There are quite a few references by the many of the experienced French traceurs to ‘touch’ or ‘sensitivity’ being vitally important to Parkour.
Another name for this ability is Proprioception. It is closely linked to kinesthetic awareness.
Proprioception – is an automatic sensitivity mechanism that receives information from the body’s senses and then sends message through the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS then sends massages to the rest of the body about how to react and with the correct amount of tension to apply to the muscles.
Kinesthetic awareness – a sense of ones whole body. The ability to know where ones body, limbs and other appendages, is in space at all times.
Both these systems are vital for a traceur to cultivate when you consider how much we use the whole body and the situations we put it in when we participate in Parkour.
The ability to know where all your body parts are and what they are doing as you move is important when you are seeking to discover more efficient ways to move and overcome obstacles.
Having a sensitivity mechanism that can quickly and effectively assist the body prepare the body for the situations you put it in is invaluable when learning new skills or when encountering troublesome and unexpected circumstances such a slip, fall or loss of control.
A highly developed proprioceptive ability increases a traceurs ability to overcome more complex and challenging obstacles and reduces the chances of injury. Though ironically the greater you proprioception the greater the challenges people usually seek, brining with it an increase in the level of danger.
Another interesting aspect of proprioception is the concept of ‘proprioceptive trace’. This is the ability of the body to remember the amount of force to apply to a situation it has encountered before. An example being if you lift and object a few times you learn how much is needed to move that object efficiently. But if someone were to swap the object for something that looked the same but was light, and you were unaware of this, when you went to lift it you would use more energy that was needed, this would disrupt you for a second.
This is proprioceptive trace, a memory the body develops for similar situations. This ability can be used to our advantage within Parkour. By creating proprioceptive trace in one location we can then practice a technique in a safer location and then go to a new or more challenging situation that is similar with the memory of what we have done previously to help us gauge the force needed to overcome the challenge effectively.
When you train for proprioception you naturally tend to train kinesthetic awareness as well. Activities that require balance, co-ordination, agility, power and any movements that challenge a traceurs normal range of motion are excellent ways to train for proprioceptive adaptation. Removing a sense that the body uses for proprioception also creates new challenges, closing the eyes for example. Constantly finding ways to make the activities you do more challenging when they become easy keeps the adaptation continuing.
Activities that constantly cause the body to reposition itself keep’s it naturally aware of its surroundings. Movement does not necessarily have to be planned. Success is based upon stabilization, control and trials, not necessarily sets and reps. While proprioceptive trace can be trained by repetition, thus giving us an ability to be prepared for similar obstacles, training the proprioception for ‘safety situations’ or unexpected circumstances means putting the body into increasingly challenging and complex ways of moving to effectively improve the number of situations you can cope with.
The following exercises and body systems have an effect on proprioceptive awareness.
* Movement for movement’s sake in any variety of movement patterns and ranges of motion with different tensions/loads (i.e., dancing, tai chi, yoga).
* Traditional cardio, strength and flexibility conditioning.
* Balance conditioning, eyes open and closed.
* Rotational movements (not just linear and lateral).
* Visual acuity: Use vision to adjust movements when recovering balance. Instead of focusing downward, look ahead to realign the head and neck.
* Auditory system: The inner ear registers head and body movement like a built-in level. To function properly, the head and neck must be situated over a balanced spine.
* Rhythm: Heart beat, breathing patterns and even walking are rhythmic by nature. Strive to feel rhythm during your training.
* Stance: Movements should be initiated from an “athletic stance” (ankles, knees and hips slightly flexed) and an upright posture. Stance is also referred to as the “base of support,” or the distance created between the feet.
* Weight transfer: Bodies are especially sensitive to weight changes that take place with stance or postural shifts. People will feel weight transfer from the feet upward.
* Constant motion: Get a feel for constant, dynamic movements.