The Importance of Conditioning

April 3, 2013 in Articles by indianparkourassociation


I’m new to this parkour thing. Looks cool.

Yes, we log on to youtube and type in “parkour”. We get freakin’ awesome videos of insane stunts like huge twist flips, 15 feet drops onto concrete, etc. We see that the people doing it are not professional stuntmen but people very similar to ourselves. So parkour is THE kickass sport, full of fun and excitement, we’ve been looking for, right?

Sadly, no. Parkour is not all about the fun stuff we see on youtube. There is lot of hard-work behind that. (By the way, half of what you see on youtube is not even parkour. But that’s another article - Difference Between Parkour and Freerunning). What I’ve focussed on in this article is applicable to both parkour and freerunning. So, even if you do not know the difference between parkour and freerunning, this article is still relevant for you.

What is this article about, anyway?

This article is about the importance of conditioning in parkour.

Condition: v. Train to become used to something or behave in a certain way.

Conditioning involves intensive exercises and fitness training over long periods of time. Conditioning includes many elements of bodybuilding like weight training, but its objective in parkour is to obtain functional strength rather than rippling, visually appealing muscles. The focus is shifted from working on individual muscles to compound muscle groups.

That sounds pretty boring, dude. How can you even compare an elegant cat leap-to-precision with the horrible abs-crunches and squats? Just look at the beautiful kong-to-cat and how does that even live up to monotonous barbell-lifting?

This is precisely what beginners think. But what you do not realise is that behind every precision on youtube, there are 500 squats. Behind every cat leap, lie 500 rows. And that, every laché or wall-run is a result of 500 pull-ups and 500 push-ups.

I can do a kong and manage to pull off a 6 feet precision, so ain’t I already conditioned?

The answer is – No. There exists something known as Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). For a moment, let us forget about the physically intense activity of parkour. Let me ask you – “Can you type?”. You must be laughing – “Type? Of course I can type, moron. I typed the URL in my browser to get to this page.” Okay, so you can type. So can everyone else. But, just google the term “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)”, you will realise what point I am trying to make. In short, CTS is a type of RSI, that affects (acute pain) the fingers, mostly due to long hours of continuous typing, a seemingly harmless activity. So, if typing can injure you, parkour, without proper conditioning, certainly will. David Belle has trained for 18 years, he still has no pain in his knees, elbows or anywhere for that matter. Whereas today, we have people, who call themselves traceurs, going for knee replacement surgeries barely 3 years into training.

Okay, so how do I go about this Conditioning?

This article focuses on WHY to condition, not HOW. For the HOW’s, I have included a list of links to trusted articles on conditioning at the end. Just so that you don’t get confused, there are two types of conditioning -

  • Méthode Naturelle (Using natural methods)
  • Progressive Resistance Training (Using weights and equipment in a gymnasium)One may follow any one or both methods to condition.

Why do you care if I condition or not? I don’t want to do that boring stuff. I just wanna go jump, jump, jump…

I care because, if you are traceur (a real and dedicated traceur), then I am a brother.

But, if you don’t want to condition, I can’t (and won’t) force you to. But, when you get your ligaments torn to bits, and your tendons inflamed, do not dare tell the doctor you were doing Parkour. Because you were not. What you were doing was not parkour, but jumping around recklessly. I’m not scared that you may die. I’m scared that you will give parkour a bad name. You will give a bad name to all the sensible and responsible traceurs out there, who are actually practicing parkour. A layman has not seen a real traceur conditioning in a gym. To him, that traceur and you are doing the same thing. Even if you call it by a different name, to that man, it appeared as Parkour.

But there must be some reason I can do vaults, without ever doing even an hour of conditioning in my entire life?

Well, the human body is designed to not disintegrate on small impacts. But that does not mean that it is designed to withstand drop after drop, impact after impact regularly. Conditioning is what makes it ready for that.

Okay, so what do I do? Give up all the fun and start conditioning?

Not exactly. Conditioning does not mean you give up the fun. It makes your body ready for the fun.

For first timers, you should specifically condition for parkour for:

  • At least a month, if you’ve been involved in some sport/martial art before. (Occasional football at school, or evening cricket matches with friends in the neighbouring playground doesn’t count as being “involved in some sport/martial art”.) What “involved” means is taking up a sport (probably under a coach) and undergoing regular and supervised workouts and fitness training, other than the sport drills.
  • At least 2½ months, if you’ve never been into any such activity. Only then, you can start training vaults and techniques while simultaneously continuing the condtioning exercises in a 90-10 ratio- 90% conditioning, 10% technique. By 6 months, you can gradually drop to a 70-30 ratio of conditioning to technique. By the end of the 1st year, you need to keep at least 60-40 ratio. At the end of your second year of training, you can cut it down to 50-50, or at the most 40-60. And that (40% conditioning – 60% technique) is the ratio you essentially have to maintain throughout your life, or for as long as you wish to train.

This may seem pretty heavy, but think about this: When the Yamakasi (one of the of the early, original traceur groups) took new recruits under their wing, the recruits had to undergo intensive conditioning for one complete year before moving on to techniques. And during that time, if they were caught doing a single, unsupervised technical jump, they were immediately banned from the group, indefinitely.

You see, conditioning is like pregnancy. You cannot say – “I’m Barack Obama‘s wife. Make me have my baby in 4 months.” It’s simply not possible. If it’s 9 months, it’s 9 months. Doesn’t matter who you are. Same is with conditioning. You have to put in the time and effort, no matter what.

Now get your shoes out and start training.

Train safe.

 - K9 on Mar 9, 2010