Interviews and Reviews, Strength and Conditioning

Interview with Steve Low, author of ‘Overcoming Gravity’

A few weeks ago I posted a review of Steve Low’s book, Overcoming Gravity. After it was up on this site, I felt compelled to learn more about Steve as an author, and ask him a few questions about the bodyweight training and parkour.

He’s a busy guy, working to finish his doctorate in physical therapy, but he was kind enough to answer some questions that I sent his way.

For those of you who don’t know, he is co-founder of the blog Eat. Move. Improve., which has 60,000 page views per month. He launched the website about three years ago, “focusing on educating people newer to fitness and bringing them up to competent fitness knowledge.”

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Are you close to completing your DPT  and what are your plans after graduation?

My expected graduation date from PT school is in May 2013. I’m hoping to work for at least 5 years full time and then decide where I want to go from there. I eventually want to put out some injury-type books, so that’s on the project list aside from the Overcoming Gravity 2nd edition as well. That’s not including writing articles for EMI too. So there’s lots of things left to do still!

It has been a year since Overcoming Gravity came out and it looks to be a huge hit on Amazon. How many books are in print so far, and has the success led to any neat speaking engagements or other professional opportunities?

We’ve sold a couple thousand books so far. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s led to more opportunities. I was able to speak on bodyweight training at Parkour Vision’s Summit 2012, but I was planning to get out there to speak on bodyweight training for a couple of years now.

The main thing it has done thus far is allowed me to reach a wider audience to teach people interested in bodyweight exercises online. I have been getting some requests for seminars and other things of that nature, so that is a possibility in the future.

I think one of the hardest things for most beginners and intermediates to understand is the concept of programming. That’s the main reason why I wrote Overcoming Gravity. I wanted to teach those who are new or getting into bodyweight exercise how to construct a good routine and all of the factors that go into that process.

The book is massive and truly impressive in scope. How long did it take you to write and do you have plans for future versions or other titles?

It took me approximately 18 months to write the material for the book and have it published. In retrospect, I wish I wasn’t a student and had more money so I could have gotten it professionally edited before it was released.

Currently, I am in the process of starting to make edits for the 2nd edition of the book which I hope to be much more friendly to absolute beginners, beginners, and intermediates alike. My general sentiment is that if you are fairly advanced you tend to have a good foundation of knowledge on how to train already. Thus, you are less likely to need help with programming.

Any specific advice for extending the info in Overcoming Gravity to parkour conditioning?

Upper body bodyweight exercise, especially strength training with bodyweight exercise, applies very heavily to Parkour.  Increasing the force output – strength – of the muscles in the upper body in closed chain movements applies directly to many parkour techniques. For example, many parkour techniques such as vaults like kongs, climb ups, and laches rely on your ability to move your body through decreased leverage positions and apply acceleration forces. The stronger you are and the better you can control these movements the bigger they will be and the smoother they will be.

It’s no secret that optimal performance in any discipline or sport requires both a skill practice component and a strength and conditioning component. Parkour, like gymnastics and climbing, tends to have a very large skill component as there are many potential movements to master. However, you can improve the speed at which you improve by applying proper strength and conditioning training. Bodyweight strength training, especially for the upper body, tends to apply the best to parkour and freerunning.

I think that most people really underestimate how much strength and conditioning applies to various sports. However, I think that many of those educated on strength and conditioning tend to overestimate how much people need. I’ve been talking with Rafe Kelley, Ryan Ford, and many of the other PK/FR coaches, and there needs to be really a good mix of working a lot of skills versus strength training. It’s hard to find the right mix right now, but the gyms those two help run – Parkour Visions and APEX along with many others – will really help refine the methods within the coming 5-10 years.

What ways can athletes best improve their grip strength, with an eye to hanging bar and ring skills

The deadlift, in particular, is extremely good for building grip strength. One other movement to consider are farmers walk. Otherwise, if you are devoted bodyweight strength advocate, you will most likely be training with rings. Rings tends to build great grip strength.

Combine deadlifts, rings, and potentially farmers walks, with parkour skill training on bars and you have a great foundation of grip strength.

I think many people try too often to look for the “magic bullet.” For most types of training it’s best to keep things relatively simple, and then if you need to change something make very small changes.

I love the trunk compression move you suggest for core strength, where your hands are by your legs and you lift your feet.  Do you have any other favorite core strength skills you recommend for routine practice?

Generally speaking, the best core exercises are the ones that you can measurably progress with. L-sits, hanging leg raises, planks, and ab wheel are tough exercises that you can progress with fairly well. I typically don’t recommend anything like crunches or situps because they get too easy very quickly and there’s no progression with them.

I have a love-hate relationship with hollow rocks. They are good from a body line perspective on how to learn how to hold the body in a nice hollow/straight position which is required for many of the upper level bodyweight strength skills. However, they get too easy very quickly. I suggest them for beginners, then I like phasing them out once you have a good idea of where your body is in space and can maintain it through tougher exercises.

Finally, can you break down a week of your personal training routine, and the specific skill sets you are working on?

Currently, my routine is sporadic which sucks. I’ve been stuck in a period of overtraining for a protracted period of time (though I am slowly recovering!). Right now I’m working on fixing my sleep which one of the hardest things to do since I have tons of bad habits from high school and college. Many people forget that  training is just but one aspect of improvement. You need all of the big four to make good progress with training – Sleep, nutrition, training, and lack of stress.

At the moment I’ve taken up a bit of rock climbing 2-3x a week, and I mostly focus on maintaining my handstand and V-sit/manna.

If I was able to workout seriously I would be focusing on the main movements that allow me to maintain my progress which are for the pulling exercises the iron cross, one arm chin, and front lever. For the pushing exercises it is rings pushups into planche and rings dips. For the legs I try to get in deadlifts and sprinting.

Of course, if you mix in PK/FR work then you have to reduce the amount of strength and conditioning work you do. So it’s all a continuum depending on your sport(s).

Many, many thanks to Steve for contributing his answers to this interview. Count on me to be first in line to sign up for any upcoming seminars!

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