Parkour— and its cousin freerunning— are two of the latest fitness crazes born on the street and making their way to the mainstream— and they involve some seriously cool-looking stunts. The basic idea behind parkour is to move as efficiently as possible from point A to point B regardless of physical barriers. But parkour is good for more than just making it to work on time; it can also be a challenging, functional strength and balance workout— not to mention an exercise in creativity.

Par For The Kourse — The Need-to-Know

Parkour (which comes from le parcours, the French word for “journey” or “route”), has many identities. For some, it’s a lifestyle, and for others, it’s simply a workout. Parkour practitioners, or traceurs and traceuses, move through their everyday environments by overcoming, rather than circumnavigating, obstacles— running, jumping, somersaulting, climbing, and using any other acrobatic means necessary to navigate a given path.

Parkour’s comparatively short history is just as multifaceted as its definition. Most point to David Belle as the creator in the ’80s and early ’90s, though a larger group of nine French teens known as Yamakasi were its first known practitioners. And while the practice itself is relatively new, parkour was greatly influenced by the “methode naturelle,” of the 1930s French military, which focused on moving instinctively with the entire body rather than with specific muscle groups.

The trend has now expanded well beyond France, with traceurs across the globe and new styles popping up everywhere. Freerunning is considered one reinterpretation of parkour, though some use the terms synonymously. While both are stellar workouts, parkour focuses on efficient movement, while freerunning encourages more creativity. Because traceurs need to be able to vault, flip, and dead lift their own body weight, parkour is great for developing functional strength— that’s right, muscles that do more than just look good— as well as improving flexibility and endurance.

Hardcore Parkour — Your Action Plan

Community is key in the world of free running and parkour. Parkour “crews” practice together in “jams” or “sessions” to inspire, educate, and challenge each other. But if finding a crew of parkour pros seems too intimidating, parkour-based group fitness classes offer many of the same benefits. Not ready to hit the streets quite yet? Basic fitness training can also help prep for the real deal.

But, no bones about it, parkour can be very dangerous. Studies (and YouTube) have shown that kids have a tendency to try stunts like those seen in parkour videos, often to the detriment of their health. Broken bones are a real risk, and some in the parkour community have begun to notice cumulative damage to joints and ligaments over time, though the sport is still too new for conclusive studies on the most common bumps and bruises. But before hitting the streets, a knowledge of Parkour basics is essential, as is starting slow and with a solid fitness background, so brush up on some basics and get to the streets!