Training for parkour or freerunning develops one’s abilities and ultimately improves them. However; as the evolution of parkour has developed, some aspects of the practice are being overlooked in favour of ‘progression’.
Is parkour being put into a box?
Speaking generally, there is often a lot of snobbery in the training community about ‘how much’ or ‘how hard’ or ‘how often’ one trains. Some of the more conditioning focused groups and practitioners often openly make this notion that ‘building ability’, is a core aspect of training. Going too far down the path of the conditioning route can run the risk of destroying what makes parkour special. By developing an attitude that someone has to train repetitive, boring movements over and over to develop them, the creative parts of the art are suppressed.
Let’s face it: nobody truly trains for the primary purpose of being strong to be useful. If people really wanted to be useful, they’d be volunteering as police officers, not doing pushups in a council estate. So we’re just left with people being strong, which is of course a better alternative than keeping your beer gut, but it’s hardly a noble calling. The other phrase ‘to be and to last’ makes more sense, arguing that chasing fitness will keep you training into your 60s or 70s, but by then will be on the downhill slope as your abilities slowly decrease as age sets in anyway. Conditioning is a good thing, but keeping your eye on your goal is important. If you want to be skilled at parkour, make sure to train parkour more than you condition.
Let’s not get into the whole ‘what is parkour/freerunning’ debate here, but when you consider it, the parkour-related benefits of 100 press ups are less useful than training an unorthodox technique 10 times. Training movements on the opposite side, strange precisions or climb ups to odd surfaces, etc. will ultimately produce a much more well rounded practitioner than being a pure physical specimen.
The above video shows Scott Jackson practicing movements on both sides. And while he isn’t necessarily training very hard, he is training things to which he is not accustomed. The idea that training incredibly hard all day every day will result in more progression than training intelligently is unfounded and ignorant. It’s like running marathons to train sprinting; after a certain amount of training your technique will degrade and then you’re just practicing bad form, which is worse than not training at all. Parkour is an explosive, anaerobic activity and doing hundreds and hundreds of pushups is training the wrong type of strength compared to Olympic weightlifting or plyometric exercises.
Similarly, training parkour too much in general also falls into the trap of ‘progression’. Some traceurs can get frustrated when they find themselves unable to break a technical or mental barrier with training, and the community as a whole can fall into the trap of the ‘next biggest jump’. All too often the bulk of a parkour video is a series of catpass variations or precisions with frontflips after the landing. It seems the notion that this is some of the best movement to display or practice is also quite strange. Movements themselves fall in and out of fashion; when was the last time you saw a wallspin in a video? It seemed like reverse vaults were almost ignored until GUP started showing them again. Sticking too close to the tried and tested parkour techniques is as bad as spending too much time conditioning. Go find a tree that looks like it’s impossible to climb, then do your best to climb it. Do a catpass backwards. Try a one-armed armjump. Parkour gives you the ability to play with the world through movement, so don’t be hemmed in by the tried and tested methods. Taking parkour too seriously is a self defeating exercise.
In this video we see Teg’s parody of parkour training, where as you can see, rail strides and laches really aren’t useful in a true ‘reach/escape’ situation. When truly moving with speed, a lot of the precision and technical aspects of movement go out the window in favour of urgency. Not only does this video show that the vast majority of the parkour movements hardly benefit someone in a true ‘run away’ situation, it also looks like it was a lot of fun to participate in. There is a joke around the London parkour scene that en masse games of manhunt essentially devolve into ‘height drops’ because it’s the fastest way to escape someone. People train the other parkour techniques for the same reason gymnasts train, mastery of physical skillsets, not so you might be able to escape a tiger one day.
Furthermore, the idea that there is a certain amount of training that someone should be doing in general is absurd. Some people may never train more than once a month, but that’s absolutely acceptable and they’re as much a traceur as someone who trains everyday. A relationship someone has with parkour is their own, and there is no ‘ideal’ training format. For some it may only ever be a hobby, and for some it could turn into a career. Both are equally valid options, and parkour skill has no relation to a person’s status. Judging people by their physical abilities will put you in a very bad place mentally. Some people will never achieve a high level of parkour, but it really doesn’t matter! We’re not saving lives here.
The general attitude that people who train less should be ‘training more’ is outright wrong. As a simple example, Guy Lawrence of the old parkour team ‘Sin Clan’ is no longer significantly active in parkour, but his band ‘Disclosure’ just gone platinum on his record ‘Latch’. Do what you enjoy to find success, and parkour might not be with you forever.
Parkour is not the be all and end all, and for some it is just a stepping stone.
The core aspect to focus on here is the key reason for why someone trains. Having a love for movement and finding parkour training fun is far more important than any kind of supposed progression that someone is ‘supposed’ to be achieving. So the next time you catch someone or yourself talking down about people who ‘don’t train hard enough’, stop judging them and remember that parkour is not some kind of ‘true way’. It’s just a method of using your body, and any pseudo-spiritual output you get from that is something you have created yourself. The kind of eye-opening sensation and passion that parkour can bring to one’s life can be achieved through numerous practices, be it making music, painting, or even cooking.
Its important to remember that ultimately all our physical progress will be lost, our bodies will age and all we will have is memories. It is important to have fun with parkour instead of chasing endless progression, because life should be fun, and enjoying yourself through parkour should always be the end goal.
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Article and featured image by Scott Bass