Parkour can be defined as an activity involving movement through an area, typically urban in nature, in an efficient and creative way. Those who practice it are known as traceurs (French for ‘trace’) and will jump, climb and vault over obstacles in their path in order to get from A to B as quickly as possible.
Parkour is rooted in French military history, and more specifically escape and evasion tactics using only the human body, trained using “parcours du combattant”; an obstacle course based training method.
Whilst sharing common features, it should not be confused with freerunning, which places less of an emphasis on efficiency, allowing for more acrobatic movements.
Parkour’s modern day form can, at least in large part, be attributed to a group of young men from the Parisian suburbs, who in the 1980’s brought together multiple influences in what became known as l’Art du Deplacement. The group, which called itself ‘Yamakasi’, meaning ‘Strong man, strong spirit’, practised this discipline in isolation for almost a decade, heavily criticised by the authorities and wider public.
In 2003, the UK’s Channel 4 produced a groundbreaking documentary entitled Jump London, which finally made the philosophical and physical basis for Parkour accessible to the masses. The hugely successful 2005 sequel, Jump Britain, well and truly thrust Parkour into public consciousness, guaranteeing its position as a genuine art form for the 21st century.
Experienced traceurs do not seek the adrenaline rush which can often be part and parcel of engaging in the riskier aspects of the activity. Instead they seek to challenge themselves to overcome the shackles of their inhibitions. Their training allows practitioners to learn to manage risk rather than seek it.
There are a huge number of benefits to getting involved in Parkour.
For all intents and purposes, Parkour basically allows those who partake in it to treat the world like a giant playground. What isn’t there to love about that. Run free, climb, jump and experiment with different movements. Release your inner child.
It turns out running as fast as you can, jumping as high and as far as you can and climbing up walls is pretty hard work. In fact it makes for a pretty incredible full body workout. What’s more, you don’t need a gym membership to get involved and there isn’t a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell in sight.
3. Mental Health:
The psychological benefits of physical activity generally are widely recognised, and Parkour is no different. The focus on mental as well as physical preparedness and the philosophical foundations of Parkour only help to enhance it’s potential benefits for your mental health. It is also an activity which forces you to look at your environment in a different way and can be an excellent release from the feelings of disconnect and numbness associated with depression for instance.
Whilst much of modern day sport encourages comparison with, and competition between, others, Parkour is very much about pushing yourself to your limits and finding an inner confidence and trust in your actions.
By attempting to engage mind and body, Parkour is considered by many as a form of meditation and can be used as an alternative avenue towards mindfulness.
It’s a great way to make new friends. Parkour is typically an activity which takes place in groups, with a reputation for a friendly and inclusive environment. There is no competitive aspect; instead the goal is to have fun, improve yourself and help those around you to improve too.
Now this might sound a little far fetched, but a proficiency in Parkour could genuinely help save your life. You never know when the ability to run, jump and climb may come in useful. When it comes to fight or flight scenarios in the modern world, I know which option I’m going to take. You may as well be good at it.
Success in Parkour requires you to view your environment in a creative way. Whether it be seeing opportunities to jump and climb which others can’t, or finding small spaces to squeeze through, you must think outside the box. There is no reason why this creative stimulation can’t spill over into other aspects of your life, helping you to solve problems at work or in your personal life.
Undoubtedly the easiest way of getting involved is to join your local Parkour group. The wonders of the internet means this is easier than it’s ever been, and most major cities should have fairly regular parkour meets. Check out meetup.com to find your nearest location.
Parkour specific gym’s are also becoming more and more common so why not check out whether there is one near you and go along to see what all the fuss is about.
If you’re feeling particularly confident, there is nothing stopping you just getting out there and giving it a go. After all, you don’t need any equipment, or to be part of an official group in order to run around, jump and climb. Granted it’s more fun doing it with your mates, especially as the social element is an important part of the philosophy, but this needn’t be part of a formal gathering.
# The basics:
The ability to balance is a vital aspect of parkour. Practitioners spend a decent amount of time jumping onto and walking along narrow railings and walls.
Parkour involves both explosive sprinting and endurance running so be sure to add in some middle distance as well as short sharp sprint sessions into your training regime to ensure you are parkour fit.
3. Jumping and Dropping
Whether it’s to bridge gaps or scale heights, jumping plays a significant role in parkour movement patterns. Dropping involves moving from areas of high ground to low, and requires a proper understanding of how to land safely, which will be discussed below.
Landing properly after jumping or dropping is an essential skill which will enable you not only to engage in parkour safely but also allows for efficient transition between movements and obstacles. The way in which you choose depends on a number of factors:
- The height from which you are landing;
- The landing area;
- The distance of the jump
Landing on two feet should always be your preference as this will limit the amount of stress you place on your joints. The objective should be land as softly as possible, which means bending at the knees on contact with the surface. If your dropping from a particularly high level or landing with significant forward momentum then you may want to sink at the hips too and use your hands and arms to absorb some of the force.
Rolling on landing is a really useful way of dissipating the force you experience on making contact with the ground across more of your body. This is definitely something to add to your repertoire when you start to drop from levels higher than head height or when jumping with a lot of forward momentum. It’s a vital skill to help you remain safe and injury free whilst partaking in parkour.
A maneuver to help you negotiate those obstacles which are to high to jump over but don’t require climbing, the vault is probably one of the most iconic aspects of parkour. It normally involves you using your hands to propel yourself over an obstacle a little bit like a monkey. There are numerous ways in which you can achieve this basic principle. The below video takes you through a step by step guide to 10 different ways suitable for beginners.
When taking the most direct (efficient route), a cornerstone of the parkour philosophy, it is inevitable that you’re going to be required to climb in order to scale obstacles which are too high to jump or vault over. This is where climbing comes to the fore. There are a number of different ways in which to climb, largely depending on the height you are required to scale.
Undoubtedly one of the most useful techniques in parkour generally has to be the ‘wall run’. This skill will enable you to climb over walls which would ordinarily be way out of reach. Check out the video below for a quick tutorial.
A slight variation on the wall run, known as the ‘tic tac’ can be a great way of using adjacent surfaces to help you generate the required momentum to climb your target wall.
The ‘cat leap’ is a combination of jumping and climbing. Particularly useful when you are attempting to traverse a gap which is too wide for you be able to land on the target area on your feet. Instead you must aim to land with your feet on the front face of the wall fractionally before gripping the top of the wall with your hands.
7. Swinging (Lache)
Just like when you were a kid swinging from tree branches. This can be a particularly useful method of passing through an obstacle or even dropping from a height which would ordinarily be too high. Traceurs will also use this technique to traverse gaps between bars, where gripping the bar and hanging rather than landing on your feet is more preferable.
The below tutorial takes you through a step by step guide in how to introduce yourself to the skill of lache.
Top Training Exercises To Get You On Your Way
There are some great ways in which you can prepare yourself for parkour before you even turn up for your first meet or join one of the new age parkour specific gyms.
Here are 10 of the best to get you started:
The strength and stability built from lunges is directly transferable to many of the movements which make up parkour. Jumping or landing from one foot, wall runs and tic tacs all require unilateral strength. The best way of developing such strength is by completing single leg weight bearing exercises, of which the forward lunge is a particularly good example. The intensity of the exercise can easily be increased by adding dumbbells or a barbell.
2. Wall handstand:
Parkour has numerous similarities to gymnastics, and it doesn’t get much more acrobatic (for beginners that is) than handstands. Mastering this type of exercise is a great way of developing upper body strength (a key component of climbing and swinging), as well as spatial awareness and balance. By practising against a wall you can negate some of the potential danger associated with the traditional handstand.
3. Overhead barbell press:
A fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength,the overhead press translates perfectly into actions such as vaulting. If you just starting out use an unloaded barbell to ascertain how much load is appropriate for your relative strength. Standing with your feet around hip width apart, hold the bar with an overhand grip just in front of your collar bones with your elbows pointing towards the ground. Push the bar upwards in front of your face, finishing above your head with your arms straight, locked out at the shoulders and elbows. Once you have reached the top of the range, pause momentarily before returning the bar slowly to the start position and repeating.
4. Broad jump:
This is probably one of the most important exercises to include in your parkour preparation training. The most fundamental of movements, involved in every jump you make from obstacle to obstacle. This is a great way of developing the power you will be sure to need in order to get the most out of your foundation parkour movements.
There will be plenty of occasions when parkour requires you to jump and land on just one of your legs so why not add in single leg jumps too. Mix up taking off and landing on the same foot and taking off and landing on opposite feet.
There’s no getting away from the back squat. It is such a fundamental movement pattern which can be applied to so many different every day as well as athletic pursuits. Consequently, it is a must do exercise if you’re looking to get into parkour. There are few gym movements which are better at building general lower limb strength and will help pretty much with every aspect of parkour, including jumping, landing, and wall running.
6. Wall dip:
A slight variation on the traditional dip exercise you will see regularly in the gym, this is a perfect upper body exercise which has excellent cross-over with a common feature in movement such as the vault and the second phase of a climb.
Find a wall or equivalent surface which is between hip and shoulder height. Place your palms flat on top of the surface fingers pointing forwards. In the start position, your arms should be straight, completely holding your body weight off the ground. Lower your legs towards the ground by bending at the elbow in the same way as if you were performing a standard push up, lowering your chest towards the top of the wall. Once your elbows are bent to around 90 degrees, push against the surface through your palms and lift your body weight, extending your arms until straight. Repeat the movement.
7. The monkey plant:
These are a great exercise for building upper body strength in a more parkour specific training environment. Stand in front of a wall which is approximately hip height with one foot slightly in front of the other and both hands in contact with the top of the wall. Using both your legs and your upper body, propel yourself forwards and upwards so that you finish on top of the wall on both feet.
The monkey plant is also a great stepping stone to more advanced parkour exercises like vaulting.
One of the most fundamental upper body strength exercises going, the pull up will help you generate the necessary strength to haul your body weight up walls with your upper body alone. Pretty useful then. Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight pull up for a decent number of sets and reps (3 x10 for instance) why not increase the intensity by adding extra weight using dumbbells or discs.
This exercise is a great full body workout generating stress on both the lower and upper body. It is a particularly appropriate form of training for parkour as there will often be times when you are required to move on all fours, whether it be to squeeze under low obstacles, or to provide a little extra stability when traversing obstacles at significant heights.
Along with the broad jump, this is also one of the most fundamentally applicable exercises to parkour. A great way of converting the strength you build in your legs using exercises such as the back squat and forward lunge into power, one of the most important assets to have if you are going to traverse those gaps or run those walls.
To make the exercise even more parkour specific, be sure to land softly each repetitions, bending at the knees and folding at the hips (making contact with the ground with your hands) in order to practice dissipating the force you will experience when you drop from considerable heights.
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.