Train less, run faster

Men's Fitness - - Front Page -

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.

For­mer glo­ries

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

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