Parkour for Beginners

It almost always comes to us in a YouTube video. Fit men and women taking on the streets in ways that seem to go against the laws of physics. Jumps, flips, heights, and amazing feats of balance. The problem is that most of what we see in those videos is not real parkour. In fact, real parkourists think it’s crazy to jump from precarious heights.

Since its ancient beginnings, parkour has been used to help people hunt effectively. It wasn’t until recently that we decided to put a name to it. Now it’s quickly becoming a popular urban sport.

“Parkour is the fluid movement of a fish in water,” a parkourist explained to me at a group meetup. Free running is a storm-like action taking place on buildings and distanced rails. It’s what athletes deem ‘extra’ because it deals with a series of movements that would otherwise hinder the athlete’s movement from point A to point B. I asked about backflipping onto other platforms.

“That’s really stupid, don’t do that,” the parkourist replied with a laugh. Still I can’t help but feel that the adrenaline might be worth the risk and although we see only perfect moves on the internet, there are also many fails.

I took a drive to Ann Arbor one evening to watch a weekly club practice on the University of Michigan campus. I watched as they began their routine with basic stretches and warmed up with a quick run. And then they were off. The campus is perfect for steps and rails with its many short buildings. I approached a few locals and asked them about the group. “Oh I see those kids all the time,” a coffee shop employee answered. “I don’t know what they do, but it’s really cool. I see them practicing under the pillars down the street.”

One member of this group, Paige Martin, is also the founder of a separate parkour group called Women in Parkour. I asked her about intimidation that women might feel when joining a parkour group. “The women’s group has been such a supportive atmosphere for both newcomers and more experienced practitioners,” said Martin. “We have new people come all the time, and we love teaching beginners!”

Moving forward after the beginner phase isn’t easy though. “We have new people come and go,” one member told me. Each member revealed some sort of battle scar proving how tough the streets can be on the body. Still, broken bones, sprains, and gashes were all shared with a smile. The respect these athletes have for the sport is immense. And even though they don’t backflip from one building to building, their skill is undeniable.