With some short wordy bits and also a video of my mum doing parkour for the first time.
Public Misconception of Parkour
Imagine all you had ever seen of running was the 100m sprint in the Olympics.
Parkour is a non-mainstream, not-very-well-known discipline. As such, it hasn’t been understood all too well by people in society in general. The media loves spectacle and sensation, so they portray parkour as a daredevil stunt discipline. The parkour that’s made it into film, TV, and music videos is the performance aspect, where people are doing things to look impressive. Parkour videos put out onto the internet are often self-selected by people who want to show off what they’re doing, so there are many parts of parkour that don’t get shared as often. Not only do we not see all of the “behind the scenes” training of all of the people in the videos, but we don’t see anything who don’t make the cool videos, and there are many people who don’t make many videos.
This isn’t what parkour really is though, this is just one aspect of it.
Kinda similar to if all we had ever seen of running was the 100m sprint in the Olympics; that’s just one side to running.
Anyone can do parkour…
… the same way that anyone can dance. Or that anyone can run.
With the phrase, “I can dance”, there are two meanings (at least). One is saying, “I am skilled at dancing”, the other is saying, “I can flail my body around to music” (the second one is more me). The latter one is
more important: dancing is good whether you are skilful or not. That’s the one I mean here, saying that anyone can do parkour.
Parkour is a style of training, a way of thinking about and moving about the environment; more the mindset and ideas than the movements themselves. It really grates when someone describes somebody as being
“good at parkour”: are they trying hard and having fun? Because that’s what’s important.
It’s happened many times that when I mention parkour or invite somebody to come and try it out in a session, they reply saying, “Oh no, I’m not very good at that, my coordination and balance are
rubbish and I’m scared of heights.” That’s not the point: you don’t come along to do some parkour to show off how good you are. If you invite me out clubbing, I don’t turn it down on the grounds that I look silly when I dance. We go to parkour to move and exercise and play in a certain way, because it’s fun, because it’s good for us, etc; not because we’re good at it.
People don’t start lifting weights because they are already strong; they start lifting weights to get stronger. People don’t start school because they’re clever; they start school because they want to learn. Parkour is the same. In fact, parkour is probably especially good for you if you think you aren’t strong, or confident, or don’t have good coordination. These are all useful attributes, and parkour training is a good way to build on them.
Everyone should do parkour
Parkour is the same as the way children move. Children naturally explore their environment, climbing onto things, jumping off things, testing what they can and can’t do. I’ve had so many moments where I’ve seen a five-year-old climb up on top of a wall, then spend awhile stood on top looking down at the ground trying to decide if it’s too high for them, and then jumping down. Or a two-year-old toddling around by a tree, who doesn’t notice the root beneath his feet, which lands him back on his bum (he’s fine, but can’t see his mum, so cries to get her attention, and she comes over and drags him away and shouts at him. How sad.). The same way animals play-fight to learn how to real-fight and how to use their bodies. We likely all explored our environments when we were younger, until we ‘grew up’ and were told that that was childish or dangerous.
We all did ‘parkour’ once, and we can all still do it now.
‘Parkour’ is about keeping a base of all-round useful movement. Trying to be a generalist, not a specialist. Whereas today sport is streamed into a specialism – fast running, distance running, moving a ball with your feet – parkour is trying to keep some of the all-rounded stuff. It doesn’t include everything, but it includes a lot more than most things.
For reasons coming shortly, we should keep doing lots of this sort of exercise not just because it is fun and
The benefits of parkour
As I mention in the post Jogging is a Waste of Time, there are loads of different aspects of ‘fitness’. ‘Fitness’ isn’t about looking good, making sure that our guys are skinny and our girls are hench, about burning calories to make up for an unhealthy lifestyle. Fitness is about being able to use your body. And it’s use it or lose it: if you allow yourself to slip into the sedentary lifestyle that’s so prevalent in our culture, then when you get to forty you’ll have that ‘beer belly’ or ‘spare tyre’, when you get to sixty you’ll be walking with a waddle as your hip joints don’t work properly anymore, and then you’ll be very fragile and lose your ability to walk altogether. Yes, that’s far in the future, but you’re already on the path that takes you there.
Getting on a treadmill or exercise bike, doing a bit of yogalates, that’s all very good – sincerely, these are both good things. But that’s only part of it, and if that’s all of the movement you do then you’re missing out.
Parkour training has a wide variety. Your whole body gets used, unlike in jogging and cycling where it’s just your legs in one particular motion, and it gets used in lots of different ways. Jumping, swinging, climbing, hanging, rolling, vaulting, crawling. Short bursts of power, longer periods of stamina, doing something as big as you can, or small and intricate movements. And the mental aspect, focus and coordination and confidence and facingfear.
Our bodies should have strong muscles. This doesn’t mean looking big, this means having lean muscle mass. (Girls, don’t worry, you won’t end up looking hench unless you try to, this will just make you look toned.) Some studies have LINK shown that the amount of lean muscle mass are a strong predictor of how well your body will age. Your core should be strong to look after your spine as you age, so you can stand tall instead of hunch.
Your joints need to be functional. If you don’t use them, they become weak. We aren’t meant to be having knee and hip operations when we get older. You don’t want to hurt your wrist when you fall over. You ought to use your body in a variety of ways to keep these functional. Crawling on the ground, climbing over walls, hanging from things, etc.
Flexibility, coordination, movement patterns, all of these ought hopefully be worked in parkour. Coordination definitely, if we’re doing the variety of movements round different things that we ought train. Flexibility is admittedly not so central to the parkour training, though using your body will be good for it, maybe not as much as some specific training like yoga. And some movement patterns ought maybe be better learned following someone like Kelly Starret or Ido Portal, learning particular patterns of movement. These are part of everyday life: how you stand and walk and sit, how you carry shopping, how to fall over without hurting yourself. Doing a pilates session each week can only do so much if you spent eight hours a day slouched in a chair.
So parkour training has lots to offer that is beneficial to our body that other disciplines don’t work as much.
Some examples of less-seen parkour training.
There are loads of videos out there of people doing big jumps and flips; here are some alternatives.
Last week I went out to do an introductory parkour session with a 48-year-old woman who hadn’t done parkour. She eats healthily, but isn’t particularly strong or fit, going to some exercise classes at the gym and doing long distance walks. So I took my mum out to try parkour for the first time, running it as a 1:1 coached session. Here’s the video, which is hopefully meant to show the variety of things that we did. Some of these things, like the wall climb, she initially saw and thought would not be possible for her, but I she
soon learned otherwise. There’s also meant to show some progression, in how she gets more comfortable jumping onto higher things, how her movements get more smooth as she practices them, and how she learns one method of vaulting over a rail.
Ok, great, that’s just one example. But there are loads.
This video shows a combined parkour/yoga/dance session run for people
aged 60+. It’s fantastic.
And here are a couple of videos of less-able (because the word “disabled” is a horrible word) people doing parkour.
This practitioner has cerebal Palsy:
This guy is one-handed:
Parkour really is for anyone, and everyone should do it.