Never heard of Parkour? Don’t worry, neither had I. Until very recently, I had been living in the dark about this fitness phenomenon that apparently, according to various sources, has been around at least since late 2009. It wasn’t until the New York Times ran a front-page article about the practice recently that it has jettisoned more into the mass public eye. (You can read the Times piece here.)
So – what is Parkour? According to American Parkour, Parkour is “the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting to one’s movements to the environment.” Parkour requires:
“…consistent, disciplined training with an emphasis on functional strength, physical conditioning, balance, creativity, fluidity, control, precision, spatial awareness and looking beyond the traditional use of objects.”
All very mysterious indeed. But what do you actually do? Essentially the basics include running, jumping and climbing – not exactly ground breaking stuff right? Proponents argue that the activity offers a full-body workout at any level of experience and improves your ability to move, to build confidence and change how you see the world. It is also intended to improve strength, speed, agility, coordination, stamina, endurance and precision.
Parkour originated in France by a Frenchman, George Herbert, who was inspired by the athletic qualities of natives he encountered while serving in the army in Africa. He went on to develop a philosophy of physical culture he called Le Methode Naturelle (the Natural Method), which is based on the idea that humans had ten essential movement capacities to walk, run, jump, climb and move on all fours, swim, balance, lift, throw and engage in self-defence. Out of this idea, one essential element to Parkour was born – the obstacle course.
From the quaint origins of Herbert’s brain, the movement has now entered the realm of big business fitness, opening indoor gyms across the country. Arguably Parkour is now losing some of its original glean. Workouts are no longer conducted in the outside concrete jungle and in random skate parks but instead are performed in air conditioned classrooms with juice bars, private classes and other perks to boot. As the Times article points out, manufacturers of fitness gear have capitalised on the movement’s entrance into the gym sphere, cranking out custom gloves and other paraphernalia that idiot businessmen who are new-found converts can fork out more money for. All in the name of ‘getting fit.’
Should I be so negative about this, even if it is encouraging more people to exercise? America after all is the most obese country in the world. Of course any increased level of exercise is a good thing. One has to question however whether this is just simply the new fad. How quickly we forget that we don’t need $10.00 cold pressed juices and $50.00 fitness gloves to get fit and feel great. Generally a flat surface and a pair of running shoes will suffice. Along with CrossFit, SoulCycle, Fly Wheel and every other fitness class under the sun, Parkour also now seems to be following the trend of the big corporates, inducing people to exercise in artificial environments, and charging them lots of money in the process. Nothing beats the natural, outdoor environment for a challenging workout. Think about this next time you are forking out your hard-earned cash for a fad exercise class.