Within the walls of the parkour gym, athletes have become more capable than ever. They’re allowed to progress quickly with a relative level of safety, able to throw double backflips into the foam pit for as long as they like before landing them on trampolines, then mats, then spring floors, then hard floors. It’s undeniable that many of our famous athletes and popular tricks wouldn’t exist for a very long time, or at all if we didn’t have access to these facilities. The value in a place where you can drill individual steps onto soft surfaces and progress as slowly or as quickly as you need to is obvious, but where does the value lie in the outside world? Why would you ever train outside when you have a readily available gym?
There are innumerable reasons to train outside. They range from the highest of heights to the smallest specks of dust, so we’ll try our best to cover the five most important.
1.Expanding Your Comfort Zone
The first of these reasons is one of the most intimidating for athletes that start in gyms. Training outside takes away the padding and guarantee of consistency and familiarity with the obstacles athletes encounter. There is uncertainty, there are observers, there’s a completely different headspace that comes with doing something outside of the norm in public space. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of your anxieties when you’re the odd one out, but this also can and should be empowering. Parkour is about overcoming obstacles both physical and mental, and one of the most effective ways to push your mentality is by doing things that make you uncomfortable in environments that can’t be completely controlled. The one thing you always have control of is your body, and training outdoors forces us to know what’s doable and what’s out of our range, which gives us more motivation to get stronger in order to increase our capabilities.
2. (Un)Limited Options
The cityscape has lots to offer in terms of nightlife, gourmet cuisine, and entertainment, but training spots can be few and far between. Sometimes it seems like the spots that we do find offer us a very limited variety of moves, however it’s more often than not a lack of creativity that holds us back in these situations. Many athletes are characterized by their ability to create intricate lines in mundane areas, popularized by videos such as “Parkour, imaginatively.”(1) This style of training forces you to practice movements that aren’t used anywhere else, which stimulates the creative parts of your brain while also training you to move in positions you wouldn’t normally try. “You should regularly challenge both your body and mind by keeping the exercises spontaneous and interesting. If you can, train and spend time in new environments and you will begin to notice new technical possibilities too, all things to keep your mind busy and your routine fresh...Do something new this week, surprise yourself with improvisation and as long as you work hard, this is a positive and productive way to train.”(2) On top of these advantages, some of the spots outside are so good that gyms can’t even replicate them, such as the massive “Dame du Lac” of Lisses(3) and the dense complexity that is Freeway Park in Seattle (pictured below).
Outside of the gym, it is very apparent how comfortable you are with your movement. You can’t move the walls around or have mats readily available just in case you bail. The ability to scale down and progress towards movements that are at the edge of your range is often heavily reduced, however it’s still possible with some know-how and creativity. This pressure testing is very good for direct assessment of how diverse your movement library is, along with demonstrating your competence and versatility within your library. Having to adapt your body to the environment instead of the environment to your body can significantly improve your parkour mastery. You can also take note of challenges you find outside and work up to them by practicing the same moves in the gym!
4.Sharpening Focus and Mindfulness
Within our gyms, there are very few things we cannot control. We control the obstacles’ positions, their surfaces, their integrity, and almost every other buildable factor. We also control the weather, the volume, the wind, the toughness of the ground, and the people themselves, who’ve agreed upon rules and regulations within the facility. Outside, however, these factors are often hard, if not impossible, to control. Walls can be dusty and slippery or break if left unchecked, rain can start without warning, a car could honk, squirrels and bugs and people can get in the way, and security can kick us out at any moment. All of these things require us to be focused on our training and feedback from our bodies while also being mindful of our surroundings. This teaches us how to listen to our bodies more intuitively and block out the unimportant stimuli, which is incredibly important in situations where we have to move quickly or with urgency, when one wrong move spells disaster.
One of the factors we don’t consider as much when we think about parkour is the people we train with. Training solo is fun and should be part of your training routine, but training with your friends creates a bond unlike any other. Parkour, by nature, is inherently cooperative. This more often than not creates a positive atmosphere in which all athletes are encouraged to push themselves and come up with challenges for the team to attempt. Outdoor training brings attention to parkour, be it from passers-by, media, or kids at the park. This brings more athletes into the parkour world and increases the awareness of the discipline, and if we nurture a positive image and good training ethics when we’re outside, we can turn parkour into an instrument for change. Community is ultimately what will make or break parkour when it comes to issues like the encroachment of the FIG, and we need a strong community now more than ever.
The list of advantages of training outdoors could go on for ages, but eventually, we have to stop thinking about it and just do it! What do you think about training outdoors? Let us know in the comments below, and come by a Philadelphia Parkour outdoor meetup! Why are you still here? Go train!!!
1. “Parkour, imaginatively.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VafIjR4o-J0)
2. “When Worlds Collide” (http://parkourgenerations.com/when-worlds-collide/)
3. Parkour Tour - Dame du Lac Climb (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4guGHYHdzk)