The ultimate guide to manual like a pro (+ exercises)
Manuals are easily one of the hardest parts of skateboarding. The feeling of finally rolling away from a manual and successfully confirming in the footage you didn’t scrape can be an amazing feeling, but let’s be real, that's just a very small part of mannys. Behind the make can be 1000's of attempts and a solid amount of stress.
Luckily, there are things we can do, and after skating for 22 years, training skaters and studying the best manny skaters in the game - Daewon, Joey Brezinski & John Dilo Kroetkov - I’ve compiled a bunch of exercises and hacks you can do to improve your manny game which I'll share with you in this ultimate guide to manuals.
Manuals & the laws of the universe
So what’s actually going on when we do a manny? To the untrained eye it can look like nothing - just a two wheeled balance on a little wooden plank device; as simple as eating a jam sandwich on a summer’s day.
Well in reality, due to being stuck as a human specimen on planet earth, a manual is really a battle against the laws of the universe.
That might seem like I'm overexaggerating, but I'm actually not...
When you're in a manual your body is fighting forces from all angles to keep you balanced on two wheels. Things outside of you like gravity, friction and cracks in the ground.
And inside of you, like the pull of your muscles, momentum of your arms, etc.
Luckily though, you’ve got a bunch of bodily systems to handle these forces to keep you balanced, occasionally helping you actually land your tricks.
Getting deep into mannys
Before we get to the exercises and skate tasks to improve your manuals. Let’s break down a manny to find out what’s going on and so we know what we need to train:
1. The roll up
First off as we roll up to do our manual, we're looking away from our board and body, at the thing we're going to manual. Now vision gives you so much information on how to move your body, so when we take that away by looking in the direction we're going we have to rely much more heavily on two systems I spoke about in this video/article:
The vestibular system - a system within your inner ear that detects movement and the position of your head, and
proprioception - a full body system that detects changes in muscle length, muscle force, joint position, and joint angle. You can think of proprioception as your non-visual dectector of where your body is and how it's moving in space.
2. The weight shift
Now as we go to pop into the manual we've got some kind of weight shift, either on the same leg (e.g. manual or nollie nose manual), or from one leg to the other (e.g. nose manual or nollie manual), depending on what trick you’re doing.
Now this might sound simple, but you’d be surprised by how many people struggle with properly shifting their weight from one leg to the other, and it is a skill that's really useful to spend time developing.
3. The manual
Ok now we’re in the manny, shit’s about to get hectic.
Stabilising in a manny is a full body situation, from your arms to your feet, in all three planes of motion. As your manualling, your core acts as a block to stabilise your spine, the rest of your body, and to act as platform for your limbs to push off of.
To imagine how this works, think about shooting a cannon out of a canoe. The canoe is probably going to tip and the cannonball will likely just flop into the water. In the same way, if your core is unstable and moving around the force your limbs create as they push off it will be ineffective.
So we want our core to be stable and to resist movement - like rotation or lateral movement - as our limbs push off of it. But depending on the trick, we also want it to create these movements.
Now when we're manualing one thing you'll notice from watching the best in the game is that they move a lot like this chicken in the video below...
At least they kind of do. I say this because one key thing you notice is that they stabilise mainly from moving from the waist up in an attempt to keep things below the waist relatively still.
This kind of makes sense because, for one, your feet are stuck to your board. Second you don't have much room for movement with the position of the board if you don't want to tap or scrape. So the upper body needs to move more so the lower body doesn't have to.
Feedback loops & cracks in the ground
Ok so you've done your manual and you've rolled away, but how has all of that even happened?! Well like I said there are a load of different bodily systems - things like your musculoskeletal system (muscles, joints, & other tissues), proprioception and your nervous system - that are constantly at work whilst you're doing a manual to keep you stable.
These systems work in feedback loops meaning there's a constant flow of information between the outside and inside, influencing whether an adjustment needs to be made to keep you balanced.
Information about things like changes in forces, a crack in the ground that jerks you forward, or rotation of your body, is received from systems like your proprioceptive system, which then triggers changes in say certain muscles contracting or relaxing, a change in a joint position, etc.
Thousands of times a second information is being sent and received in a loop, between these systems from the outside and inside.
Daewon Song & the milkman
Now regardless of whether you’re Daewon Song or young Neville the milkman’s son skating for his first time, you’re dealing with the same forces.
The only difference is Daewon has become an absolute master of them, whereas Neville has no idea. Daewon has those feedback loops dialled in so much he can respond reactively to pretty much any force that comes at him in a split second, without thinking about it.
The big question is though, how do we train these systems to be on point and actually balance more in our manuals?
Well the number one thing - which you'll always here me say - is skating. You have to skate a lot, expose yourself to all these different forces and teach yourself through experience how to manual better.
That being said, there are ways we can train these systems directly with specific resistance training exercises designed for how we move when we skate. Finally there are some skate tasks and tips, which we'll get to later at the end of the article.
The exercises for better manuals
So the exercises are split up to target the different systems outlined before in the manual breakdown. Things like core control, anti-movement, weight shift and dynamic stability.
Check the table below for a list of the exercise progressions or the video at the top of this page for a demonstration of them.
Add these exercises into your current workout plan either at the beginning or end, or back to back with the other main exercises you're doing on that day.
If you don't have a workout plan, aren't sure how to progress exercises or are looking for a program that not only has exercises for manuals, but also ones for pop, resilience, endurance, longevity, a reduction in injury risk and much more, then check out the NBD skate performance program here.
Even though it can be useful to know how to stabilise your body in many different ways, during these exercises I want you to do your best to stabilise from the waist up, as if you would when you're doing an actual manual.
Imagine you have your foot stuck to your board and you can only stabilise from the waist up (check the video above for a visual breakdown of this).
The skate tasks
So whenever you're trying to improve a certain quality with resistance training exercises, you always have to combine it with skating if you want the biggest carryover. That's the purpose of these skate tasks.
These skate tasks are aimed mainly at beginners, but I think even advanced skaters might benefit from the foot position exploration task.
Check the table below for a list of the skate task progressions or the video at the top of this page for a demonstration of them.
If you're looking for some extra tips on how to nose manual, check the video above too. I go over some of the most common mistakes people face with nose manuals, and some things you can do to improve your nose manual game.
Hope you enjoyed this article, now get out there and skate!