Health and Fitness: What it takes to be a B-boy

Jay Asser 23/03/2017
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B-boy stance: Frenchman Nabil El Khayer is as fit as he is flexible.

It may be easy to forget, or even realise at all, when the music is bumping and the on-looking crowd goes wild for a flawlessly executed hand spin or freeze, but more goes into a b-boy’s moves than meets the eye.

Breakdancing is certainly considered one of the cooler and more eye-catching forms of dance, yet at the same time it’s also one of the most physically-challenging. The few seconds in which a b-boy stands on their head or windmills?

Days, months and years go into making that possible. For those that take breakdancing seriously, it’s more than just a hobby. As Nabil El Khayer puts it, b-boying is a lifestyle.

“B-boying is part of hip-hop, so it’s a lifestyle,” the 31-year-old Frenchman told Sport360.

“If you want to get into this lifestyle 100 per cent, you need to dedicate yourself by taking care of your body and taking care of your mind.”

El Khayer will be a judge on Friday at the UAE Cypher of the Red Bull BC One, considered the biggest one-on-one b-boy competition in the world. Now in its sixth consecutive year, the UAE Cypher, held at JBR Rimal Sector, will give b-boys the chance to earn a spot in the World Final in Amsterdam come November.

Having twice won the UK B-Boy Championships (2010, 2011) and the World B-Boy Classic 2vs2 (2015), El Khayer’s accomplishments and experience in the breakdancing are unquestionable and his success has been the result of approaching his passion like a professional athlete.

“For me it’s an art, but I consider it like a sport because it physically demands a lot,” he said.

Speaking of sports, El Khayer, like so many other young boys, tried a number as a kid, from taekwondo to football to swimming.

None of them, however, resonated with him like b-boying did when he was first exposed to breakdancing at the age of 11 in his native Nantes on a day he joined his brother to go watch friends.

The relationship between the music, rhythm and body movements in breakdancing was everything El Khayer couldn’t get from sports. It also allowed him to express his creativity and form his own style. Maybe more than anything though, El Khayer realised just how much he’d learn about his own body.

Encoding the cypher: The UAE Cypher of the Red Bull BC One is in its sixth year.

Encoding the cypher: The UAE Cypher of the Red Bull BC One is in its sixth year.

“When I got into b-boying, it made me be more aware of working out and taking care of my body because I saw a lot of friends practicing, but just throwing themselves on the floor without thinking about doing the move and how to do it properly. They would just train. You’d ask your body to do something and it would not be prepared for it,” El Khayer said.

“It’s like every other sport. A tennis player is playing and he’s using his shoulder and he needs to work on his shoulder to stay strong. Like football players, they go to the gym and do a proper workout. It’s the same for b-boying.

“If you want to be good and be able to do certain moves, you have to work on certian muscles. We call it muscle memory. You need to get these types of muscles strong to do a flare, an air flare, a power move or every move on the floor.”

El Khayer identifies legs, ligaments – shoulders, elbows, ankles – and lower back as the key areas to strengthen, with the latter necessary to avoid disc injuries. But strength alone is not enough to maximise a b-boy’s movements.

For that, El Khayer believes in improving cardio, muscle endurance and flexibility. A year after being big into CrossFit and gaining six to seven kilograms of muscle, El Khayer’s settled into a daily routine that features a happy balance between being strong and light on his feet.

Every morning, he begins with nearly an hour of swimming, which El Khayer believes is “the best thing for cardio”.

He then goes to the gym to do 30 minutes of interval training before his work as a performer and choreographer.

He finally ends his day with an hour of stretching before sleeping, which may seem like much but is central to El Khayer’s style as a b-boy. “I freestyle a lot,” he said.

“When you get into big competitions, you need to have sets. I don’t like to do this, I just freestyle. The way I work is I work on moves and combos and then just don’t think about it, go into the battle and do whatever I can show. I just go on the floor and respond to the man in front of me. I’m very flexible and I use power, so I’m versatile.”

El Khayer’s love of b-boying goes well beyond the physical aspects, but he feels anybody could enjoy it as an alternative form of exercise, not unlike other forms of dancing like Zumba.

“Dancing in general is a good alternative for people who get bored in the gym,” he said. “It’s a lot of cardio, with just going up and down from the floor. Just to know your body is very interesting because in b-boying you need to focus on every part of your body.”

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Five key exercises for runners

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Are you preparing for an upcoming race?

Staying injury-free is every runner’s dream scenario and these five important exercises will help you stay fit and always be ready to run.

The common misconception about long-distance running, specifically, is that you have to run long run after long run to get in the best physical condition.

Of course, weekly-long runs and big distances aid you in the build-up to a marathon, but strength and conditioning, as well as stretching, can go a long way as far as preparation for upcoming races goes.

Essentially, it’s not all about running.

Check out these exercises:

SINGLE DEAD LIFT

The dead lift is an important movement to work your hamstrings and glutes, as well as tackle core stability and balance.

Stand on one leg, keeping a slight bend in your knee, straighten your back horizontally and hold your head up.

Lift your non-standing leg behind you, extend and hold it straight for a few seconds.

Repeat the trick, and if you wish to make things more challenging, hold a weight with your arms stretched forward.

SQUAT

Stand straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower your body as far as you can by bending your knees and pushing your hips back.

Pause briefly before pushing yourself back up to your starting position.

Repetitions x10 are recommended and will help to warm-up key muscle groups throughout your legs.

GLUTE BRIDGE

The perfect exercise to strengthen your glutes (typically an area where runners forget to stretch) and hamstrings.

It’s a simple exercise, too.

Lie on a mat with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle and your feet flat on the floor.

Contract your glutes and elevate your hips in a straight line, going from your neck to your knees. Try and hold this position for a short period and keep your glutes engaged.

Repeat for a few repetitions.

STEP-UPS

A simple exercise you can do on stairs or a bench.

It’s also an activity that will improve the power in your stride pattern.

Step onto your chosen object with your left foot and drive your other leg high so you mimic a running motion (although exaggerated) on the step.

Return to your starting position and then repeat, switching legs.

SIDE PLANK

This is a great exercise to help engage your hips, as well as strengthen your core muscles.

Simply, lie on your side with your legs straight and ankles together.

Hold your torso up with your upper arm and lift your hips so they form a straight line…and don’t drop towards the floor.

Hold for a few seconds before changing sides.

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Three ways to become your own personal trainer

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Are you looking to save money on a personal trainer?

With a little commitment you can learn how to become your own personal trainer.

Being your own coach can change your relationship with your health and help you reach your fitness goals.

Here’s our top three tips to help you.

DESIGN YOUR WORKOUTS

Start with two gym and two cardio sessions per week.

If you are new to the gym then try full body workouts to see faster results.

If you are stuck for some inspiration on exercise ideas, there are plenty of videos on YouTube or articles on Google that can assist.

If you have a friend or colleague who is involved in sport then seek advice from them. People are always willing to help.

Keep your workouts simple with exercises like press-ups, chest flies, squats, pull-ups and lunges.

CHANGE/IMPROVE YOUR DIET

This is the big one. You can do all the training in the world but if your diet is poor then you are never going to see any major results.

You should be aiming to eat carbs like rice and brown pasta for energy, proteins like chicken and fish after training to help muscle repair, and fruits and vegetables to support overall health.

At the end of it all, don’t starve yourself, just aim to have a balanced diet, stay well hydrated and don’t eat late at night.

MONITOR PROGRESS

It’s worth recording your weight and body fat before starting a programme in order to monitor your progress.

To keep track on different lifts, take a notebook or use apps like MyFitness Pal to help store the information.

This is the best way to help your progress, keep you motivated and help get the best out of your fitness goals.

If you aren’t happy with your progress then try something different, whether it’s changing exercises, doing more reps, taking more rest or eating better.

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