Parkour essentially requires its practitioners to get from one point to the other in the most efficient way possible, unassisted.
Delson D’Souza, who has been practicing the discipline since 2010, describes parkour as the ‘art of movement’, and its more famous offshoot freerunning as the ‘art of expression.’ Even as parkour is deeply rooted in military obstacle course training, freerunning, has a lot of gymnastics and dance elements.
“I am one of the few women in India who practice parkour,” says the Surat-born Lalita. “A lot of parents are scared to let their daughters pursue it because of potential injuries. But I hope that starts changing and more women are encouraged to get into it. Also, I started doing parkour in December 2018, at the age of 23, so there is no particular right age at which you should be starting it.”
While Delson and Sam have trained in martial arts, Lalita started out as a Kathak dancer and has progressed to breaking. Vignesh has practiced with one of the French founders of parkour.
The four of them already have a sound base for parkour and freerunning. But for those who want to get started in parkour, Delson, Sam, Lalita and Vignesh have listed out some of foundation and strength moves that will give you a push in the right direction.
A lot of parkour moves are derived from, what Delson calls, “monkey movements”.
“There is a lot of stress on working on all fours,” says the Bengaluru-based trainer, who has his own parkour and calisthenics gym called Chaos Faktory.
“These are called quadrupedal movements. The basic movements are, once you are on all fours, how to go forward, how to go reverse, how to go laterally. The same can be scaleable on a bar or on a wooden log, where the space is less. That’s a little more challenging. Then maybe on a box, a rail.”
With all the jumping and leaping and running, parkour is a very explosive activity.
Plyometric or jump training is not only functional but it helps strengthen the lower body.
“One thing we want to work on in parkour is vertical jumps,” says Delson. “Once you jump, you also have to land. That will also give you an idea of how to land. These are things you have to learn. For someone doing this on their own, it is not suggested that they do this on a box. Do it on the ground. As they understand the mechanics, they can progress to a two-feet box, and higher.”
Apart from vertical jumps, parkour athletes train for precision jumps. That is when they start from a stationary point and jump and land precisely on the other side. While the momentum goes upwards in a vertical jump, it goes forward in a precision jump.
The same idea of scaleability applies for this as well.
Lalita, who trains in Pune, did a lot of plyometrics during her foundation training.
“In the beginning, I would do a lot of monkey jumps, vault jumps and basic wall jumps,” says the 25-year-old, who already had a foundation of dance and gymnastics. Currently, her daily training includes skipping, high knees, tuck jumps and arch jumps.
Hang in there
To build the upper body strength, and train forearms, hands and fingers, hanging off a bar can be a sound starting point.
“For a beginner, just hanging on a bar is also a lot of exercise,” says Delson. “This is like lifting the entire weight of the body on the bar. Do it for few seconds to begin with. It challenges the grip strength, shoulder strength.
“As you develop you can do more. You can start easy swings on it. Then you can traverse on the bar. For example, if you have a five-foot bar, you catch it and keep going laterally or forward or reverse. It involves the core also. It is total body awareness.”
Once you can do this comfortably, move to pull-ups.
Squats are one of the most effective exercises for beginners to build lower-body strength.
“Squats are very important,” says Delson. “Not just because it is a fitness exercise. It is the way how you absorb a jump. Whether you jump up or jump forward, you eventually have to land into a squat. If you don’t absorb that, you are asking for impact on all the joints, especially the knees.”
Calisthenics and bodyweight training is essential to parkour. And push-ups are the gold standard.
A lot of the moves in parkour, like the cat leap – where you leap on a wall, catch it on the edge and then pull yourself up – require some level of upper body strength.
“I tell people to start with bodyweight training,” says Vignesh. “Weight-training is one of the best ways to build strength but it’s not the first thing people should start doing. They should get comfortable with their body weight first and there are different kinds of exercises for that: squats, push-ups, pull-ups.
Push-ups are a great foundation move as they work almost all the muscles in the upper body. Also, like squats, push-ups help absorb the impact in the upper body during a fall.
Vignesh recommends the following workout schedule: Upper body push exercises on Day 1, Leg training on Day 2, Upper body pull exercises on Day 3.
Balance and core strength are absolutely key in parkour, where the landscape is versatile and ever-changing.
“A lot of twisting movements are involved (in parkour),” says Sam. “Your obliques need to be very strong for that. You can do certain exercises like the Russian twist for it. Also, in movements like precision jumps, when you have to land on the edge, you need a strong core to balance.”
The Russian twist, which can be done with feet on the floor by beginners, targets all the muscles in the core, including the back.
Chest and triceps dips
A tricep dip can be done off a chair, or a gym bench, with feet planted on the ground to make it easier for beginners.
If you have access to a gym, the chest dip and tricep dip can be done on parallel bars. They are compound bodyweight exercises and very effective.
For people who don’t have access to free weights or gyms, resistance bands/tubes are a great alternative.
“All the push-based exercises that we do with barbells or dumbbells can be done with resistance bands. Like shoulder press, or chest press. Instead of pull-ups, you can start with single arm rows, lat pull downs,” says Vignesh.
Resistance bands are good for people on the move and a lot more versatile, as the load can be adjusted according to the fitness level. Vignesh still works with resistance bands during his recovery cycle.
To build shoulder and arm strength, you can also use free weights.
“You need to train your shoulders and the front side called anterior deltoids,” adds Sam.
“For that you can do some dumbbell front raises, lateral raises. For shoulders you can do overhead or frontal press. These can be done even with water bottles if you don’t have access to free weights.”