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Parkour—often known as freestyle running, or just free running—conjures up scenes from movies in which people vault over parking meters, run up walls or chain link fences, and demonstrate that nothing in their environment can slow them down. However, while the flashier tricks are a good example of what Parkour can be, they aren’t necessary to what is essentially the practice of natural movement.
The simplest way to think about Parkour is as traversing obstacles with as little effort or deviation from the path as possible, all done while hopefully looking cool. If you run across a parking lot and then a park with a playground, you might encounter cars, benches, swings, trees, and water fountains. Your goal would be to head in one direction and surpass every obstacle in as seamless a fashion as possible.
Parkour training involves a good deal of bodyweight strength and stamina building (view our article on building the perfect bodyweight circuit here). Climbing/pulling, jumping—discussed in greater depth below—and mobility are paramount. A simple regimen of bodyweight exercises can prepare the runner for the strength required.
For instance, in addition to the running required for Parkour practice, you might perform circuits of jumping jacks, pull-ups, push-ups, hanging leg raises, and bodyweight squats. Several daily rounds of these exercises, performed for 10-20 reps, will help build and maintain the body for the actual work of Parkour. If these numbers are too high for your current strength levels, just start where you can and use these rep ranges as a goal.
The jump is the most fundamental aspect of Parkour. A badly performed jump, whether it’s three inches or three feet, can be harmful, so it’s crucial to practice. Above all, Parkour training requires smooth jumping. You must be able to spring, and to land, smoothly, while teaching yourself to absorb the shock upon landing – knowing that you must be in motion again as soon as the jump is finished.
The easiest way to practice jumping technique is to find a set of stairs. Face the stairs and jump up onto the first step, landing softly on your toes. The goal is for it to feel effortless and as free of impact as possible. If you can confidently and smoothly jump up and off of the first step 10 times in a row, feel free to add a step. The goal is always the same, whether you’re jumping to the bottom step, or the fourth. This practice will teach you how to cushion yourself for the stresses of jumping and landing, while building the requisite leg strength.
The actual practice of Parkour itself is simple and you can start anywhere. However, it is important that you start slowly and cautiously. Parks are good places to start because they provide a variety of obstacles. Look around and plot out a route for yourself. It can be something as simple as, “I will run and jump over the low end of that teeter totter, then turn left, jump over the lowest swing, then head directly for the ladder that leads up to the slide, trying to do it all as smoothly as possible.” Imagine that you are being chased and that your goal is to complete the course without sacrificing one unnecessary second.
Performed 10 times in a row, even this simple, three-step obstacle course will provide great opportunities for improvement. Assuming that you stop before you are fatigued to the point of sloppiness, each successive run will teach you where you are clumsy, where you are unsure, and where you are strong.
Any environment can be dissected in this manner. The effortless flow of advanced Parkour runners looks almost magical, but what you do not see in their video is the massive amount of meticulous, thoughtful, patient practice that led to their flashiest moments. Because this is a beginner’s guide to Parkour training, it is important not to give too many options. For now, focus on developing the general physical requirements for Parkour, warm up properly, work on your jumps, and most imortantly, always have a plan. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you progress.