PARKOUR Mythbusting with Urban Evolution Alexandria

PARKOUR Mythbusting with Urban Evolution Alexandria

A wall can transform from an ‘obstacle’ to an ‘access point,’ and this mind-shift transfers to other aspects of your life. - Bill Wotowiec

Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography Courtesy of Urban Evolution

Featuring: Urban Evolution

Leaping tall walls, soaring through the air on a death-defying jump, twisting through a backflip…

Sounds like the moves of a stuntman, but those are all aspects of a training concept called parkour, a discipline that was initially adapted from a military training program devised by French naval officer Georges Hébert in the early 1900s. But even Hébert’s development of the methodology wasn’t truly original. In fact, similarities can be seen in the athletic traditions and disciplines of various indigenous tribes in Africa as well as in the practices of ancient Chinese martial arts.

As it made its way to western Europe through Hébert’s program, the training “environment” became far more urban and much less natural. It evolved further over time. By the 1990s, a Frenchman named David Bell created a training method that involved various combinations of running, climbing, vaulting, jumping, plyometrics, rolling, gymnastics and quadrupedal movement to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently without assisting equipment. Called le parcours du combatant—“the obstacle course”—it later became known simply as parkour.

With all the various fitness and sports crazes that have come into and gone out of vogue, parkour has created a strong worldwide following—as well as some controversy. As athletically challenging as it is, parkour is often not considered a “sport” and is even unwelcome in certain areas. “To some people, parkour is disruptive, destructive and disorderly because they see a group of people doing something they view as destructive and mislabel it as ‘parkour,’ or they see something they don’t like and don't take the time to understand it,” explains Harry Sprinkles, parkour department head at Urban Evolution, a Mindshift Gym.

“Others may not view parkour as a sport because they only see the big, flashy techniques that parkour practitioners pull off, like doing a backflip or jumping a death-defying distance across a tall wall, and not consider all of the training it took to accomplish,” he goes on. “A ‘simple’ jump across two different walls could have taken that person a day and a half to master, but an onlooker may not see all of the time and energy put into practicing that jump and the progressions toward it.”

Naysayers may say what they will, but the full-body engagement required in parkour make it an undeniably incredible workout, one that involves every muscle group in addition to exercising the brain. “If you train right, it’s a comprehensive workout no matter what you're doing,” says Sprinkles. “Even the simplest jump will have you not just using your legs, but also your arms, core, ankles and back, which is something that some other sports don't offer. Additionally, you gain greater coordination, bodyweight strength, cardiovascular endurance, a deeper understanding of your outside world and an increased ability to problem solve and critically think about your surroundings.”

Urban Evolution a MindShift gym owner Bill Wotowiec would agree. “Parkour helps your brain fitness as well as your physical fitness by changing the way you look at the environment. A wall can transform from an ‘obstacle’ to an ‘access point,’ and this mind-shift transfers to other aspects of your life.”

The challenge here isn’t just your own physical condition—it's also the conditions you’re training in, not to mention the whole concept of mind over matter. “The different styles and types of objects one has to deal with in their training world like wood, concrete and rails are challenges in themselves, but added to those are the challenges of finding and breaking your own limits,” Sprinkles says.

According to Sprinkles, nothing is required for parkour other than a “solid mind and an eagerness to learn from failure.” There are, however, some tools that will improve your training and increase your rate of progression. “Buy good shoes, just a comfortable flat shoe with a rubber sole,” he advises. “Also, find a training buddy. Training in a group of two or more can make training more fun and enjoyable and help you stay accountable.”

As intense as it can be, Wotowiec contends that parkour is for everyone. “You can use the techniques at your own fitness level, like PK Silver, which is designed for geriatric rehab.”

“Most practitioners of parkour never go over heights of eight feet in their training,” Sprinkles notes. “In fact, a lot of basic parkour stays low-to-the-ground, lessening the amount of impact and decreasing the factor of danger.”

Based in Alexandria, Urban Evolution a MindShift gym offers safe, guided parkour training. “We provide a set of progressions and regressions designed to level up your ability safely and effectively,” says Sprinkles. “Not only are the classes and open gym sessions a good place to train and challenge yourself, it's also a place where you can build a community invested in your progress, make new friends and learn as a team.”

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