We've all seen these "superhumans" jumping from building to building, scaling high walls or somersaulting at great heights and think "Holy Moly!".
Here, wild fitness coach, Paul Ranson, explains the what, the why and how of Parkour ...
Parkour or free running as it's known, is by definition:
"The activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing."
It was developed in France in the late 1980’s and it’s now what all the cool kids and grown ups are doing!
It's origins can be traced back to a clever chap by the name of Georges Hébert, who before World War I promoted athletic skill based on the models of indigenous tribes he had witnessed in Africa.
He noted, “their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skilful, enduring, and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.”
He noted that the training in the French military consisted largely of walking and running with load and did not adequately prepare the individuals for real life combat.
So Hébert created “méthode naturelle” (natural method) which consisted of ten fundamental movement practices: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defence, and swimming.
He also introduced “parcours”, which is the modern day obstacle course and can be found in the majority of military practices world wide.
Modern-day parkour is fundamentally natural human movement in an urban environment with a few party tricks thrown in for fun. As humans we are not designed to specialise in one movement i.e. I’m a swimmer, I’m a runner, I’m a weightlifter, I’m a yogi – that’s great, but it’s to your health's detriment if you only practise one discipline.
The beauty of parkour is that the movements are so varied and tick so many boxes to what is natural to us as humans. Crawling, climbing, jumping, running, balancing, brachiation and vaulting are all movement skills involved in parkour and in turn are movements we have been doing for thousands of years simply to survive and also for fun.
Much like when we were children playing in the back garden or parks, one has to be creative and look at their environment in a new light when developing in parkour.
Walls are there for jumping over or vaulting; rails are there for balancing; what’s the most efficient way of negotiating myself through, over or under that barrier? It’s mindful movement which after practice becomes instinctive and fluid and one has to first build up the movement intelligence and skill set required.
For me, it’s 100 times more stimulating than going for a run on a treadmill. With parkour, your body will feel the benefits as you fire up your nervous system with all this varied movement.
Just like when we were children, you need to lose your inhibitions a touch and you will definitely be challenging your levels of fear. There is importance placed on being aware of your abilities and limitations, to be true to yourself and to make progression gradual and safe.
The best parkour coaches will always teach with safety in mind. Most notably, what to do when things go wrong and how to fall. Falling in itself is a skill and drilling this in is not only fundamental to parkour but could be a lifesaver in times ahead.
We will all fall, it’s inevitable, but preparing the body to fall properly and also taking your body out of “proper alignment” from time to time is good practice so you are prepared for that inevitability.
Who is it for?
Anyone who wants to do what is natural to them, which should be everyone! What people often perceive as parkour looks like you have to be super human, not to mention suicidal.
This is the elite end of the spectrum, The beauty of parkour is how scalable it is and how accessible it is once you learn the fundamentals. Find a good coach or beginner class to help you develop your skill set to a realistic and safe level.
All you need is your body and a positive mindset and you’re half-way there already. It’s also hugely social – parkour groups are popping up everywhere, so what are you waiting for? Move your body the way it expects.