CONDITIONING : a word that’s easily thrown around Parkour circles like practitioners jump from block to block. And we believe that that’s a great thing. Very few backyard disciplines have at its core the need to be physically fit and healthy. Adding to that Parkour’s roots grounded on the need to be ‘useful’, especially in emergency situations wherein a traceur’s assistance to another may be needed, there is no greater motivation to build an able body. On the flip side, while the attention to ‘conditioning’ is heightened to the top of mind of Parkour practitioners helping bring about discussions on optimal performance, injury prevention and participation longevity, using the term loosely without proper and correct understanding of definitions and methods will only bring about confusion. As such, understanding of Conditioning is often watered-down or even downright incorrect, producing sub-optimal and, sometimes, even harmful results, consequently discrediting the methodology as a whole. With that in mind, PKPH: Parkour Philippines wants to contribute to the discussion, believing that it can shed information that is scientifically credible, comprehensive, effective, efficient and action-oriented.
With Patrick Garcia MD and Ken Tan CSCS molding the discussion, PKPH: Parkour Philippines will be publishing several articles to compose one entire guide entitled PARKOUR CONDITIONING: THE SPORTS SCIENCE WAY. Hopefully, with this effort, the organization would like to help any Parkour practitioner with these...
- Understand the basic terms and principles behind the concept of ‘Conditioning’ as well as its other supporting and complimentary aspects - to be able to determine fact vs fiction, sound vs bullshit advice, inevitably empowering any practitioner to confidently traverse one’s conditioning journey.
- Be able to intelligently follow and execute an Efficient, Effective and Parkour-specific conditioning regimen - because most of us want to be really good at Parkour, but like every person on this planet, don’t have the liberty of unlimited time, energy and budget,
As the objectives of this guide are now established, we'll need to quickly run down its...
- Limited discussions on Nutrition and other lifestyle factors that affect conditioning - these should be entire expositions on their own.
- Suggested conditioning regimens for practitioners in general - conditioning regimens are best designed in an individualized manner, as each have different starting physical fitness, conditioning experience, medical limitations, strengths, weaknesses and specific skills objectives. Obviously, it'll be impossible to execute within this format. As such, the conditioning regimens that will be suggested on the latter part of this discussion will be geared more towards a conditioning novice, with a regimen that will serve as a foundation on which specialized 'modules' can be added or some of its parts taken out.
So now, let’s get down to business with Part 01 of PARKOUR CONDITIONING: THE SPORTS SCIENCE WAY - INTRODUCTION, TERMS AND DEFINITIONS.
WHAT THE HELL DOES CONDITIONING MEAN? DEFINING THE METHODOLOGY’S KEY TERMS
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘conditioning’ means the following,
The process of training to become physically fit by a regimen of exercise, diet, and rest; also : the resulting state of physical fitness
A simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response
Both definitions are shared as they provide as a whole, the important aspects of creating an effective sports conditioning regimen. From the former definition, we can gather that there is an OBJECTIVE to be met, which is to become 'physically fit'. However, prior to setting the sights on a goal, an assumption can be made that the reason why an individual must go through a 'regimen of exercise, diet, and rest' is because there is a lack of being 'physically fit', an OBSERVED PROBLEM or LIMITATION. While the information can already be somewhat deduced from the first definition, the second emphasizes valuably on the importance of a STIMULUS and its desired 'response' or ADAPTATION. As this guide is aimed towards improved athletic performance, specifically to enhance one's physical attributes to become more able for the rigors of Parkour, let's logically align these important aspects behind creating an effective sports conditioning regimen:
- IDENTIFY AN OBSERVED PROBLEM or LIMITATION – attributes that seem lacking and that one would like to improve; may be based from personal observation or from quantitative testing, e.g. inability to pull oneself up a wall
- SET AN OBJECTIVE – identify what attribute you'll need to enhance, e.g. increase pulling strength and improve wall-up technique
- DESIGN A STIMULUS – selection of methods one should follow, e.g. proper pull-ups, wall-up eccentrics or asymmetric wall-up progressions
- MEASURE EXPECTED ADAPTATION – objectively measuring expected changes in the body to verify whether or not the designed stimulus is working in aim of reaching the objective, e.g. currently able to execute 8 strict pull-ups, technique improving by being able to wall-ups asymmetrically 4 times consecutively
Now, it is very important to define the said important aspects, according to your needs, as correctly and accurately as possible, however challenging it is. Mess up one aspect of the methodology and your physical adaptation goals will take much much longer, or maybe even become an impossibility, to achieve.
SETTING EXPECTATIONS: TRAIN AND NOT EXERCISE!
The word ‘exercise’ can mean a lot of things to different people. There are two prevalent ways the word is used. The first as according to Mark Rippetoe (2014):
Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today -- right now. Each workout is performed for the purpose of producing a stress that satisfies the immediate needs of the exerciser: burning some calories, getting hot, sweaty, and out of breath, pumping up the biceps, stretching -- just punching the physical clock. Exercise is physical activity done for its own sake, either during the workout or immediately after it's through. Exercise may well involve doing exactly the same thing every time you do it, as long as it accomplishes the task of making you feel like you to want to feel while you're doing it.
And the second, ‘exercise’ to mean a particular movement one must execute as part of a training program (e.g. Barbell Back Squats and Bodyweight Pull-ups are exercises that are part of my Parkour strength training regimen). Moving up the ladder, training (Rippetoe, 2014) is
… physical activity performed for the purpose of satisfying a long-term performance goal, and is therefore about the process instead of the workouts themselves. And since the process must generate a definable result at a point in time removed from each workout, the process must be planned to produce this result.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone wanting to engage in the first definition of ‘exercise’, it must be however differentiated from ‘training’ as both have very different objectives. To train means to see past the daily ups and downs, to persist and endure towards a long term goal. So in the process of learning and actually training, do not be fazed. Stick to a training mindset, logically manipulate the design according to measurements, commit, work hard, and you’ll get to where you want to be – a stronger, more able traceur.
THE 3 FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF SPORTS CONDITIONING + 1
There are 3 foundational principles (Baechle, Earle, 2008) by which an effective and efficient sports conditioning regimen should stand on:
- OVERLOADING – positive adaptations will only come from stressors that are beyond what one is accustomed to.
- PROGRESSION – as the body is able to adapt, stressors should be constantly increased, however incrementally.
- SPECIFICITY – the closer the regimen resembles one’s athletic movement requirements, the more likely the adaptations will suit the demands of the activity. This concept is best captured in the principle specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID), which means "the type of demand placed on the body dictates the type of adaptation that will occur,” (Baechle, Earle, 2008, p.379).
As these principles are already widely accepted, we’d like to propose one more principle to the mix, purposely to emphasize the need to balance overloading and movement specificity, and that’s
- SAFETY – in practice, most disciplines involving dynamic movements, including Parkour, have an inherent risk of injury. Thus, conditioning regimens that pose a great risk of injury themselves are counter the objective of sports conditioning for its practitioners. All athletes engage in conditioning regimens to decrease the risk of injury. Not increase it.
‘SUPERHERO’ ATTRIBUTES TO CONSIDER FOR PARKOUR CONDITIONING
Back when comic books were still abuzz and owning superhero collectible cards were what made you ‘in’, most would recognize that at the back of each superhero or super villain card lay each’s measured ‘attributes’ or ‘characteristics’. On one of my favorite sets, the X-Men Trading Cards 1992 series, were 5 attributes that the characters were measured on, namely energy projection, mental powers, strength, fighting ability and intelligence. Of course, I remember these details as it was always fun to debate with your friends whether who would win a battle between any two characters.
Likened to superheroes, there are several identifiable attributes we suggest a Parkour practitioner needs to develop. These are Strength & Power, Cardiovascular & Local Muscular Endurance, Balance, Flexibility and Agility. Though superheroes are cool, one major drawback for them is their reliance on other beings – writers to be exact – to decide whether or not they get to enhance their performance attributes. We, mortals, on the other hand can readily execute well-established conditioning regimens, as soon as now, to increase each of our desired attribute’s value.
Moving forward, it’s important we discuss the significance of giving attention to these 5 Parkour attributes in our quest of making ourselves awesome practitioners. But first, we need to understand…
THE COMPONENTS OF MOVEMENT: A SIMPLIFIED DISCUSSION OF HOW THE BODY MOVES
Movement is a beautiful thing. To be able to move is something any living human being should learn to genuinely appreciate. The worst thing you can do as a human being is to take the ability to move for granted. Movement is precious because of one very important fact: it is FRAGILE – it is dependent on so many parts working in perfect unison that if one of these parts conked out, you wouldn't be able to move. So while you’re reading this, you are given permission to take some time to hug and kiss your normal working self.
Getting into a bit of detail, let’s revisit basic biology showing the main players that make movement possible:
- Digestive System – the one in charge of consuming food to break down as nutrients for regeneration/healing of damaged parts, and energy to fuel any type of bodily function, e.g. movement.
- Pulmonary System – the one in charge of bringing in oxygen in use of breaking down nutrients for the body’s energy requirements; also the one in charge of expelling carbon dioxide, the by-product of energy creation.
- Circulatory System – the highway for everything that needs to be in transit within the body – oxygen and carbon dioxide, nutrients, hormones, etc.
- Nervous System – the one in charge of providing instructions to what the body needs to do to function, both for involuntary and voluntary movements. It’s also the system that receives feedback from its sub-system, the sensory organs, on what’s happening within and outside of the body so it can respond accordingly.
- Musculoskeletal System – the physical working mechanism behind movement. The muscles are the ones in charge of using the energy, processed from nutrients, into producing contractile force, consequently manipulating levers, the skeletal system, thereby applying mechanical force on the environment.
Making it much simpler, remember that for the body to be able to impose force on the environment, it needs these 3 COMPONENTS 1) food that is processed into several types of usable 'FUEL’ – some types with the help of oxygen, 2) a ‘CONTROL CENTER’ that receives feedback as well as giving out instructions, and 3) the ‘ENGINE’ that uses the fuel and takes command from the control center, thus producing mechanical force.
To be continued on Parkour Conditioning: The Sports Science Way Part 02 - The Case for Proper Strength Training
1. Full Definition of Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conditioning
2. Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Illinois: Human Kinetics
3. Rippetoe, M. (2014, January 15). "The Important Distinction Between Exercising and Training". Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
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