08 July, 2011
How Does Parkour Affect the Body?
Parkour is an extreme sport that involves moving from one point to another via the most direct route — getting over obstacles by jumping, vaulting, leaping, rolling and more. Parkour is unstructured, meaning that maneuvers and moves are not selected in advance, but rather performed in response to your environment and the obstacles present. Parkour is physically demanding and some people participate in it as an alternative to traditional gym workouts. Your body will adapt to the demands of parkour if you do it consistently.
Your cardiovascular system includes your heart, lungs and blood vessels. It is responsible for providing new, oxygenated blood to your tissues and removing waste products. Your muscles need more oxygen and produce more waste during prolonged activity, so your cardiovascular system has to work harder to pump blood to and from your tissues. Parkour taxes your cardiovascular system, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Chronic cardiovascular training increases your maximum heart rate, lowers your resting heart and lowers your resting blood pressure. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults perform at least 30 minutes of moderately intense cardio five days per week or 20 minutes of very intense cardio three days per week. Consult your doctor before beginning parkour or any other new fitness regimen.
Your muscles produce force that causes your joints to move. Parkour taxes your muscles and may require muscular strength, power and endurance, depending on your level of fitness and the maneuvers you choose to perform. The National Strength and Condtioning Association defines strength as the maximum amount of force a muscle can produce at a given speed. Feats of strength may include parkour maneuvers like pulling yourself up onto an obstacle. Power is the ability to produce force quickly and includes parkour jumps, leaps and vaults. Muscular endurance is required for lower-intensity movements that are repeated with little rest and is particularly important for postural muscles involving your core and rotator cuff. The way parkour affects your muscles depends on the amount of strength, power and muscular endurance required for your parkour style. Parkour styles that involve more strength and power may result in muscle gain because more proteins are being laid down in your muscle fibers, increasing the ability of your muscles to produce force. Parkour styles that involve more muscular endurance may also result in larger muscles — and microscopic changes that make your muscles produce energy more efficiently. Parkour styles focused on muscular endurance will not result in nearly as much muscle gain as with those relying more on strength and power.
Bone and Connective Tissue
Your bones and connective tissue experience stress during every parkour maneuver. Moderate stress is not harmful for healthy bones and connective tissue — and actually causes your body to make them stronger so they are better able to handle the stress of your next parkour session. Previously sedentary people and those with a history of musculoskeletal problems should be extremely cautious, however, because too much stress too quickly may lead to injury. Extreme moves that involve jumping or flipping off of tall objects should only be performed by extremely health, fit, well-trained and advanced athletes who have perfected their landing skills.
Parkour is a fast-paced discipline that requires tremendous skill and coordination. Your nervous system is receiving constant input from your eyes, ears, vestibular system, skin, and tendons, and it uses that input to makes decisions about muscle contractions and movements. Over time, your nervous system adapts in response to the demands of parkour. This may result in sport-specific improvements of fine and gross motor function. According to Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico, cardiovascular activities like parkour also improve cognitive function of adults.
- "Physiology of Sport and Exercise"; Jack H. Wilmore, et al.; 2004
- "Essentials of Strength and Conditioning"; Thomas R. Baechle, et al.; 2008
- University of New Mexico; Exercise and the Brain: It Will Make You Want to Work Out; Len Kravitz, PhD
- American College of Sports Medicine; Physical Activity and Public Health Guidelines; 2007
- Matt Henry Gunther/Digital Vision/Getty Images