By Parks Beson
Have you ever seen muscular, athletic guys doing flips and spins in public spaces while running? No, they are not practicing for the next Spiderman movie by scaling buildings and vaulting over rails. They are practicing Parkour, a free running discipline that is quickly gaining traction across the United States.
On a recent day, Powell Findley, the president of the University of South Carolina’s Parkour club called Carolina Movement, demonstrated the mind-blowing vaults, flips and climbs that are the signature Parkour moves.
“It’s pretty adrenaline-pumping and exercises your whole body,” Findley said. “The community is great as well. And it helps that I’m good at it.”
Founded in France by Raymond Belle and made popular in the United States by his son David Belle, Parkour is a high inventive way to get from point A to point B in the quickest and most creative way possible.
Originally called l’Art du Deplacement, or Le Parkour, the sport has gained national attention over the years. It comes from the French “parcours," which literally means, “the way through.”
Before he tackled the discipline of Parkour, Findley took martial arts for twelve years and learned to do flips. He learned about Parkour from internet searches and taught himself the moves. Findley said the moment of finally nailing a trick is like no other because Parkour involves so much mental concentration.
“In the earlier moves, you can already start to see that you have to commit to some weird motion that your body is not used to,” Findley said. “And the further you get into the sport, the more it is a mental thing, because you have to know 100 percent that you can do a move.”
Unlike other athletic disciplines, Parkour is controlled by the traceur, or the individual person doing the free running, the acrobatic element of parkour.
Although some people are excited to see the sport reach new heights and push the boundaries, others think negatively of the sport. There are concerns that the wildest flips and tricks could lead to injury.
This has been proven wrong, however, as researchers found that Parkour gyms recorded only two or three injuries per 1,000 hours trained. To put that in perspective, the NCAA reports 8.1 injuries per 1,000 hours and 8.78 to 9.37 per 1,000 hours for collegiate gymnastics.
Parkour has been growing in popularity on college campuses. One of the premiere spots for free runners is the University of Colorado-Boulder. At the University of South Carolina, Carolina Move members can be seen running through Green Street by the Russell House and the Historic Horseshoe on campus.
Jack Young, a junior at the university, found Parkour and the group two years ago and has kept up with the it ever since. Young says that the mentality of a traceur is unlike any other.
“So when I nail a trick, I am ecstatic because the mentality of it is so much,” Young said. “You have so much going on in your head about whether or not you can do a trick, that when you do nail it, it’s like you just put all that stress and doubt behind you.”
Along with developing the mental toughness and focus needed for the sport, Fendley and crew have to be in a good physical shape for the sport. Stretching is a big part of the game so that there are no injuries during the crew’s sessions and outdoor runs. Though there are a fair share of chest days, days where you focus on chest workouts at the gym. Young says that the Parkour sessions and runs provide most of his workouts for the week.
“Most of my workout and exercise comes from this because it is using your whole body. I am in much better shape now than I was before I started this,” Young said. “Stretching is extremely important because of all the twists and spins that we do, you don’t want to pull anything. I have done that once or twice and it does not feel good.”
Josh Lavigne, a Parkour teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, has been doing Parkour for seven years and has been teaching for two years. Through all his training and teaching, he finds that the attitude that you have towards your training will affect your results.
“If I’m trying to nail a trick but I go into it with my first thoughts being ‘I can’t,' then I won’t be able to make it,” Lavigne said. “Either that or I will back out of doing the trick until my mindset is changed. Your mentality is a big part of it.”
Lavigne said that a good mentality is always needed during sessions and runs because some of the obstacles are more imposing than a few steps or a tiny wall to jump. Serious traceurs will push themselves to flip and jump from high ledges and across rooftops. Lavigne, Young and Fendley all agree that you absolutely have to have the right mindset in those situations.
Both mental and physical training are needed in Parkour. The traceur’s body needs to be able to handle the twists and flips, while the traceur needs to have the right mindset, knowing for sure whether he can or cannot nail the trick during a session. Just knowing your limits is a quick way to avoiding injury to your body.
Young said that if he feels like he cannot get a trick in a run, then it’s back to the indoor training room for a few days before he goes back outdoors and tries it again. Once Young gets the trick that he has been practicing, the feeling is like no other.
“I’d say that I’m ecstatic, my endorphins are all over the place after what I just accomplished," he said.
And all those endorphins, according to Lavigne, make him want to push his limits further.
“I don’t think it’s an ego thing or a pride thing, but it is knowing that I just pushed my body this far and accomplished it, so let me push it this far now,” Lavigne said. “I just proved to myself that I am able to go to the next level.”