The Ultimate Guide to Parkour
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Think about the greatest action hero you’ve seen on the telly. Think of the top ten.
Jackie Chan should be somewhere there. (How can he not be?)
Now think of the last movie you saw him in. Think of the action sequence.
He appears. Balances on a narrow plank of wood. Jumps to a rope. Swings on that rope. Lands on the edge of a high roof. Runs fast. Faster. Leaps across a pit on the floor. Rapidly clambers up a wall ladder. Flips around.
And your head spins.
Ever imagined yourself doing that?
“Hey, I could jump like that if I tried!”
“When I was younger, I could climb any tree I saw!”
Many have. And Jackie’s stunts partly inspired an entire movement discipline: it’s called “parkour”.
I hadn’t heard of parkour until 2010 when I discovered it in a genre-defining video game. My game character, like Jackie Chan, could run up walls, climb high mediaeval towers, swing from lamp posts, and leap across rooftops. The sheer coolness of it blew my mind.
That’s when I decided to learn more about parkour.
And after seven years of learning, experimenting, and exploring, I am a proud member of the parkour community with enough experience in vaulting random park benches.
So what exactly do we do?
In parkour, you train your mind and body to navigate any urban or natural environment safely and efficiently. You run, jump, climb, vault, swing, and balance to overcome obstacles.
As a movement discipline, parkour originated in the outskirts of Paris in the mid-1980s. A group of youngsters—the core group of whom called themselves the “Yamakasi”—named their practice l’art du déplacement, French for the art and way of movement.
They gathered together and devised practical challenges to push their limits to higher physical and mental mastery levels. That got media attention through documentaries and films.
But parkour has existed since the beginning of humanity. As hunter-gatherers, our ancestors needed agility to navigate rough terrains.
Parkour encourages three things: developing a strong body, fortifying the mind to tackle challenges, and the most important, having fun while doing it all.
Practitioners—called traceurs or traceuses—continually find ways to develop sustainability, adaptability, self-reliance, exploration, fitness, mental fortitude, and creativity. They also abide by a few tenets: être et durer (to be and to last), être fort pour être utile (be strong to be useful), and developing a warrior-like spirit.
But the internet often fails to offer an accurate understanding of parkour. Most top YouTube videos are misleading: they show high-level athletes jumping across rooftops and performing death-defying acrobatics — sensational stuff that gets attention but parallelly feeds misconceptions.
When training outdoors, random passersby feel obligated to reprimand me for ’having no regard for my safety’—so many times.
So let’s be clear: parkour is not a reckless or dangerous sport. It is practised with a deep sense of sustainability and respect for one’s body and the environment.
I started learning parkour in 2015 in London—where the world’s best converge. I had never been a sportsperson, notwithstanding gully cricket and brief martial arts stints.
So I found parkour particularly fascinating, but it wasn’t until I began training that I realised how physically intense it could be: it emphasises development in all aspects of fitness.
Through reimagined kids’ play, self-driven exploration, and very specific skills training, I have always had something new to learn about my own body and mind. This training has been quite practical too — just say it made me capable of rescuing the proverbial cat stuck up a tree more than once.
Parkour practitioners do not spend hours chiseling their muscles in a gym to attain peak physical performance. Instead, they condition their body through real-world challenges they find in their vicinity.
I’ll explain how.
1) Strength: A measure of force exerted on physical objects.
Every time you lift a heavy bag of groceries or push your car out of a stuck pit, you use strength. That’s essential in parkour to practise safely and as a means to jump higher, climb faster, or hold on to that hanging tree branch just a few seconds longer.
2) Power: The ability to produce force in a short amount of time.
Think about a Karate artist kicking their opponent. We call the kick ’powerful’ when it is quick, exerts a large amount of force, and sends the opponent flying through the air.
The same principle is nurtured and employed in many aspects of the parkour movement. With the ability to generate the right amount of power, you, too, can jump across rainwater puddles wider than your height.
3) Agility: The ability to move quickly and easily.
It is directly related to speed and gracefulness of movement. Just as a footballer has to be agile to dodge his opponents while controlling the ball, a parkour athlete has to be quick and graceful to make their movement look effortless.
As the great Bruce Lee said, ’Be water, my friend!’.
4) Endurance: The capacity to sustain a prolonged physically stressful activity.
Did you know that one of the distinguishing factors of human athleticism in the animal kingdom is our physical endurance?
A cheetah, for example, can sprint at high speeds for very short intervals. On the other hand, a human being cannot sprint as fast but can run at lower speeds for much longer.
You can cultivate this endurance with dedicated training.
5) Flexibility: The ability of the body to move through an unrestricted, pain free range of motion.
The human body is made up of 360 joints. Each joint allows your body to move into a certain configuration.
Now you do not have to be a contortionist to be called flexible, but just as a machine needs oil to keep it running smoothly, the joints in our body need nourishment through movement. Parkour offers such movement in heaps.
6) Balance and coordination: The ability to control the positioning of the body’s centre of mass when stationary or moving.
The existence of bipeds (animals who walk on two limbs) remains one of the most incredible events in evolution. The same sense and control which allows you to walk also lets you ride a bike.
Since parkour is about pushing our comfort zone boundaries, we take it a bit further and train to stand, crawl, walk, and stride along rails—metal pipes—ropes, chains, etc. If a surface allows you to place any part of your body on it, parkour can teach you to balance on it.
7) Creativity: The aptitude to discover various ways to move your body through its environment.
As with any other art, parkour enhances with creative inputs from its practitioners. Some athletes prefer their movement to be quick and efficient, while others like to add flair with moves such as flips and cartwheels.
To reiterate, the most important goal of parkour is to have fun through movement.
8) Mental fortitude: The capacity to deal with stressful situations and find rational solutions calmly.
Any athlete worth their salt has spent as much time, if not more, building mental toughness as they have their physical abilities. You are strengthening your mind every time you attempt something completely new.
Parkour challenges the mind in unique ways, from learning to deal with fear to developing an extraordinary ability to focus; it pushes you to become the best version of yourself.
Parkour as essential life skills
I was once training in a London suburb with a large group of parkour practitioners. These informal jams were usually great for sharing knowledge and learning new skills from more experienced athletes.
One of the participants came up with a curious workout plan. In groups of twos, one person would play dead (by going completely limp) on the floor, and the other person would have to find a way to safely pick and carry them over to another location several metres away.
For many of us, this was a problem to be solved creatively—and creative we were! Someone attempted to hoist their partner by two limbs over their shoulder, while another person miraculously managed to get their partner on their back while on all fours.
Some solutions worked well. Most failed hilariously. After about 15 minutes of spent arms and laughter, the person who gave us the challenge showed us the efficiency of one method a few of us had successfully tried.
The fireman’s carry involves hoisting a person over one’s shoulders so that their body is pretty level. It can be used on the injured or unconscious and is a common technique used by soldiers to carry their wounded.
Learning skills like these made me aware of the applications of my parkour training. Think about it.
Being able to vault over a fence quickly may save you from getting bit by a rabid dog chasing you. Practising good jumping and landing techniques is indispensable whenever the elevator is broken, and you must attend the next bus.
My friends and I often design routes based on incredibly fantastical scenarios. Our favourites are the zombie apocalypse (where the athlete needs to get from point A to point B within a time limit to avoid getting bit by a chasing zombie) and imagining the floor is lava (touching the floor during the route means instant death). Whoever said parkour practitioners are grown-ups?
As unlikely as these scenarios might be, they become very real when you replace the lava floor with a depth of more than a couple of metres. If you have to jump that depth for any reason, knowing the correct way to land can mean the difference between meeting your friends for a coffee later that day and an urgent trip to the ER.
Learning parkour skills is much like learning swimming: you don’t know you need them until you do.
Gaining these practical life skills is only one way parkour has helped me grow. The physical conditioning that comes with training directly strengthens joints, which generally helps prevent injury to them. Scientific observations have helped establish that even moderate training (like parkour) involving impact improves bone density.
If the physical benefits alone aren’t convincing enough, parkour generally helps improve focus and mood. It might sound counterintuitive that the human body is geared to function at higher energy and concentration levels after exercise.
Some of the most focused individuals I know, in both professional and personal life, are also actively involved in some form of regular exercise.
Now that you know what parkour is and how it can benefit you, on to the next pertinent question: how can you do it?
When I talk about parkour, I often hear the following:
“I’m not in shape for this.”
“I’m too old for this.”
“All this jumping is great for young kids; I’d break a bone!”
Parkour is for adrenaline-fuelled athletic young men, goes the dominant perception. But that’s just that — a misleading perception.
Because anyone can do parkour: I have trained with a 24-year-old weighing 115kg, a 65-year-old doctor, and an 8-year-old with Down’s Syndrome.
So yeah: body shape is no constraint, and neither is age. You become fit for parkour by doing parkour—no other way. If anything, parkour will only help you shed weight, feel youthful, and generally improve your health. That’s the goal of all training: improving yourself.
Most parkour practitioners I know discovered and began training by themselves. Because there is a gradual progression to every parkour move, you can start right away by going to a public park or an empty parking lot.
Or you can reach out to a local community and ask them to teach you. I’ve shared links to a few training groups in different cities at the end.
Now if you have decided to give parkour a go, let me give you a glimpse of what the training looks like.
One: What do you need?
Good shoes and comfortable clothing. Yup, that’s it—no equipment needed.
Safety gear? Gym gloves, knee pads, and helmets? Nope. Not recommended: you learn proper technique and build better skills without the equipment.
In fact, safety gear often hinders good movement. For example, using gloves disallows natural grip while hanging off a wall or swinging on a bar. Knee cushions don’t allow for a full range of movement in the knees — a big requirement in parkour.
What clothes? Simple: comfortable athletic clothes that permit free movement. Most prefer to train in gym shorts and t-shirts, tracksuits, or loose clothing geared to the weather. Some use hoodies and sweatshirts to get some cushioning against hard surfaces.
As you progress, you can experiment with regulars like stretchy jeans and shirts — whatever your wardrobe springs out. After all, adaptability in all aspects is a core fundamental of parkour.
What shoes? No specific brand or model of shoes is “best” for parkour. Look for three things: sole features, shoe flexibility, and padding.
1) I recommend shoes with minimal padding as they promote proper technique through instant feedback.
2) Choose grippy shoe soles. Rubber soles are great for gripping on concrete and rock surfaces.
3) Avoid using shoes with plastic bits on the sole; they create an arch in the midsole section. Also, avoid shoes with raised heels: they create tension on your ankles and can cause ankle injuries over time.
I suggest starting with any classic running shoe with a single-piece rubber sole, flexibility in the front (to allow for toes to bend), flat or minimal curvature sole design, and non-elevated heels.
Parkour movements such as wall runs are notorious for wearing out the soles on shoes quickly, so expect to change pairs every 5-6 months when training regularly.
Two: Where to practise?
“The world is your playground!”
Yes, you can practise parkour in any environment, natural or man-made.
Most practise basic moves over obstacles such as park benches, short walls, and railings. But even the most unassuming spots—children’s playgrounds, parking lots, architectural features in public spaces—offer training opportunities. So even if you find yourself in the middle of an open grassy field, you can practise basic moves.
There is no “bad spot”. Don’t go out of your way to find that spot to train for a specific move you saw in a video.
Of course, having a dense selection of obstacles in your training spot is nice, but don’t let that limit you at seemingly duller places. A creative athlete can turn an empty site into his playground. And remember: you perform parkour in the real world, so it’s best not to limit yourself to training in indoor environments.
Do check the integrity of the obstacles you are practising on. If you have a broken wall or railing, train with them once you are more experienced or looking for extra challenges.
Three: Getting started — the basic movements
Look, there is no blueprint for learning parkour like there is in, for example, skateboarding. However, one good way to progress is to start with ground-based skills and carefully work your way up to movements based a bit higher off the ground.
I am sharing ten beginner movement skills that should help you build your training plan.
1) Quadrupedal movement (QM)
Start with the bear walk: moving on all four limbs while alternating hands and feet.
Many variations are possible: bear walk backwards; sideways; forwards while controlling impact on the hands; closer to the ground (like Spiderman on a wall); facing the sky so you move like a crab, and so on.
All these movements involve the entire body. They help develop limb strength, coordination, and weight transfer skills.
These are foundational moves. And they translate to parkour moves when you have to move on uneven terrain or under low obstacles. Add these to your warmup routine, and you will be sweating in no time.
Video reference: Quadrupedal Movement Tutorial
2) Landing and impact absorption
Most parkour moves involve some impact on the joints. So learn to land on a hard surface, which means transmitting the force on the ground — and not on your joints — in a way that minimally affects your body. Critical skill. Learn it before trying moves high off the ground.
Good landings need a proper standing posture and the ability to squat. The more you can control your standing posture from erect to flex. And the deeper you can squat, the better you can land.
While starting, don’t attempt to jump from high places without practising landings from lower heights. Experiment with advanced variations like precision landings and soft landings later.
Video reference: Basic Landing Tutorial
Failure is inevitable when you start learning something new. So practising the art of falling — the outcome of failing in a movement — helps prevent injuries.
Shoulder rolls on the ground were among the first skills I taught myself. These are indispensable when taking high-impact drops on a solid floor. Cartwheels and dive rolls are also great for training falls.
With enough repetition, these techniques become second nature so that anytime you lose your balance and fall, your body will instinctively shape itself into taking the least damage.
Video reference: Parkour Roll Tutorial, Slip & Fall Ukemi Tutorial
Balance is an integral part of parkour movements. You need to understand how to use your limbs to help control your body’s centre of gravity. Start this after having learned QM, falling, and landing.
Try balancing along surfaces such as straight lines on the ground, curbs on a sidewalk, and low metal railings. Once you can balance yourself on one foot without falling, try doing the same on the other. Eventually, you will progress to walking and turning while balancing on various surfaces.
Video reference: Rail Balance Basics, Introducing Balance
Building a solid foundation with balance and landing techniques is necessary before attempting large jumps.
Gain a basic understanding of all parts of a jump. Try taking off from one point at ground level and landing at another point a comfortable distance away. As you practise standing long jumps and precision landings, try incorporating takeoffs in as many ways as possible.
For example, taking off from one foot, landing on one or both feet, with and without a run-up, from awkward positions which allow for minimal arm swing, across gaps, etc. Remember to increase the difficulty level gradually and remain safe!
Video reference: Basic Jumping Tutorial
The ‘cool’ vaults draw many people to parkour. I get it.
That comes next. Use your arms and legs to practice going over low to mid-height obstacles (knee to chest high).
Different vaults have their purposes, but the general idea is to begin with a run-up followed by a jump. The vault you are performing will depend upon the distance of takeoff from the obstacle, how many limbs you can use on top of the block, how you want to land, and what direction you want to move in once you land.
a) Kong vaults (called cat pass) involve both hands on top of the obstacle to help launch you over it with any momentum. A good progression for kong vaults is to do ground kongs.
b) Step vaults, which involve placing a hand and the opposite foot on top of the obstacle to get over it, are great starting points.
c) A lazy vault emulates the motion of a ground crab walk.
You can build your vault skills by practising with a range of obstacles. Remember to practise the correct landing and fall techniques, as they are the final part of any vault.
Video references: Safety vault, Monkey vault, Turn vault, Speed vault
7) Wall running
If you have played video games like Prince of Persia and Mirror’s Edge, you have seen these. Wall runs are a slight misnomer though: although you are scaling or traversing a significant distance along a wall, the move is essentially a redirection of momentum with a jump and foot strike on a sloped or vertical surface.
Wall runs with multiple steps, tic-tacs, and high pop vaults are all wall run movements. These are a lot of fun to practise but equally tricky to nail down. Practice pop vaults first and then move to do one-foot strike vertical wall runs on walls higher than your standing reach.
Video reference: Wall Run and Climb Up Tutorial , How to Horizontal Wall Run, How to Tic Tac
8) Swinging/ Brachiating
As you start considering higher obstacles and environments, including swinging elements — like bars, scaffolds, and ledges — the brachiation skill set becomes essential.
Brachiation consists of movements employing the arms to swing yourself from a pivot such as an overhead bar.
There are many techniques: swing laches, pull-ups, underbars, and shimmy. These require careful coordination and the ability to harness angular momentum and gravity. You may not easily find spots to practise outdoor brachiation, but you can always try them at a public play park or an indoor gym with the facilities.
Video reference: How to swing from a bar
Climbing in parkour is a means to conquer the tallest obstacles, which other techniques cannot. It requires good strength, control over breathing, the ability to support your weight on your arms, and plenty of patience.
Urban climbing is called ‘buildering’; you can begin this by climbing short routes at comfortable heights. Also, practice cat leaps, climb-ups, climb-downs, traversing, and body positioning during rest stops.
Only attempt climbing too high vertically once you are confident with your landing and falling abilities.
Video reference: Climb Up Tutorial
10) Basic acrobatics
The parkour community is divided over acrobatic moves in ‘efficient’ movement. But don’t let that dissuade you from learning basic acrobatics anyway.
While most flips and spins are for aesthetics, it is good to know how a front flip, for example, might help you get over an obstacle you cannot place your hands on. Acrobatics are great for improving spatial awareness and connectivity in parkour routes. Flips are usually best learnt in a safe setting like an indoor gym with crash mats.
Fourth: From individual skills to graceful flow
Okay, so now that you have begun practising all these unique techniques, how do you connect them?
Think of parkour movement like a musical composition. Individual notes in music connect and overlay to create a melody.
Similarly, you can move through your environment by picking and combining several techniques from your skillset. Do not worry too much about ‘efficient’ movement in the beginning. Instead, focus on quality and ease. You should move naturally from one technique to the next while utilising elements in your environment as you see fit.
One good way to practise natural connections is to determine a starting point and an endpoint in your environment. Then think of the different ways you can get between the two points. Use a selection of techniques you have trained and create a smooth route. Practise it a bunch of times until it feels natural. Then, see if you can switch the start and end points. Try a different bunch of techniques this time. Eventually, you will mentally begin constructing your routes between any two points in your environment.
This is often called ‘parkour vision’. Visualising your routes this way is a great exercise whenever possible.
Fifth: Structuring a session
Now that you have basic knowledge of the parkour toolkit and what it can do for you, the next step is to put it into practice. Remember that the usual tenets of fitness and exercise also apply to parkour: diet, sleep, mental preparation, and physical activity are the four pillars of fitness.
While parkour trains your mind and body, it needs support from a good sleep schedule and a nutritious diet. So always ensure you are alert, well-rested, and well-fed before you train to avoid injuries.
When you’re training by yourself, an important consideration is the structuring of your session. What exactly should you do in the time that you are training? And how do you prepare your body and mind for learning new skills?
A good template I have implemented in my training is based on training time:
Take the split percentages and times with a pinch of salt, as they depend upon your plan for the day. When you feel energetic, you should practise new moves and link them together in high-energy speed routes. On some other days, you might feel drained after a hectic work week and focus on low-impact movement.
The template is just a guide. The hallmarks of progress are that you’re moving, having fun, and feeling improvement in your abilities over time.
You might have realised by now that rules do not bind parkour. Like thousands of practitioners worldwide, you can train it for any and all motives: as a fitness activity, for its philosophy, as an alternative means of exploration, for pushing the limits of your abilities, and simply for having fun.
The movement revolution, of which parkour is a part, has already begun in India. I hope this primer has piqued your interest enough for you to give parkour a go.
My closing thought is only this: the world is your playground. Trust me.
Parkour coaching in India
This is not an exhaustive list. These are groups I know about and which are active in coaching. You can always discover more groups in your city by searching on social media or networking with the following.
|Mumbai||Mumbai Movement Academy|
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