Parkour, or free-running, was developed as a military training technique for navigating obstacle courses, but has become an act of self-expression, with many practitioners–traceurs–touting its natural movement style as a way to merge with one’s surroundings. It’s enjoyed some popularity of late, with more and more parkour “academies” opening and offering to teach beginners and advanced free-runners how to use the urban landscape to develop strength and balance. It’s also made its way into mainstream entertainment with video games like Mirror’s Edge, Assasin’s Creed, and Watch Dogs all integrating parkour into their combat and movement systems.
Parkour is a great way to get in shape and develop a heightened sense of awareness, and let’s face it–you’ll look pretty awesome doing it. If you’ve ever wondered how to learn parkour on your own, you definitely aren’t alone. You don’t need to join a special gym to get into it, but you will want to build some basic strength and balance before you get started. If you’re not familiar with what exercises can help you on your way, learning a few fitness tips from an expert can get you where you need to be. The best part about learning parkour is that you won’t need any special equipment to get started–the world is your equipment–so whenever you’re ready, you can just, well, go!
Before You Get Started
Here’s the basic stuff we need to address first. Most of it’s common sense, so let’s just think of it as a quick refresher course, then we’ll get to the good stuff soon, promise.
- Warm up
While some people make parkour look effortless, it is actually quite a bit of physical exertion, so you need to warm up first. Learning how to do a few basic stretches that you can integrate into your warm-up routine is a must. A yoga class designed for climbers will help tone the muscles you’ll use in parkour, too.
- Safety first
Seriously. In a lot of situations, you’ll be running and jumping off of unforgiving surfaces in urban settings. So you really, really, need to be aware of what’s going on around you. This will keep you and others safe while you’re out there. Also, you’ll want to practice in well-lit areas. It never hurts (pun intended) to take a course in preventing athletic injuries, either.
- Easy, tiger
It’s easy to want to get going and get going fast, but it’s extremely important to work with your abilities and not against them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try new stuff–you can (and should) absolutely challenge yourself. Just give yourself the time to adjust to new movements as you learn them.
- Look before you leap
Being aware of your surroundings isn’t just for safety concerns. You also need to know where you are in terms of private vs. public property. It’s easy to get overenthusiastic in your hunt for new, challenging terrain, but it’s best to stay away from private property entirely. Even in if you’re in a public space, be aware that it’s public for a reason: anyone can use it. So just take quick stock of your surroundings to ensure that you’re being courteous to others in that space.
Okay, as promised, on to the good stuff: how to learn parkour.
The most basic parkour move is a jump. Later on, you’ll be able to integrate jumping with other, more advanced and infinitely more awesome moves, but for now, practice jumping and landing. Jumps are mostly used to get up and down, so its best to start at ground level with a slightly elevated surface like a step or a curb.
- Before you jump, find a stance that’s comfortable, usually feet spread to the width of your shoulders.
- Jump straight up onto your elevated surface, landing with both feet, and then jump down again, landing once more on two feet.
- Now switch it up: use one foot to lead, then the other, until you’re comfortable leading with either foot.
- As you get more comfortable, look for higher surfaces to practice on.
Jumps are also used for getting over obstacles. So what you’ll want to do next is find a freestanding, elevated surface to jump over.
- Just as before, practice jumping with both feet before switching lead feet.
- Challenge yourself by finding objects that vary in width and elevation.
- Combine both jump moves by first jumping over, and then onto, a freestanding object.
Look at you! A jump might not sound like a thrilling stunt, but you’ve already got the most basic move down, so there’s nothing stopping you from here on out. Check your technique, though, and get an idea of what’s to come by snagging a course in basic parkour. Okay, next move.
Learning to roll serves two purposes. One, it’s a safety thing–like knowing the right way to fall. When you know how to roll, that makes it easy to bail on a move if you have to, and it helps cushion the shock of a landing. Second, it’s one more way to get from point a to point b, which is basically what parkour is all about.
- Find your comfortable stance again, starting on a soft surface like a mat or grass. For your first few rolls, begin in a crouch so you have less distance between you and the flour.
- The key to a good roll is to do it diagonally, so choose a shoulder to start with.
- Placing your hands on the ground opposite of the shoulder you’ve chosen, tuck your chin to your chest.
- Make yourself as round as possible by pulling your knees to your chest, rolling diagonally from your shoulder to the opposite hip.
- When you come out of the roll, put one foot flat on the ground and bend the other leg at the knee.
- Pop up!
Once you’ve got your rolling technique down, it’s time to combine it with a jump. A small jump. Let’s not try and crazy aerial stuff right out of the gate. Just grab a slightly elevated object, remember to stay on a soft surface, and give it a go. Once you’re comfortable you can try higher surfaces. With two moves under your belt, you’re on your way to showing others how to learn parkour, too.
The vault is similar to a basic jump in that you’re using it to get yourself over an obstacle. It’s a little more advanced, however, because you won’t be jumping straight over–you’ll be going to one side–and you’ll need to use your hands. For this move, you need something that’s too high to jump over using just your feet, like a fence or cable box. Again, on a soft surface.
- To start, get right up on your target.
- Reach up with both hands to grab the top of the obstacle.
- Start bringing your legs to one side, letting go with the opposite hand.
- swing both legs over and let go completely.
- Land on the balls of your feet to cushion the impact.
Eventually, you’ll be able to do this from a running start, and then the possibilities are pretty endless. There’s frog vaults, kong vaults, gate vaults, lazy vaults…you get the picture. Enrolling in a more intense beginners course that will show you how to learn parkour, and will get you familiar with the entire free running lexicon in no time.
These three types of moves don’t even begin to scratch the entire surface of this dynamic (and ridiculously awesome looking) sport. Now you’ve got a foundation to work from in exploring the world of parkour and freerunning. It’s always a good idea to learn what you can about managing your whole-body health when taking up a new physical routine, and once you find yourself doing it everyday, you’ll also want to make sure you have a diet that meets your nutritional needs. This course in biohacking is pretty awesome and has you covered. Now it’s your turn. Go forth, and be awesome.