Practicing a New Physical Skill

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In this article I’ll be discussing how I was able to quickly develop a new skill set in a short amount of time. Although the focus is walking on springy stilts, these same concepts can be applied to all kinds of skills, from the physical to the mental.

To adequately explain how this came about you need a bit of back story…

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I really enjoy the process of making a badass costume. This time around I wanted to be a minotaur, the mythical half-bull, half-man monster from Greek mythology.

I had pieces of this costume from a prior costume but the main piece I didn’t even know existed until I saw an acquaintance of mine walking around on these stilts.

Once I saw them I knew it would be perfect for the costume.

I ended up ordering them off of Amazon. While there are a couple different companies making similar devices I went with the Powerisers as they tended to have better reviews.

When they arrived in the mail a short time later I immediately did the little assembly required and strapped myself in.

Unfortunately, there was no guide that came with them showing how to use them.

Here is where the details of how to practice come in.

Just standing up was very challenging. It was necessary to sit up high on something then use the hands to get up. From here I felt like there was zero balance. Even holding onto things I felt like I was almost falling over.

After walking around a bit all the while holding on to ledges and railings I came down.

I figured it was worth getting some instruction. Here’s a key point. I didn’t even know if I was doing it right. I had zero direction in what to do so I felt unsure of myself.

So I went online and did a search. I came across a couple videos. This was the main one that helped me out.

After the pre-roll credits you’ll see some amazing acrobatics done on these things. Obviously, I wasn’t at that level yet so this part didn’t help me so much, except maybe to show what could be done in the future, making walking around look stupid simple in comparison.

At about the 1:40 mark is when the tutorial part starts. It actually shows a great progression (key point being progression with skills is the same like in any exercise).

  • Getting up off a bench
  • Walking in place
  • Walking in place with someone’s help
  • Walking forward with someone’s help
  • Walking by yourself
  • Jogging
  • Jumping on one leg
  • Jumping in various styles
  • Running
  • High jumping
  • Dunking a basketball
  • Jumping with splits
  • Standing up
  • Flips

So those first few steps was specifically what I would work at. Just knowing this progression made me feel much more sure about myself.

Then there was this video.

What was important to note on this one was that in the description the guy said he was able to do this after about 3 hours of training, 1 hour per day.

That served as a mental benchmark for how quickly this skill could be picked up.

It was already late that day so I didn’t practice anymore.

But the next day I went out to pick up some protective gear (knee pads and elbow pads).

Back at home I strapped on my legs and walked around using the ceiling for support. I was able to get a few steps in without a problem and figured it was time to go out in the open. (Actually doing it inside my house which was fairly crowded wasn’t the best spot as I could fall into things.)

I went to the park, strapped the legs on while on a bench, stood up and starting walking. It was pretty easy at this point.

I walked around a bunch, even started jogging a bit. Even on the slightly uneven grass it was no problem. Great, walking achieved. Now let’s move onto something more advanced.

Although it was covered in the first video I has also seen this one which was interesting.

As I mentioned earlier, standing up off of a ledge or high seat is how I started and pretty easy to do. But getting up off the ground without help seemed a good challenge.

I decided this was something I would practice too. In the park I fell over on purpose a number of times. Good to practice how to land, right? I really only needed the knee pads as the knees took the brunt of the fall.

Then I worked on standing up myself. It was challenging. I seemed to be hitting about 50% of my attempts. On the failed ones I ended up back on the ground.

I was able to do it much better with my right leg in the front. Couldn’t quite get the left leg at first, so that’s something I’ll have to work at a bit more.

The next day I took them out again for a spin. Walking was too simple at this point so I worked on running and jumping.

At one point when running I did fall as the leg seemed to slip out from under me. Not sure if it was wet grass or what. So I stood up and tried it a bit more.

It didn’t push it too far. I’ll probably get a helmet and wrist guards later to pursue the trickier stuff.

My end goal really was just to be able to walk around while in costume throughout the night. By my first real session I felt comfortable doing that. After this last one I knew it would be easy.

Practicing Breakdown

Just to recap let’s detail the key points of good practice, and bad practice, here.

I made a mistake in the beginning in just trying it with zero direction. Simply by watching a couple videos which I did after this I knew what to expect and to do.

Something the videos gave was a simple progression. You need to make skills progressive. It’s the way you progress.

As soon as I felt solid in one skill, I went to another step in progression. Even though being able to walk was my main goal I figured standing up and running might be necessary so I worked on those. Besides walking became easy to do quite quickly.

Ensuring safety is important, if for nothing else than to ease fear. As fear makes you worse at doing many things, you need to feel safe to get best results.

While practicing I had fun doing it. It was an exciting new challenge. Keeping this frame of mind helps out a lot.

When I did mess up, as in standing up, I visualized what I was doing wrong, and what I had done right the previous times, trying to get a better feel for how to do the move.

There’s much more that could be done. I could work in much more from this book, Practicing Strength and Movement, to really take these skills to the next level.

I hope you found this analysis of developing a new skill useful.

I’m happy to report that with this minimum of practice I walked around probably a couple miles on Halloween, without incident. Even walked into a bar, having to duck, but was successful in getting to a seat.

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