Ben Musholt is at it again. The Portland author, physical therapist, parkour coach, and America Ninja Warrior competitor recently released his third book, Parkour Strength Training, which aims to help novices and competitive athletes alike achieve their parkour fitness goals. Your dream of becoming an urban ninja is just a turn of the page away.
Has your fitness philosophy changed since we spoke with you about your second book, Mad Skills?
I continue to believe that people don't need access to expensive equipment to pursue their fitness goals. In Mad Skills, I provided hundreds of exercises that readers could do in the comfort of their own homes. In Parkour Strength Training, Ryan and I provide a framework to pursue your fitness with nothing more than the benches, walls, and bar structures found in your nearest park.
What is your relationship to your coauthor, APEX Movement founder Ryan Ford?
Ryan is one of the top parkour coaches in the world. His athletes routinely finish on the podium in competitions. After meeting Ryan at a parkour summit in Seattle, I became a certified parkour coach through his organization, ParkourEDU. We decided to collaborate to create the first strength and conditioning manual for parkour athletes.
You have a background in gymnastics and martial arts. How do these forms of movement relate to parkour?
Gymnastics is performed in a specialized environment, with things like a spring floor and highly standardized equipment. Parkour is movement for real life. For example, a well-practiced parkour roll allows an athlete to roll across concrete without getting hurt, but if a gymnast performed that roll in the way they are trained, they could risk injuring their neck or back.
If you think of martial arts as the training disciple that prepares you to fight in a fight-or-flight situation, parkour prepares you for the time when fleeing from danger is your best bet, with the confidence to scale whatever obstacles are in your path.
What sets parkour apart from other acrobatic movement?
The original intention of parkour wasn’t concerned with the flashy acrobatic-type movement you see online nowadays. At its simplest level, parkour is just the training discipline to help you move through your environment as confidently and capably as you can. From moving on the ground on all fours—imagine how you might scurry up a steep slope—to sprinting, jumping, balancing, ascending a wall, and swinging by your arms, it conditions you to overcome whatever obstacle is in your path.
Who do you hope to reach with this book?
Our audience for Parkour Strength Training runs the gamut from the total newcomer to the competitive athlete who wants to improve his or her explosive power [and] CrossFit participants who want to broaden their movement repertoire. Likewise, we hope that field-based service professionals, such as firefighters and police officers, get a hold of the book. The better you can move through the world around you, the better you can do your job.
But what if you fall?
Falling is a fact of life. In parkour, you train yourself to recognize the times when a fall would be most likely to occur, as well as how you might be able to escape unscathed. Whether it’s using rounded limbs instead of straight arms—that's how you break something—to training yourself to roll when appropriate—you methodically prepare yourself for the inevitable.
How would you describe parkour athletes? Is there a spectrum of ability?
Top parkour athletes can best be thought of as modern-day ninjas. If you get a chance to watch a high-level competition, you will see feats that look they were filmed on a Hong Kong movie set. Although the elite athletes display a crazy level of agility, the sport and training discipline are open to everyone. There is a great documentary called To Be and to Last that shows adults 60 years old and older, learning the fundamentals of parkour.
What are your parkour classes like?
I have been teaching a weekly parkour-inspired class at PDX Strength. We focus on bodyweight strength skills, as well as the basics of obstacle negotiation, like how to do basic vaults, etc., and often finish the class by running through an indoor obstacle class. Although the attendees are all adults, we end up goofing around like a bunch of kids.
What’s the takeaway?
Parkour is fitness with a purpose. On the far end of the spectrum, it could save your life one day, but from a more mundane perspective, it will make you better equipped for the little physical challenges we encounter from time to time. Hopping over a fence, jumping across a big pothole, diving out of the way of a car, that type of thing. The majority of the world now lives in an urban setting, so it just makes sense that you would want to prepare yourself accordingly.
Parkour Strength Training was released on January 2. All three of Musholt’s books are available from Powell’s City of Books.