The sport of parkour, or free running is pretty straightforward: Move from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. The trick is that point A and point B might be separated by walls, drop-offs, trees, and other obstacles, requiring athletes to jump, scale, balance and crawl to close the distance. And if you’ve ever seen the sport in action (or on a YouTube video), you know that the best athletes look like some sort of a hybrid between Spider-Man and Superman.
I’ve always just assumed that free running was developed by some sort of crazy trial and error – that one guy might say to another guy, “Hey man, I dare you to try this.” and if he didn’t die, more people would try it, then they’d all just sort of share tips. And I guess that’s really how any sport or activity starts, but it never dawned on me that there might be actual parkour gyms around that teach you how to tackle skills safely and effectively. Well, there are. And I went to one.
And it was awesome.
And I was terrible.
I won’t go into all of the details about my actual parkour experience at BAM Academy in Austin, TX. If you want to learn more about that, you can check out my post on About.com, but I will give you the lowdown on why this workout’s so awesome and why everyone should try it.
1. Improves health-related fitness
Health-related fitness encompasses the areas of muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and body composition. After one parkour workout, I can attest without question that free running enhances all areas of health-related fitness. From my warm up to my skill sessions, I found myself running, jumping, squatting, pulling, pushing, bending and twisting. These are incredibly functional movements that require a person to develop greater strength, endurance and flexibility in order to improve. I found myself breathing hard and my muscles burning, but because I was having so much fun, I kept on pushing, even when my legs felt like giving out.
2. Enhances skill-related fitness
Skill-related fitness differs from health-related fitness in that certain skills and abilities aren’t necessarily required for day-to-day health, but their development is still beneficial. Skill-related fitness includes agility, balance, power, speed, coordination and reaction time. Because parkour requires you to jump, climb, dodge, and balance your way through obstacles as quickly as you can, the exercises you perform during a class help you develop all areas of skill-related fitness. For instance, during my class I worked on balancing on rails, vaulting over ledges and safely executing a parkour roll… not to mention the conditioning portion of the class that included bounding, running, hopping and other drills to improve power and speed.
3. Builds core strength
Maintaining a strong core is essential for everything you do. A strong core helps protect you from lower back injuries; it helps you bend and twist, transferring power and strength across your body and along diagonal lines to make movement possible.
The stronger your core, the better your skill-related fitness becomes because developing strong hips, abs and back makes quick and powerful movements possible. This type of strength also makes it easier to maintain balance and coordination because when you’re thrown off balance, a strong core can help “pull you back” to center.
Not only did my parkour class include core-strengthening exercises, such as planks, but every exercise performed required core engagement. Leaving class, I knew I’d feel sore, especially in my “trouble zone,” my low back. But it wasn’t the bad kind of sore – it was the good kind of sore. The exercises I performed challenged my core without pushing my low back past its breaking point.
4. Sharpens mental focus
I was surprised how mentally exhausted I became in a relatively short period of time. While I was working hard physically, it became clear that each new skill required so much focus, that I was becoming physically tired due to the mental effort. Now, this can be rue of any new sport or activity. I can attest that my first attempt to snowboard resulted in a similar mental tiredness, but I can also see how a sport like parkour would continue requiring a sharp mental focus due to the “risky” nature of the activities being performed. Unlike during a run, where it might be possible to “zone out” and think about other things, you can’t do that during parkour. If you were to zone out while jumping off a building or climbing a tree, you could end up seriously injured.
Parkour also requires you to think and make adjustments on the fly. If you’re trying to get from point A to point B, and you don’t know what the obstacles are between the two points, you have to be ready to react and respond at a moment’s notice to effectively overcome any barriers.
5. Strengthens bone density
Like other pounding, high-impact sports, parkour is a great option for bone-building activity. You incorporate lower-body bone-builders, such as running, jumping and squatting, with upper-body bone-builders, such as pushups and plyometrics, to achieve the perfect full-body bone-building workout.
6. Develops confidence
Is there any better feeling than successfully performing a skill for the first time? In a sport like parkour, where every skill seems brand new, I had lots of opportunities to say, “Yes! I did it!”
Achieving success, or almost achieving success, is an incredible motivator and confidence-builder. At one point I was getting frustrated with the parkour roll, but the instant I did one almost right, my instructor exclaimed, “Yes! That’s it – just like that, but move a little faster. Let’s do it again to get it solidified in your brain,” and I was ready to keep at it.
Whenever you put yourself in a position to experience many small successes, you’ll be more inclined to stay motivated and keep at it. Parkour is a sport that gives you the chance to experience many small successes.