Take your work­out up a notch, with free-run­ning spe­cial­ist Kundai Mu­rapa’s ad­vice on how to re­ally run the streets


Kundai ‘Kenji’ Mu­rapa was never des­tined to be your con­ven­tional

pro ath­lete. “I was the kid al­ways do­ing ran­dom moves as a D-team re­serve, and break-danc­ing at the half­time shows,” says the 28-year-old. “Hav­ing at­tended an all-boys school from pri­mary through to high school, it was all about mak­ing the cut,” he ex­plains. “Achieve­ment was based on stats, and not the sheer plea­sure of the art – that’s why most of the su­per­stars from my school days have noth­ing to rep­re­sent that part of their lives anymore.” For Mu­rapa, those ‘ran­dom moves’ weren't just a phase; he didn’t do them just to be a part of the pro­gramme. “Mov­ing in an un­taught, un­reg­u­lated, un­ortho­dox way was true free­dom; skip a few years later, and I dis­cov­ered park­our as the best plat­form to nur­ture this free­dom.” To­day, he's one of South Africa’s fore­most traceurs – pro­po­nents of park­our – and in 2010 he founded Sab­o­tage Elite Freerun­ning, in Cape Town. The best part? What he’s learnt over the years about how to use his body can work for you too.

// Ori­gins

Park­our, as a dis­ci­pline, is the use of the nat­u­ral biome­chan­ics of the body for ef­fec­tive, safe move­ment through an im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment. “Park­our was founded on prac­ti­cal­ity,” says Mu­rapa. “Our motto is: etre fort, pour etre utille – be strong to be use­ful.”

“This trans­lates as a mind­ful­ness in train­ing that al­lows prac­ti­tion­ers to safe­guard their bod­ies for life­long dis­ci­pline. There’s a real phi­los­o­phy be­hind it, of­ten lost through the gloss of cin­ema,” he says.

Ac­cord­ing to Mu­rapa, any­one can do park­our and reap its ben­e­fits; but the key is grad­ual, safe pro­gres­sion. “You need to cre­ate dis­tance and power goals in a mind­ful way that strength­ens your body over time,” he cau­tions.

There’s some de­bate about the ex­act his­tory of park­our, but many agree that it grew out of the orig­i­nal ver­sion of ob­sta­cle course rac­ing (OCR). “Over a hun­dred years ago, a French phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tor and mil­i­tary man, Ge­orges Her­bet, de­vel­oped a sys­tem called la meth­ode na­turelle (the nat­u­ral method),” Mu­rapa ex­plains. “This in­cor­po­rated fun­da­men­tal move­ment skills that he ob­served in indigenous Con­golese hun­ters dur­ing French colo­nial rule. By pro­mot­ing this method through mil­i­tary train­ing, it soon be­came a pop­u­lar, stan­dard­ised dis­ci­pline that brought on the ad­vent of le par­cours (the ob­sta­cle course).”

To greatly para­phrase the his­tory: skip a few gen­er­a­tions, and we see civil­ian adap­ta­tions such as fit­ness trails; and in the lit­tle-known streets of Lisses, France, park­our (the word 'park­our' is a col­lo­qui­al­ism from par­cours) was born, and soon grew into a pop­u­lar dis­ci­pline. Suf­fice to say, mod­ern ob­sta­cle-course races are just re-pur­posed ver­sions of the orig­i­nal le par­cours, and le par­cours is what evolved into park­our. “Pop­u­lar park­our prac­ti­tion­ers such as Jesse La Flair and Tim Shi­eff have dom­i­nated in both OCR and com­pet­i­tive park­our, show­ing how in­ter­linked – al­beit sep­a­rate – the two dis­ci­plines are,” Mu­rapa says.

Where does free run­ning fit in? “In ori­gin, park­our and free run­ning mean ex­actly the same thing,” he ex­plains; the lat­ter served pri­mar­ily as an English trans­la­tion for the French word par­cours – ‘to move rapidly through an area’. How­ever, to­day free run­ning – a term coined by Se­bastien Fou­can in 2007 – is more nu­anced, to de­fine an ex­treme sport off­shoot of park­our with big global com­pe­ti­tions, such as Red Bull Art of Mo­tion.

Free run­ning is seen more as a form of ur­ban acrobatics, in which ath­letes per­form tricks us­ing the ob­sta­cles in the en­vi­ron­ment around them. In­cor­po­rat­ing el­e­ments of park­our, free run­ners pull off gym­nas­tic moves such as flips and spins as they nav­i­gate their way across an area. Free run­ners tend not to see them­selves as ath­letes, even though their per­for­mances are packed with high-per­for­mance ath­leti­cism. They leap from rooftops, scam­per up trees, bal­ance on pre­car­i­ous perches in the big city jun­gle, and per­form re­mark­able ‘runs’ filled with flips, twists and flic-flacs.

It is here that Mu­rapa’s ear­lier point about pro­gres­sion comes in. “Af­ter enough time and un­der­stand­ing of your body, you'll hit the big league; and maybe then you can start scal­ing sky­scrapers and jump­ing across bal­conies,” he says.

“Aside from the fun­da­men­tal biome­chan­i­cal el­e­ments of park­our, free run­ning also in­cludes acro­batic ma­noeu­vres and el­e­ments based more on style than ef­fi­cient move­ment,” says Mu­rapa, who – as Direc­tor of Sab­o­tage Elite Freerun­ning, and Chief Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fice of Park­our South Africa – is a pro­po­nent of both.

Prac­tis­ing both offers an ideal blend of stamina, sta­bil­ity, bal­ance, power, and brawn, and has turned Mu­rapa into the ath­lete he is to­day. Here’s how you can adopt some of the fun­da­men­tals:

// Train­ing

To pre­pare his body for the rigours of park­our, Mu­rapa trains ev­ery day; but you won’t find him in the gym. “Train­ing park­our im­proves both phys­i­cal and men­tal ca­pa­bil­i­ties and is said to pro­vide the same mind/ body bal­ance as more tra­di­tional mar­tial arts and prac­tices such as yoga. Con­trary to pop­u­lar por­trayal, park­our was first brought to be as a means of pro­vid­ing the safest op­tion in any sit­u­a­tion.”

Mu­rapa’s train­ing is all body­weight-based, but crosses over ex­ten­sively, from mar­tial arts to calisthenics and car­dio work. “Body­weight train­ing for me is the best way to im­prove both func­tion and form, be­cause it’s work­ing on the nat­u­ral, in-built pa­ram­e­ters set for the hu­man body.”

“The key to be­ing a good mover is to mix up with other dis­ci­plines in order to find a com­mon pat­tern and sta­ble ground­ing,” he says ex­plain­ing how he also trains in ‘mar­tial arts trick­ing’ – much like park­our, a rel­a­tively new dis­ci­pline. “It com­bines el­e­ments of tra­di­tional mar­tial arts kick­ing tech­niques with gym­nas­tic acrobatics,” he says.

“I’m also a calisthenics en­thu­si­ast, and use that as part of my train­ing – both to sup­ple­ment my park­our and just for its in­di­vid­ual en­joy­ment.”

Of course, Mu­rapa still ad­vo­cates gym train­ing (mainly for re­hab af­ter in­jury or hyper­tro­phy goals), though he cur­rently doesn’t have a mem­ber­ship. “I don’t need one, but it’s good for main­te­nance and re­hab,” he says. “I use a technique drilling pro­gramme based on a HIIT (high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing) frame­work, ba­si­cally us­ing con­tained, sim­pli­fied park­our moves in a high-in­ten­sity work­out. This pro­gramme can be used even if you’re not into park­our, but just want a good, func­tional work­out that will help with move­ment, agility, power, bal­ance and co­or­di­na­tion. And it burns kilo­joules like a ninja.”

Squats, lunges and pis­tols are his first go-to, as most park­our technique in­volves pow­er­ing off or rapid de­cel­er­a­tion with the legs. “Back raises, ly­ing hip raises, pull-ups, push-ups and mus­cle-ups are great ac­ti­va­tors too. I do a lot of move­ment train­ing as well, and I highly rec­om­mend Ido Por­tal’s fun­da­men­tal meth­ods as a great start­ing point.”

An added bonus is that Park­our’s ben­e­fits reach fur­ther than your body; they can make your mind sharper too. A lot of park­our moves in­volve quadrupedal lo­co­mo­tion pat­terns (us­ing all four of your limbs). Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study in the Jour­nal of Hu­man Move­ment Sci­ence, “per­for­mance of a novel, pro­gres­sive, and chal­leng­ing task, re­quir­ing the


co­or­di­na­tion of all four limbs, has a ben­e­fi­cial im­pact on cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­ity, and in joint re­po­si­tion sense.”

What this means is that through us­ing all four of your limbs and in­creas­ing your co­or­di­na­tion you can be­come smarter and faster, both men­tally and phys­i­cally. Not to men­tion the creative chal­lenges, which are bound to fire your neu­rons in new ways.

What are you wait­ing for?

// Now Get Out There

Ac­cord­ing to Mu­rapa, any­one with a ready body and will­ing mind is able to prac­tise park­our. “Age and gen­der aren't bar­ri­ers to en­try, and you’ll rely mostly on your men­tal ca­pac­ity for creative and crit­i­cal think­ing, as well as recog­ni­tion of nat­u­ral move­ment pat­terns,” he says.

As a cer­ti­fied park­our coach he teaches a range of peo­ple, from kids as young as eight years old right through to adults. But you don’t need a coach to start out, or any par­tic­u­lar ap­pa­ra­tus or train­ing area. “When it comes to park­our, half the fun lies in ex­plo­ration and dis­cov­ery of new spots,” he says. “The other half is in the creative chal­lenge of how many vari­a­tions of lines and pat­terns of move­ment you can un­lock in one spot.”

Mu­rapa is based in Cape Town, so he spends some time at out­door gym ar­eas. “For reg­u­lar con­di­tion­ing, I highly rec­om­mend the Sea Point Prom­e­nade out­door gym, and Queens Park in Wood­stock,” he says. “There’s a de­cent of­fer­ing of body­weight ap­pa­ra­tus and ob­sta­cle move­ment chal­lenges. How­ever, I do feel we need more op­tions, as most of our out­door gyms are lim­it­ing to the ini­ti­ated. Our very own Mus­cle Beach would be amaz­ing!”

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