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 Smell and Taste
I could write thousands of words on how to improve these, but most of that would be irrelevant to parkour and movement. It’s easy to write these off as unimportant for our purposes, but don’t be too hasty there. Any form of bodily and situational awareness can help!
Awareness of surroundings
Situational awareness is a vital skill for training, movement and life. And your sense of smell is a big part of that.
I’ll digress into a wee story to illustrate my point (CN for general grossness here). I was once training by myself, doing some backwards quadrupedal movement up a steep incline. (In the Cowcaddens underpass in Glasgow, if you know it) I was by myself, just trying to get some conditioning in, and concentrating on that. I did notice a nasty smell every time I got to the top, but ignored that largely because my brain was taken up with how miserable it all was: just 3 more laps, just 2, just 1. On the last one, I slammed by foot onto the top to the incline, and there was a waft of gag-inducing stench. I looked around: I had kicked a long-dead carcass of a fox, the which fell open. Maggots everywhere, I nearly threw up. I screamed and kicked off my shoe.
Moral of the story: if I had paid attention to the sense of smell, I could have avoided that. And kept my shoes.
Image description: A woman in black activewear, in mid jump from one short concrete wall to another
It’s not uncommon to have sensations in the mouth and throat while exercising. A common one is a metallic, or ‘bloody’, taste in the mouth when you’re running or doing intense cardio. It’s generally harmless and just means some red blood cells snuck into your saliva.
But it’s an important signal- do you know what it means for you?
Does it mean it’s time to stop? Does it mean you have more in the tank, but need to slow down? Does it help you become more aware of your breathing, or does it give you a shock or discomfort that throws off your rhythm? How long does it usually last for you?
There are no wrong answers (unless you’re actually coughing up blood or vomiting, then anything other than “Stop immediately” is probably wrong.) When you notice this sensation, bring your awareness to it, and figure out what it means for you.
Smell and location
Many animals can navigate almost entirely by smell. Human animals have a pretty pants sense of smell (compared to other mammals), but we can still make use of it. Here’s a nicer story for this point. I don’t have a regular running route, but I do usually start a run heading east towards the river. That means I often slip into a route on my way back home. On that return, there is a huge jasmine bush in the front yard of a house about 500m from mine. What that means, is over however many runs I’ve been on, I’ve come to associate the smell of jasmine with the-run-is-almost-over, and even it’s-time-to-pick-up-the-pace. And, when I smell that jasmine plant, I’ll get a little second wind.
Now, it doesn’t mean that jasmine makes me a better runner, and it’s only one small part of my wider awareness of my location. Here are some, seemingly ridiculous, questions that you’ve probably never thought about, but might do next time you're training:
Do you know what your regular training spots smell like?
Does that change across the day or week? (Night blooming flowers, or the oil from the chip shop down wind when it opens?)
What if it's wet? Does your favourite climb-up wall smell like in the rain?
Are there highly localised smells that help you locate yourself?
Arguably not directly related to training itself, but I would argue that rest and sleep is one of the most important parts of getting stronger. Scents can be very helpful there. I’m not pushing woo; lavender, chamomile, bergamot and others can have (scientifically proven) mild sedative, anti-anxiety or other effects. They won't cure or solve anything, but can be a useful tool.
- Consider using lavender spray on your pillows or chamomile tea as part of your sleep routine. Using scents in this way can help solidify sleep hygiene and routines, by recruiting more of your senses. And better sleep means better training.
This is too big of an issue to do justice to in this throwaway paragraph, but it is worth a mention. If you are craving a particular taste, or something you’re eating tastes particularly satisfying, it may well be that your body is deficient in something it needs (like iron, or vitamin something, or yes, even calories.)
- So, try to avoid overly structuring or controlling your eating, and focus on listening to your body.
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