Run Long – Run Free – Free Running
If you are looking for a hobby that will challenge you not only physically but also intellectually, with a novel take on navigating your surroundings, the fast-growing discipline of free-running also known in some circles as parkour, maybe just the thing for you!
This grueling test of agility, strength, and speed is a melting pot of martial arts, gymnastics, climbing, performance art, orienteering, and anything else you may want to add!
It is all about creativity and taking advantage of the utility of the often-mundane structures of our everyday environment around us and challenging the body in new ways.
Get involved early and you may find yourself being part of the next new Olympic sport, as the IOC is considering its inclusion in future games.
Read on for our thorough breakdown of all the essentials to get your freerunning hobby up and running. We will take a look at how the whole shebang works and provide some key pointers for not only staying safe (absolutely vital) but also on the right side of the law.
You may feel like you are going to be a Marvel comic hero, swooping across town, but the reality is far more mundane with hours of training to master even the basics!
Also included are local and national groups, online resources, and some outstanding YouTube channels featuring world-class practitioners of the sport. Enjoy!
What is Freerunning?
Freerunning is a heady combination of sport and expressive performance art that marries athleticism, obstacle course racing (OCR), freeform movement, and finding the most creative way of getting from point A to point B.
The answer to what freerunning is, is always evolving as freerunning is a blend of physical disciplines and movements and is constantly innovated by its participants.
In many ways, freerunning is what you make of it, as the way the environment is traversed is entirely up to the freerunner.
The History of Freerunning
Freerunning initially developed from the existing widespread parkour movement. The word Parkour is derived from the French term parcours meaning by route or by course.
Frenchman Sebastian Foucan is credited with being the founder of the freerunning movement having been a renowned practitioner of parkour for many years. Foucan took parkour and worked to make it more accessible, by breaking it down into particular movements and skills that can be mastered as basics and elaborated upon in an expressive experience.
Freerunning and parkour are closely related, and their names are often used interchangeably. However, parkour is distinct and is heavily underpinned by military obstacle course training maneuvers.
Parkour differs from Freerunning as it is specifically about starting at one location and getting to another with the most speed and efficiency. Freerunning is more about enjoying the journey with the stylistic choreographed movements and acrobatics that make it a breathtaking display.
If you are wondering if parkour is still a thing after its nineties and noughties heyday, it is still going strong, but it is important to remember that both hobbies are niche interests, with a core cohort of practitioners who train regularly. Both freerunning and parkour use the following movements:
Freerunning, in particular, definitely draws from other urban or street culture, creating disciplines including, skateboarding, breakdancing, and tricking.
As a hobby, you will definitely find that freerunning is a great melting pot for ideas that can even cross into music art, and fashion as we explore below.
What freerunning is not is this hilarious ‘parkour’ demonstration from the US version of The Office!
Freerunning versus Parkour
a quick round-up for you to remember that they’re different, right?
Improvisational Non-Directional Developed from Parkour and draws from tricking, breakdancing, and other performance arts.
More about artistry.
Participants are called freerunners.
|Disciplined Philosophical Start to finish |
Developed from Obstacle Course Racing / Training and traditional martial arts from across the world.
More about speed and efficiency of movement.
Participants are called tracers or traceurs
Great Reasons why Freerunning Should be Your New Hobby!
Now you understand what freerunning and parkour are, here are some key reasons for making it your go-to hobby.
- Your freerunning hobby will get you fit
Hitting the streets with flair is a surefire way of getting moving and burning some calories. Experienced free runners emphasize the need to build the upper body, and core strength necessary to tackle the climbing, swinging, and grappling that comes with mastering your environment.
The basic movements and maneuvers can be practiced in free-running gym classes so they can be safely mastered before hitting the streets. You literally will be hauling your full body weight from place to place in some cases, while moving at speed is also a serious aerobic endeavor.
A free runner can expect to burn up to 400 calories per hour, meaning you will be super fit in no time!
- All abilities are welcome to pursue a free-running hobby
If you watch elite free runners or parkour enthusiasts on YouTube, you are likely to become discouraged as a beginner as many of their stunts and feats have required years of dedicated training.
The reality of free running is so much more inclusive as it is all about seeing what your body can achieve. This means that you are not competing or comparing your skills with others but training and working to improve your abilities in a variety of environments.
For example, many physically impaired parkour and freerunning enthusiasts have adapted and excelled in these disciplines as seen with this freerunning amputee.
Parkour is a popular gymnastic discipline for children and young people and many free runners run academies or gyms where they provide target training to build confidence in the hobby.
- Free running delivers improved mental strength and resilience
Free running is lauded as a mind-body workout that has lasting benefits. The key is in the name, free, and participants enjoy the liberty and escapism of being able to traverse and impact their environment any way they want.
It definitely is a pastime where you have to overcome fears: of heights, of attempting challenging maneuvers of falling flat on your face in front of everyone.
Free running delivers a great endorphin rush and builds confidence which will be felt in other aspects of your life.
- Freerunning can be done anywhere
The beauty of being a free runner is being able to use your local area as your gym.
To the parkour practitioner, every park bench, railing, flight of steps, or ramp is an opportunity to practice your jumps, tricks, flips, and swings.
You also can do it alone or as part of a collective of parkour or freerunning enthusiasts of varying ability.
- Hobby free runners explore their neighborhood in new and exciting ways
If you are careful to avoid trespassing, free-running delivers some great opportunities to experience your locality in a new and unusual way.
Once you have some basic movements under your belt, you will start to look at just about every building or landscape feature as something to be integrated into your training and routines.
- Street credibility is a big part of the draw of free running
If you have been around skateboarding, graffiti, or breakdancing, you will know that enthusiasts form sociable communities with creativity and expression that extends beyond the immediate pastime and includes music, attire, and outlook.
Freerunning definitely has swagger and flow and will interplay with and mutual respect between various urban, youth, and creative cultures – in other words: you will look cool doing it.
Where can I Practice My Freerunning Hobby?
- Your locality: The whole point of freerunning is that you work within your surrounding environment. By using your creativity and imagination, you will be able to find so many locations on your property or in your neighborhood where you can build and exercise your freerunning skills. Popular neighborhood locations for freerunning mentioned in this subReddit include:
- A sports park
- Skate parks
Many free runners want to use industrial estates schools and condominiums, but we strongly advise against any trespassing in an attempt to find good training grounds.
- Gym classes If you are a novice free runner or looking for a safe space to practice your skills, tapping into the gymnastic roots of freerunning by joining a gymnasium may be the ideal setting for you. Parkour and freerunning experts can assist you in crafting your flow through insightful arrangements of gym equipment like vaulting boxes, wedges and blocks, springboards, agility table beams, and climbing frames. Often freerunning and parkour collectives gain permission to use school gyms and grounds to offer classes to the community.
- Parkour parks Like skate parks, parkour parks have been developed and built as a community amenity that allows freerunning and parkour enthusiasts to practice their expertise lawfully and safely. Parkour facilities typically include modular steel frame and concrete elements including railings, overhead bars, concrete pillars and platforms, and rubberized safety surfacing.
- Top global locations for freerunning include:
- Spot Real, Lisboa, Portugal is one of the world’s leading parkour academies. In their expansive indoor facility, you can safely train or take classes. The venue is also used for filming and stunt practice
- Century Gardens, Calgary Canada is quite literally a concrete jungle filled with the Brutalist architecture that free runners crave. You will be able to bounce, flip, swing, and jump off just about everything there, making it an international hub of free-running enthusiasts.
- Uneo Park, Tokyo is acclaimed around the world as a free runner’s paradise, having been the setting for a variety of community physical training activities. Installations like parallel bars, pushup bars, and concrete ramps and steps have made this metropolitan park a popular destination for filming routines and tricks amidst beautiful cityscape scenery.
What Kind of Gear does a Hobby Freerunner Need for Hitting the Streets?
It is well worth putting some thought and cash into your clothing and accessories for free running. Parkour practitioners aren’t that superficial, so fashion brands need not apply.
But there are some technical items that you definitely don’t want to fail on your mid-leap and experts usually stick to a few trusted brands that we mention below.
Best clothing for freerunning and parkour
Good quality, comfortable, and practical clothing is the mainstay of parkour attire. Practitioners prefer clothing that allows the body to move freely. Freerunning clothes are usually quite loose, but not so loose that they will snag on objects as you traverse your terrain.
The most important thing is that you do not feel self-conscious about your clothing or restricted in any way. Denim, stiff kinds of cotton, and synthetic fabrics should be avoided.
Here are some typical clothing items that should work for freerunning:
- T-shirts are a freerunning staple and are probably the clothing item you can express yourself most with. A loose-fitting cotton tee allows the limbs to move and will wick away moisture.
- Vests can also provide the upper-body freedom of movement needed on hot days.
- Base layers are a staple for cooler weather where you may need an additional layer without sacrificing flexibility.
- Utility jackets are a key alternative to a backpack and are worn loosely, literally slung over the shoulders. They allow free runners to stow the bare minimum of cash, phone, and ID simply, and are usually lightweight with several pockets.
- Parkour pants are a staple for committed traceurs and are variants of track pants or sweatpants that have a generous rise and lots of room for maneuvering. There are some exaggeratedly baggy fashion versions, but the excess fabric will hamper movement. Alternatives include:
- Track pants
- Cargo shorts and pants which have useful pockets for storage too.
Footwear for freerunning and parkour
Parkour freerunning shoes are a critical investment for freerunning as you are reliant on the grip and hold of your shoes to the variety of surfaces and materials you will encounter.
Barefoot free running has its advocates, but it can increase the risk of injury. Parkour shoes are a variant of the sneaker that have been modified for improved performance in freerunning.
Your priorities for a freerunning shoe are the flexibility of the shoe, its hold to your feet, and of course a good rubber sole.
Well-known manufacturers of parkour and freerunning performance footwear include OLLO, Feiyue shoes, and Onitsuka Tiger.
Many enthusiasts will also keep superglue on hand to repair the soles of a trusted pair of shoes if needed.
Do I need Gloves to Practice Parkour and Freerunning?
There are two schools of thought on this.
Both are agreed that grip and touch are a priority as you will be relying on it as you move through your environment.
Some tracers insist on wearing fingerless gloves so that their palms are protected, but they still have fingertip touch for tactile maneuvers.
Others are completely against gloves.
Do Parkour Traceurs Wear Protective Gear?
It may seem that parkour and freerunning are all about spontaneity and improvisation but alongside hours of careful training and practice, protective equipment is often worn by traceurs to shield them from the harmful consequences of what can be dangerous stunts.
For beginners, investment in elbow pads, knee pads, and shin guards can be useful to shield joints from the strong impacts that potentially could be encountered.
Helmets may also be a wise addition too. Some parkour enthusiasts have been known to wear stunt or tactical body armor when pushing their limits on a, particularly challenging move.
D3O impact protection gear is low profile and resilient and is gaining ground amongst freerunners as an innovative safety solution.
Key Freerunning Accessories Include:
- ID. Think about it. If you are climbing walls, leaping over fencing, or grappling with railings, someone could get the wrong idea. It is prudent to have some ID (and a coherent explanation) on your person at all times in case you encounter the police or security.
- Backpacks should be lightweight and streamlined with no clips or straps that could get hooked on something.
- A pull-up bar can be installed at home to aid in building the upper body strength needed to make a go of your new hobby. So many of the moves rely on pulling your body weight up and over objects.
- Rubber training bands are great for resistance training to build muscle with a variety of exercises. They are believed to simultaneously grow and tone the muscle groups needed to excel at parkour.
- Recovery gear includes all the kit needed to warm down, stretch, and alleviate muscles that have been pushed to their limits during a freerunning session. Think massage balls, ice packs, and warm packs to relieve pain and keep limbs supple for the next session.
- Climbing tape is recommended by experienced tracers who use it to present painful blisters and shredded skin!
- A camera can be used to film your freerunning for review later. Many free runners do this to work on their technique and of course share their adventures on YouTube, Reddit, or parkour forums.
Some Basic Parkour Maneuvers to Get You Started
Your first attempts at freerunning should all be underpinned by a steady regime of building strength, flexibility, and balance skills. You want to develop a fitness routine that will target your core, upper body, back, and legs without becoming too stiff. Calisthenic exercises like squats, lunges, pull-ups, and sit-ups should be daily basics.
Stretching is the order of the day for the novice traceur and keeping muscle groups warm and supple is one of the best ways of protecting against injury.
If possible, start your parkour/freerunning hobby by joining a local class or group as you will be able to be supported in developing your technique and gain advice from more experienced freerunners.
Here are some key moves for you to try as a beginner:
- Landing on your feet or otherwise safely is a critical skill for the free runner. Get comfortable with landing from increasing heights starting at half a meter and increasing.
- Rolling: forward rolls and backward rolls and learning to roll as you land will increase the scope of what you can achieve. Rolling properly also protects your back.
- Vaulting: has been appropriated from gymnastics but is part of moving freely through your environment with the flow. Being able to lift and propel your body, one-armed, over objects, makes navigating urban landscapes faster and also looks good. This can be practiced with a vaulting horse or over surfaces of an appropriate height.
- Jumping: is vital for reaching or clearing obstacles at speed as you freerun. Jumping and landing lightly on the balls of your feet is critical to keeping on the move. Train by jumping on and off benches to build strength in your legs and learn to deliberately lift them clear of obstacles.
- Swing throughs are a useful move that can be practiced in a park playground. With parkour, it is performed at pace with running towards the overhead bar grasping it and lifting your body forwards and swinging through.
- Jump spin: practice jumping in the air while rotating your entire body and landing without falling over. It’s not so easy, but well worth mastering if you want to change direction quickly mid-air.
Common Parkour and Freerunning Injuries
Injuries are sadly part of the parkour experience and you need to take care to prevent a serious accident whilst practicing your skills.
The most common injuries are to the hands and wrists. Fingerless gloves can help protect the hands but can reduce the amount of grip you will have on surfaces.
Knee injuries are also prevalent; care should be taken to avoid knee injuries which can lead to long-term problems. Poor landing technique on hard surfaces is the cause of ankle injuries and scrapes and bruises are an everyday encounter that is no fun for the novice tracer.
Staying Safe While Doing Your New Freerunning Hobby
Parkour certainly is an exhilarating pastime, but there are also inherent risks, especially if moving at height or on uneven or hard surfaces. Injuries are not only painful, but if severe can be life-changing, so you must approach this new hobby with a healthy dose of caution.
If you are looking to try out freerunning because of a YouTube video you want to recreate, it is probably not for you. The sport is much more about the discipline and practice needed to execute a move than the maneuver itself.
Here are some top tips for keeping safe while freerunning.
- Start at the beginning
Only sports cars need to go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds. When taking up parkour, Sebastien Foucan and other eminent free runners emphasize the need for novice traceurs to start with basic exercises and movements that build strength and agility before attempting maneuvers and tricks that are more complex.
Trying moves that are beyond you increases the risk of serious injury.
- Get trained or coached by an experienced traceur
Technique is critical to mastering free running and though there are many books and videos you can use to teach yourself, instruction from an experienced free runner cannot be bettered.
Attending gyms, classes or a club provides the opportunity to have your technique observed with critical corrections of posture or movement that minimize the risk of injury when you are free running outdoors.
- Learn to fall and roll properly
Falling and landing safely is essential to protect yourself from injury and build confidence in parkour.
The more time you invest in perfecting your rolling and landing the smoother your movements will be, and you will be far more confident when attempting new skills.
- Don’t take risks
When freerunning, if something does not feel like a good idea, or looks dangerous, don’t do it. 5. Let someone know where you are going
Always let someone know where you have gone to practice freerunning, especially if you are traveling alone. If you do have an accident and cannot call for help, others can raise the alarm and tell emergency services where you are.
- Watch the weather
Wet or icy weather increases the risk of slips and falls, especially on the concrete surfaces prevalent in urban environments. Storms are also dangerous especially if freerunning at height.
- Stay close to the ground
When you are training or practicing resist the temptation to run or jump from great heights. It may be what you see in the videos, but many are artfully filmed or set up to look more dramatic than they are. Working in grassed areas will also cushion you if you fall.
- Be careful where you practice parkour
The following environments, tempting as they may be are extremely dangerous and probably illegal to enter:
- Building sites
- Abandoned property
- Railway sidings and tracks
Is Freerunning/Parkour Legal?
Yes. In most parts of the world, freerunning is legal as long as you do not trespass onto private property or create a nuisance or disturbance.
Free runners are known for using discretion in where they practice their sport and aim to treat their environment and others with respect.
Organizations and online resources for hobby parkour and freerunning
Best YouTube Channels for Beginner Freerunners
- Team Farang accessible and down to earth tutorial for beginners. Subscribe and browse the channel of this international freerunning collective.
- Unparalleled Movement Montana based parkour and freerunning team who offer training and tutorials for all ages.
- Storror: world-famous UK freerunning and stunting crew. Watch for entertainment rather than to recreate their feats!
Forums for Freerunning and Parkour
- The official freerunning Reddit
- The official parkour Reddit
- Parkour Freerunning World: Lots of boards covering just about everything in this pastime
Organizations and groups to join
Lingo to be in the Know as You Embark on Your Freerunning hobby
Parkour vocab often combines English and French terms covering all aspects of the discipline. Here are some key terms:
- Easy gear: clothing that allows you to move your body freely for freerunning as described above.
- Flow: the trademark of a freerunner. Flow is all about the development of seamless, smooth continuity between movements as a traceur moves up, over, under, or through the obstacles in their path. It can take years to master this fluidity.
- Gap Jump: a jump to cross a gap between objects while running.
- Precision jumps: involve jumping onto narrow precise surfaces like railings or ledges.
- Recovery gear: your go-to kit for TLC after a hard training session. This may include items like massage balls, rice packs, or muscle balms.
- Roulade: freerunning roll
- Saut du Fond: jumping from a height.
- Tic Tac: using one’s feet alternately in a back-and-forth position to leverage against an object and gain height.
- Wall pass a means of elegantly clearing walls. Traceurs run at a wall and use the momentum to jump over it.
- Wall run: running along the top of a wall.
Wow! That was a tour and a half of one of the most exciting hobbies to emerge in recent times.
For many enthusiasts, parkour is more than a hobby, it’s a discipline and a way of life.
We think it is great that participants help each other find ways of developing and improving their skills, either in person or online.
You will certainly find that it is inclusive and at every level, you will have something to contribute and plenty to learn. Stay safe, stay legal, and give it a go!
Is there something we have overlooked or missed out on? If you are a parkour or freerunning expert and have anything to add, leave your thoughts and advice in the comments section below!