Freerunning For Fitness
Freerunning, the latest craze made popular by Casino Royale type chases, is a fantastic workout for total body fitness. Here's how to get started.
Image by sombra e luz
The next time you see a guy running through the town centre and leaping over the couple sitting on the bench, don't automatically assume that he's just stolen a purse from a helpless old lady. It could be that he's one of these new-fangled freerunners.
What is a freerunner?
Remember the opening sequence in Casino Royale when that extremely limber fellow was giving Daniel Craig a run for his money by legging it through buildings, over walls and up a giant crane? That's freerunning. But freerunning isn't just useful for running away when you're hijacked by assassins, bomb makers and the like. It's also an ideal alternative to paying for a gym membership and having to put up with all those bloody New Year newbies.
So - do you want a strong core, great balance, agility and an amazing ability to make people go 'wow' when they see you leap from building to building? All you need is nerves of steel and a pair of trainers. Oh, and clothes are advised too!
The freerunning basics
You may already know that I'm a huge advocate of bodyweight exercise. Well freerunning is all about lifting your own bodyweight and learning to use it as efficiently as possible. There are lot of climbs and jumps, which means your core needs to be carved from stone. Here are a couple of exercises to get you started.
Hanging hip raises
- Hang off a bar or a high rail with an overhand (palms facing forward) grip and arms about shoulder width apart.
- Bring your knees up to your chest, hold for a second, and then lower them steadily. Focus on the contraction of the stomach to really work your core.
If you're starting to feel cocky, you can do this exercise with straight legs too for an extra challenge. This exercise is advised for freerunning because it also strengthens your upper body and improves your grip (which helps prevent you falling to your death from great heights).
Do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Once that's easy for you, move on the straight leg raises. If even that is too easy for you, add weight to the exercise by holding a dumb-bell between your feet.
- Lie on the floor with your upper body resting on bent elbows.
- Raise your hips so you're in a rigid press-up position on your forearms and toes.
- Hold for one minute and repeat three times.
If you can't manage the full minute, perform mini-sets of 15 seconds with 5 seconds rest between each.
This will strengthen the core muscles needed to support you as you run and swing from things like a gorilla (in the mist).
- Hang from a bar or high rail with your arms extended and overhand grip.
- Pull yourself up, flicking out your elbows so that you can push your torso up and over the bar.
- Then, lower yourself back down slowly and repeat.
It's the same principle as when you climb out of a swimming pool. Only drier. And a lot harder.
Aim for 3 sets of 4-6 reps to begin with. If you can't complete a muscle up, then focus on alternating explosive pull-ups (pulling up so that your chest touches the bar as fast as possible and lowering down slowly) and bodyweight dips on a dipping station.
Another way is to perform what I call 'ugly muscle ups'. This basically means doing whatever you can to complete the muscle up. Different grips, using your legs, even jumping up to the bar to gain momentum.
Note: because freerunning is done on concrete, it's essential that your whole body is warmed up before attempting your two-footed urban assault to avoid injury!
The freerunning moves
A major part of freerunning is jumping from one obstacle to another. You'll need to be accurate in your jumps. There's no Matrix style jumps here so be careful.
- Start with your feet on the edge of the obstacle you're jumping from and focus on your landing point. Crouch until your legs are at right angles. Oh and don't close your eyes, you'll want to see what's coming!
- Push off the obstacle, using your arms as balance and tuck your knees up while in mid-air. Keep the focus on the exact place your feet will land.
- Try to 'stick' to the ground by absorbing the momentum by bending your knees on impact. Otherwise the momentum will take you beyond the landing point - which can quite bad seeing as most landing points will be high up with a drop on either side!
This move can build explosive power in your legs and can be a lot of fun to keep your momentum going until your next obstacle.
- Approach a wall at a 45 degree angle - you'll probably want to approach with your strongest hand closest to the wall. For me, that's the left.
- At the wall, explode off both feet as if you're hopping up. Plant your bottom hand flat on the wall and push up, round and over your legs with the top hand.
- The movement should spin you 180 degrees with lots of momentum. Land on the balls of your feet and keep running, making the whole thing as smooth as possible.
Don't attempt this while drunk! It'll most likely end in embarrassment. Or a trip to the hospital.
If an obstacle's too high to jump onto with your feet, you can conquer it with what the Cat Leap move. (It's a jargon term from the freerunning circle of people in the know).
- Approach with confidence (and a bit of speed), jump off your strong leg and extend your arms, concentrating on where you're going to grab the ledge.
- Grab the obstacle and bring your feet up, absorbing the impact with your legs. Don't slide down; your arms will give way and you'll fall to your death! Okay you might survive if the obstacle isn't very high.
- Pull yourself up with the 'Muscle up' movement and use your feet for extra stability, then get going to your next obstacle.
A word of advice for this move though. A cat may have nine lives, but unlike our feline friends, a Cat Leap freerunner only has the one! Start 'slow and low' to avoid having a tragic, and possibly quite painful, accident.
One final move for you, if you're feeling particularly adventurous, is the Tic Tac to Cat Grab. Check out the video to see how it's done:
Final freerunning thoughts
Freerunning can be absolutely brutal on your joints. There's no point in performing a Running Cat across the Eiffel Tower if you feel like escargot in the morning. (For those of you who got the escargot reference, kudos to you my friend)
Here are three simple ways to recover from leaping great heights onto concrete surfaces.
A slow-paced jog will mobilise the joints and get the blood pumping again. I find it best to run across a soft surface such as fields to reduce the impact on damaged joints.
Freerunning will leave you aching from muscles you never knew existed. A few lengths in the pool with give you a light, supported stretching session with added cardio benefits.
Obvious? Yes. Do loads of people not do it? Yes. I've never been a big fan of stretching. I've never stretched and never had any negative side-effects. However, when your joints and muscles have been damaged through freerunning, stretching from your ankles all the way up to your neck can improve your recovery time no end.
If you're interested in learning more about freerunning then check out the American Parkour website. Also, if you've tried freerunning or are a freerunner yourself, drop us a message in the comments and let us know how you got started and the type of exercises you do to keep on top of your game!