Off The Wall

Climbing as Complementary Training for Parkour
By Dan Edwardes
Source article: Parkour Generations.com

Without a doubt, the best training for parkour is more parkour. However, this is not to say that the odd injection of alternative training methods can’t help speed your development in specific aspects of physicality relevant to the traceur. Simple running, for example, is the most obvious – arguably the best way to improve cardio-respiratory stamina and overall fitness. Far from being off the wall, cross-training has proven to be of great value to a host of professional sportsmen and women from all disciplines.

With this in mind, and in order to maximise the use of their training time during the winter period, when there are days even the hardiest freerunner would not venture outside, three members of Parkour Coaching have found an excellent form of complementary training in the form of climbing, or, to be precise, indoor bouldering. Essentially, bouldering is climbing without the use of ropes. It involves completing predefined routes of increasing difficulty up and along walls of varying height and inclination, these routes ranging from the ‘fairly elementary’ to the technically-termed ‘bastard-impossible’.

Climbing has experienced a dramatic change from the original outdoor hobby to today’s indoor profession. Simple concrete indoor walls with single, immovable holds were first created to accommodate climbers desiring to train during the winter months. The French then reinvented the indoor wall system by utilising interchangeable handholds upon wooden walls, allowing for climbing routes to be varied and altered at will. With crash-mats below every surface, indoor bouldering is a relatively safe way to climb and relieves the climber of the need for ropes, harnesses or safety equipment. Hence it has become an excellent method of physical training and conditioning.

And, let there be no doubt about this, climbing rocks…

Ok, bad pun; but it really does. The physical benefits of regular climbing sessions are enormous and very swiftly apparent to the practitioner, and have a considerable knock-on effect upon one’s parkour practice. Climbing requires the combined use of many muscle-groups along many planes at once. It necessitates moments of extreme tension as well as the ability to relax fully in order to be able to continue, and efficiency of muscular effort and economy of motion are both vital to a climber’s success. Not only does it rapidly improve the strength of one’s fingers, forearms, shoulders, back and latissimus dorsi muscles, it also works the legs as the more experienced climbers learn to rely more on their lower body to take the strain as they move.

Proprioception is constantly used during climbing, allowing one to develop real sensitivity with one’s muscles, particularly those of the hands and feet. These advancements then transfer nicely across to precision work and balance drills in parkour.

So what will climbing do for you? Introduced to the discipline by Kiell, Forrest and Dan have since incorporated bouldering into their regular training regime, hitting the walls two to three times a week for some serious forearm-burning, finger-wrenching scaling. What follows is a brief overview of the beneficial physical effects that they have found regular climbing practice brings about.

Muscular Endurance

Climbing is a sport composed of multiple and various small movements that rarely, if ever, require a singular maximal burst. Simply to remain on a wall and resist the pull of gravity requires the use of several muscles at once, while many other muscles operate to maintain balance and stability. We climb for two to five hours at a time, obviously taking numerous breaks to recover from the individual climbs, and these long sessions make strenuous demands upon the body’s endurance. With more and more experience of climbing, an individual will gradually acquire the ability to string together many series of movements upon a wall, raising one’s endurance to new heights.

Flexibility

The constant stretching and reaching movements that are required in order to manoeuvre the body along a wall mean that one soon develops a functional and strong flexibility in most of the major joints. Swivelling and rotation of the hips and legs are used in several techniques in order to be able to reach the next handhold, and the arms and upper body are put through the entire range of motion across multiple planes throughout a session. Non-dynamic training methods such as climbing involve continuous and natural flexibility exercises that reduce one’s risk of injuries.

Muscular Strength

A climber moves and adjusts himself with and against gravity with every move along the wall. Transferring and manipulating the body weight adds resistance to the muscles, building the strength in an inviting and enjoyable fashion, without any mundane or repetitious lifting. Obviously the upper body is put through its paces during climbing, but many movements also place great demands on the leg muscles. Of course, hand and forearm strength improve enormously, which translates perfectly to the movements of the cat-leap and especially pulling up and over after the cat-leap, something almost all traceurs have difficulty with when they begin.

Balance and Stability

To excel at climbing one has to become highly sensitive to where one places one’s bodyweight and to how this will affect the next movement. Much of staying on a wall is balance, spread across lower- and upper-body muscle groups, and one is often required to maintain stability perched upon tiny footholds no more than a centimetre or two wide. Proprioception is constantly used during climbing, allowing one to develop real sensitivity with one’s muscles, particularly those of the hands and feet. These advancements then transfer nicely across to precision work and balance drills in parkour. Challenging exercises such as restricting oneself to the use of only one arm along a particular route also dramatically improve balance and one’s ability to transfer weight during motion.

Most importantly, the strength one develops through climbing is entirely functional – by this I mean it is not strength developed in isolation through the usual fairly linear, specialised weight-lifting. Nearly every movement of climbing involves almost all the major muscle-groups, and this leads to a lean, powerful musculature that is highly efficient and extremely capable. Combined with regular parkour training, climbing helps to generate the confident strength the traceur requires in order to approach jumps and catches without hesitation. Furthermore, it helps inoculate you against any trepidation you may have when moving at height – a real bonus for the traceur grounded by fear.

We have found indoor bouldering to be not only extremely testing physically, but also a very effective way to build strength and flexibility across the body, as well as a damn good laugh! Climbing centres are fairly widespread, and we heartily recommend the sport to any traceur interested in a complementary method of developing a strong physique for parkour. One word of warning though – don’t overdo it to begin with: damaged finger tendons will put you out of the game for months, so go slowly and build to the harder problems gradually. Other than that, as the wise man says, it’s all good.

Oh, and steer clear of those bloody campus boards…

Original Article used with permission from Parkour Generations Ltd.