Parkour Facts

Parkour jump
Man doing a parkour move (Image: -Michal-/iStock/Getty Images)

Parkour is more than a fitness or health program, and it has origins that have ties to the military. It's classified as an extreme sport called free running and requires participants to avoid and overcome obstacles using nothing other than their own body and physical capabilities. Always ask your doctor if starting a new exercise regimen is safe for you and get all the facts about parkour before embarking on the fitness activity.

Origins

Parkour originated in the early 1900s in response to a volcano emergency on the island of Martinique. Lt. George Hebert, an officer in the French navy, coordinated rescue efforts and was intrigued by the way human beings maneuvered around obstacles in their path to get to safety, according to the World Freerunning Parkour Association. From those observations, Hebert created a new method of training that became standard in the French army. Though common in France, parkour didn't catch on in the United States until the early 2000s when it was portrayed in a feature film.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing parkour requires a participant, called a traceur, to see obstacles and overcome them as quickly as possible using only her body and no other tools, according to the Pacific Northwest Parkour Association. The most common movements in the practice of parkour include running, sprinting, jumping and climbing over, under and around the obstacles. As a participant practices parkour, she will increase her speed, flexibility, stamina and endurance. Many traceurs practice alone, as part of a class or with a one-on-one personal trainer. The method you choose depends on your ability level and how serious you are about improving your parkour skills.

Safety Stats

Because parkour requires such extreme movements, safety is a key element of the practice. If you're interested in starting this type of exercise program, don't simply start free running, jumping over things that get in your way; this is a good way to get hurt. Instead, take a few classes to learn the ins and outs of the program and to protect yourself from serious injury. Jan Witfeld, author of "The Ultimate Parkour and Freerunning Book," writes that serious parkour participants take responsibility for their craft and don't take unnecessary risks as they practice.

More You Need to Know

Parkour might seem like a sport for daredevils, particularly if all you know about the sport is what you've seen on television, such as people jumping from roof to roof. These are extreme examples of the sport, and more often traceurs will climb walls, run, vault, roll and other similar movements. Taking a beginners class will teach these movements, and this is highly recommended, according to the Pacific Northwest Parkour Association. Dress in loose-fitting clothes and suitable athletic shoes, and always bring a water bottle.

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