Dan Edwardes is a founder and director of Parkour Generations, and the co-creator of two global instructor certifications: A.D.A.P.T™ and Movement Fitness Specialist™. Over the past decade Parkour has gone from being a very underground sport to one that is commonly seen as the world’s fastest growing lifestyle sport. It is now also in the process of being recognised as an official sport to UK schools. As well as working with governments, schools, authorities and the police and military, Parkour, or ‘freerunning’ scenes have also been featured in blockbuster films including Casino Royale and The Bourne Legacy.
For anyone that doesn’t know, what is Parkour?
Here’s a concise description: It’s a way of training the body and mind through movement challenges and adapting to obstacles and terrain. In that adaptive movement, you learn what your body and mind are capable of doing, and you look to refine that. It’s really a tool for holistic self improvement, done through movement challenges, adapting space, exploration, and learning to manage situations that you have forgotten to manage, that may have a little bit of a risk (when managing risk is actually really good!).
What needs to change in the fitness industry?
It needs rebalancing. It’s about going back to basics. Becoming fit and healthy is not rocket science. For thousands of years, the human species has been fit and strong, and never had the need for gym memberships. You just have to put as much effective and smart movement and movement variety into your life as you can.
How are you helping to facilitate this change?
One of the main ways is through our Mov’ programmes. Mov’ is effectively a training programme by which we bring the Parkour content from ground zero and go through different lessons plans and programmes to get to the top levels of movement. Our content is delivered and broken down for fitness classes and clubs. They can then run Mov’ classes for their members. This brings Parkour to a whole new demographic – the fitness demographic.
We already run fitness certifications that are done with YMCA in the UK (the global name is the Movement Fitness Specialist). In the UK you can go through those qualifications and qualify as a gym instructor or PT if you do level 3. That’s great, but the Mov’ Programmes are really for the clubs to roll out this content to their customers in classes, in order to expose as many people as possible to these very simple but very effective training principles.
What are you hoping to achieve with the Mov’ programmes?
Our aim is pretty grand; it’s basically to get people in the fitness market moving as they should be. We’re not isolating and deconstructing their movement and working with random reps and non-applicable exercises, but actually moving as humans are evolved to move; to run, jump, crawl and climb.
You’re doing the stuff your body is designed to do, and we think that is the most efficient and natural way to train, and makes you physically the most capable you can be as a human being. Our aim is really to revolutionise the fitness industry and restore movement to it.
There’s nothing wrong with supplementary training methods and weights, but movement must come first. You can then add those things in to make yourself stronger, otherwise its linear, isolated patterns of training. This creates strong and weak tissue right next to each other, which can cause injury and breakages.
How will this benefit gyms?
Retention is currently one of the biggest problems in the fitness world because the training paradigms are typically dull, boring and repetitive. ‘Exercise’ is a bad word to use because it conjures up images of forcing oneself to slave through a boring workout out of guilt or as a reaction to unhealthy life choices – you go to the gym to burn off the chips you had yesterday, not necessarily because you enjoy it. At Parkour Generations we use the word ‘training’ or ‘movement’, not exercise. This is why Parkour has such a beneficial effect. People connect to it and want to do it, and don’t even realise it’s hard work until they’re really sore the next day!
Parkour has a much higher retention rate, which is why lots of the gyms are interested in the Mov’ Programmes to help with their retention problems. We also have the A.D.A.P.T qualification for people who want to coach Parkour, and we’ve been told by the QCF that it is the hardest sports qualification of all. We were really happy with that but also surprised – why shouldn’t a coach be required to be able to do the things that they teach to others?
You wouldn’t hire a driving instructor who couldn’t drive a car, so why should it be any different in sport? Apparently it’s the only sports coaching qualification with a physical and technical assessment. In any other sport you can become a qualified coach but never have to show that you can play the sport! Really high quality and high standards make Parkour stand out and also draws people to it.
Is Parkour a threat to gyms and fitness studios?
It could be if they don’t embrace it. If they do, it will be the rebirth of gyms and studios. The fitness industry is massive but retention is usually less than 50% across the board for all gym chains, so they’re all suffering and finding it hard to get people to come back. People are changing and becoming more savvy, and understand they need a more natural and intuitive approach to training. The way the gym industry has been doing things over last 30 years evolved out of bodybuilding, and that approach may be a bit broken.
Parkour is only growing and it will become bigger outside of those chains that don’t embrace it. It can save and restore them and bring thousands of new people in their doors, and encourage people to train in a good, healthy way. A lot of people in the fitness industry do embrace it; we’re invited to fitness events all over the world, and we work with a lot of innovative brands in that space. Some of the big fitness chains we’re now bringing movement into are seeing this as the next step and evolution in training.
What advice would you have for a new health and fitness business?
What you start with at the core is the key. A community will only grow around a good concept and good people. Have a really strong core – a strong group of really good, hardworking individuals, and the principles and ethics to match. Think about the authenticity of what you’re doing. Do you truly believe in what you teach? Strong charismatic individuals will naturally make other people want to get involved. It begins with self and what you believe in, or are you just in it to make money? Your resource is the people coming through the door, so you need to create a place where people want to come and see the other people in the group.