On February 1, 2017, I asked myself the question: With only one month of practice, can I learn (from scratch) how to land a standing backflip?
On February 24, 2017, after 5 hours of practice, I found out that the answer was yes.
During the month of February, I documented my entire learning process in a series of 28 daily blog posts, which are compiled here into a single narrative. In this article, you can relive my month of insights, frustrations, learning hacks, and triumphs, as I strive towards monthly mastery.
Today, I start a new challenge: Landing a standing backflip.
This is the first of the physical M2M challenges, and probably the scariest. Yet, I’m also really excited.
What does success look like?
In order to complete this month’s challenge, I must:
- Stand on solid ground (not a trampoline)
- Jump in the air
- Flip 360 degrees around backwards (aka “do a backflip”)
- Land on my feet
My starting point
I actually tried to learn to backflip three years ago, but it didn’t go very well:
During my senior year at Brown, my friend Cliff and I rented a Zipcar and drove 30 minutes to the nearest gym that would let us use their gymnastics equipment. Cliff had learned to backflip when he was a kid, and was now going to teach me.
After signing waivers and stretching, we set up some mats and Cliff explained proper backflipping technique. Then, it was time for me to attempt my first backflip (while Cliff spotted me).
I stepped up on the mat and jumped.
As soon as I got upside down, I completely panicked, flailed my arms, and punched Cliff in the face.
After that, I sat on the side and watched Cliff practice.
In other words, I’m starting from scratch…
The first three months of this project (cards, drawing, cube) have been very easy logistically. Either I packed what I needed in my bag and practiced on the train, or I practiced from the comfort of my apartment when I had the time.
This month’s challenge — landing a backflip — is very different.
This month’s constraints
I only feel comfortable attempting a backflip if 1) I have a trained professional teaching me and spotting me, and 2) I’m in a controlled, safe, padded environment.
In other words, this month, I can’t just practice when I have a free moment wherever I am. Instead, I need to find and coordinate with another human-being every time I want to practice. I also need to coordinate with and travel to a set location. Everything must be scheduled in advanced.
Basically, unlike all previous M2M challenges, my success this month isn’t fully in my control. While this makes things a little bit harder, it’s also going to be really interesting to see how I deal with this.
The challenges of finding a coach
I was quickly made aware of not fully being in control during my six-week search for a coach: I began looking for a coach in late November, and was able to “secure” one only three weeks ago.
(I’m not willing to fully commit yet to the word “secure”, since I actually only have one introductory lesson scheduled. After that, my schedule is still up in the air. The hope after the first lesson is to figure out where I’m at and schedule accordingly.)
Since I’m willing to pay a decent amount for each lesson , I figured it wouldn’t have been this challenging to find a coach. But, there were a few things that made this tricky:
- I don’t have any relationship with a gym or coach. Typically, private lessons are prioritized for members of the gym, who attend group classes and want a little extra attention. This is not me.
- I’m not looking for something long-term. From a business perspective, coaches/trainers are much better off retaining the same clients over a long period of time. It’s just more reliable recurring revenue. I’m a much worse investment.
- Most gyms aren’t in San Francisco. Based on a recommendation from a friend, I was able to find a great coach, but he’s based at a gym 40 minutes away by car and was only available after 9:30pm. Since I have to get up early for work and don’t own a car, this wasn’t going to work out.
Despite these challenges, a few weeks ago, I was finally able to connect with the head parkour coach at AcroSports, a gym near Golden Gate park in San Francisco, and he is willing to help me out.
We were supposed to have our first session tonight, but, at the last minute, he was hired to perform parkour in a major TV commercial, so we moved the session to tomorrow night.
I’m curious to see how this new variable (of another person) plays into the narrative this month…
Today, I went to my first 45-minute backflip lesson at AcroSports. Here’s what happened…
Breaking down the session
After stretching and warming up, we quickly went over the mechanics of a backflip, which are pretty straightforward:
Step 1. Jump straight into the air using your legs and arms.
Step 2. Tuck your knees hard to your chest to create rotational momentum backwards.
Step 3. Spot the ground, extend your feet, and land.
I then worked through a series of exercises to progressively introduce each of these components.
I started by practicing “The Set”, which is the entry into the backflip and Step 1 from above. For this exercise, I focused on propelling my jump with well-coordinated, full-extended arms.
After completing the drill ten times, I felt that I had the necessary muscle memory to continue. Importantly, this muscle memory emphasizes jumping straight up, rather than backwards, which is a common mistake.
Once I was comfortable with “The Set”, I introduced Step 2 of the backflip: “The Tuck”.
For this drill, I again jumped straight up, but at my peak, I tucked into a backwards roll.
In the video, you’ll notice that I’m not jumping completely vertically. This is something that I worked on correcting in subsequent attempts before moving on to the next phase.
I completed “The Tuck” drill about eight times, until I felt comfortable with the movement.
Once I was properly coordinating “The Set” and “The Tuck”, I was ready to harness myself into the pulley, and practice spotting the ground and landing on my feet (Step 3 from above).
In the video, you’ll notice that I’m still whipping my head backwards on take-off, which is something I’ll need to address in future sessions.
Also, in the video, you’ll notice that my coach Elijah is tugging minimally on the rope. He’s not trying to assist, but rather, keep the harness fairly taut, so if I do panic in the air, he can pull hard and save me before I land on my head.
After filming a few attempts, Elijah recommended that I shoot an attempt in slow motion, so I can better analyze my form. Here’s a few things we noticed:
- I’m still whipping my head back
- I’m not fully extending my arms, which means I’m sacrificing some amount of power
- My tuck is pretty good, but could be a bit tighter
- I’m spotting the floor pretty well, but can probably start looking for it a little earlier (to ensure consistent landing)
In my next session, I’ll focus on addressing these technical problems.
During this attempt, it does look like Elijah gives me a little extra tug. As a result, I stick the landing. I’m curious to know how much this assistance is helping me…
At the end of the session Elijah said “If you weren’t so tired right now, you could easily land a backflip on the floor”. So, while the assistance helps, according to Elijah, I guess it isn’t necessary for me to succeed.
The Foam Pit
After around 12 backflips on the pulley, I moved to the foam pit, so I could get a sense for what an unassisted backflip feels like.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to avoid the edge of the tumble track, I put most of my jumping energy backwards, not upwards, so I lose the vertical height I need to land on my feet.
With that said, even in this case, I land on my knees, which means, if I continue to practice in this same way, I’m pretty far from landing on my head and hurting myself. Of course, I’ll continue to take precautions, but considering that backflipping is largely a mental feat, it’s a good thing to realize.
At the end of the 45 minutes, I was insanely sweaty, even though I didn’t feel like I was working hard during the session (I obviously was). I guess my adrenaline was compensating.
We’ll see how sore I feel tomorrow when I wake up.
Overall, though, it was a great first session. I definitely feel confident in my abilities to pull this off.
Yesterday, I went to my first backflip lesson and made great progress.
Largely, I attribute this progress to the harness/pulley contraption I used to practice: Basically, I was able to try nearly real backflips on the ground, but with the peace of mind that I wouldn’t die.
As a result, the fear I had entering the session disappeared. In fact, I’ve proven to myself that I can easily land a backflip without a problem, or at the very least, not land on my head (which is arguably my current measure of success).
And yet, although I’m not fearful anymore, I’m still really confused: I have no clue how I’m doing a backflip. Clearly, I’m doing something right, because I’m landing on my feet, but I can’t explain what.
My body seems to know what to do, but my mind doesn’t feel in control of the process.
This isn’t a new feeling for me. I’ve always had a bad mind-body connection. When learning new exercises, it takes me time to figure out how to activate the right combination of muscles, and even longer to be able to mentally visualize that process.
As a result, right now, I can sit here and imagine the muscles I’d need to trigger to do a pull-up or a shoulder press or a sit-up. But, I can’t, at all, imagine what I’d need my body to do to execute a backflip.
In my brain, the “backflip folder” feels completely empty. And yet, I can watch the videos from yesterday, and clearly see that it’s not.
This disconnect between my mind and body is eerie: Watching the videos, it’s actually hard to believe they are real. Genuinely.
I hope, as I continue to practice, my mind catches up with my body, and I’m able to mentally trigger the backflip motion. This will give me the confidence I’ll need to execute a backflip outside of the gym or without a progression building up to it.
Today, I woke up, and I’m still sore from my session on Friday. Considering, after the session, I remarked that “I didn’t feel like I worked hard”, my body clearly disagrees.
Interestingly, I’m most sore in one surprising place… my shoulders.
Of course, my core and calves are sore from tucking and jumping respectively, but I would have never guessed that my shoulders would be this sore.
In fact, before Friday, if I had to pick one muscle I expected not to be sore, I would have bet on my shoulders. Clearly, my intuition was wrong.
Retrospectively, it makes sense though: Much of my rotational and vertical power is generated through my arms, powered by my shoulders.
It fascinating how my soreness tells a more accurate story than I can.
As an aside, according to my instructor Elijah, one backflip is the equivalent of about 20 sit-ups. I completed about 20 backflips, or the equivalent of 400 sit-ups, in around 15 minutes.
So, while I’m playing up the soreness of my shoulders (because of the surprise factor), in reality, there is no way my shoulders are as sore as my abs. My abs feel like they’ve been torn in half, and hurt when I laugh or sneeze.
This is probably a good thing though: I’m always happy to have a stronger core.
Anyway, hopefully my soreness subsides by Tuesday night, which is when I go back to AcroSports for Round 2.
Backflipping is the first of three fitness-related challenges I’m taking on during my Month to Master year. So, I figured I’d use it as an excuse to make a major change to my diet.
Typically, with changes like these, I exhibit fairly strong internal discipline. In fact, for nearly six years now, I haven’t consumed any coffee, alcohol, soda, desserts, sweets, or junk foods. Instead, my diet mostly consists of chicken breast, turkey meatballs, salmon, spinach, string beans, quinoa, and potatoes.
Healthy, right? Well, not quite…
My dietary weakness
While my daily meals are quite healthy, my in-between-meal snacking is off the charts. Particularly, I have an unquenchable craving for sugary, dry breakfast cereals, and it’s definitely a problem.
In one typical cereal session, I consume half the box. Sometimes, the entire box. I’m not even sure how I manage this, but, somehow, all the cereal seems to disappear.
Here’s some incriminating evidence of my problem…
Clearly, this love affair with cereal isn’t a good dietary choice. In fact, because I fill myself up with cereal, during actual mealtime, I typically consume much smaller portions of the good stuff I listed above.
This is especially bad, since I’m working out much more regularly now: My body needs fuel (not sugary oats) to build muscle.
As of February 1, when I started “backflip month”, I decided to just stop buying cereal.
Instead, every time I have the craving to snack, rather than breaking out a box of cereal, I just munch on these…
I’m not the biggest fan of carrots, but that’s sort of the point. By redirecting my cravings to a less-filling, less-desired snack, I’m able to maintain my appetite for my actual, healthy meals.
So far, it’s been about a week since I went cold turkey on the cereal, and, honestly, it hasn’t been a big deal at all.
“Why force yourself to suffer like this? You know you only get one life, right? You should try to enjoy it”.
In the short-term, I’m barely suffering (for me, the thrill of gamification overpowers the cravings). And, in the long-term, I’m definitely not suffering (based on my other dietary experiments, the cravings completely disappears after about a month).
Anyway, I’ll continue this experiment through the end of February, and see how I feel then.
Today, I woke up, and my body was no longer sore from last Friday’s lesson, so I was optimistic about today’s trip to AcroSport.
However, today’s lesson didn’t go exactly how I was hoping it would: From my first flip to my last flip, I had a crazy bias to my right.
In other words, every time I threw a backflip, I landed about two feet to the right of where I started. This is not good.
If anything, even though they were bad backflips, they were still backflips, so I did get a good workout, which counts for something.
On Friday, the gym will be much less crowded, so I’ll be able to redo the drills from Lesson 1 and reintroduce the correct muscle memory.
Today, the gym was packed and much of the equipment was unavailable, so I spent the entire time in the foam pit (rather than working through a progression).
I’m excited to get back to AcroSports on Friday and redeem myself.
Since the lessons were four days apart, it’s not so surprising that my body forgot what it learned, but it’s certainly troubling: If I keep forgetting what I learn from session-to-session, it’s going to be very challenging to make progress.
As a result, I need to explore ways to sustain the muscle memory, even when I’m not at the gym. Tomorrow, I’ll have more time to explore some ideas like 1) Deconstructed movements, 2) Visualization, 3) Targeted exercises, and a few others.
Until then, I want to forget about backflips, and instead, celebrate a tiny milestone: Today is the 100th day of my year-long accelerated learning project, Month to Master, which means today’s blog post also marks the 100th consecutive daily post.
To celebrate, I thought I’d quickly compile a few statistics…
Over the past 100 days, I’ve written 47,042 words (or 61% of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the book), and also produced 85 minutes of accompanying video content (56% of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the movie).
This amounts to about 470 words per day (the equivalent of one single-spaced letter-sized page), and, on average, 22 minutes of daily writing time.
To compile these stats, I had to go back through all my previous posts, and I must say… I’m really happy I’m documenting this project. Each post transported me back to the particular day it was written, and I was able to vividly relive the day’s emotion, thoughts, progress, frustrations, triumphs, etc.
While this blog is largely about sharing my project with a larger audience, today I was able to fully appreciated how personally meaningful these posts are as well.
With this newly-found appreciation, I’m fully prepared for another 265 days of monthly mastering and blogging.
Tomorrow, I’m going to my third backflip lesson. So, today, other than doing some light conditioning exercises, I focused mainly on my mental preparations.
This is especially important since my last lesson was mostly unsuccessful, and, as a result, a bit de-energizing.
To get my mind back into a positive and productive place, I spent most of tonight watching backflipping videos on YouTube, trying to internalize technique, and visualizing myself repeating the movements in my mental representation of the AcroSports gym.
While visualization can sometimes come across as pseudoscience, it’s actually something that’s genuinely effectively. In fact, professional athletes (perhaps, most famously, Michael Phelps) use visualization as a major part of their training routines.
For me, visualization helps me more easily relax and focus, once I’m in the real-life situation, since my brain has already pre-processed the activity/stimuli in productive ways. Visualization also helps me build confidence and positivity about whatever it is I’m visualizing.
In particular, tonight, to aid my visualization, I watched and rewatched (many times over) a video of my coach, Elijah, backflipping. His backflip is effortless and clean, and in my brain, I mentally edited myself into the video (in place of Elijah), executing the moves just as he does.
We’ll see how this helps me tomorrow.
Bonus video: While searching YouTube for backflip videos, I also came across a video where a complete beginner learns and lands a backflip in only 10 minutes. While this video is inspiring, it’s also quite practical — I can definitely borrow some of the ideas for my own progression.
Today, I landed on my head.
It actually wasn’t so bad, especially because it was on a very padded mat and because most of my body weight was on my arms.
Here’s the video (which features two ugly backflip attempts).
Before this video, I executed 45 backflips (in the harness), where I landed on my feet. They weren’t the best backflips ever, but they got the job done. In fact, my coach, Elijah, gave me no assistance on most of them (at least, not physically; mentally, wearing the harness is a big deal).
As a result, I had enough confidence to try without the harness.
While I consciously didn’t feel scared, clearly I was, because I totally bailed out twice, resulting in the upside-down landing.
Other than these unintentional headstands, the rest of the lesson went quite well. I spent most of the time throwing backflip after backflip, in order to continue reminding my brain that falling backwards is an acceptable thing to do.
The backflips weren’t perfect, but I did manage to correct my asymmetry from Lesson 2, as well as reduce the amount I’m whipping my head backwards.
I also started to better understand the way my body moves, and could predict how the flip would look on video even before watching it. This is an important step, considering my initial (and continued) struggle with body awareness.
Here’s a montage of some of today’s flips.
In the video, you can see that I’m barely tucking. Instead, I’m just whipping my feet around. In my next lesson on Tuesday, now that I’m jumping a bit more upright, I need to focus on a quicker and more powerful tuck.
In the spirit of “battle wounds”, it’s also worth quickly mentioning today’s warm up exercise.
As warm up, Elijah had me practice back drop pullovers on the trampoline, in order to help me practice driving me knees over my head. This move is supposed to simulate the tuck of the backflip, but in a theoretically more controlled environment.
I’m no so sure I found it “more controlled” though, and ended up with a lot of trampoline burn on my arms and back.
Nevertheless, there is something oddly satisfying about these battle wounds. If anything, they are visual reminders that I’m playing outside my comfort zone, which is sort of the point of this month’s challenge: How can I create a controlled environment that allows me to safely address and overcome a major physical fear?
So far, while challenging, I’ve really enjoyed trying to answer this question.
AcroSports, the gym where I train, is about 5 miles from my apartment, so I take an Uber Pool there and back.
Like most Uber Pool rides, on the way there, I hop in the car, greet the other passengers, and then, go back to listening to my audio book.
However, on the way back, it’s a completely different story:
The Uber pulls up to AcroSports, which is a massive, decorative church-style building, except with a big “AcroSports” sign across the front. I exit the building in gym clothes, in a disgusting sweat, with a camera tripod in one hand and a gym bag in the other.
Apparently, every time I get into the Uber, I must explain the situation…
“What is that place?”
“It’s called AcroSports. It’s a gymnastics studio.”
“What were you doing there?”
“I was taking a tumbling class.”
“Oh, that’s cool. What were you learning?”
“I’m actually trying to learn how to do a backflip.”
“Well, right now, I’m in the middle of a year-long project…”
Then, the rest of conversation, I’m explaining Month to Master, the other months’ challenges, etc.
And since the Uber Pool usually picks up three people on the way back (plus some traffic), the ride is usually 40 minutes and I’m able to have a decent conversation with the other passengers and the driver.
In fact, today, I met up with someone who was in last night’s Uber Pool to continue the conversation.
Anyway, the moral of the story: If you’re looking to meet new, interesting people in San Francisco, just go take a backflip lesson at AcroSports and then hail an Uber Pool.
After my session on Friday, while I was packing up, my coach, Elijah, came by to give me one more piece of advice: “You should spend some time this weekend watching more backflip tutorials on YouTube. Maybe, in one of those videos, the instructor will explain the backflip in a way that helps you better make sense of everything we’ve practiced so far. Something might click.”
Today, while following this advice, something did indeed click.
After about 90 miles of YouTubing, I came across a video titled “How to Get a Higher Backflip”. While this video isn’t exactly a backflip tutorial, it does discuss some common backflipping inefficiencies, which I immediately related to.
The instructor described two main inefficiencies: 1. The fully-squatted windup, and 2. The untucked leg-whip.
I’ll explain both of these inefficiency in the context of my personal backflip…
1. The fully-squatted windup
When I go to do a backflip, the first thing I do is jump straight up as high as I can. The higher I get, the higher my axis of rotation is, which gives me more time/space to complete a full rotation before landing on my feet.
Thus, I’m trying to jump as hard and as high as I can. But, it turns out that my maximum effort jump (or, at least, my current interpretation of “maximum effort”) is a bad idea.
In my mind, to maximize my jump, I squat to 9o degrees and then explode upwards.
This is not good.
Because I’m bending so far down, I’m unnecessarily increasing the distance between where my body is and where I want it to be in the air. In other words, I’m needlessly lowering the height of my axis of rotation.
Also, because my body is starting parallel to the floor (i.e. tilted 90 degrees past standing), I’m unnecessarily adding an additional 90 degrees to my backflip.
Thus, with this windup, I need to rotate more, but lower to the ground.
This is clearly a mistake, and one that I hadn’t fully internalized until I watched the “How to Get a Higher Backflip” video.
As a comparison, here’s a still frame of Elijah at the lowest point in his backflip. The different is pretty striking.
Clearly, much of the power is coming from explosive calf muscles, and not from the bigger, slower leg muscles.
2. The untucked leg-whip
Last session, I started doing this weird “untucked leg-whip” thing.
Basically, rather than jumping up and bringing my knees into a tuck, I’m instead trying to swing my nearly-fully extend legs around my body.
I think this is what people do when they are trying to “do a backflip” (but, of course, to do a good backflip, I need to teach my body to do something a little bit less natural).
In the “How to Get a Higher Backflip” video, the instructor explains that “if you just whip your legs around, you will probably put a lot of strain on your calves and shins”. Since I woke up yesterday with completely acheless abs and very sore calves, my body knew what was up.
Instead of trying to swing my legs around, I need to pull into a tuck and let the rotational momentum carry me around.
While these two insights aren’t necessarily new (these are ideas Elijah and I reviewed during Lesson 1), something clicked today.
It’s hard to explain the feeling, but, while watching this video, I was hit with a wave confidence and clarity: I feel this odd certainty that, on Tuesday, when I attempt my next backflip at AcroSports, it will be nearly perfect.
For the first time, I feel like my brain finally understand what it needs to ask my body to do.
Of course, I don’t have the best track record of effectively controlling my body with my brain, but I still have this feeling about things… I guess we will find out on Tuesday.
Since my backflip lessons are only twice per week, I need to find ways to “progress” even on days that I’m not going to AcroSports.
During my last session, my coach, Elijah, suggested that I spend some time addressing my fear (which is the main thing currently holding me back from landing a backflip). In particular, Elijah encouraged me to find non-backflip-related ways to overcome fear throughout my week.
The idea is that if I can get my brain more comfortable with the uncomfortable, hopefully, it also becomes more comfortable with the idea of backflipping.
So, today, I gave myself a mini-challenge: On my walk home from the train, I challenged myself to stop ten people on the street and give each one of them a compliment.
While I’m not that shy, this was still quite fear-inducing. And yet, after the first compliment, the rest were really easy.
I’m not convinced that this is going to help me with my backflipping, but at least it was a fun way to spend the last leg of my commute.
Two days ago, I prophesied that I would make significant progress during today’s backflip lesson, and I was right.
However, before I started practicing my backflips, I spent the first half of the lesson on the trampoline, drilling pullovers. The purpose of this drill was to get me used to the feeling of driving my hips over my head, which is how I should be initiating my backwards rotation (the tuck just makes the rotation tighter and faster).
After a number of crooked and panicky attempts, I finally got to a place where I could calmly, but powerfully pullover in a straight line. (In fact, in the video below, I generate too much power and almost propel myself off of the trampoline).
Before leaving the trampoline, I also practiced throwing front flips from the trampoline into the foam pit, in order to challenge and improve my spatial awareness in new ways.
After a quick water break, I strapped back into the harness and started practicing my backflips. As a result of the drills on the trampoline, and the technical insights from over the weekend, today’s flips were consistently good.
Sadly, my phone ran out of space while filming a series of 25–30 flips, and only saved video of the first two, which were probably my weakest backflips of the day.
Nevertheless, I pulled some screenshots from the video to analyze my form…
Preparing for takeoff
Today, as I prepared for takeoff, I made sure to keep my body upright and tall. I also only bent my knees to 45 degrees, instead of 90, and focused on generating more power from my calves and toes.
This was a major improvement and prepared me nicely for a high and powerful set.
My backflips were much higher today, mainly due to my focus on powering myself upwards and not just straight back. As part of this, I was better about using my arm’s full range of motion.
Also, I’ve stopped throwing my head and chest backwards, and keep my eyes locked on the wall in front of me for much longer, which forces my body along the right path.
This tuck isn’t my best, but my tucking in general today was much better (since I was leading with my hips).
Even though this particular tuck isn’t tight, I definitely have enough height to make it all the way around.
In this instance, I opened my legs too early, cutting the rotation short, and, as a result, landing a bit forward.
Yet, with a bit of weird arm-work, I was able to stay on my feet.
While it’s disappointing that I failed to document more of today’s session, the good new is that I’m headed back to AcroSports tomorrow night.
Currently, my phone is uploading all the photos/videos in storage to Google Photos, so I’ll have plenty of space tomorrow to film.
Today, I went to the “open gym” at AcroSports. In other words, I was on my own, trying to figure out how I could effectively practice without the mental support of Elijah and the harness.
The only safe option seemed to be the foam pit, but, for some reason, the foam pit really messes with me mentally: I’m just not able to commit to jumping upwards (instead, I throw my body backwards into the pit).
As a result, my backflip aren’t very high or tight.
This is a bit frustrating, especially since my session yesterday was so productive. Nevertheless, I’m meeting back up with Elijah on Friday, and hopefully will pick up where we left off.
Once I land a backflip on the floor with the help of Elijah, I’ll use the open gym to enforce the success. But, it doesn’t seem like the open gym is a good option until I overcome my fear.
Tomorrow, I’m attending my fifth backflip lesson, which is kind of crazy. It seems like I’ve spent so much time at AcroSports, and yet, it’s only been three hours total.
Nevertheless, I’ve progressed nicely in those three hours, and feel that I need to continue in my progression tomorrow. In particular, I need to start throwing backflips from the ground without the mental support of the harness. In other words, I need to fully go for it.
Right now, the only thing that’s holding me back is my fear. I hoped that I could overcome the fear while using the harness, and then, once I wasn’t scared, I could transition to floor. But, I learned during last session that it doesn’t work like this:
Last session, I practiced pullovers on the trampoline, which were also terrifying at first (I didn’t like my head so close to the trampoline). In fact, the first ten pullovers that I attempted, I didn’t fully commit (out of fear) and bailed to the side. The whole time, my brain was telling me “Max, please stop doing this. This is a horrible idea. I really don’t support this”.
But, Elijah knew I could do it, and encouraged my to keep going.
After another ten pullovers, I completely smashed the fear. The result was a calm and controlled pullover (except for post-landing)…
This is what needs to happen with my standing backflip.
Right now, I’m clearly capable of doing it, and yet, out of fear, I’m bailing in the air. From my experience with the pullovers, I’m certain that if I can push myself to throw ten backflips on the ground (onto the big blue mat), even if the first ten I land upside down, I will reach the same level of calm as I did with my pullovers.
This is what I need to do tomorrow. I just need to go for it and face my fear head on. If I do, I will very quickly put the fear behind me.
Wish me luck…
Today, I went to my fifth backflip lesson, and I’m super happy with my progress. As I promised (to myself) yesterday, I attempted a backflip on the ground, without the harness.
But, before I did that, I strapped into the harness to warm up and gain some confidence.
Once I was comfortable in the harness, I took the harness off and Elijah came over to spot me. Essentially, Elijah just held my shirt, which wouldn’t really help if I panicked in the air, but gave me enough mental support so I wouldn’t panic.
Towards the end of this sequence of “almost backflips”, I started to get mentally tired: I wasn’t fully committing. In fact, even from the beginning, I wasn’t completely committing (you’ll noticed that all these backflips are pretty low to the ground).
Thus, we moved over to the tumble track, which is a not-so-bouncy trampoline, to practice my form (particularly, jumping/setting high).
After the first dozen, Elijah pulled his hand away and I was completely on my own.
Finally, after a number of attempts on the tumble track, I returned to the floor and continued flipping. Again, I wasn’t fully committing, but at least I was focusing on jumping higher.
I conquered a lot of fear today, and am almost certain that I will land an unassisted backflip on the floor during my next session.
Yesterday, I left my backflip lesson pumped full of adrenaline and feeling amazing. In fact, I felt more accomplished yesterday than I did on any of the previous 108 days of my Month to Master project.
The reason for this feeling of accomplishment: Fear.
The physical skill of backflipping is fairly straightforward. In fact, I’d argue that it’s one of the easier skills on my list of challenges, mechanically. However, the skill also comes with a healthy dose of crippling fear, which makes things a little less straightforward.
Yesterday, for the first time, even though my mind was screaming for me not to, I committed to flipping backwards without any safety mechanism (except for the occasional shirt-holding by Elijah).
As I continued throwing backflip after backflip, the voice in my head slowly quieted, and the fear retreated into the background.
By the time I left AcroSports, I couldn’t stop smiling. The chemicals in my brain were going crazy. Overcoming this fear was like unlocking a secret room in my brain that I didn’t know I had.
It was the best feeling.
Unquestionably, yesterday was my favorite day of Month to Master so far (The second best day was the moment when I realized I had successfully memorized a deck of cards in less than two minutes).
I can’t wait for my next backflip lesson. I want to experience these feelings again…
And while this is probably my favorite month so far, it’s also probably my least favorite: Mostly because there is so much waiting in between backflipping sessions.
After every lesson, I have so much momentum and hunger, but with no way to satisfy this desire to progress until my next lesson three or four days later.
Today, after my awesome session on Friday, I’m particularly eager to get back to the gym. Yet, I still need to get through two more days.
Luckily, my parents are visiting from New York this weekend, so, as we’ve been exploring San Francisco, I’ve been able to keep my mind off backflipping (for the most part). Still, there are occasional moments I find myself daydreaming about AcroSports.
Once I land my first backflip, and gain the confidence to train on my own, I’ll no longer have this problem: I can attend Open Gym when I want, practice in a nearby park, or even train in my apartment (maybe I’ll invest in a small mat).
Until then, though, I must fight my desire to be upside down. Can’t wait until Tuesday…
For the past many days, I’ve written about this month’s challenge largely as a mental feat. However, today, I woke up with a stiff neck, and immediately remembered that there’s still a major physical component to backflipping.
My stiff neck wasn’t from flipping — I just slept in a bad position. But, still, the first thing I thought about when I woke up today was “This stiff neck better go away before tomorrow’s backflip lesson”.
In fact, this kind of thinking has seriously changed the way that I’ve been approaching my normal strength training: Namely, I’ve completely stopped.
Since January, I’ve been training hard in preparation for my pull-up challenge in July. However, during the first week of both backflipping and working out at 100%, my back didn’t feel quite right. This was probably a combination of strain from dozens of pull-ups and unfamiliar contortions from tumbling.
My body was taking too much strain, so I stopped strength training all together. I did this also to ensure that I’m physical fresh every time I go to AcroSports for my backflip lessons.
After tomorrow’s lesson, I may reintroduce seemingly non-backflip-related training for my chest and arms (while holding off on my legs, core, and back). But, I guess I’ll see how I’m feeling tomorrow.
On a different note, but in regards to my back and my physical state… Since I’ve started tumbling, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more flexible, especially in my back, which has always been a weakness for me. As a result, even after this month is over, I want to continue tumbling as part of my normal training regiment.
It’s going to be interesting to figure out how I properly balance normal strength training with tumbling, without completely destroying my body. At the end of the day, I’m trying to improve my physical and mental fitness, not hurt myself, so I need to continue to be mindful and careful.
Anyway, my neck is no longer stiff, so I’m all set for tomorrow…
Today was my sixth backflip lesson, and I’ve started consistently landing (nearly unassisted) backflips on my feet.
For example, here’s my final backflip from today…
Slowly, with each lesson, I’m making it slightly further in the progression.
Last lesson, I started with pull-overs on the trampoline. Then, I progressed to the harness. Then, the tumble track with spotting. Then, the tumble track without spotting. And finally, the floor with spotting.
Today, I skipped the pull-overs and the harness, and went straight to backflips on the trampoline (which helped me get over my fear of extended air time).
After 10 minutes on the trampoline, I progressed to the tumble track without any spotting.
Throwing the first flip without Elijah (my coach) anywhere near me was honestly terrifying. My body definitely went into “fight or flight” mode, and I was sweating like crazy.
Yet, I committed, and smashed the fear…
After 15 minutes on the tumble track, I moved over to the floor. Here, I threw backflips while Elijah spotted me for mental support.
Unlike last session (where I landed almost all the floor flips on my hands and knees), today, I stuck most of the landings, which is really exciting.
Next session, I will start deeper into the progression: First, I’ll throw unassisted backflips on the tumble track. Then, assisted backflips on the floor. And finally, hopefully, unassisted backflips on the floor.
During my next lesson, I also need to try harder to get into a more compact tuck. I’m still flipping with my legs in a near pike position, which isn’t helping me.
Anyway, with one week left, I’m feeling the pressure, but am also confident that I will get there.
Yesterday, I finally started landing mostly-unassisted backflips on my feet, like this one…
However, I still have two problems with my technique: 1) I’m not jumping as high as I can, and 2) I’m not tucking as hard as I can.
Particularly, when it comes to my jump, I’m only putting in about 70% of my full energy in the upward direction.
I know this because, yesterday, in between backflip attempts, I tested out my upper limit: I jumped up at 100% power and tried to tuck my knees.
For some reason, I didn’t anticipate that the tuck would initiate significant rotation, but it did. As a result, I panicked in the air and this happened…
Nevertheless, if I can just do this on Friday, but continue pulling my hips and knees over my head, I’ll land an unassisted backflip no problem.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been having a bit of a problem: Every time I get home from a backflip lesson, I have so much adrenaline pumping through my body that I’m unable to sleep soundly through the night.
This is particularly tough for me because I’ve always been highly sensitive to sleep deprivation (for me deprivation is <7–8 well-slept hours). One bad night of sleep can throw me off for a week.
I usually prevent sleep problems by exercising regularly, but recently I’ve been timid to do so (since I want to ensure that I’m completely fresh for my backflipping sessions).
As a result, the past couple weeks have been confusing for my body, and I haven’t had a good night sleep in a while.
Hopefully, tomorrow, I land an unassisted backflip, and can return to a more consistent routine of sleep and exercise. My body definitely wants me to.
Here’s my dilemma though: I want to maintain my backflip after the month ends, which means I probably need to keep practicing until my backflip is a fearless reflex. But, at the same time, I want to sleep. So, I’m not sure what I should do.
The funny thing about this is… During my sessions, my coach, Elijah, keeps asking me “Have you had a backflip dream yet?”. Apparently, I’m officially a “tumbler” only once I have my first dream about it. But, since I can’t sleep, I can’t dream, and so I can’t make my tumbler-status official, which means I need to keep practicing, which means I can’t sleep, and so on.
It’s all been worth it, but still… at what point do I escape this cycle and reach tumbler nirvana?
Today, I I landed my first completely unassisted backflip, which means February’s challenge is complete!
Here are the first two I landed. They aren’t beautiful, but I stayed on my feet.
After these, I was able to throw a few better ones.
I wish I could now say that I can land a backflip whenever and wherever I want, but that’s not quite the case.
In fact, after throwing about ten good backflips today, I completely depleted my willpower and became crippled by fear. It was a bizarre experience, which I’ll discuss tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’ll celebrate the fact that I successfully landed a few backflips. I guess that means I’m now a person that “can do a backflip”, or, at least a person who has “done a backflip”, which is something I’m definitely psyched about.
Yesterday, I completed February’s challenge and landed my first unassisted backflip. And yet, I left AcroSports less excited than I expected (and also, unable to do a backflip). Here’s what happened:
In the first ten minutes of my lesson, I quickly warmed up on the trampoline, and then immediately headed to the floor to try some backflips on my own. On the fourth attempt, I landed on my feet, and then proceeded to also land the next four backflips on my feet. I was pretty pumped.
But then, something got in my head, and this happened…
Once I was spooked, my brain refused to let my body jump. It genuinely felt as if my feet were glued to the ground.
As hard as I tried, I didn’t have any more willpower left in the tank and couldn’t overcome the fear.
Interestingly, I thought rewatching these videos was going to get me even more bummed. But, I’m actually pleased to see that I’m at least getting all the way around.
In retrospect, I don’t think anything went wrong. Instead, I only had so much willpower (there are plenty of studies that show willpower is a finite resource) and I used up all this willpower fighting the backflip fear on my first ten or so attempts.
So, if I just keep practicing and fighting the fear, over time, I will need less and less willpower to commit to the backflip, which means I’ll become more consistent and confident.
I’m returning to AcroSports one last time on Tuesday, and I’m hoping that, with a recharged willpower tank, I can at least land a few more unassisted flips.
Since February is almost over, it’s time to look back and see just how much time I spent on this month’s challenge.
This time around, the math is pretty straightforward: It took six 45-minute lessons, 20 minutes of a failed Open Gym session, and 15 minutes of Lesson 7 to successfully land a backflip. In other words, I spent 5 hours and 15 minutes explicitly working towards February’s goal.
Of course, if I add in travel time to and from AcroSports, my time invested is closer to 13 hours. Then, if I add in the time I spent watching videos, etc., I would estimate that the total is closer to 16 hours.
Nevertheless, this is significantly less time than the previous three challenges, which is odd because this one felt the most involved (most likely because the type of experience and environment were both very new).
Anyway, for the “official” number, I’m going to stick with ~5 hours as this month’s total.
Now that I’ve landed my first backflip, I need to drill it over and over until it becomes complete muscle memory. To do this, I need to be comfortable training on my own, without the support of a coach.
Thus, I figured I’d attend the Open Gym at AcroSports tonight, and see if I can make progress on my own. Well, at least, this was my plan until about 6pm today…
As I was getting ready for the gym, I wasn’t feeling super confident, and so, I decided to pass on the Open Gym for a “strategic” reason, which goes as follows:
Tomorrow is the last day of February. This means that tomorrow is my last chance (with the coaching of Elijah) to nail a beautiful backflip as part of the Month to Master project. To successfully do this, I need to be in a really positive mental state. If I go to Open Gym tonight, and spook myself even more than I did last Friday, I may not be able to fully benefit from my final lesson tomorrow night. Thus, I’ll hold off until tomorrow’s lesson, after which I’ll go to Open Gym as regularly as I need.
This seems sensible enough. It’s probably half excuse, half strategy, which is sometimes okay.
Since I’ve already completed the backflip challenge, I’m giving myself a little wiggle room.
But, since I’m bailing tonight, I really need to commit all my willpower reserves to throwing a bunch of fearless backflips tomorrow.
I feel like I got it…
Today was my last backflipping lesson of February. While my hope was to land a few more unassisted backflips, I was still mentally impeded and failed to do so.
This was either because…
…I wasn’t committing to jumping high enough.
…or, if I did jump, I immediately reached for the ground.
If I kept fighting, it was likely that I might eventually land one, but I decided to use my final session in different way: To build the confidence I need to train completely on my own.
And, with this goal, I was very successful. At least, I feel that way. I’ll only know for sure at the next open gym.
To build this confidence, I started on the trampoline, and tried to throw backflips as high as I could. I don’t have any video, but, according to Elijah, I was rotating above my shoulder/head height. If I continue practicing in this way, I’ll gain better spatial awareness, become more comfortable in the air, and build my confidence in general.
More importantly though, I need to drill my backflip hundreds of times where I’m most comfortable, which is the tumble track. In reality, the tumble track is barely different than the floor, but mentally it makes a big difference.
I’m pretty comfortable throwing higher backflips on the tumble track, and just need to keep on going until I’m calm, adrenaline-less, and consistent.
I’m not sure when I’ll return to AcroSport, but, if I’m serious about perfecting my backflip, I should probably find at least one day per week to go.
This plan sounds nice in theory, but, since a new challenge starts tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if I can keep this commitment to myself.
I hope so.