Training the brain to push the body beyond its limits

    Parkour instructor Dan Edwardes take a spectacular leap in Tokyo.

    Story highlights

    • Sports scientists researching how the brain limits physical performance
    • Research shows the higher an athlete's perception of effort, the closer it brings them to exhaustion
    • Mental training could boost performance, say experts

    Vital Signs is a monthly program bringing viewers health stories from around the world.

    London (CNN)"You fear things because some part of you knows you can do them, and may therefore attempt them" -- Dan Edwardes

    As the founder and director of Parkour Generations, Dan Edwardes rarely stops attempting things that would scare most people.
      Parkour, the "martial art of movement," involves navigating the urban environment with physics-defying feats, from wall-running to flips and scarcely credible jumps, and Edwardes is among the leading exponents.
      Rather than physical prowess, Edwardes puts fear at the heart of the discipline. He reasons that Parkour athletes cannot hope to perform experimental gymnastics over sheer drops without learning to control their fear. If they can, it unlocks a world of possibilities.
      "Our natural limits are much further back than people think," says Edwardes. "The main barrier is perception of what we think we can or can't do. Parkour makes you face that fear.
      "When I first saw people doing it, I thought 'that's not humanly possible.' But I quickly realized it was well within human capability, and I know now we are capable of much more."
      Edwardes has refined methods of psychological and physical preparation to help students work through fear, which he will discuss as a speaker at the Extreme Medicine Expo in London next week.
      "Breaking the Jump" is a five-step guide to making a leap of faith.
      First comes awareness of and interest in a challenge -- "the call of the jump" -- then assessing the specific conditions of a site, then through visualization techniques and rituals at the onset of fear and adrenaline, before the jump itself.