Parkour is an activity that has remained largely underground since David Belle and Hubert Koundé first coined the term in 1998. It has grown in popularity through YouTube videos and recently it has gained mainstream attention with the popular series The Office poking fun at it and MTV featuring a series called Ultimate Parkour Challenge. However, most people still aren’t sure what exactly Parkour is. The word Parkour is French and means “the art of moving” and a person that practices it is called a Traceur or Traceuse if female. It is defined on Wikipedia as “a non-competitive, physical discipline of French origin in which participants run along a route, attempting to negotiate obstacles in the most efficient way possible”. The best way I can describe it is urban gymnastics. If you’ve never seen Parkour before, here is one of my favorite YouTube videos: Extreme Game of Tag
After seeing some of the amazing stunts that are performed in some videos, Parkour can seem extreme or too advanced for the average person. However, bear in mind what you are witnessing in these videos are usually people who have trained for years and most likely have some type of martial arts or athletic background. I recently had a chance to interview Scott Hoffman, founder of AMParkour , who teaches a Parkour class at the Modern Self Defense studio in Middletown, CT. I asked him the kind of fitness level should a person be in when beginning Parkour. Scott explains that:
“A general level of fitness is only required when one considers Parkour to be based on being able to perform ‘the moves’. These moves might include vaults, jumping, crawling, and climbing. However, if we instead consider Parkour to be a very personal experience where a person learns how his or her body moves in different situations, then anyone of any fitness level can participate. To work up to the fundamental movements, a person will eventually need to gain strength, speed, and fluidity, but those will come through scaled exercises and lots of practice. At AMParkour, we don’t turn anyone away for lack of physical fitness. However, we do recommend that people who are unable to perform movements such as pushups, crunches, and squats see the Modern Self Defense Center’s conditioning coach, or find a proper fitness trainer in addition to training with us.”
Although slightly different, the term Free Running has also become synonymous with Parkour. Free Running focuses less on stunts and more on the fluidity of movement and finding creative ways of overcoming obstacles. Scott has been into Parkour and Free Running about 4 years. He told me a little about how he got started.
“I was more interested in the Free Running aspect though. I would spend time with friends running around the UConn campus, or if it was cold outside, we’d play on anything we could find in the field house. I was originally drawn to Parkour by the videos online, especially the video from the Dvinsk Clan in Russia. The movements were not just impressive, they were smooth and effortless. For a long time I thought, like many people do, that Parkour was all about stunts such as jumping from high heights. However, as my body took serious punishment, and I delved deeper into the practice, I found that the long-time Traceurs (Parkour practitioners) were against things like jumping off buildings. Instead, they focused on repeating skills over and over again to build fluidity within and between their movements. This ideal has been the focus of my class since its inception last winter.”
Cross training is an important part of weight loss or any other kind of training program. Not only does changing up your methods of exercise help to spur new muscle development and keep your metabolism high, it also works to prevent muscle imbalances that can occur when you are always doing the same exercises. I asked Scott what he felt are the benefits to adding Parkour or Free Running training to a person’s exercise program.
“This type of training has many benefits. First, it isn’t boring. Many people find traditional workouts to be tedious, rather than exciting. Parkour is frequently action-packed and is a cardio, muscular, and balance workout. The best quote I’ve ever heard about Parkour is ‘Parkour is the only thing that has made me passionate about being active.’”
I have been taking Scott’s classes for several weeks now and can personally attest to the fun and excitement of this type of training. By following proper progressions under Scott’s direction, I have seen my skills and overall body awareness improve in a short time. It’s also fun to be in a class with some of the more advanced students and watch some of the amazing moves they are able to accomplish. With all the different skills and movements that are incorporated into Parkour, I was curious to find out what Scott’s favorite move was.
“If we are talking strictly Parkour, my favorite movement is the Kong Vault. The Kong is one of Parkour’s most recognizable skills because of its power, fluidity, and animal like nature. It is also useful as a flagship move because of its usefulness in passing over an obstacle while maintaining momentum. In a Kong, the Traceur runs and dives at a low wall or railing, putting both hands on top of the obstacle. From there, he or she pushes off with the hands as both legs tuck in and swing in between the arms. As the Traceur passes over the obstacle, he or she opens up and lands running again. It really is a beautiful movement to watch.”
For more information about Parkour and Free Running here in Connecticut visit AMParkour.com, and for information on classes at Modern Self Defense the Parkour page on their website.