Starting Parkour Training (From a Learner)

By on November 4, 2021

In my “From a Learner” series, I talk about things that I have no business talking about. That is to say, I can’t do the thing (or can’t do it particularly well), and am in no way an expert. However, I believe there is merit in learning from someone who is also going through the learning process themselves. This provide a unique insight and eliminates the chance of me getting ahead of myself, or assuming knowledge that a beginner might have.

See also: Handstand Tips From a Learner

At the same time, though, as someone well-versed in training and human movement, I hope I can still bring some additional insight to help speed up your progress.

And what better subject for such a discussion than parkour training?

Parkour Thief Vault

So, I was extremely excited when Liam Ellis of Parkour Journeys got in touch and asked if I wanted to collaborate. Liam is extremely talented and this was a fantastic opportunity to learn some of the proper moves and to see how my functional training actually translated into parkour. Moreover, it was a chance to discuss the benefits of parkour-style training for the general population – something that I believe in strongly.

Bioneer and Parkour Journeys

Here, I’ll share some of the moves and core principles I learned during the day.

Sure, a 34 year-old Dad leaping off of railings with a top-tier parkour athlete. What could possibly go wrong?

My Experience With Parkour

Parkour, or free running, is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. As a young teenager, I used to record videos of myself leaping off of things and called them “monkey stunts.” Then I watched Jump London and realised other people did that stuff, too! For a while I even posted on the Urban Freeflow forum, except my videos weren’t met with much acclaim. Mainly people said “that’s not parkour.” Especially the time I made a video throwing a toy cat, doing a rolly-polly and catching it.

My Parkour Experience

I never lost my love for parkour, though. Rather, it just evolved into a general appreciation of movement, strength, and training.

The PK Roll

These movements would be a great starting place for anyone. The roll in particular is an important skill that can be trained at home with ease (assuming you have a garden and/or space in your home). This is a breakfall designed to absorb impact from big jumps and to safely bail from moves that go wrong, and it’s very similar to the breakfalls used in many martial arts.

Learning to fall has clear benefits from everybody. I once saw my old karate teacher trip over a kid during a game of tag and automatically break his fall smoothly on the wooden floor. He didn’t plan on the move: it happened naturally.

Learning to PK Roll

A good PK roll involves squatting to absorb impact in your legs and then placing your hands down on the ground just in front. You will typically create a diamond shape with your fingers and place it just off-center, toward your preferred shoulder for rolling onto. You then transfer the momentum onto the hands, bend the elbows to absorb some more impact, and create a rounded surface with your outside arm before rolling over that shoulder. The whole movement should be as smooth and impact-free as possible, and you want to pay special attention to protecting your head.

A mistake I was making at one point was effectively jumping over my knees and rolling over my head. The solution is to roll more to one side, keep a wider stance, but also have one foot out in-front slightly more.

Parkour Training PK Roll

This would make a great warm-up or cool down before any workout – especially anything more athletic in nature – and could be practiced on a mat to avoid unwanted bumps and scrapes. Liam also recommended practicing the move from a variety of positions so as to make the movement second-nature.

Vaults and Balancing

After practicing some rolls, we went on to learn a few vaults. We started with the basic safety vault, which is essentially a slow climb over a rail. Then we progressed to the thief vault and the speed vault – watch the video for the details.

Next was the kong vault. This is a very popular move in parkour that involves propelling yourself over a wall or railing by pulling your tucked knees between your hands. It’s technically quite easy, but it’s scary because it feels like you’re going to clip your toes and face-plant. No matter how good your PK roll is, that’s a frightening prospect!

Kong Vault

Fortunately, there is a much easier progression which is just to hold onto the obstacle, then jump/pull yourself up so that your feet touch it. Eventually, you start jumping onto the bar for brief seconds, until you feel confident enough to balance there, and eventually jump over.

See also: Movement Training Explained: Ido Portal, Movement Flows, and More

I love this simple progression that completely removes the fear from the move. And Liam showed me a similarly relaxed progression for the palm spin. Again: that’s in the video.

Easy Parkour Practice

I think this is one of the big things to keep in mind: if you want to practice parkour, you don’t need to jump across rooftops or do backflips off concrete walls! You can slowly climb over low fences, jump over small mounds, or safely build up to a kong vault on some grass. All these things will still teach you incredible proprioception, balance, and coordination: things that are missing from a LOT of training programs.

Parkour Balance

I particularly liked kong vaulting onto a railing and then trying to balance there, stand up, or squat. This was something Liam made look easier, but it requires incredible control. Squatting in this position teaches you and forces you to keep your back upright and keep your gravity aligned. This, in turn, can transfer to a wide range of tasks in the gym. And of course, if you can balance easily across a thin beam, you should be far less likely to fall over during daily life.

See also: The Brain, Movement, and Training

Alignment and Balance

Throughout our training together, Liam explained to me that he viewed his training not as learning new moves, but rather tapping into abilities that we should already have, naturally. He explained that when he was training against trees and other natural obstacles, he found his body almost “knew” where to go without his having to force it.

I, naturally, assumed Liam had taken a few too many falls during his runs.

But I think I understood what he meant once we started playing against a tree. The aim was to jump onto the tree, swing around the outside of it, and then end seamlessly back on top.

Parkour Trees

When Liam did it, he looked like a Ninja.

When I did it, I looked like a Koala clinging for my life. I also punctured my hand multiple times on out-sticking branches. And scraped my chest and groin around the tree. I realised that Liam’s lightness of touch was not only what made it look a lot more graceful, but also what prevented him from hurting himself. He wasn’t grabbing onto the tree like a maniac, he was holding it as you would hold anything else.

And he was able to do this because he trusted himself.

Trusting Your Instincts

Once I trusted myself to be able to jump up onto that narrow bit of tree trunk, I realised I could do it a lot more gracefully. And, ironically, because I wasn’t tensing my body up, I was far more likely to balance and complete the movement.

Parkour Trees 2

I’ve recently been researching ballet training for an upcoming video (as you do), and I learned that balance comes from alignment, which comes from relaxing and trusting your nervous system to do the work. You can’t “brute force” your way into balance, and so tensing up and feeling scared is actually the worst thing you can do.

Learning to trust that your body can do these things, and relaxing so that you can actually listen and respond to that proprioceptive input, is critical for graceful movement. As Liam says, you can already do it (probably). You just have to believe that.

Closing Comments and Moving Forward

I loved my day of parkour training, humbling though it was, and will definitely be practicing many of these moves going forward. In particular, I want to master the running kong (which I never quite figured out due to the timing of the footing), and the roll. I’ll also be practicing the kong vault to balance a lot.

Bioneer Palm Spin

There are some more basic building blocks I’d need to round out my parkour toolkit. I know I need a cat leap (leap and catch onto a wall), climb up, precision (jump onto a small landing spot), tic tac, and more.

The good news is that Liam and I have plans to work together again in future… so watch this space!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Andrei Turcea says:

    Hi Adam!

    I read your email with great interest and enjoyed it a lot.

    Love your content and I hope to meet you in person some day. And as I’ve recently moved to the UK, that might just be less than impossible. One can dare dream, right?:))

    Until then I’ll continue training, moving, filming and hopefully giving something little back to the community.

    I will also start practicing the parkour movements you’ve presented, as I was always fascinated about parkour.

    P.s. I also think that learning from a novice has great value, as the gap between the two is smaller and therefore it’s more easily bridgeable

    Thank you once more and may you always be healthy, loved and prosperous.

    With brotherly love, respect and great admiration, Paul-Andrei Turcea

  2. Grant Bradshaw says:

    Are you using Vibram shoes?

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