The burgeoning sport of parkour is no longer the sole realm of skater dudes. Beyond looking cool as you leap walls in a single bound, you’ll also get one heck of a full-body workout.
By Krisan Christensen
In a world that seems to grow its cities faster than its forests, what better way to find a silver lining than to wedge your fingers right in the cracks and hoist yourself over the very walls of this concrete jungle? Swing from its metal branches, crawl through its steel caves, and run all over its fields of stone. While many enjoy adventuring in the vast nature outside the city limits, there are actually physical feats that can be conquered just off your doorstep, at the bus stop, and in the office parking garage. Also known as l’art du déplacement, parkour is a means of looking at any obstacle and finding a way to effectively overcome it. It is what moves the terrorist through the construction site in the opening chase scene of Casino Royale, launches people to roofs without ladders and lets them scale walls without handholds. Parkour is a combination of movements that propel the human body from one place to another in the quickest, most efficient way possible.
While you may not have the desire to chase criminals or become a stuntwoman, training for parkour can improve endurance for almost any sport and strengthen specific skills related to climbing, biking, running, skiing, snowboarding, and any other sport that involves balance, speed, and strength. You won’t start off vaulting over four-foot walls or bouncing off stairwells, but no matter how active you are or what sports you prefer, the first two-hour class will work muscles you haven’t used since you were ten years old. You’ll crab-walk backward and forward, do pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, 360s, rolls, and burpees. You’ll learn things you believe have no application to parkour—until week three or four, when suddenly they do. A fitness class with no weights needed, parkour gives you the core strength and the finesse to lift, hold, rotate, propel, and spin your body as its own implement.
The basics of parkour can be traced back to parcours du combatant, French military obstacle courses developed from Georges Hébert’s méthode naturelle, which consisted of his 10 fundamental human movements: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defense, and swimming. The very ideas and skills presented in Hébert’s méthode naturelle and taught in French army training were eventually picked up by Raymond Belle, a soldier and member of the French military fire service, who passed it down to his son David. As a teenager David Belle moved from the French countryside to Lisses, just outside of Paris, where he formed the group Yamakazi and coined the term parkour. Translating the méthode naturelle to the urban setting of Lisses, Belle imagined himself in the same emergency situations his father encountered daily and practiced ways to get through them.
Parkour found its origins in the French countryside, traveled to the streets of Paris, and has now become a global activity practiced by people of all ages and body types. In fact, a growing number of women are catching on. It does require a certain level of intense fitness, but any traceuse (a female who practices parkour) can build from that baseline. More than anything, women who practice parkour gain new confidence in what their bodies can do. Things that seem physically impossible progress to being easy, and that mental boost carries over into all other areas. As Colorado parkour instructor Ryan Ford puts it, “I use parkour as a means to improve myself. It makes me more fit, it sharpens my mind, and it prepares me to be useful to myself and others. It teaches me to overcome obstacles literally and figuratively. It helps me overcome my fears, reach my goals, and solve problems.”
There are many online resources, including www.parkourgenerations.com and www.americanparkour.com, and local groups and gyms being set up nationwide to connect practicing traceurs. Check out APEX Movement in Denver, CO, the third largest parkour gym in the world. Typical lesson packages range from 8-10 weeks and run $130-$150.
The Women’s Adventure Staff try out some of their parkour skills.