If you haven’t seen it yet, you will soon. Parkour (also known as freerunning) is a form of improvised outdoor gymnastics. Using no equipment other than athletic shoes and a hefty dose of nerve, practitioners — called traceurs — vault over cars and brick walls, slide under park benches, and hurl themselves over natural and man-made structures, all with lightning-fast accuracy and efficiency.
Although the terms “parkour” and “freerunning” are often used interchangeably, some enthusiasts associate parkour more with efficiency of movement, and freerunning with artful expression. Many U.S. cities now boast parkour or freerunning clubs, and, assuming nice weather, you can often find traceurs flipping and diving around public parks and playgrounds, scrambling up edifices, honing their skills, and challenging each other to increasingly daring moves.
Watching traceurs in action — in person, at the movies, or on any of the thousands of videos on YouTube — it’s hard not to be impressed by their agility, fitness and all-around athleticism.
As a group, traceurs have astonishing relative strength — the type of fitness you need to jump high, run fast, swing from railings and ropes, and perform body-weight movements like pushups and pull-ups with ease. Parkour also enhances grace and spatial awareness, so that athletic and everyday movements become smoother and easier.
“Every move is a full-body workout. Even the simplest vault requires exact placement and awareness of your hands, feet, and even your head, ” says Levi Meeuwenberg, a freerunner with a long list of television credits and a member of Tempest Freerunning, which operates Tempest Academy in Chatsworth, Calif.
But parkour is more than just a flashy way of getting fit: It’s also a creative discipline that allows the personality and style of each athlete to shine through. These athletes aren’t just going through the motions, says Meeuwenberg: “We’re expressing ourselves.”
But isn’t parkour mostly for fearless hot-doggers? “That’s a misconception, ” says Brian Orosco, an instructor at Tempest who has helped usher many newbies into the ranks of amateur traceurs. “To a beginner, high-level freerunning can look pretty intimidating. But you have to realize those people have years of experience. They’ve practiced those moves hundreds of times, building up from very manageable jumps and vaults. Getting good at parkour isn’t about big improvements over short periods, but incremental improvement over long periods. You have to start slowly and celebrate small victories.”
With that in mind, Meeuwenberg and Orosco — with help from plyometric expert Shawn Myszka, CSCS, SPS, owner of Explosive Edge Athletics in Edina, Minn. — have assembled the following parkour-inspired workout. It will give you a taste of the way these outside-the-box athletes build high-level strength and fitness — and how you can do the same. And if you get a hankering to try out some basic parkour moves yourself, this workout will help prep your body for the challenge. (See the “Run Free” sidebar for ideas about how to create your own freerunning course.)
Parkour Prep Course
Perform the following parkour-inspired strength-and-cardio workout two or three times a week. After the warm-up described, perform exercises 1 through 5 as a circuit, completing as many perfect-form repetitions of each movement as you can within a span of 30 seconds. Rest as little as you can tolerate between exercises, but pause for a full two minutes between circuits. Repeat for a total of four to six times through. For an added challenge, note how many reps of each movement you perform in the 30-second time period, and try to beat your record on each subsequent round — without sacrificing form or safety.
• In an open space, jog forward, backward and to both sides to help “switch on” your spatial awareness. Stay on the balls of your feet, emphasizing relaxation and ease of movement.
Duration: Three minutes.
Quadrupedal Movement (“Q.M.”)
• Assume an all-fours, hands-and-feet position with your hands and feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend your knees and elbows slightly, look forward, and distribute your weight comfortably among all four of your points of contact with the floor.
• Simultaneously lift your right hand and your left foot a few inches off the floor, step them several inches forward, and return them to the floor.
• Repeat the same movement with your left hand and your right foot, and continue moving forward, alternating sides on each step.
A Word From the Pros:
Q.M. is an essential skill for traceurs, who often have to move seamlessly between bipedal and quadrupedal movements — while vaulting, scurrying and scrambling, for example. “There are all kinds of variations on the basic Q.M. pattern, ” says Meeuwenberg. “We play with all of them in warm-ups: moving forward, backward, sideways, and up and down stairs.” Work on improving your skill so you can perform Q.M. effortlessly in any direction at any time.