With most sports, a rhythm of progression is set naturally. You have rules and objectives, so you play within those rules to meet those objectives. Scoring a goal in soccer is the objective of the game, and not using yours hands is one of the major rules. In basketball you must dribble and pass to make baskets. In volleyball you can hit the ball three times and, by the third touch, attempt to spike it over the net and into your opponent’s court. The structure of these sports creates clear blueprints for what to expect.
This is why delving into a sport like parkour can be so intimidating. Parkour isn’t built on rules or objectives; it’s built on expression. You see videos of people jumping 12 feet to a rail and sticking it, or chaining multiple flips and spins together across a rooftop. You see these things, they’re incredible, but the barrier to entry looks too high to scale.
Truth is, beginning your parkour journey couldn’t be easier. Strict rules may not exist in parkour, but fundamental techniques do. You may be unsure of what you want out of it, but with a solid foundation you’ll find your way. Hence the purpose of this guide; to give you a sense of direction when starting out. So read on, and find your bearings in this exciting and enigmatic sport.
What To Bring
Do you really need any equipment to start parkour? The short answer is no. Parkour is about moving through your environment with your body. Think street skateboarding or urban skiing without a skateboard or skis, and you get the picture. You could even practice with bare feet should you wish. With that said, there are several items to consider when equipping yourself.
Shoes: Starting out, it’s best to avoid going barefoot. When selecting a pair of shoes, the soles should be the make it/break it of your decision. You want soles which can grip concrete surfaces and rails well. Opt for soles which are of one whole piece. Multi-piece soles are liable to fall apart over time, and soles with plastic components on the arches are a slipping hazard.
The soles should be thick enough to provide a moderate amount of cushioning but not too thick nor too heavy. Remember, you’ll be launching off of and landing onto a variety of materials like concrete ledges, painted rails, and brick walls. Your shoes need to serve as an extension of your feet, and feel natural.
Pants: Parkour movements demand a full range of motion so choose your pants accordingly. Baggy sweatpants are exceptionally trendy in parkour culture. Loose shorts work as well. Jeans are generally a big no-no, but stretchy skinny jeans have found a large audience in recent years. In general, even the slightest restriction in movement could lead to an otherwise easily avoidable injury. Flexibility first, fashion sense second.
Backpacks: A typical session of parkour tends to span multiple locales, most of which are public spaces. Due to this, you’ll save yourself many headaches by preparing a smartly-packed backpack. Any backpack will do. For one thing, your valuables, like your keys and wallets, can be neatly hidden away inside your bag. Don’t risk placing them out in the open or in your pockets. It’s far too easy to lose track of your items when you’re pulling a sweet combo.
A backpack also allows you to carry adequate amounts of water. Lugging around two or more water bottles by hand is impractical and looks silly. Ensure a space in your backpack for basic first-aid supplies. Like any sport, parkour comes with the typical assortment of bumps and bruises. Bandaids, alcohol swabs, gauze pads, and an elastic bandage for sprains should be sufficient for minor accidents.
What Not To Bring: Gloves. They’re a hazard waiting to happen. Many parkour maneuvers involve the assistance of your hands in clearing obstacles. Wearing gloves, even fingerless ones, absolutely kill your ability to feel your environment. In turn, the chances of your hands slipping out on an obstacle dramatically increases. Your hands are naturally grippy, don’t waste that.
Never bring anything illegal with you. An act as innocent as jumping over a picnic table can spur a police call from the local worrywart. Giving the police a legitimate reason to heckle you is the last thing you want.
Where To Practice
So you’re sporting a pair of shoes with not-too-thick grippy soles, XXL sweatpants, and a backpack loaded to the brim with water and first-aid supplies. In an attempt to amp yourself up, you’ve just finished watching a video of a similarly clad athlete flipping from a parking ramp to a nearby rooftop. Somehow, playing on a rooftop doesn’t seem like a great starting point to you. You’d be right. Let’s examine the best places to learn the basic parkour techniques.
Parks: A majority of practitioners’ daily trainings tend to take place in modest locations. Parks are the most accessible and common places to find obstacles. Outside of the playgrounds themselves, parks are commonly host to benches, picnic tables, and low fences. Walls of varying heights are commonly found in park pavilions.
College Campuses: College campuses are hotbeds for parkour spots. Many campus buildings tend to feature extensive handicap ramps which provide many walls and rails to jump over. There’s usually elaborate outdoor areas made for students to lounge about and study, which means more benches and ledges to use. Just be aware that campus security may crack down on you. In that case, be respectful and move on to greener pastures if need be.
City Plazas: The central business district of your local metro area is likely to contain a plaza or two. Artistic architecture abounds in these spaces with large concrete fountains and other such oddities. Examples of such places include Keller fountain in Portland and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis.
What To Practice
Finally, we arrive at the meat and potatoes of actually doing parkour. Listed below are the basic skills necessary for a strong foundation. So many of parkour’s more advanced movements stem directly from these fundamentals. Even the movements that aren’t directly related, like flips for example, are easier to learn after acclimation to these techniques. Each technique listed has countless tutorials on YouTube for step-by-step instructions. Here’s a breakdown of the first things you should learn.
Safety Vault: The safety vault involves placing one foot atop your chosen obstacle, and threading your other leg through to end up on the opposite side. You’ve likely performed this vault naturally when attempting to climb fences.
Lazy Vault: When you perform a lazy vault, your body should start out facing parallel with the rail or low wall you’re using. Place one hand on the obstacle and swing your inside leg up and over. Your other leg should follow naturally.
Kong Vault: The Kong vault has you placing your hands side by side on an object. You need to simultaneously pull with your arms and push off with your legs to pass over. Once mastered, you can use the Kong vault to launch yourself incredibly far. If you’re having trouble clearing your object, you may need to increase your pull-up strength as most of the power in a Kong vault comes from the pulling motion.
Precisions: Precisions are jumps between two objects. The goal with precisions is to “stick” the landing. Depending on the situation, you may be jumping from a running start or from a standing broad jump. Aim to land on the edge of the incoming object with the balls of your feet, and absorb the ensuing impact using your glutes as if performing a squat. Start precisions on something easy like a street curb, and progress over time to walls and rails.
Rolls: A shoulder roll is essential for dispersing impact on large jumps. While you should avoid jumping off of high objects when starting out, you should learn to shoulder roll immediately. With a shoulder roll, you’re rolling from your shoulder to your opposite hip. Start on a soft surface like grass or sand, and very gradually progress to firmer surfaces until you feel ready for the concrete. The technique differs according to body type, so you may need to modify any instructions given by tutorials to suit you.
Networking With Others
Parkour isn’t a team sport, but you’d be missing out on the complete experience if you only train alone. For starters, the fun factor goes way up. Like any sport, parkour provides a perfect excuse to meet and socialize with others. Good training partners also motivate you to hit that one precision you weren’t quite sure of.
Since parkour has gained international popularity, you have potential friends waiting to jump around with you in nearly every major city on the planet. Whether you’re spending a holiday in Europe, or just poking around for locals in your home digs, you’ll need to know how to find other practitioners. Below we’ll list surefire methods of drawing out potential allies from the woodwork.
YouTube Accounts: Crafting parkour videos has become a cultural standard for the sport. Some edits are meticulously crafted blockbuster-esque extravaganzas, while others are humble cuts from a day’s worth of jumping about. Chances are quite good that someone in your local area is posting videos to their YouTube account. A quick search of “parkour (name of city)” should help net you some fresh leads.
Facebook/Meetup Pages: Oftentimes, you’ll be able to find Facebook groups dedicated to organizing local training sessions. Meetup.com also serves a similar function with a more streamlined and formal interface for organizing gatherings. The method of finding these groups remains the same as noted above for YouTube Accounts.
Parkour Gyms/Open Gyms: Gyms designed specifically for parkour are still somewhat of a novelty, but if you’re lucky enough to live near one, they’ll give you all the tools you need to kick-start your parkour journey. You should also search online to see if any local gymnastics gyms are hosting parkour classes. If not, it may still be worth checking out an ‘open gym’ session. Not only will you meet like-minded people and learn to flip in a safe environment, but you may happen to run into other parkour practitioners.
What Are You Waiting For?
By now, a sense of order should have emerged from the organized chaos that is parkour. While parkour lacks the typical rule structure and media embellishment of other more mainstream sports, it’s perfectly accessible given the correct guidance. With the proper equipment, and a deft understanding of the fundamental movements you’ll soon find a stern grasp on how to progress. Then, with a smidgeon of networking, you’ll be able to share in the joy of parkour with others and see what parkour is really all about.