So far, our journey has been fairly predictable. We visited and learnt from legends in the field of strength and conditioning such as Mike Boyle and the folks at Cressey Sports Performance, giants in the powerlifting game like coaches Murph and Russ at TPS, as well as Juggernaut’s Chad Wesley Smith, Olympic lifting from the fantastic coaches at Catalyst Athletics and a little bit of everything from Coach Conrad at Bodytribe. The common thread between most of these coaches is that they were true strength folk. They loved the barbell, loved iron and the smell of chalk in the morning.
There’s always been another side to the equation that’s not been as well explored in recent history as the iron game. Since the beginning of time, a lot of training systems have formed around moving our bodies in space. Some built around using leverage in pursuit of mastery of our own body weight and some to effectively navigate and traverse our environment. Gymnastics, parkour and MovNat are some of the incarnations of this kind of training. During this trip, we wanted to visit someone who committed himself to mastering this side of physical culture. We found that in coach Cameron Pratto, one of the founders of Urban Movement.
Where the strength world has rules and patterns that appear strict and sure, the movement realm seems to be much more aligned with the right side of the brain. There is creativity, artistry and room for intuition. With a beautifully minimalist tell-show-do coaching style, coach Pratto walked me and Prashanti through two personal classes where we explored a movement-first approach to training.
Like a ___ stone
The biggest problem with parkour as a training method seems to be it’s lack of scalability to a group class. Skilled parkour coaches are few and far in between, and because it is such a fledgling training method, few coaches are experienced and educated enough to coach it to a group without fear of injury and with emphasis on individualized progression.
With coach Pratto, training primarily takes place through the mastery of individual skills and then incorporating those skills into movement combos or courses. He is a firm believer in letting trainees figure out their own style and their own paths, and only interfering if there is a significant inefficiency or potential for injury. He believes that this minimalist coaching style allows a trainee to figure out the answer to these environmental movement puzzles themselves, and this enhances retention of those skills, rather than him feeding them the answers.
The first day, our class took place outdoors, where we worked on underbar, wall-running and climbing techniques, as well as various quadrupedie techniques that acted as the first few variations to work towards hand balancing and handstand techniques. Coach Pratto speaks to us about how he would deal with such a session if it was a group class, giving us examples of how classes are divided into groups of more experienced and less experienced practitioners. It is a parkour class though, so he doesn’t face too many folks who are so far out of shape that he needs to work with them personally on basic movement patterns before having them tackle their environment.
The second day, we visited the indoor space that Urban Movement shares with another gym. This is where they get even more creative due to the safer environment and the ability to manipulate the space. They’ve built some incredibly cool climbing frames that you can pull apart and set up using some easy-to-remove joints. It’s like playing in a giant set of tinker toys. He shows us the vault boxes and the variety of two-by-fours that they’ve assembled to have clients work on balancing and low-gait movements before advancing to the elevated movements that are usually associated with Parkour. In this safe environment (because everything is padded), he coaches us through some basic balancing and rolling drills.
I’ve always been fascinated with parkour. In a world like ours that encourages us not to interact with our environments and being passive observers, parkour is a big part of the key to restoring a connect that we once had. Coach Cameron Pratto opened a window of possibilities for us into that world. Climbing through it, is up to us.