Every person that has practiced parkour or any physical discipline extensively will tell you that one of the keys to continual progression and improvement is staying healthy and avoiding injuries. While this sounds like basic knowledge, people continuously ignore this snippet of information and continue their practice without much thought on preventing injuries. When starting out training for parkour, it is especially important to work injury prevention practices into your regular training. This is simply because your body isn’t used to the stresses that parkour can have on your joints and muscles. Some extra work can be done to prepare the body and prevent these issues so here are some suggested techniques for injury prevention.
Notice: Please do not take this article as a replacement for medical advice from a licensed professional.
The most basic measure we can take to avoid injury is to warm up before exercising. When mixed with the dynamic stretching exercises discussed later in this article, warming up will help us to manage these easily avoidable injuries. Have you ever noticed that you can move far more freely after you’ve been doing an activity for five or ten minutes in comparison to after sitting for a long period of time? The same principle applies with our parkour practice. We need to ease into our training so going out and jumping off a 10 ft. wall at the beginning of every training session isn’t a good way to start.
Stretching can be used in multiple facets during your training regimen to help prevent injury. Firstly, it can be used after our workouts to cool down the body and reduce recovery time. After intense activity, muscles tend to tighten up and go into a healing mode. This is good because our body needs to recover, however a light post-exercise stretching session will help to avoid the tightening and promote healing in the muscles.
When beginning any training session, specific stretches can be used to warm up the body and prepare the muscles for more action. Dynamic stretches are different than static stretches above in that they employ the movement of your extremities to provide the stretch. A static stretch is holding a muscle in an elongated fixed position for 30 seconds or so. A dynamic stretch is going in to and out of the elongated, stretching position multiple times. Here is a video from Runners World with some examples of dynamic stretching movements.
Dynamic stretching is a very good way to warm up the muscles and increase your heart rate. It also performs two very beneficial functions for injury prevention. Just like with warming up, dynamic stretches trigger synovial fluid release in the joints. You can think of synovial fluid in our joints as similar to oil in a car. It reduces friction in the joints and allows us to move more freely. The second function it serves is to elongate our muscles. When we don’t warm up or do dynamic stretches before activity, our bodies can be tight from other things like sitting or a previous day’s workout. That stiffness and tightness needs to be eased to prevent injury to the muscles and connective tissues. For more information on stretching for parkour, check out this post:
Learning How to Fall
In parkour, we constantly push our comfort levels to improve. Many times this is done by practicing bigger movements or the same movements higher off the ground. With that there is a constant chance of falling. It is silly to say that you will never fall when training for parkour because it simply isn’t true. You will fall at some point. Probably multiple times. When I say fall, I don’t mean off the roof or to your death. I’m referring to slipping off a handrail or your hands just missing the top on a cat leap. The great thing about this though, is that these types of falls are manageable and you can practice how to handle them. There is a martial art practice called Ukemi, which can be broadly described as a discipline of learning how to fall. Often used with Judo throws, Ukemi is very helpful for parkour as well. Especially for falls on our butts and backs. While I won’t go into detail about Ukemi now, here is a link to show you what I’m talking about:
Part of breaking falls is also different rolling techniques (many of which are covered in Ukemi). All rolls including forwards, backwards, and sideways come in handy when breaking unexpected falls. This is especially handy when falling face first. While this happens less often, consider if you catch your feet on a vault. You can either put your hands up and run the risk of breaking your wrists, or with practice you can manage a forward roll and come out unscathed. There will be more about this in future posts so look forward to that.
There are also other falling techniques to train. One in particular, is when balancing on a rail, every time you get off balance and have to step off, practice turning and catching the rail with your hands and landing in a cat hang position. This will get you used to controlling the falls so that when balancing on a higher rail, you will be very confident in your ability to catch yourself if you do get off balance.
Practice at Your Comfort Level
The most overlooked method of injury prevention is to practice what you are comfortable with, and only move on to bigger and more difficult movements when you are confident in your abilities. Just like with any other sport, you want to progress steadily with parkour. The objective isn’t to go out today for your first training session, and then be taking eight foot drops by tomorrow. You need to be disciplined in holding yourself to a progression that is healthy for your training and your body.
One of the most overlooked injury prevention techniques is to acquire repetitive strain injuries when strengthening your body unevenly. This may sound odd, but think of when you do a Climb Up. Do you go up evenly or do you throw one shoulder up, then wrestle the other one up? While this won’t injure you right away, over time, these types of uneven motions will put unnecessary stress on the joints and connective tissues and generally cause tendonitis and other overuse injuries. These injuries are the hardest to avoid because they start out as achy and you assume you can train through it and it will magically disappear over time. YOU ARE WRONG! Trust me, I myself have had tendonitis multiple times and continuing with your normal training regimen will now allow it to heal. This will eventually lead to taking months off from your training while it heals and potentially needing physical therapy to fix the issues you’ve caused. I don’t tell you this to scare you but to make you aware.
If it Hurts, Stop!
Simply put, if an exercise or movement hurts your knees, shoulders, wrists, muscles or any part of your body, it’s generally a good idea to stop. There is a difference between “muscles being tired” pain and hurtful pain. Pushing through being tired is good. In fact it builds discipline (and character!) and helps us to learn more about what we are capable of as athletes. Damaging pain however, is never a good thing to ignore because your body is telling you, “Hey man, this is damaging me”. Just be mindful and aware of what exercises and movements cause hurtful pain vs. tired pain.
So to sum it all up, here are the main techniques for avoiding injuries:
- A full body warmup with dynamic stretching before exercise
- Light stretching session after exercise
- Learning controlled fall techniques
- Only attempting movements within your comfort level
- Avoid imbalances in your training
- And if it hurts, knock it off