, with straight arms. Focus on the index fingers, and from now, your eyes don't move. Move your arms to each side (without bending the elbow) until you can’t see your index finger anymore. Stop and hold your arms there - if you concentrate can you see them again? Can you move your arms a little further? Do you have better peripheral vision on one side?
Stand close to a wall, holding a tennis or other bouncy ball. Fix your vision on a spot in front of you. Without moving your eyes, throw the ball against the wall and catch it with the other hand.
Sit down outside or in a busy environment. Now, take note of everything you can see, especially your peripheral vision. You can even do this by writing everything down.
There are also a lot of fancy kit (or cognitive training tools) that can help improve your peripheral vision. If you are a member of a gym or a sports club, you could ask if they have any you can use.
If you meditate, try bringing your attention to the periphery of your vision as you do (this is Hawai’ian technique.)
Humans don't have great night vision, wihch makes sense for diurnal animals. But we do train (and do many things) in the dark, so we can works to improve that. A few things that can help include:
Take the time to adjust to darkness. When you begin training at night, start with 20 or so minutes of warm up that will allow your eyes to calibrate themselves. If you have the time and inclination (and live in a relatively temperate region), try an open-eyed meditation.
Don't look directly at strong sources of light while training in the dark - it can mean flash or (very) temporary blindness. It's worth developing the habit of looking away from street lights and car headlights as you move.
Eat carrots (and other sources of Vitamin A). It's a bit of cliche, but it really can help. Other sources include pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach and kale, liver products. (Please note here, this is only helpful advice if you have a low or deficient levels of Vitamin A. Please don't overdo it - like anything, too much Vitamin A can be harmful.)
Protecting your vision during the day will help your night vision too. Wear sunglasses as much as you can.
Sight is such a powerful sense, it works even when you’re ‘seeing’ something in your imagination. This can be an especially powerful tool when “breaking a jump”, or doing something scary for the first time. (So much so that your imagination might be doing it already, but in a negative way. Do you have a vivid mental-film of yourself slipping on a vault and breaking your neck? That’s a form of visualisation. With a bit of effort, you can avoid those catastrophising visulations, and creates successful and empowering ones. )
So, look up some visualisation techniques, or even guided visualisations, and give some of them a go. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t work for everyone (and not everyone has a ‘mind’s eye’), but the potential wins are more than enough to make up for the discomfort of learning.
Some ways to get started:
Find a guided visualisation, even if it’s not 100% applicable to what you’re doing. It will give you an idea of how to do it for your training.
Before you do a vault or other movement that you know well, stop, close your eyes (optional), and envision yourself doing it. Now, do it again, but with more detail. This is “mental rehearsal’, and the more detail you can imagine, the better.
Try doing it with a training buddy. If you’re having trouble with visualisation, it can help to describe it to another person (or rubber duckie). This is an especially useful way to bring attention to a problem area (Ie, “My hips are up really high”, “the landing is silent” etc etc)
Slow it down. Play the mental-film in super slow mo.
Use your mirror neurons
"A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting." (Thanks Wikipedia) Good news; watching other people training and moving can help you train and move better.
Watch videos, especially of movement skills you’re working on, or of people whose movement you love.
Go along to training, even if you’re injured or too tired to train, to watch. (Ignore that advice if you’re likely to want to train through the injury or fatigue once you get there)
Try to analyse the movement as you watch. Where did they put their hand? Where was the required force generated? Watch with curiosity and attentiveness.