Basic Parkour Movements
There is no exact formula for learning the basics of parkour. Everybody comes from a different background and will have their own strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing is to be safe. The second most important thing is to have fun! When you start out, push your limits very slowly, be creative, and experiment with all types of movement. If you are looking for a bit more structure during the beginning of your training, begin with simple techniques and slowly build up to more complex ones. Similarly, start out with the most low to ground techniques, and carefully work your way up to ones that are higher off the ground. Keep reading below for ideas on how to progress through the various types of movement.
The first parkour movement that you should learn is how to move low to the ground on all four limbs. The weight transfer skills, coordination, and full body conditioning gained from quadrupedal movement are valuable foundational skills for other movements including landing, falling, and vaulting. While moving quadrupedally seems simple, the challenge it can provide for all ability levels is a testament to it’s importance as a fundamental skill for all practitioners. In addition, quadrupedal moving has many practical applications including moving low to the ground, under obstacles, over highly irregular surfaces, and up or down steep, uneven terrain.
Another movement that is important to learn is how to land. However, it should be noted that squatting and standing are prerequisites for good landings. Once you understand proper standing posture and squatting technique, you are ready to learn how to land. It is important not to lose yourself in the guts and glory of flashy flips and gigantic jumps. Gentle, quiet landings make parkour sustainable. Anyone can throw a flip or a big jump, but the landing reveals true skill. Once the symmetrical, bipedal landing is learned, falling techniques become an extension of the landing.
At some point, early on in your parkour journey, you will fall, fail, or bail. Rolls in all directions are important for you to master because they may be used intentionally as a landing method or accidentally as a falling technique. Being familiar with movements such as handstands, dive rolls, cartwheels, and full turns will further reduce the risk of injury in a falling scenario. Ukemi is the art of falling in martial arts but it can be applied to parkour as well. A solid understanding of these skills will help prevent serious injury while also increasing confidence, skill, and longevity.
Once you have learned quadrupedal movement, landing, and falling, you are ready for balancing. The basics of balance should be learned before jumping because jumps may begin and end in unbalanced positions. When balance is coupled with landing skills, jumps can be performed safely. At this point, you will be prepared to land, roll, or fall if something goes wrong. Balance plays a role in nearly every movement in parkour so if your balance improves, so will everything else. One of the best ways to improve balance is to practice moving along challenging surfaces such as lines on the ground, curbs, or rails.
Once you have a basic understanding of balance, you should learn proper jumping form at ground level, starting from a stand. As you begin to understand all parts of the jump, try a standing precision jump at ground level. As the standing and precision jumps are mastered, running jumps are next. Countless techniques in parkour incorporate a jump so it should be practiced in all kinds of ways; taking off 1 or 2 feet, landing on 1 or 2 feet, with a run, from a stand, across a gap, at a weird angle, before a vault, into a flip, and so on.
A good next step after learning to jump is to practice vaulting. Vaulting typically consists of overcoming low-level obstacles (2-4 ft. high) with the use of arms and legs. Broken down into parts, a vault begins with a run up followed by a jump. As the hands contact the obstacle and you pass over the top, you are essentially doing a variation of quadrupedal movement. For example, ground kongs are a great progression for kong vaults and the arm position of a lazy vault resembles that of a crab walk. Depending on the outcome of these movements, the vault will end with a landing, a roll, or a fall, all of which you should be familiar with at this point. There are many types of purposeful and flashy vault variations, so experiment and see what you can come up with!
Wall running is the next movement skill to learn and includes any technique involving a run up with a foot strike on a slanted or vertical wall. Wall running techniques, which include wall runs, tic tacs, and pop vaults, are used to change directions, move over low-level obstacles, and grab high-level obstacles (4-12+ ft.). While vaulting and wall running variations are numerous, they almost always combine running and jumping with several other foundational movements.
As more techniques are mastered, movements begin to apply to increasingly taller obstacles. With all the basic ground level techniques out of the way, the next skill you should learn is brachiating. Brachiating consists of swinging or shimmying along overhead obstacles like bars and branches. There are many brachiation techniques in parkour including kipping, muscle ups, under bars, sloth shimmy, monkey bars, laches, and tap swings. These techniques usually rely on the arms and methods to harness the power of gravity, conserve energy, and preserve momentum.
As you get stronger and become comfortable relying on your arms, climbing should be introduced as a means to conquer the tallest, most difficult obstacles that other techniques cannot. There are many types of climbing ranging from cat leaps, climb ups, and climb downs to crack climbing, laybacks, and stemming. Vertical movement is a huge part of climbing and so the risk inherently increases with height. To climb safely more than a few feet off the ground, you should possess good strength and skills in landing, falling, and brachiating.
Flipping and Spinning
Now that the basics of safe and efficient movement have been addressed, you will be better suited to contend with the challenges of flipping and spinning. While these techniques are typically for aesthetics only, they bring a higher level of understanding to movement. Most of the previous skills learned were natural to our childhood development and evolution as a species but flipping and twisting techniques served little to no purpose to our survival, and are typically more unnatural for us to learn. There are infinite ways to mix flipping and twisting techniques into movement but the basics of flipping and twisting include techniques like wall spins, front flips, back flips, and side flips. Flipping and twisting will also further increase body awareness and falling skills so that the risk of injury from falling is even further reduced.
Next, parkour's history...