In light of a lot of sports/steadicam related discussions I figured, why not share my experience. As some of you may know, besides being a steadicam operator, I’ve been an avid competitive gymnast for over 23 years. I just wanted to take the time to write up a small article about gymnastics and the steadicam life and how I feel the two have influenced each other over the past years.
Comparing the two has made sense to me since the day I picked up a rig. Like many athletes, gymnasts spend years practicing and developing skills before entering official compeition. The same goes for steadicam, in the beginning, one spends a lot of time developing the strength and insight into what makes a great operator on smaller projects before being able to work on a feature film or a tv-series. Both disciplines (cause let’s face it, steadicam doesn’t involve sitting around doing nothing) require a great deal of strength and stamina. For me personally the two have had tremendous benefits towards one another. Due to my sports background I was able to quickly adapt the musclememory needed to operate this wonderful machine, in return, the more jobs I keep getting, the stronger my legs and back get, making it possible for me to achieve new heights in gymnastics (literally).
Though a lot of attention has to be directed towards correct posture, stretching, preventing exertion, both operating steadicam and gymnastics require a bit more than just the physical aspects. I’m talking about the gear, Jerry Holway once told me “Give a master violin player a second hand piece of wood with strings and he’ll be able to play a song, give the same person a Stradivarius and it becomes art”. A great operator can achieve the best shot in the world with the right type of gear, as for a gymnast, this is very similar. I’ve seen a world class gymnast fall of a highbar during an olympic event final, because the flex of the bar was just a little different, the chalk didn’t feel right and 4 years later, that same guy had all the right elements to make “Art” and he brought home the gold medal. I take care of my rig the same way I take care of all the pieces of apparatus in the gym and they both continue to deliver wonderful results.
Last part I wanted to touch upon was the matter of safety. Running with a rig down a slippery rocky hill or throwing yourself 4 feet in the air over a solid steel bar, just because that’s what people expect from you can lead to one of two things. Either you get a standing ovation for a fantastic running shot/catching the bar, or you end up breaking your neck. The fact that the latter hasn’t happened to me is because my coaches have always demanded a safe training environement, which I held dear to my heart. I carried on this habit from the moment I first started operating, every running shot I do, every hardmount I rig, every single precarious situation I encounter on set, safety is always my number 1 concern.
The main conclusion for me is that both disciplines have had major benefits towards each other and I can only recommend combining sports with operating steadicam.
Any other (former) athletes on the forum? I’d love to hear your take on how steadicam may have improved your performances or how your choice of sport has helped out in your operating.
Great thread, I too coached and competed in Gymnastics up through college but unfortunately do not do it anymore, but sure do still love it , I couldn't agree more with your assessment with the comparison.
I do run ski tours all winter, play Ice hockey every week and I used to Race Mountain Bikes and still ride as often as I can. So I believe that carrying the steadicam all the time most definitely keeps my legs and back in shape to compliment my sports and vise versa.
I wrestled in HS and college. In high school, I did shot put, pole vault, ran the 200m, and played strong side linebacker. All of these sports really made me minutely aware of my body movement. Wrestling in particular was a great training ground for steadicam. Like gymnastics and Steadicam, wrestling takes amazing body control. Luckily I've been more successful with steadicam than in the NCAA.
If I still wrestled I'd be a better steadicam op
Ive posted in the past about the importance of sports (especially those that rely heavily on body mechanics without tools) in operating. Nils, your points are well-articulated and important to note.
Like Aaron I also wrestled through junior high, high school, and college, and without wrestling in the real world, ive turned to jiu jitsu. Aaron you should give it a shot if you havent already! Its everything you may have loved about wrestling but with a calmness and philosophy about it. I did karate for about ten years and just got tired to getting kicked and punched.
Any sustained aerobic activity is stellar for stamina which cannot be overlooked. Sports, especially those that push you beyond what you believe is your physical limit, create a tremendous amount of mental toughness. Though i may be physically at my end, dripping, bleeding, whathaveyou, if my partner or instructor expects another round of training, i follow through, because my mind is able. same with steadicam (and many other parts of life). its 102 in canoga park, this is the 12th quarter-mile walk-and-talk backwards...do it. The body may be hurtin but the mind knows its possible. once you push past the limits you may have set for yourself, you know that you can achieve more.
Also through jiu jitsu and other sports ive become more flexible, more focused, in general more healthy, and carrying 45-60 pounds is really not that bad after rolling with dudes that weight over a hundred more pounds than myself (and im under a buck fifty). jiu jistu matches end in a limited number of ways, and very often it is by way of submission. we tap out when were can escape a choke, and arm bar, etc. I dont mind being choked out. the room spins for a minute, you come back dizzy and its all good. but i dont screw around with getting arm-barred or leg-locked. as soon as i am in one, i just tap, i dont wait for the pressure. there was a time when i would try to escape and show my partner "i can handle this, i can get out..." usually i didnt, or when triangled id wind up pulling a muscle in my neck or back. now, tapping, no problem. the short-lived struggle isnt worth the pulled muscle. tapping out has actually given me a bit more confidence when it comes to telling a director or dp, "look, thats just not gunna happen" or a producer "no insurance? and you want me to step off a fork lift? nope, im not shooting that."
Thanks for the positive reactions, exactly what I was hoping for, especially from you Ron . Just to clarify, It's not my intention to state that sports are necessary to be able to practice steadicam, but it's only positive to be able to combine it.
I actually love to hear what others do to stay in shape...and what got them prepared to deal with this crazy job (except you, A-A-Ron Medick!!).
I have been blessed to be busy for a spell, but almost too busy to be in the shape to drink that beer and not feel guilty about it (I hear a violin). I am trying to get back on the wagon and like reading about people's routines...and what beer they drink
Nils, very awesome read. I play paintball when some of my military friends come home each year. Woods ball, not that speed ball crap. The best/worst are the Army vs Civilians matches. They don't last too long. Nothing better than getting your ass kicked and reaping reward later. Like Brett mentions with jiu jitsu. When to move, stay, cover, which direction, huddle in, spread out, blow my cover and fire? Lots of strategic team building movements. I like to compare that with; supported via key grip, walking downstairs, don't hit the pizza box being held just under the lens, keep right and banana to avoid fudging A cam's shot, followed by a producer who knows theres video village, but "likes to be close to the action" so he shows up in the EPK footage. Painting another human being purple is a very gratifying experience.
I have played Rugby for most of my life, starting with school, then college and under 19s, then national , then international and then back to club Rugby as I got older, slower and my bones took longer to mend.
Its not a game to play if your limbs are important for work, but it made me strong in both body and mind, and that helps on set.
Like Ron, I also drink beer. I like German Weisse beers and Kingfisher lager.
Paintball does sound like a very fun way to get rid of angry energy after a long day of listening to dreary indecisive producers and directors. Might be an idea to hang a paintball gun from the docking bracket as a fair warning .
I can also recommend a plethora of Belgian beers, Jupiler, Hoegaarden and of course the best beer in the world, Westvleteren. You're always welcome to come over and try, anyone up for drinks after IBC?
I was a gymnast for 8 years. I was also in ballet. I could never operate steadi without having this training as a child. It's body awareness, core strength, and determination. Safety is a big part of it too. I'm trying to find information on stretches, training for newbies, and vest fit. Trying to put documents together to help new people, it's hard to describe what is "good pain" and what is "bad pain." Someone either hasn't built the strength yet, or he is wearing it incorrectly, or both. I feel having some precedent is vital to understand one's body. Sports can help with that.
I've never been very persistent in any sport (other that drinking beer like most of us) but I've tried many sports, and from the ones I still practice once in a while, I would have to choose (in regards of how my operating may benefit) rock climbing. Specially when I'm training in an indoor climbing wall where you have more options to choose your moves and your tempo. You learn to control your balance when you are static and while moving. I like to climb slowly, always making sure that your body is in balance and that you are not going to swing or fall when you loose the grip on one hand or your foot. I can compare it with walking very slow with the Steadicam or stoping to a lock off after a fast move, where you need to have your body in balance and a good strength and resistance in your muscles, trying to keep always a good posture that will help you on that. I can also see resemblance when you have to rest some of your muscles while still on the wall, or carrying the rig, and you change your posture or your balance to rest those muscles just for a moment, take a deep breath and keep going.
Anyway, still not very good at neither climbing or operating so, back to the beer drinking, I would have to recommend some of my favorite spanish beers, Alhambra, made in the south, in Granada, Moritz, made in Barcelona, and Estrella Galicia. San Miguel seems to be the most popular outside our borders, but I'm not very keen.