I jumped into the air, placing my hands onto the small concrete wall and pushing my legs in between my arms, letting go once my feet hit the floor again. Getting up quickly, I hopped onto a small cylinder next to the opposite side of the wall and cleared it in one large bound. Nice, but I wasn’t finished yet. There was one more thing left to do. I climbed up to the top of the playground structure. The dreaded leap had defeated me once before; this time I was searching for redemption. I got on top, leaped off and landed, turning it into a dive roll. Was I practicing for a role in James Bond’s latest action thriller? Not at all. And no, I’m not an escapee from Kings County Medical Center. I’m doing parkour.
What’s parkour? It’s the physical discipline of training to overcome anything within one’s path by adapting to the environment you’re in. Combining running, jumping, vaulting, balancing and climbing into fun aerobatic workouts, it can be performed anywhere. Parkour promotes values such as freedom of spirit, non-competitiveness and self-control. Basically, it’s what you did that time you set the record for climbing the school jungle gym in 20 seconds. Parkour is an inner-city phenomenon, originating in France and becoming a worldwide sensation by the 1980s. Popular in playgrounds and parks, it may just be the perfect cheap, easy way to lose weight and get in shape.
Especially in Harlem. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, obesity and overweight are common in people of all ages in East and Central Harlem:§ More than 1 in 4 children in Head Start programs and public elementary schools is obese, and more than 4 in 10 are overweight or obese. § Nearly 1 in 3 public high school students is overweight or obese. § More than 1 in 4 adults is obese, and 6 in 10 are overweight or obese.
Physical activity is a sure-fire remedy for counteracting obesity. Adults and kids could push off pounds by walking and going to the Y (*cough, boring, cough*). Or playing sports—if fields and courts and organized teams, and time and money to participate—weren’t so hard to come by. Instead, why not replace that daily 3pm visit to the corner store for a Pepsi with a fun workout that doesn’t require a gym membership at all?
What’s the biggest health benefit, according to Eric McLean, a 19-year old traceur (the official terminology for a person who practices parkour)? “Personally, I’d say cardio, because you’re running constantly,” the Brooklyn native began. “That helps with your six pack, eight pack, whatever you want to call it. It’s a great way to use and gain muscle.” Mclean, who’s been a traceur since last November, frequently practices his movements at Columbus Park in Downtown Manhattan, the same place I currently use for practice as a traceur-in-training.
But can anybody do parkour? “Yeah, anyone can, given enough time,” Mclean continued. “You just have to be willing to learn.” Still, you might want to hold off diving from your apartment building. Parkour is a great way to combine cardiovascular and muscle conditioning, but jumping headfirst without taking basic steps first is a great way to crack it open. John Anthony Gonzalez, 19, another traceur who practices with Mclean, warns that injuries in the sport are common. “Along the way (while training), we got hurt, but that’s the whole point of it. You can’t get scared. Even professionals on TV, they get injured all the time.”
To that end, here are tips to get going:
§ Start small. Set up a goal or plan and stick to it at least three hours per week.
§ For precisions (jumping), don’t practice with objects taller than your chest height. The same goes for kongs (diving over obstacles) and vaults (jumping over obstacles while putting weight on your hands).
§ As you get better, slowly increase the height of the obstacles you practice on.
§ Make sure you always land on the balls of your feet. This helps maintain physical control, and also decreases stress and tension on your joints.
The number of things you can do is virtually endless. Scaling a small, non-spiky gate; jumping from a playground ladder onto a set of rungs; ricocheting from a horizontal pole on a mini-construction site onto a stoop. Whatever you can think of! Confidence is key in parkour. Never perform a move if you’re not 100% sure about it. That’s a recipe for disaster. Know what you’re going to do before you do it. Most importantly though, have fun! Remember, you’re not competing against people. You’re all working together to have a good time. So get off your computer and start training right now!Check out http://americanparkour.com/com for more information on how you can get started today