Free your mind and body with Parkour

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First appeared in DIVA magazine.

Say the word Freerunning to most people and they’ll reference the daredevil high speed chase (over rooftops, walls and up a crane) in the opening sequences of the Bond Film, Casino Royale.

But there’s far more to this cheap and community-led movement discipline, also known as Parkour, than adrenalin and kamikazi jumps.

It all started just outside Paris in the 1980s, when a group of bored teenagers to set challenges for one another. Jump onto that ledge. Climb up that tree. Now… land and go straight into a somersault (and offset the impact of your fall)! The French police hated them, called them anti-authoritarian and tried to outlaw the whole thing. But it didn’t work and now Parkour is gathering momentum annually around the globe. It was initially male dominated but n 2013 UK research revealed that the number of female Parkour practitioners is increasing steadily – turns out we’re pretty good movers and jumpers too – as is those of over 25 years old (like, um… me).

Unlike what many of the uninitiated assume, though at its most brilliant and extreme Parkour can involve free climbing and backflips, really it’s just as authentically practiced on a curbside or by a bench – at its heart it’s concerned purely with promoting natural human movement, playfulness and being in tune with one’s environment.

But it’s still all very new. The quick spread of interest in Freerunning has taken place mostly in the last decade and is largely thanks to education provider Parkour Generations, who have created classes (£10 for drop-in), monthly memberships (prices vary) and standardised qualifications for instructors. This means that those of any age or ability can now take classes in Parkour and learn (quite literally) from the ground up, what it’s all about. Unlike what many of the uninitiated assume, though at its most brilliant and extreme Parkour can involve free climbing and backflips, really it’s just as authentically practiced on a curbside or by a bench – at its heart it’s concerned purely with promoting natural human movement, playfulness and being in tune with one’s environment.

But don’t be fooled, and trust me: learning to move with elegance over a fallen tree branch, or to jump with precision from one bollard to another may not get you a YouTube channel of your own but it’s still far from easy. Just as a lunge is made harder (more painful and effective) the slower you do it, so too a jump on and off the pavement is made trickier when you are required to land with perfect balance, soft knees, and, ideally, a big smile just because you can

As for the risk factor? At the beginning at least, it’s minimal, probably far less than you’d encounter playing rugby or hockey for example. Yes, a decent Parkour coach will gently encourage you to knock-knock on the door of fear (and see what lies behind), but you’ll never be yelled at to go harder or forced to do anything. What’s more, this is probably the most eco-friendly way of training I’ve yet to come across, and Parkour practitioners (a.k.a. traceurs and traceuse) are, in my experience, particularly respectful of both their environment and those with whom they share it. It’s a mindful way to exercise that requires and builds focus and a kind of flow as you learn to move naturally, over varying terrain, adapting your training to suit the environment you find yourself in and not the other way around.

As for the aesthetic and health benefits? When practiced regularly Parkour training enhances mobility, strength and stamina, without causing your heart to burst out of your chest. It’s a slow burn kind of thing – my experience is that I’m so busy focussing on getting my body over that damned wall, or under that rail, that I don’t even notice how tired I am until I get home, when it’s time for sofa, lots of protein and an episode of OITNB, because that’s how all movement ninjas relax these days, don’tchaknow.

Great for: rebellious types who find the gym boring

Not for: anybody with existing joint issues made worse by high impact training

Strength: 4/5

Cardio: 3/5

Fun: 5/5

Addiction risk: 3/5


See parkourgenerations.com
and facebook.com/shecantrace for more information about women’s Parkour events and classes.

– By Lucy Fry

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