a journey into the long-term repercussions of parkour training

Authors: Charles Moreland and Nicole Suchy

Estimated Read Time = 25 minutes

 

Synopsis

Parkour is a high-impact discipline wherein trainees apply themselves against environmental challenges at speed. We are constantly accessing new and unprecedented heights and pushing the boundaries as to what the human body can do. This article is designed to explore the possibility that maybe we’ve developed into a culture that all-too-often chooses to sacrifice long-term health for short-term gain/fame. The ideas and data presented here begin to formulate our understanding that our landing technique is not magic and we should consider that taking drops higher than hip height, unaltered, could be an unhealthy lifestyle. This article is designed to make you, your friends, and your respective communities think long and hard about whether or not you’re okay with the idea that you might be risking your longevity and what this could mean for parkour coaches and the curriculum they develop. 

 

Historical Parallel: Football

This article is about parkour, but let’s take a minute and discuss a recent evolution of a sport we all know and love: football.

Harvard-McGill football game of 1874

The first game of football happened on Nov. 6th, 1869 and was played by teams made up of Rutgers and Princeton students. Fast forward to 1900, American Football had become a widely popular sport played by many college students and would soon become a national league of professional players in 1920, the NFL. While the sport grew fast for its fun, fast-paced gameplay, there remained an inherent problem…impact. Football is a full-contact sport and relies on one player impacting another player to get them down and stop their forward momentum. Prior to rule changes in 1905 and the entrance of protective equipment, 23 college level players died while playing football.

Even then, safety equipment wasn’t mandatory (and remained that way until 1939). Helmets were an optional piece of equipment and came in a wide variety of styles and shapes. After becoming mandatory, helmets soon evolved as plastics became more widely available and offered extra protection that leather could not. As more research was done on impact, new designs entered the scene like Riddell’s vinyl cushioned helmet that could absorb more impact and offer a more comfortable fit. The evolution of the helmet and other safety equipment continued to improve the risk profile of the sport and helped to almost stop the presence of acute head injury altogether leading into current play.

1940’s Riddell Football Helmet w/ 6 Strap Suspension System & Original Chin Strap

Despite all of this, there was still an elephant in the room: impact, or rather, brain trauma from impact. Sure, players and leagues were putting a lot of time, energy, and money into stopping the acute dangers of cranial collisions and the addition and evolution of the helmet stopped the incidence of major concussions (and death!), but as more research was done, more understanding came to light that brain trauma occurs regardless of the presence of a concussion. In 2010, a panel of researchers presented their data to a committee of referees to which the Head of Officiating for the Big 10 was quoted saying, “There is some really serious concern about the damage that’s done on impact and what happens to the brain.” It was only after this meeting, over a hundred years since wide-spread adoption of the sport, that the new standards and rules for no helmet-to-helmet contact came about. Just recently, in September 2015, the CSTE announced that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) had been identified in 87 of 91 former NFL players, or 96% of the sample. The study conducted was the largest brain bank study to date and was a twofold increase in the number of confirmed cases of CTE. Basically, if you decide to play professional football, you are nearly guaranteed to develop cognitive brain disorders.

The real take-away from all of this is that it took football, as an organization, over 100 years to fully understand the chronic dangers of their sport despite all their attempts to protect their players along the way; despite the leaps and bounds made in the short-game to prevent acute injuries and death.

With this new perspective for the game of football in mind, you are probably still wondering what this has to do with parkour. While football and parkour may seem like polar opposites, the story presented is a perfect parallel to a problem we’ve been noticing in the parkour community at large. It is our opinion that these hard topics should be discussed sooner, rather than later, so as to learn from football and not make the same mistakes they did. On to parkour!

 

Parkour Background