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

Jay Asser 08:20 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.”