Parkour: How and Why to Incorporate Free Running into Your Workouts
From computer games like the Assassin’s Creed series to television programs like Ninja Warrior, free running – also known as “parkour” is everywhere you look.
The sport, the practice, the art, whatever you want to call it, has been popularly defined as “getting from point A to point B in the most creative way possible.” When done irresponsibly, it’s silly, illegal, and dangerous. When done responsibly, it’s a hell of a full body resistance workout.
Why is Parkour Such a Good Workout?
The best way to talk about parkour as a workout is to break it into its most constituent activities: running, jumping, and climbing.
Running is an exercise that is too often edged out of the bodybuilders workout schedule. While it does build and tone some muscle – particularly in the legs and lower body – it’s more of a calorie burning exercise.
That is, if you only think about your body in terms of muscle and fat. Which you shouldn’t. You have organs too.
Running is a cardiopulmonary exercise, meaning that it’s great for your heart and lungs. Sure, throwing weights around is good for your heart and lungs too – particularly your heart – but exercises like running should be a part of a well-rounded workout routine.
If you insist on pumping up your muscles, you can always add weights to your ankles and wrists to add resistance. Maybe try that during a standard jog. It’s probably not a good idea to try doing parkour with weights on.
We don’t think of jumping as an exercise often enough, even though we think of squats all the time, which is unfortunate. A good full jump incorporates the calf muscles in the lower legs, as well as the larger muscles of the upper legs and even the lower core. A good jump is like a squat, combined with a calf raise.
But, it gets better. A jump isn’t just an exercise for more of the body, it’s a more intense exercise. When you do a squat or a calf raise, your muscles are essentially meeting the challenge that gravity is constantly exerting on your body. However, when you jump, your muscles have to suddenly and dramatically overcome the force of gravity.
As was the case with running, you can increase the resistance in jumping exercises by adding weights, perhaps even with a weight vest. But again, maybe leave those weights at home if you actually try free running.
Finally, climbing. If you’ve ever been rock climbing or had access to a rock wall, you know what a great workout it can be. What’s even better is that climbing is great exercise for a whole lot of muscles that can be difficult to target otherwise.
Most workout guides ignore the forearm muscles, some with the justification that these muscles are incorporated in all weight lifting. These muscles, which are related to grip strength, are passively involved in weight lifting in that they grasp the weights. But, that’s hardly a workout. Particularly compared with their involvement in a dynamic exercise like climbing or parkour.
How to Get into Parkour
Now that we have a working understanding of what parkour is and why it’s worth a slice of your workout time, how do you even start?
That’s a fair question. The two models that we see most often are free running through communities and having access to professional-grade obstacle courses. Neither of these models are recommended for the average individual.
Free running through communities can be dangerous and often relies on trespassing. As for building your own obstacle course – it’s legal and safer but is only practical if you have the space and the means.
For the rest of us, we have to really use that creativity that is part of the parkour definition that we started out with. Consider looking at places meant for play but looking at them more creatively.
The jumps, rails, and bowls of a skate park can make a great parkour course – a “parcourse,” if you will. Of course, common courtesy is to only do this when there aren’t skaters using the park for its intended purpose.
Many skateparks assume younger users and so keep shorter hours. It may be worth approaching your local government to ask if an hour or two before or after the park normally closes could be used for more general purposes.
You might see if a local crossfit organization is willing to help pay for the upkeep of the park in exchange. Maybe start a campaign with the slogan “our park for parkour” – just a thought.
A similar situation is that of playgrounds and fixtures at parks. Where else do grownups have access to things like hand-over-hand bars?
Many of the same considerations regarding accessibility and hours of operation that we discussed with regard to skate parks are also true of other play areas. However, play areas have another significant risk, namely durability.
These days, many playground fixtures are made of plastics – and recycled plastics at that! The result is that use by someone drastically over the weight class of the average grade school student risks damaging the equipment and, more than that, damaging themselves in the process.
Whether you try out parkour in your community, on your own course, or at one of the alternative
options that we suggested, the same safety guidelines that we often recommend are in place:
- Talk to your doctor before starting if you have health concerns
- Learn from experts when you can
- Take it slow when you’re learning something new
- If something doesn’t feel right, don’t to it
- If something hurts, take a break
- Work out with a buddy.
This site has already talked about the benefits of working out with a buddy. However, that’s doubly true for parkour. You have the run-of-the-mill risks like pulling something but if you get carried away with some stunt you could seriously injure yourself.
For most of us, parkour isn’t going to be like we see in the films – and it shouldn’t be like we see it on most YouTube channels. However, it can be a super effective, super fun full body workout.