There is a growing trend in the fitness community towards working out with practicality in mind rather than aesthetics; “functional fitness.” I’ve been part of that movement for a long time and find myself amenable to its premise: fitness is most useful and rewarding when it develops usable skills and attributes that can be applied in daily life. For me, parkour began as exactly that: a practical set of skills to help me escape in the rare event of conflict. Over time parkour’s philosophy etched itself into my being with the saying “être fort pour être utile,” or “be strong to be useful” becoming core to my own philosophy. For many years in my training, that meant that the perceived usefulness of a skill trumped all other considerations, resulting in little exploration of more stylistic and expressive movements.
Still, as I continued my own exploration of movement and took note of the reality of how I actually practiced and what kept my interest, I realized that the practical side wasn’t everything. I slowly began tapping into my creativity—which I originally thought to be non-existent—and I noticed that many skills that gave me immense pleasure and fun to learn didn’t seem to serve any obvious practical purpose. I felt just as alive—sometimes more so—when I was improvising new movements on the fly or making up silly little challenges–just to see what I could do. In all of those moments, the consideration was not “how is this useful?” but instead “is this interesting to me?” It was movement that was personal, creative, and expressive rather than practical.
What I discovered through this newfound creativity as expressed through movement is that we have two perfectly valid reasons to practice something: a practical, outcome-driven approach (so I can move heavy things safely, run quickly to reach my friend who needs help, etc.) and the personal, creative, experimental approach (how graceful can I make this movement? How many ways can I combine these moves? What’d make moving in this spot harder?). I find myself moving between the two all the time–sometimes it’s all practical or all personal; other times it blends–with each approach strengthening the other. Both are necessary to tap into your intrinsic motivation and desire to move .By keeping possibilities open to account for shifts in mood, focus, and preference, it’s easier to avoid getting stuck in a rut of routine or to run into a plateau. So long as you’re improving your skills and having a good time, that’s all that matters.