Train less, run faster
What practice would you say is the foundation of all human sport? Weightlifting? Martial arts? Most people expect me, as an ultra runner, to say long-distance running. In fact, I believe it’s parkour. It’s the art of balance, movement and physical innovation.
Parkour is also known as free running – some maintain a distinction between the two, although they’re essentially the same thing – but in reality it’s free jumping. When you jump, you’re releasing more energy than you’re storing; when you land, you’re also using your natural suspension. And running is really just a series of jumps. Parkour’s approach of exaggerating the running motion with jumps helps make each individual bound more effective, and also makes you better at moving in multiple directions.
Unfortunately, running often means just doing one repetitive motion. People get turned off, they find it monotonous and boring. If you think in evolutionary terms, running meant we were chasing something, being chased or covering natural terrain. In none of those circumstances do you ever go in a straight line.
I guess running’s come to this because it’s easier to go in a straight line. We’ve built our little hamster wheel and now we’re saying, ‘Shit, what am I going to do now? I can’t change direction, I can’t crawl, I can’t climb.’ Running has its place but it shouldn’t be the only exercise you do.
Jump for joy
What I find so appealing about parkour is that the simplest moves, like the turn vault where you hop over waist-high objects, are elementary. Anybody can do it – but perfecting it is a never-ending quest.
The best thing is you can benefit almost immediately. After just three or four repetitions you’ll find you start getting stronger and more efficient. Often we become specialists in one kind of movement and forget our bodies are capable of doing much more.
If you’re looking for efficiency in any activity, you do that by focusing on skill and parkour is based on skill, not strength. You can try to ‘muscle’ the turn vault but it’s not going to happen. Once you realise it’s about how you shift your balance and weight, you’ll fly right over the thing. And this applies to everything from pivoting on one leg to, yes, improving your stride when running. Christopher McDougall is the author of Born to Run and the new Natural Born Heroes, available now. Visit profilebooks.com