“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ~ John Muir
Recently, I’ve become enamored with a method of movement called parkour. If you haven’t heard of it before, parkour is really quite spectacular to watch! Check it out on YouTube when you have a few minutes and be prepared to be mesmerized!
If you looked up parkour videos just now, you’re probably thinking, “Are you crazy? I could never do that!” Yet, what parkour is really all about is incorporating numerous ways of moving that include running, jumping, balancing, hanging and climbing, with a large helping of creativity and play!
What I like about parkour is that it’s natural movement. The basic premise is to move in ways that are natural to our species, as opposed to isolating muscles and performing monotonous, repetitive tasks in a gym. This is the essence of what parkour is about, moving freely in ways that incorporate your entire body working in sync, in a functional manner, while making the most of the natural environment.
First, let's head outside!
You don’t have to be talented at gymnastics or be able to do leap from building to building doing death-defying flips at great heights! Rather, its about doing the things that you used to do easily as a kid, like climbing trees or playing “the ground is lava,” in order to move your body in ways ways you could never achieve in a gym!
I wrote recently about the many benefits of working out in the outdoors, but wanted to expand further on the topic. With my photographer/husband in tow, I headed out to my local park to illustrate several ways you can use the natural environment to take your daily run or walk to the next level!
My nearest park doubles as the playing fields for the local high school, so I often include speeding up the bleachers into my daily routine! Stair climbing strengthens the same muscles as lunges and squats, and taxes your lungs and heart as you power to the top. It also forces you to utilize muscles muscles that you wouldn't normally use while running or using weight machines, increasing stabilization and balance. To keep it interesting, change it up by skipping a step for deep lunges, or jumping from step to step.
Take to the hills
I’m a walker, rather than a runner, but a few hill sprints provides high-intensity interval training that doesn’t bother my old knee injuries! Hill sprints are short, maximum-intensity sprints up a steep hill, but due to the inclined surface, there is less risk of injury as opposed to performing intervals on flat surfaces, and more control can be used than when running, cycling, walking, and even the elliptical!
A balancing act
Whether you use a balance beam, a curb, a low wall or a fallen tree, engaging in a controlled wobble activates deep core muscles to help tighten the midsection. My park has numerous trees that have fallen and make for an excellent balance beam! Be careful though because they can get a pretty slippery on rainy days!
Climb to the top
Climbing requires much more than upper body strength, it relies on a long list of physical factors, including intricate footwork, lower body strength and lean muscle mass. Furthermore, ascending walls is a sure way to get your heart pumping, similar to the way climbing stair or jogging does. Why not try giving tree climbing a go, or boulders or the jungle gym at the kids playground!
Remember when you used to swing and hang upside from the monkey bars? It used to be so easy, right? Now it seems to be more of a workout than play, but you can make it fun again, while also being a great way to strengthen your upper body, core and grip. If you don’t have access to monkey bars or a kids playground, a low hanging tree branch will suffice for a set of pull ups or two!
Use your bodyweight
Try thinking up some creative ways to incorporate aspects your bodyweight training into your daily run or walk to improve your strength, and endurance. A park bench makes for a great spot to do a set of push ups, dips or box jumps!
Going off trail
My local park has a meandering paved walking path that snakes it’s way through the wide open spaces as well as the more tranquil, wooded areas. To add variety to my daily walk, I often veer away from the usual path and head off amongst the trees. Not only does it create variety and fun, but is good for me too. Walking the dirt trails requires me to remain present as I navigate rocks and ditches, jump over tree roots, and duck under low hanging branches. It also eases up on my joints and gives me a chance to simply enjoy being surrounded by nature! Don’t freak out though when you run through a few spider webs!
These are just a fews simple ways that I've been able to turn my usual walk into a whole body workout. What are some ways that you use the natural environment to maximize the benefits your daily walk or run?