Is Parkour Dangerous or Good for Your Health?
Whenever you watch “daredevil” and “stunts” or in other words parkour and freerunning videos on YouTube you might be tempted to read the comments below. Big mistake! It’s not just trolls though.
Among the many who express their awe and appreciation you will almost always find common people appalled by the things they just saw.
When freerunners jump over a roof gap or climb a crane someone will comment that it’s “stupid and dangerous” for example.
Yet nobody would tell people how stupid and dangerous climbing mountains is these days. Yet just a century ago it was only done by a select few daredevils.
Even Google itself – who owns YouTube – considers parkour and urban climbing dangerous and demotes such videos algorithmically.
The video where I actually found the comment I cite above is a bit long thus I let it start where the actual “insane” part happens.
I couldn’t find the “stupid and dangerous” comment and ensuing debate anymore when writing this. It was probably deleted because it was too obnoxious in the end. It’s a shame. It does not matter – the point is more important than ever.
Every Day Stupidity
When you see mortality statistics and read about the overall health of the population you will realize that every day activities like
- using a mobile phone
- driving a car
are very deadly. This is no joke. What is the real stupidity?
- Sitting for many hours – like most of us do these days – kills studies show.
- The WHO (World Health Organization) warns that radiation from mobile phones leads to cancer.
- More than a million of people die each year in traffic accidents, most of them involving cars.
Does someone say you are stupid because you put a phone to your ear that emits microwave radiation and is effectively frying your brain? Nope.
The Fear of the Unknown vs the Looks of Danger
Why do people generally rather fear the unknown and what looks dangerous than what really is dangerous but commonplace?
Why do people label uncommon practices that look dangerous as such or even “stupid” while they ignore actually stupid and dangerous practices?
Just think smoking. It has been ignored for decades. There are three main reasons for overlooking actual dangers we face every day:
- we are used to them
- people make money off them
- they are generally accepted
You see people driving cars daily, using up space in the city by placing their cars in the way of pedestrians and making life dangerous for little people aka kids.
Kids can’t even play outside anymore because it’s too risky due to all the cars.
You do not even notice it anymore. It’s perfectly normal insanity.
Then of course people are making money sitting all day and staring into screens. They call it work. Most people whether in offices, factories or vehicles sit all day.
Other people make lots of money by selling
for the streets or concrete for parking spaces.
Obviously the latest iPhone makes a lot of money as well. Nobody even asks for the ever increasing SAR value – the metric of microwave radiation. Your smartphone is giving you brain cancer. At least use a headset!
Your Car, Mobile and Couch Are Killing You! Stop Using Them!
Of course nobody will stop using their mobile, driving cars or sitting all day. After all it’s “normal”, isn’t it? Everybody is doing it! They can’t be all wrong, can they?
Everything that is not normal must be abnormal then or crazy. You could call it stupid and dangerous.
Luckily there are enough people out there who think for themselves and don’t abide by norms that were made up by corporations to make money.
These days it’s also normal to give away all your private data to Google and Facebook so that they can profile you and sell that data to advertisers or let governments use it.
You never know who can read your “private” messages, who knows where you are and whom you’re meeting. In contrast
the risk of death or injury when practicing parkour or climbing skyscrapers in cities is easily fathomable. Captain Obvious strikes again!
Everybody can see that you could fall and kill yourself. It looks dangerous but rarely does someone who is not suicidal kill her or himself doing it.
People are quick to judge these days. You get a label within milliseconds. For example I use a very expensive jacket for training during autumn. It sports a camouflage pattern that is similar to military uniforms.
The poor and despondent often wear old uniform jackets here. When I picked up my wife once after training and was still wearing joggers and that jacket which is worth like 300+ Euros (I got it for free on a side note) a man stopped me.
He asked: “what are you doing here?”. The man assumed I was a burglar. In his eyes I was wearing a poor man’s jacket and thus I was suspicious. Even though I was happy after training and to see my wife this stereotyping made me angry
Parkour vs Truly Dangerous Sports
OK, you could argue that all these comparisons are far-fetched. Let’s compare parkour to some popular sports which are indeed dangerous instead. Think
Take note: I didn’t mention things like skydiving, wild water rafting or free climbing. I strictly refer to popular sports.
All of these are highly dangerous both in the short and long run. I wouldn’t call them stupid but there surely are people who consider them too risky to practice.
Personally I know a surgeon who has to “fix” the people who are into skiing so that she pledged never to try it. Did you know? Roughly
300 people die each year while skiing because of avalanches
This is the global number but it does not even contain actual skiing accidents. These are only the people who were buried by snow and killed while skiing. More than 100 skiers died in the Alps alone during the winter season 2014/2015.
There are more people who die in avalanches but who aren’t skiing. I’m not sure whether snowboarders were included but as far as I remember the article dealt only with traditional skiing.
Guess what – nobody calls skiing stupid and dangerous – it’s so normal. There is only talk about precautions or better equipment allowing them to survive longer under snow and such.
Boxing and cycling, especially modern cycling types like BMX can lead to brain damage over the years.
Your head is exposed to frequent hits so that micro-fractures can make you depressive among others. Many famous boxers suffered brain damage as a the side-effect of ongoing trauma.
Even in case you just cycle along the streets in an average city you can get run over by a car any time and die.
Especially in countries like the US where cycling is still uncommon it’s quite hazardous.
In an ideal world or a country like the Netherlands or Denmark cycling is very healthy. In the current reality it’s often the opposite.
Even in case you don’t get run over you are exposed to air pollution directly where most of it is caused: on the streets where cars pollute it with their exhausts.
Breathing is Dangerous
As you see even the simple fact of breathing is dangerous in urban areas. Millions of people die a premature death due to pollution! You can’t stop it though. Likewise
limiting your movement to prevent injury or death will lead to faster death and more likely injury.
Sedentary people are much more likely to break their bones and die later on due to side-effects of the accident than people who train regularly.
True, you can die when practicing parkour or climbing skyscrapers too but most people who do that can assess the risk and their own potential well enough to prevent it. They are not suicidal.
Childhood Obesity is the Real Problem
Another huge issue is childhood obesity. In countries like the US or UK the rate of obese kids has doubled within two decades!
It’s not just that these kids look fat and can barely move off the couch. Children are already at risk of diabetes and heart disease.
I’m a huge proponent of a positive body image no matter what body type you have. Genes decide a lot and nobody should get bullied for being obese.
Most of us have a choice though. We can eat fast food and sugar all the day and lie at the couch for hours or we can move and eat healthy.
I know that you can decide. I tried both. It was a long process and took years to finally become healthy again. I was not obese as a kid though.
When you grow up fat you run the risk of never even knowing what it is like to be lean and agile. You will think that being always tired and feeling sick is normal.
This is truly stupid and dangerous. Now please say something about that. The bunch of kids jumping on roofs like circus acrobats are not the problem. They are the solution!
Take Care of Your Health
When parkour practitioners show off their “insane stunts” they make movement attractive again to the younger generations and even sometimes to old farts like myself.
Other countries will soon follow. One day skyscrapers will have official jumping playgrounds. Expensive hotels will have parkour instructors.
Decide for yourself what you consider healthy: regular movement that allows you to perform things others assume to be “stupid and dangerous” or letting your body degenerate due to the things modern civilization sells to us as perfectly safe and even convenient.
Most people die in bed. Be careful when you go to sleep or lie down. It might be dangerous. Parkour training is good for your health when done right. You don’t have to risk much when you don’t want to.
Why is Parkour so Healthy?
Now that we talked a lot about other, actually dangerous sports and things, let’s talk about why parkour is so healthy in the first place. To make it short: parkour is natural movement!
Primates have practiced parkour for millions of years. Our body is designed to move swiftly and efficiently. Our brains and muscles are perfectly able to perform seemingly superhuman moves.
It’s only our society that made most people degenerate into pitiful creatures barely able to get up or walk up the stairs (I was one for sure!). Up until 100 – 150 years ago most people were walking every day for hours, sometimes up to 40km a day. For millions of years running, climbing and jumping decided about our survival.
Evolution favored those who could run away, chase, jump from branch to branch and climb up trees to escape predators in the first place. Now press fast forward to today and all those skills lie dormant in most of us. There are no predators left and our lives are so limited that we are even afraid to climb a tree as adults.
One of the main pillars of parkour historically is the so called “methode naturelle”. It’s what the name says, a or the natural method. When doing parkour we learn to move like our ancestors again and we adapt to the anti-human environment we live in now.
Most people live in cities by now and here movement is heavily restricted.
People are locked up or down inside most of the time. Even going outside during “bad weather” is already considered undesirable. We’re pathetic. Monotonous sports or types of exercise like jogging, “going to the gym” or yoga are not enough.
Don’t get me wrong. I do all of the above to some extent:
- jogging between the places to jump
- body weight strength training to be able to climb up or manage the impact of jumping
- yoga for flexibility to actually overcome obstacles.
Also I do all of these simply for warm up. I do like 100 push ups almost every day – 50 in a row and then various variations after a break or two (even one hand, one foot push ups).
These things are mere preparation for the actual movement though. I can run up walls take height drops from up to 2m and so on despite my age and the doctor telling me never to practice any sports that are hard on the knees when I was still a teen. These days doctors do not repeat such nonsense anymore. The weaker your knees are the more you need to train them!
I’ve been training for more than a decade now and I was never seriously injured.
The worst injury I had took three months to heal and I didn’t even stop training because of it. I merely adapted my training routine to focus more on my upper body and less on leg work because the knee hurt on impact or while moving. Before parkour I had pains in the back, leg and feet almost every day. Nowadays I rarely experience them. Parkour made me so healthy I can walk for hours now.
What Makes Parkour so Safe?
Why is parkour so safe despite the sometimes risky looking moves you will witness on sites like YouTube, Facebook or Instagram? There are many reasons for this. Parkour is safe because
- you warm up a lot. Some early parkour pioneers like the Yamakasi do so much warm up that you will be utterly exhausted after that already. I take it slow and warm up for like 30 minutes before I do actual parkour.
- you do a lot of strength training regularly. I practice parkour like 3 to 4 times a week and that’s because I’m slacking lately. When I started out I did it 4 to 6 times a week. Now consider the 100 push ups I do on these days plus the other strength training for the core and legs. I’m not even particularly strong or muscular. I’m just lean and efficient these days. I fit in the same pant size I wore as a teen almost 30 years later.
- you practice the same moves almost every day, for years. The people who flip from roof to roof have done it on ground level for 5, 10 or 15 years and they have done it again and again and again until they have every single move in muscle memory. They don’t have to think while jumping. They shut off their head when freerunning – just like Art of Motion winner of 2021 Krystian Kowalewski said when asked “what were you thinking while jumping during your winning run?”: “I didn’t think at all”.
- you actually meditate when training parkour. Your mind is silent. I practice sitting Zen meditation at home and it’s a lot harder to silence your mind. There are always thoughts popping up and tormenting or distracting you from being still and regenerating. When doing parkour pain is your master. Whenever I get distracted by thoughts I hurt myself. Thus you are perfectly in sync with the universe and completely aware of your surroundings, the way you move and you know intuitively what to do next in many cases.
- you only do what you can do, not more. When looking at parkour moves some people think it’s dangerous because they wouldn’t be able to do them. I can do them though. You would not tell a bird that flying is dangerous. You wouldn’t tell a fish that swimming or diving is dangerous. They do it because they can. I can jump that way and I do that. I don’t perform moves I do not master yet. I learn them very diligently first before actually performing them in a place where I could hurt myself.
- you train parkour without equipment. When you compare parkour to actual extreme or fun sports most of them require a lot of equipment and gear like a board, bike or whatever. Equipment can break, you can fall off it or you can simply develop unnaturally fast speed that your body can’t handle anymore when falling. Parkour is slow and safe in contrast. Even when you run you still are relatively slow.
- you don’t have to train at height (think rooftops) or perform flips. To wow mainstream audiences most famous freerunners show off parkour at height or doing flips or both these days. In reality most people train parkour at ground level and do not do flips. There are even parkour traditionalists who do not agree with the commercialized way parkour gets depicted online. Training at height and flips are the most risky elements of parkour. Without those two the danger of getting injured seriously dwindles by like 80%.
Still not convinced? When you aren’t it’s probably not your fault. You were raised in an environment of fear and now you want to instill it in others. You can overcome fear and stay calm even when facing adversity.
It’s OK to be afraid. It’s not OK to spread fear though.
Especially don’t teach kids to be afraid to move just because you are. Depression, obesity and all kinds of health issues are the results of such helicopter parenting.