Hey all.

Sorry I haven’t had a post for you in a long while! Started a new job in the world of fitness and it has eaten all of my time and sleep!! It’s not all negative though as it has introduced me to a world of knowledge and ideas and keeps me out of mischief!

Being surrounded by a mix of fitness coaches, personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, corrective exercise specialists, swim instructors, chiropractors and physiotherapists has immersed me in a world of knowledge, and like anywhere, differing opinions.

I was recently introduced to the works of a physical therapist and author, Gray Cook, by one of the chiropractors. I have been reading his book about a movement appraisal system he created and how fundamental, functional movement patterns are often dysfunctional in seemingly healthy and pain-free individuals. This got me thinking about my own movement and injuries I have sustained over my years of Parkour. This post is my interpretation of the knowledge gained from many sources including Gray Cook’s book “Movement: Functional Movement systems”. Using my own experiences I have taken what I have learned and tried to apply it to Parkour training.

‘Functional’ is a term that gets used a lot in the fitness industry. It is a label generally attached to exercises in gym environments that aren’t your traditional single plane resistance exercises. Often sport-specific exercises will be referred to as functional. The dictionary definition of functional is:

“Of or having a special activity, purpose, or task: a functional role.” - www.oxforddictionaries.com

Based on this definition functional can mean different things depending on the intended outcome. If you are an Olympic weightlifter then ‘The Snatch’ is a functional movement to train. Drilling movements of Parkour and specific conditioning exercises are functional to the Traceur. Regardless of you discipline, sport or hobbies we need to maintain a good level fundamental movement ability and health.

Specific skills for a particular activity can be detrimental to fundamental bodily function, especially if they are built upon a dysfunctional base. In my early days of training I pushed my body beyond what it was capable of. Like many, I took drops that my muscles weren’t strong enough to cope with, and my mobility and stability levels weren’t always up to the challenge. Over time my body increased in strength and stability, but mobility was often compromised. Not all stability I have built up is authentic; increased tone and tightness of prime movers have developed in place of appropriate action of the deep stabilisers. I am able to muscle-up but have reduced flexion at the shoulder joint. I can land lightly but still suffer from lower back pain, which could be from a combination of reduced hip mobility and poor timing of the core stabilisers.

Training too far beyond my fundamental movement abilities has caused my body to make compensations. When I have pushed to do things for which I lack the mobility or stability, my body has abandoned one or the other. If I push for a massive tic-tac to arm jump, but my hip is not able to externally rotate far enough, my rotational stability of my spine may have to take a break for me to perform that movement. If I repeatedly move in this way, I can reprogram my body’s motor patterns and introduce ‘learned behaviours’ that are detrimental to my health. 

This is a problem that can occur when your specific skills for your chosen activity, surpass your performance abilities and fundamental movement abilities.

Many of you might be thinking “I’m fine, I stretch and don’t have any injuries like you Blake, you old fogey!” And you may well be right. You may have had a great fundamental movement base when you started training Parkour and built up your skills and abilities in a systematic and sensible way. But not everyone will have taken that approach.

For example, I learnt movements, which to be able to do, my body had to trade stability for mobility. I repeated these movements to the point at which they were engrained in my neuromuscular pathways. This reduced stability in one area may have caused a major muscle to increase in tone to compensate. I may have at some point noticed that my flexibility in a given area was diminishing and decided to stretch. Assuming that I stretched well I should have regained some of the suppleness in the targeted muscle. But then I go out and train the movements that caused the mobility, stability and compensatory inflexibility and we are right back at square one. The movement patterns are so ingrained that even with my re-found flexibility I still resort to the default pattern.

So what is the solution? Ensure that you have the mobility and stability at any given joint necessary for you chosen activity. This means being flexible enough to move your limbs where they need to be and have the stability to put necessary loads through your body without compromising good posture. You also need to have the necessary static and dynamic stability to ensure that you have control through the full range of motion in any given movement without unnecessarily recruiting prime movers to do the job of stabilisers.

If you are just starting out in Parkour, take the time to ensure you have the fundamentals of movement down before progressing onto the more physically demanding elements. It’s often tempting to find your limits but by seeing what the biggest jump you can do is or even how many muscle-ups you can do, regardless of form. Make sure the quality is there before the quantity.

If you are a seasoned practitioner, whether you are injury free or not, test your fundamental movement ability. The things we learnt on our progress to walking are often forgotten. Can you deep squat with good form? What’s your rotational stability like? Do you have ‘true’ stability standing on one leg without bracing your large muscles? Do you have the necessary flexibility for all the movements you do, or does your back sometimes flex, extend or rotate in place of your limbs?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Gray Cook: “First move well, then move often.”