The LFREP is the French Laboratory for Research and Study on Parkour.
Directive committee :
- President: Hugo Bitard
- Secretary: David Pagnon
- Treasurer: Melvin Renoux
- External auditor: Sidney Grosprêtre
Parkour and research
Parkour is a new discipline, developed in the 1990s by the Frenchman David Belle. It is a physical activity that consists of moving at speed from one point to another, particularly along a non-predefined route. Parkour is characterized by performing various techniques for overcoming a series of obstacles along a given course, usually at a run; many of these techniques are specific to the discipline. It’s a way of “tracing” a new path to a predefined goal or endpoint, while adapting one’s movement to the obstacles encountered along the way; for this reason the practitioner of parkour is called a “tracer.”
The discipline became famous in large part thanks to movies and the media: “Yamakasi,” “District 13,” and then Youtube. However, these have sometimes served its image badly, spreading the stereotype of parkour as a brash spectacle characterized by recklessness. But in the strictest sense, parkour doesn’t include any flips, since they generally don’t meet the need for efficiency. And the broad spectrum of techniques and abilities that must be developed in order to practice the sport involves intense, steady, and regular training, which strongly reduces the apparent risk.
Parkour and research:
Parkour’s movements are complex and particular to the discipline: from the cat-leap to the wall-pass and the cat-vault, studies in biomechanics could allow a better understanding of the motor functions involved. Among other techniques specific to the discipline, the tracer trains to calibrate his or her movements in order to land on areas that may be narrow, slippery, or unstable, (such as bars, wet surfaces, or tree branches). They need to adapt to situations that are variable by nature (the interaction of predictive and reactive modes), and find a power-control compromise (optimal control). In short, many neuromechanical questions have to be answered.
Parkour consists of connecting numerous full-body exercises which are physically complex, intense, and often spread out over a whole day; this must be done without risking any injury. A better training plan could be provided with an adapted workout program, as well as with specific physiological studies. And although it is not the point to emphasize, parkour’s particular movements, when they fail, can lead to particular injuries. Sports medicine (surgery, physiotherapy, remedial gymnastics, prophylaxis and all that follows) finds a new field of application in the discipline.
The tracer is constantly pushed to his or her limits, which must be well known to the practitioner but progressively moved further out. They can reach plateaus that are difficult to overcome, may be too afraid to complete a particular move, or experience a general fear of heights. They may go through periods of “slump” where physical and psychological fitness are not at their best, and thus be compelled to lower their ambitions for a time. Sports psychology could help the tracer work through these difficulties.
The parkour community is still of modest size. Tracers are very attached to original values such as “be strong to be useful” or “respect for oneself, others, and the environment.” Moreover, they habitually and frequently travel in order to discover new training configurations, new training partners, new techniques, and even new ways of understanding the discipline, which creates an important cultural melting-pot within the discipline. This allows for another interesting field of study, this time for sociologists.
As usual in the human sciences, the results of a study can vary from one subject to another, or even from one trial to another: results are significant only if the data are numerous enough. Thus work on signal processing, data mining, and statistics is essential. And in the same way that research is conducted in any sport, global and transversal studies could allow academics to synthesize their conclusions, in order to give the practitioners clear and usable training tools.
Parkour can be connected to other fields of research in many ways. In the field of health, one could study the positive effects of parkour on the young, aging, or unhealthy, or extrapolate the self-imposed obstacles faced by the tracer to other difficult situations that the medical patient faces in day–to–day life. In the field of biology, one could draw parallels with the movements of animals. And of course, one could always apply the research to the video game and movie industries. The untapped possibilities of the discipline are limitless.
Many thanks to Mikaela Bell who helped me translate it !