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Remember getting in trouble for jumping over the living room couch or trying to balance yourself on the front porch railing? Now you can unleash your inner Spiderman by getting into parkour, a fitness concept perfected in France that’s becoming an international phenomenon. YouTube is saturated with parkour videos—there’s even footage of a parkour dog! But what is parkour?
The official American Parkour website describes it as a “physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment.” The origin of parkour can essentially be traced back to the beginning of humanity, but the modern philosophy was inspired by French soldier Raymond Belle, who designed the concept for military training. Raymond’s ideas were further developed by David Belle into the “running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, balancing, and quadrupedal movement” collectively considered parkour. Freerunning is an offshoot of parkour, and is believed to be more creative than the traditional method.
Parkour gained attention in American popular culture with its featured use in the 2006 blockbuster hit Casino Royale. The Hollywood attraction didn’t stop there. David Belle helped Jake Gyllenhaal train in the art of parkour in order to prepare for his physically demanding role in the Disney film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Gyllenhaal remarked of his parkour experience, ““[I] never did anything this intensive before.” His training enabled him to perform many of his character’s stunts. “I started jumping off of a lot of things that were padded and learned the fundamental stuff, and then slowly started working on harder surfaces, really carefully.”
Although there are no age limits in the practice of parkour, it is absolutely necessary to determine if you are physically, mentally, and emotionally able to handle this exercise. The American Parkour website features a callisthenic warm-up recommended to prepare your body for parkour’s physical challenges. The warm-up includes three rounds of 10 to 15 squats, pull-ups, and push-ups (ouch!) in addition to a series of agility drills. The warm-up can also be used to maintain fitness and health in between parkour workouts.
The critical part of how to do parkour is to start with the basics. Practice rolling to diminish damage to your body on impact. Next, practice jumping and landing. Continue practicing until you can master controlling your body. This will be critical when you start bounding off of walls and over trash cans. Once you are ready to start vaulting and are able to keep the terminology straight (know the difference between a gate vault and kong vault) you can get really adventurous with wall runs, turn vaults, and cat leaps!
Before you hit the streets, make sure your attire is appropriate. Wear light weight clothing and comfortable shoes. Avoid wearing anything too loose-fitted or with embellishments that could get caught on an obstacle. Once your parkour look is complete, check out http://twitter.com/#!/parkourquotes for inspirational quotes, such as, "Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul's weather to all who can read it." And my personal favorite, "Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward."
If you’re curious about parkour but aren’t sure you’re physically ready for it, try Parkour in the Park, an instructional parkour class featuring a free running exhibition. “Parkour is not a sport,” cautions the Parkour in the Park site, “but more of a fearless and altruistic state of mind.”
The many benefits of practicing parkour include improved physical fitness, enhanced balance and agility, and increased self-confidence. As parkour has gained popularity, it has become a great way to socially connect with others on an international level. But don’t expect to see any parkour events in the Olympics or X-Games, as a fundamental element of parkour is its non-competitive nature. The goal is to challenge yourself to be the best you can be, not to be better than someone else. Are you ready to accept the challenge?