Making Progress: The PARC Principle - PROGRAMMING: THEORY AND TACTICS - Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methodsp (2015)

Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methods (2015)




Awesome. You are now proud possessor of six sets of exercise “chains”: series of technical progressions which lead you from an easy technique (step 1) all the way to an ice cold, badass Master Step (step 10). If you can work your way up through the steps to the Master Steps, you will become the most explosive, powerful athlete you know. The most explosive, powerful athlete you can probably imagine. Trust me—you will meet virtually nobody who can match you if you become master of the Explosive Six!

So the next question is: how do I move upwards through these chains? Great question, kid. Have a cigar. Let’s talk about it. By the end of this part of the book, you’ll be a goddamn Programming Overlord of the Explosive Arts.


The first Convict Conditioning book was about building muscle and power using bodyweight-only training. In that book, I introduced the concept of progressions; the idea that an easy exercise should lead to a harder exercise. How do you know when to move up to the next exercise? Simple—I included a set of progression standards. For example, if you are working with full pushups, you train hard until you can do two sets of twenty perfect reps. When you can do that, you are qualified to move up to the next exercise in the chain—close pushups, with the hands touching.

This strategy for slowly building capacity through meeting a series of pre-determined targets works incredibly well in strength-building. If you do it right, it’s practically foolproof. Of course, I didn’t invent this idea. It’s a very ancient approach to training, called double progression. The “double” refers to the fact that you progress in two ways—first in reps, then when you meet your target, in load (i.e., harder exercises). This method is very, very ancient. It’s definitely in the Bible. Probably.

Leroy Colbert builds mass! Weight-training and calisthenics are brethren. Both work excellently if you apply the double progression system correctly.

Many of you reading this book will have trained yourself up using the methods in that first book. If you have, then the idea of meeting progression standards to move up the chain will be like bread-and-butter to you. You will understand it backwards. You will probably also be expecting me to follow the same protocol in this book. You might be expecting me to say something like: perform two sets of ten in the half kip, before you move up to the kip-up.

Well, I’m not going to hit you up with that kind of thing. Rep-building works real well for strength and bodybuilding workouts, but when you are rolling with fast, power techniques, it just won’t cut it. Why? Three simple reasons:


When building man-beef, you are looking to exhaust the energy in your muscle cells. When you do this, those cells get all nutjob-survivalist, and stock up extra chemicals in case the threat happens again—that’s how your muscles pack on mass, over time. Exhausting your muscles is pretty simple—you are constantly looking to add reps in your exercises! More and more. That’s just one reason why having rep targets is so damn productive.

But when you are training for power, your goal isn’t exhaustion—it’s super-quick, snappy movements. Crisp speed and exhaustion are mutually exclusive. So working to build up your reps is a mistake.

Speed and exhaustion are mutually exclusive qualities. Why would you train ‘em the same way? US Marines get some action.


The strength-mass techniques in Convict Conditioning are steady, safe movements. Techniques like pushups should be performed with a 2-1-2 cadence—i.e., two seconds down, a one second pause at the bottom, then two seconds up. This means that as you do your reps, your muscles fatigue slowly and (crucially) smoothly, until eventually your form begins to get too uneven, and you stop. Since your muscles are in control of every inch of your movements, there is very little chance of injury when you train this way.

Techniques like strict leg raises or leg raise holds deplete the muscles in a smooth, controlled manner. Energy expenditure runs in a fairly straight line until you quit. With explosive work like power jumps, energy expenditure zig-zags all over the joint. This increases injury risk.

Explosive work is different. It’s ballistic. This means that your muscles aren’t really in control for a large proportion of your movements. Take a back flip as an example—after the first explosive push, momentum and gravity begin to play a huge role. Sure, with effort you can direct yourself to some degree, but the techniques are much faster and more complex than simple strength moves. If something goes wrong, you only have a fraction of a second to readjust. The more reps you perform, the more fatigued you become, and the more your mental concentration is diluted. This makes control of your movements—especially self-correction, if things go wrong—much tougher.

For this reason, you should avoid struggling to build up your reps, to meet rep targets. You should only ever do as many reps as you feel will keep your technique completely perfect. Always push for greater perfection. Never for more reps. That would be counter-productive.


Lastly, the whole idea of reps is designed to work with a systematic system where load increases need to be mathematically quantified—typically barbell training or calisthenics strength methods. With explosive bodyweight training, we are really not looking to increase the load—we are interested in increasing the efficiency, speed, power and complexity of our movements. We can monitor this, but only by gauging the “cleanness” of our movements. Rep targets have jack to do with this; and if you are thinking “reps”, you ain’t thinking “clean”, right? So rid yourself of the old mindset of simply upping reps. It won’t work here. We need something new!

Different techniques demand different mind-sets. If you’re focused too much on the next rep, you aren’t concentrating on your current rep. That may work with slow exercises, but with explosives, this is a bad mind-set to get into.

Hopefully you hard-asses out there who were born and raised on double progression have maybe read the previous couple pages, and forgiven me for not including rep targets or similar progression standards in this book. But you’re pretty smart (that’s why you’re reading this, dude) so your next question is probably gonna be: if I’m not trying to hit a certain number of reps, how will I know when to move up from one step to the next in the chain?


If you have been payin’ attention to the three reasons to avoid rep goals listed in this chapter, then you probably have a pretty good grasp of what your attitude here should be. You should not be focusing on how many reps of an exercise you can pump out—instead, you should be focusing on how well you can perform that exercise. Long story short: when you have mastered basic competence in a technique, you can move up to the next step. Not before.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Terms like “competence” and “mastered” are pretty subjective terms...they can mean different things to different athletes. You’re right. That why I’m going to spell out the four key components of competence in explosive training, to zone in more on what I really mean. When I’m explaining these concepts to students, I sometimes use the acronym PARC to help them remember the four concepts. (When parkour was invented in France, it was originally spelled “parcours”, meaning course, or journey. Think of the PARC in parcours, to help you remember.)







Let’s look at these four a bit more in-depth.


Proficiency basically means being able to do something right. When you perform the techniques in this book, you perform them as I describe them, or pretty damn close. If you perform a muscleup, you swing and kip, rotate your arms to pull-over, and push yourself up over the bar. You tick all the basic boxes, and you do it cleanly and efficiently. Proficiency does not mean total perfection. You do not need to be a world-class gymnast as you perform these moves, expecting a perfect “10” score from obsessive, lifelong coaches. Nobody is scoring you, nobody is judging you on some theoretically ideal aesthetic form. Your task is to get the job done, and build speed and power. If this elbow or that foot is slightly out—nobody cares, so long as you don’t hurt yourself. Strive for excellence, but never lose your freedom!

By “correct” form I mean the most useful techniques the person is inclined toward. Find his ability and then develop those techniques. I don’t think it is important whether a side kick is performed with the heel higher than the toes, as long as the fundamental principle is not violated. Most classical martial arts training is mere repetition—a product—and individuality is lost.

— Bruce Lee


This has to do with your body’s capacity to cope with the skill in question. Many folks can quickly achieve the nervous ability to pick up a particular technique, but their body lags behind. The spirit is willing—and able—but the flesh is weak. Sure, a handful of unconditioned trainees will be able to (barely) pull off a front handspring, first time of asking. But when they do it, they feel like their shoulders are being yanked out of their sockets; they pull a muscle in their abs; hurt their wrist; and they are in agony the next day. They certainly have done nothing good for their joints, and there’s no way they should continue at this kinda pace. If your body really yells at ya or gets dinged up by working with a certain step, then you’re not ready to move to the next step—even if, technique-wise, you can manage that step. In fact, you’re probably best going back a few steps, and working with moves that don’t hurt you. And don’t skimp on those warm-ups, either (see page 295).


This is a big one. Managing to pull off a back-drop flip (step 8) correctly one time does not qualify you to zoom forward and attempt running front flip (step 9)! This is especially true if you are working with rotating motions, and you are only able to perform the technique correctly once out of every ten attempts! Don’t get me wrong; even Olympic gymnasts trip or fumble when performing their movements—sometimes even basic techniques. We all screw up from time-to-time, and this is particularly true with the fast, complex demands of explosive calisthenics. That’s just part of being human. But—as a rule of thumb—if you can’t pull off a technique nine times out of every ten attempts (with a rest in-between), you haven’t mastered it enough to be able to move to harder exercises.


This is the mental sense of self-assurance which can only really come from having successfully and safely performed a technique many times. You step up to perform the movement, and you know that you can get it—and not just barely, but well, and with room to spare. If you are anxious before every repetition of a move, you have not achieved competence in that move. You should stay on that step. But hey—that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. That means you have more to learn from this exercise. Great! Never forget that moving up a step is not what builds speed, skill and power—it only demonstrates speed, skill and power. It’s the careful, consistent effort put into the moves you can already do that builds these things.


It will be real helpful for you to absorb the philosophy of PARC early on in your training, so you can coach yourself and gauge how and when to move forward. Watching others train is a great way to do this, but nothing beats simple self-awareness. Here are some examples of the application of PARC:


Proficiency is easy to determine—if you understand the movement and are honest with yourself. In a proper kip-up (page 126), the athlete should be rock solid at the end of the movement. If you fall over backwards, you are not Proficient. Keep training.


If you manage to achieve a front handspring (page 156) every few days, but wind up wracked with pain and strained abs each time you try it, then your body has not adapted enough. Consider moving back a step or two, or performing supplementary exercises to improve your conditioning.


If you are working on suicide jumps (page 62), and—following a warm-up—you can only properly get over the bar every other time you attempt the move, you lack regularity. Keep training.


If you psych yourself up for a back handspring (page 194) but you’re terrified you are going to break your neck, something has gone badly wrong and you lack confidence. Never move ahead a step in these circumstances, and consider moving back a step.

Four easy-to-apply concepts. I can’t make it any simpler than this, dude. If you follow them, your training will be easier, you will be safer, and you’ll progress faster in the long run. Ignore them, and injury and burn-out is on the horizon. I’ve shown these progressions to many, many guys who have tried to use short-cuts and bypass PARC. The smart ones all come back to it eventually.

Why not be smart from the get-go?

Apply PARC and you will achieve the Master Steps faster—and safer!


One of the toughest things about explosive training is that there is no objective, cut-and-dried method for knowing when it’s safe and sensible to move up a step. But that’s also one of the things that makes it so damn cool. In applying PARC, you are relying on your discrimination and common-sense—combined with some measure of healthy risk-taking. These qualities are all components of what I’ve called body wisdom—the sine qua non of a true calisthenics master.

Read this chapter again, and come to really understand the PARC concepts. Appreciate them so deeply that you could write a page about them without notes, or explain the four ideas fully to a training buddy. Don’t just randomly try out the techniques in this book. If you do, you’re likely to get injured, and I don’t want that. Begin at the beginning, establish a baseline of ability, and find a level of explosive techniques you can safely work with and benefit from over time. Use a systematic program. And as you begin to grow in power and ability, apply the PARC rule to decide whether to move to the next step.

I trust ya. You got this, kid.