23rd March 2017. Have you ever seen someone running at full speed towards a wall, only to climb straight up and over to continue as though it wasn't an obstacle at all? Even if you've never seen such a feat in person, you've probably seen parkour, also known as free running, in media. It?s a popular modern method of crafting a compelling chase scene, as seen in the opening sequence of the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale. For a free runner, it seems, there are no obstacles, only tools to use in moving forward, upward, or side to side even faster than before. Could you pick up this sport? As a matter of fact, yes ? that's entirely possible. There are plenty of amateur free runners practising in cities and towns all over the world. Should you, though? What kind of an impact would it have on your physical fitness? Today we'll delve into the answers to these questions and more. With its highly athletic requirements, it's clear on the surface that one needs to be quite fit to perform parkour effectively. Before we examine its pros and cons and cover how to begin, though, let's define exactly what we mean when we talk about parkour.

What is parkour? Free running explained

In its most basic form, parkour is simply a philosophy of movement: you must get from one point to another, no matter the obstacles in your way, with only the strength of your body. Parkour never involves devices or equipment that can provide assistance with climbing, jumping, or any other movement. Originating from a challenging obstacle course used to train French special forces commandos, parkour comes from the word parcours, which translates to "the path." In parkour, the path you take is what the whole sport is about; it can be as challenging or as easy as one chooses on the fly. Today, there are several "schools" of free running. Depending on who you ask, the definition can vary. To some, it's all about finding the most efficient, direct route through a given set of obstacles. For others, the obstacles are mere props for exploring the abilities of their bodies. This latter style of parkour includes more acrobatics, including flips and twists. Both forms are valid, but we will primarily focus on the former style in this article. Once you build up a general foundation of parkour skills, you can turn your attention to adding flourishes to your efforts. Okay, so that's what parkour is, but is it good for your body? Let's examine the positive physical impacts practising parkour can have on your body. You might be surprised at how many there are.

What benefits can your body enjoy from parkour?

Firstly, expect to get the cardio workout of your life while doing parkour. It's more than just running in a straight line. As you hurdle over hand railings and scale small walls, your heart and lungs will need to do double duty to keep you supplied with oxygen-rich blood. Over time, this can help you build up an impressive level of endurance. All that climbing will help develop muscle mass in both your arms and shoulders, as well as your back and core. It's a robust workout that accesses many of the most major muscle groups in your body. Beyond climbing, you'll spend a lot of time learning how to safely fall in parkour as well. Those impacts can give you quite a jolt, but they're excellent for the health of your bones. This exercise boosts bone density and improves their strength through the stresses you undergo during free running. Your joints and ligaments can also benefit from the vigorous exercise, strengthening as you improve. Meanwhile, you'll be able to have lots of fun; that's imperative for staying engaged with your fitness regimen. However, it's also important to acknowledge that there are some real risks and dangers associated with this sport.

The disadvantages and dangers of free running

Though a reasonable level of stress on your body from landings and impacts can help your body improve, too much can cause damage. When you're dealing with heights, fast movements, and bounding over obstacles, there are bound to be some accidents. If you misjudge the height of a drop and fail to execute the landing, for example, you could seriously hurt yourself. Broken bones are perhaps one of the most common parkour injuries. These will sideline your fitness efforts for months while also presenting your body with new challenges. Planning your routes carefully, good thinking on your feet, and never jumping when you're in doubt can help mitigate these risks. Less severe injuries, such as sprains or strains, are also common to free runners. Muscle tears are also possible if one overextends during a jump or places too much force on their body, but these are also much less common than other injuries. As sports go, there is an elevated risk for injury with free running. If you are not already in good shape, beginning your fitness journey with parkour is not ideal. Your body needs preparation before it can take all the impacts and stresses of free running; it was used to train commandos once, after all.

How and where to begin practising parkour

If you think you're up to the task, you might want to start practising parkour right away. How can you get started? First, you'll need to learn all the most important foundational skills. These include running, vaulting, climbing, shimmying, and more. You can easily find advanced video tutorials for all these skills on the web. You'll also want to practice rolls and short falls, so you can dismount from a structure or execute a landing without worries about an injury. Once you've mastered the basics ? perhaps at a local park ? you can begin searching for new areas to practice. When choosing locations for parkour, do so with care. Never engage in free running on private property without permission, and always stay out of the way of pedestrians. As mentioned, public parks often have areas where one can practice parkour. You may even be able to find a local club of runners to ask. Find out where their favourite locations are and begin practising there yourself. Avoid areas with heavy traffic or other hazards that could cause you harm.

Training for parkour when you aren't running

As much fun as free running is, you won't be able to do it all the time. Sometimes the weather will be prohibitive, or you simply won't have the time to trek to a good location. When you aren't running, consider focusing on your fitness in other ways. Using free running as a component of a larger approach to fitness can yield very useful results indeed. You'll burn plenty of calories, too, when you add in another exercise. What kind of training can yield the most effective results? Put a focus on cardio first; as we've mentioned, this will be the most strenuous part of the sport for many. Spin machines can provide the kind of high-intensity cardio you need to build up solid endurance. Strength training should follow closely behind. Building upper body and core strength, perhaps by using a rowing machine, can give you a much-needed strength boost when you're trying to climb a tough wall. There's no reason you can't combine free running with other sports in your schedule, too. For example, run hard one day and then hit the pool the next to give your joints a rest without leaving a gap in your approach.

Is this exhilarating extreme sport right for you?

Overall, there's a lot for one to consider when it comes to practising parkour as a fitness activity. Its whole-body workout is taxing and intense, but your best efforts over time could lead to the ability to perform some amazing feats. Parkour isn't for everyone; if you have concerns about your ability to perform it safely, speak to your doctor before beginning. Remember to start off slow, practice the basics, and always observe proper safety procedures. This way you can minimise the risk of injury while maximising the amount of fun and physical fitness you'll receive from the activity. Will you become the next free running star? There's only way to find out ? be adventurous and give it a try!