Non-training, or Why I Haven’t Been to a Jam in Months

Written by Daniel Hines
Published on Sunday, 02 August 2009

There was a post on PK Gen’s blog that caught my eye entitled “Improving through Non-training.”

The author, Johann Virgroux, talks about how he was so in love with parkour, he trained everyday for years…until of course he injured himself and had to stop training. When he recovered, he viewed training differently, and realized that if he trained safely and intelligently, he could improve his strength and technique without injury. Because of intelligent training, he’s improved more in the past 2 years than in his first years of training. He recognized that strength improves technique even with out practicing technique. He calls this non-training.

The fact is that most traceurs run into some form of injury during their career. Many people, including myself at times, cite that David Belle has never been seriously injured because of parkour, but maybe that’s because David Belle was ridiculously fit before he started, and had to learn parkour over the course of years, not in the course of an hour on youtube. The reason I haven’t been to jam/conditioning session/anything parkour related in months is when I did, my knees would flare up with tendonitis, I would constantly be sore, and I wouldn’t make much progress. I know this because since I began my parkour journey a year and a half ago, I go through cycles of getting psyched up, training real hard, developing some sort of pain, and then disappearing for a while. Well, I’m fed up with various aches and pains, and I’m disappearing for a long while. A very long while. But I have a reason…

About the same time I had to stop training because of knee and elbow pain, Andrew So made a post on the forum about gymnasticbodies.com. Run by renowned gymnastics coach, Christopher Sommer, the site is dedicating to bringing the methods of gymnastic strength training to the non-gymnast. I also discovered Tom Kurz, the world’s expert on flexibility, and author of numerous books on sports training. After reading his books, it was very clear why I was always getting injured: I was training like an idiot! From both these experts, I’ve learned several things. I learned that intelligent training means preparation. I learned that pain is usually caused by either a lack of strength or flexibility, usually both (by flexibility I do not mean just stretching). I also learned that if I can’t support my bodyweight in a gym, there’s no way I can do it safely in parkour.

If you treat parkour like any other sport, you can break it down into its various components. In parkour, the name of the game is strength and speed. The most important ability is to run fast. There are lots of heavy impacts on the legs and sometimes on the arms. There are many instances where the athlete’s supported by or explosively pushing with their arms. There are a relatively small number of skills (compared to something like martial arts or gymnastics), and it’s mainly about the speed or amplitude with which they’re performed.

From this, one can devised a rational training progression. A principle of sports training discussed in the Science of Sports training by Thomas Kurz is the progression from general to specific. For a beginner, any kind of strengthening would greatly improve performance, but the more advanced the athlete, the less the effect of general strength training. Adhering to this principle, one should start with general exercises that can be completely unrelated to parkour, and slowly advance to more specific exercises.

So what does that look like for me? First on the list is developing basic leg, core and arm strength through bodyweight exercises. Lucky for me, Christopher Sommer wrote a whole book on that, entitled Building the Gymnastic Body. Once I’ve developed a reasonable degree of basic strength, including the ability to back squat around 1.5x my body weight and a mastery of the planche, front lever, etc, it’s time to add explosive and reactive strength training and plyometrics. Of course, the whole time I’ll be doing various different kinds of joint preparation and flexibility work. When I can do all this with relative ease, only then will I begin parkour specific training.

Yes, I know, that’s a lot. It might be overkill, which is all right because sometimes training is training. If nothing else, my training will be an experiment in how to condition for parkour. I’ll be sharing various methods I come across, as well as the results of my experiment, so NCPK can judge for itself if my grand experiment in conditioning yields any useful results.

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