Note: what follows is my story about growing up skateboarding, and how it relates to strength and conditioning and the whole “fitness” field. Even if you didn’t skateboard, you will learn that “getting strong/super buff/ripped” is a goal reached through consistency, discipline, and hard work. Much like the violist, the guitarist, the wakeboarder, the baseball player, and the sharpshooter got great through constant practice, learning a skill and excelling requires the same focus and dedication. In other words, replace “skateboarding” with “your THANG” and the message is the same. Thanks!
It’s the early 2000s
I wear my hair long, my clothes baggy, and shoe-glue like a badge of honor.
I jam out to the likes of Blink-182, Sum 41, Unwritten Law, Slipknot, and Mudvayne.
With my “fuck you” attitude, I carry around my only means of transportation outside my parents or my friends’ parents:
Alien Workshop Deck. Venture Trucks. Spitfire wheels. Jessup Grip-tape.
If I wasn’t in school, I was skateboarding. After work: skateboarding. Late nights after the movies: skateboarding.
Eat. Breath. Live. Skate
Many a late night and long days were spent on my board with my friends, learning how to kick-flip, three-flip, frontside, backside, nollie, fakie, and switch.
We would practice our tricks a million times over, failing and falling far more times than we nailed them. But when we finally nailed them…when we finally landed clean and rolled away smooth…
The perfectly synchronized combination of power, timing, finesse, and control would wash over you like a cool bath when you finally nailed a trick. In this moment, the exhaustion, the pain, the sweat, and the frustration would all be forgotten.
Skateboarding was our art: the world our canvas; the board our medium.
Let’s Go Back
I’m 15. We’re at the amphitheater. Today’s focus is the four-foot ledge.
My back against the wall, I drop my front trucks to the floor with a “clack” and push off towards the ledge.
With the timing and precision of a Swiss watch, I lift off into the air. As if in the arms of angels, I take flight.
For a split second, the whole world is frozen, hesitating even to breathe.
Underneath me, my board flips and spins like a kaleidoscope of grip tape, metal, and graphics.
At just the right moment, I set my feet on the board. My eyeballs dilate. My heart skips a beat.
My front foot catches the bolts perfectly.
My back foot, however, has caught the tail-end of the board. I’m out of position, and the angels have left me.
Like being flung from a slingshot, I slam to the ground. The tail snaps, my back foot drags. My front foot, still on the board, pulls my body into the splits.
My hands catch, hard. Then my elbows, my chest, and finally my face crash the pavement. I crumble into a heap of torn flesh and shredded jeans.
“I’m OKAY!” I grunt through gritted teeth and wincing face. Bruised and bloodied, I gather myself and look for my board.
The tail is snapped, clean off right at the bolts. Like my body and spirit, my board is broken.
I let out a long sigh. We’ve had some great times together.
A pat on the back and a laugh from my friends let me know it’s all part of the game. My friend reaches over with his board and I grab the trucks.
“Take it.” He says. “I need a break for a few minutes anyway.”
I smile, throw a fist bump, and hop on the board.
I’m ready for another go.
Skateboarding and Strength Training are totally related, dude
I played “traditional” sports as a kid. My parents made sure that I dabbled in every kind of team sport available.
But skateboarding was different. Skateboarding gave us freedom.
Let’s take a look at some lessons, learned the hard way, that skateboarding taught me:
1.) Master the Basics
The first trick any skateboarder learns is the ollie. Without it, no other trick can be attempted. The ollie gets the board in the air and sets the stage for you to try new and more advanced things like flip tricks, turns, and gaps or stairs.
The same can be said of strength training movements, like the Squat:
But you had to learn how to squat first.
So next time you find your coach telling you to goblet squat, again, for what feels like the 1000th time, remember, you have to master the basics before you can move on.
2.) Practice Makes Progress.
The athletes you see at the X Games are masters, much like the athletes you see at the Crossfit Games or the Olympics.
But just because they’re the pros on the big screen doesn’t mean they don’t practice their craft every day, every week, and every year leading up to the event.
Just like the greatest Powerlifters practice the deadlift, squat, and bench, professional skateboarders practice the kickflip, nollie, and switch flips. They might make it look easy, but you can bet that years and years of practice with the basics made them better at their sport.
You may practice the goblet squat, hip hinge, and push-ups in every single workout. If your coach is pretty good, there’s a reason: you need practice.
Think of it this way: we don’t get bored with the guitarist or piano player for working through their chord progressions. We don’t tire of the professional basketball player for shooting 100 free throws after practice. If we want to bring up our batting average, we hit the batting cages. Wakeboarding, skiing, tennis, lacrosse, violin, and even fucking hackysack require skill practice.
Why then, do we look at fitness more as an “entertain me” than a “coach me” process? What makes getting stronger and fitter any different than any other skill you acquire through constant practice?
The best in the world, the ones on stage, constantly practice their craft to try and improve every little nuance in their training and performance. We’re no different in the pursuit of our own goals.
We didn’t just wish we could land a nollie heel-flip to nose-slide down an 8-set. Ok, we definitely did.
We went out and practiced it. Or rather, we practiced the pieces:
First, you learn to nollie (in the barbell clean, you practice using a dowel)
Then, you learn to nollie heel-flip (clean from hang position)
Then you learn to nollie heel-flip to nose-slide on a box or short rail (two-position clean)
Then you learn to nollie heel-flip to nose-slide the 8-set (Power clean).
You learn the requisite pieces before you put the whole thing together. Furthermore, you learn the requisite pieces over and over and over until you reach a level of proficiency.
But to become proficient in your lift requires weeks, months, and years of dedicated practice.
Skateboarding is a fickle bitch. Some days you have the balance, control, and coordination of a ballet dancer, crushing every trick and making every transition so seamless, even The Godfather of Modern Street skating Rodney Mullen himself would be impressed.
Other days, you’re sprawling out on the unforgiving pavement or twisting your ankles into knots.
The guy who gets back up, dusts himself off, rubs dirt in the wound and jumps back on the board for another go is what makes a great skater from a bad one.
Those who give up in the gym, be it from frustration, exhaustion, or boredom are the ones who may never reach their goals.
That isn’t to say that when things get tough you shouldn’t take a break. When form breaks down and technique falls to the wayside, the professional knows when to pack it in. Even the most die-hard skateboarders know when it’s time to call it quits.
But he or she goes back to it the next day. And the day, week, and year after that.
They are determined to master the lift, no matter how many times they fall.
When we got tired from skateboarding, we would illegally download videos of skateboarding on Kazaa and watch them. When we weren’t watching videos, we were playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
After we were fully rested, we would grab our boards and get back to work.
If you want to be a great squatter, squat.
If you want to be a great deadlifter, deadlift.
But when you’re tired or beat up, the practice doesn’t stop there. You watch and learn from other individuals, be it from a coach or YouTube video breaking down technique.
Being great in the weight room (i.e. chasing your goals), like being a professional skateboarder, requires years of study.
6.) Being an Artist
Many coaches will tell you that training is both an art and a science.
You have “rules:” do the most technically demanding exercises first; compound over single-joint exercises first; avoid technical breakdown; strength comes from loads the body is unaccustomed to; practice makes more optimal technique, etc.
So we have our “rules” but sometimes, many times, in fact, we get to choose how we employ those rules and how we try to bend them.
In skateboarding, it’s taking the pieces: kickflips, spins, turns, grinds, slides, fakie, nollie, and switch, and turning it into art out in the real world.
Stringing together our knowledge and expertise in a way that
a) makes sense
b) doesn’t hurt us or our clients and
c) gets the client to his or her goal
The way we get there, though, is up to us.
I’m 28 years old now and have long since given up skateboarding. As with many interests in youth, we grew out of skateboarding and went on to different things. I traded in my torn shoes and scuffed skateboard for barbells and bumper plates.
Although I don’t skate anymore, I do think that it had a profound impact on my youth, and I would be lying if I said I don’t miss it. Actually, I still have a board. However these days it acts more like a trophy or memento of days old.
Think back to the activities you used to enjoy, or even the ones you still enjoy today. Maybe your job and livelihood rely on the skills you attained over many, many years.
These skills weren’t endowed, they were earned, through blood, sweat, and years of dedication and grit.
Like skating, getting stronger, leaner, and reaching your other fitness goals takes time, dedication to the process, and skill acquisition.
It doesn’t happen overnight. But if you have what it takes; if you have the understanding and the fortitude to stick it out for the long haul; you’ll reach greatness.