Hi to any girls who have landed on this blog seeking information regarding what it’s like being a girl and doing Parkour. Perth is a great place to become a practitioner of parkour and I thought I would begin with a blog sharing my experiences, tips for starting and training and make mention of the changes I am experiencing both physically and mentally.
Also a big welcome to any of my trainers, jamsters and the curious.
Well I guess I’ll call myself Reachgirl, it seems an accurate name for Parkour and close to my name Rachel so there you go…Reachgirl is born! I would like to share my experiences so far training as a traceuse and a bit about where I have come from and why I have chosen to become a practitioner of Parkour.
Firstly, all credits must go to David Belle and his father Mr. Raymond Belle for adapting and creating Parkour from the military obstacle course, gymnastics movements and “Avatar-like” movements that David Belle’s father (Raymond) discovered in Africa. Those movements are not only possible in the movies, they are real. They have been done in “superhuman” qualities since humans learnt them from watching animals and the human body is capable of so much more than you are told or led to believe. I believe that once the fusion of mind-body-soul is reached, that is when time as you know it ceases, you can cut through the air and that is when magic happens. At the bottom of this page I will include a link to an article that talks about this very thing, calling it ‘Flow Phenomenon’ that I found after writing this, and recommend it for anyone who would like a description of what this “magic” is, how to remember times when you’ve felt it and how to bring it all back again!
Secondly, thanks to the Australian Parkour Association for continuing to keep Parkour alive in Australia (see web link at the bottom of this blog).
Also respect to the Yamakasi for sticking together, taking risks, shaping parkour, perfecting it and sharing parkour with the world. I recommend viewing the Yamakasi documentary video to really get a feel for the loyalty these guys had for each other and hopefully it will give you the same sense of respect I feel for Parkour.
My experiences so far:
Although I have only had two formal lessons in Parkour, I have been doing similar movements and developing a mindset similar to Parkour I believe for most of my life. (I have had a background in martial arts, gymnastics and just generally being a free spirit and always looking up and all around.) Much about that later, let me go straight to my experiences so I can share with you. By the way, I’m female and 31 and have only just started training for parkour so no excuses girls – just do it! (Though my potential new employer said to me yesterday, “That’s a bit random”. Don’t worry – you’ll get a lot of that. You may just get similar responses and I say: I can because I believe I can.)
My first training session involved learning how to land properly – from:
- Jumping from one point on the ground to another point on the ground
- Jumping from a small height to land on the ground
- Jumping across a distance/gap, above ground
We learnt that to jump, it needs height for elevation – for instance if you have to jump over an obstacle or up onto an obstacle or platform higher than your beginning point. So to do this we learnt to use your arms to swing back and then reach up and forward, with your knees bending and tucked. This gives height and distance. It does take practise and I only just got a glimpse of what it feels like to do this correctly during my own training tonight.
Then upon landing, it should be silent and you should land on the balls of your feet for optimum landing balance, with knees bent at a 90 degree angle to absorb the impact, making it silent and less prone to injury.
Tip for shoe inserts: I would like to recommend putting a shock-absorber insert into your shoe. I personally use ‘Orthaheel’ because I have very high arches in my feet. You may not need additional shock absorbers inside your shoes if it is already in-built into the shoe design.
After a few goes of this jumping and landing, my quads were in as much pain as though I had pulled the muscles which I thought strange because I had been doing my own squats,bike riding and medium-level jogging uphill previous to training for parkour (I cannot recommend this pre-training enough). What I discovered was, and with talking to my trainers and others is that the landing is lower than the squats I had been doing, and even using different muscles so that is what caused it. Unfortunately I couldn’t practise the above-ground distance jumping after that because my quads were so sore, that to do it, I would not have had the strength nor made the distance.
So I guess I could say here, just listen to what you can and can’t do – especially in the beginning stages. Even if you feel embarrassed what other people may think if you don’t complete the task. Just mention it one-on-one to your trainer as I did and you’ll find they’ll be understanding.
Besides, you will catch up at a fast pace later on – it’s just the way it is so look after yourself in the beginning stages and get the technique right is what I can offer as guidance.
We also practised the quadripedal cat crawl – forwards and backwards. It’s used for crawling along railings or narrow wall-ledges and is great for upper arm, back and inner forearm strength. After only two lessons – and I really had to practise this because it’s not something I learnt while practising any other martial art I had done. So I practised at home in my bedroom and I really had to practise the movement going backwards because it’s not something I had done before, and as a result there was no “blueprint” in my mind for this movement. So I had to teach my brain a new movement. Just a tip if you like: I also practised this movement in the dark so I gave my brain a chance to focus just on how it feels by removing the vision sense out of it.
Furthermore, during my own training I practised going uphill and downhill doing the quadripedal cat crawl. I think this is a good conditioning exercise to do.
It was a great experience even just learning this, because in the past I have been such a know-all/I can do that without being taught kind of girl. So this was really humbling for me because I actually couldn’t do it. May I make mention to Chris and Craig who showed me how to do this without judging or criticising me with heaps of patience. Thanks guys. And so I experience this further humbling the more I go to training. It’s great and I kind of look at it as you really have to leave your ego behind, because you know how with skateboarding when you’re like look at me, look at how good I am you stack it & you end up on your arse!!! I think it’s the same thing with parkour. Lose your focus, lose your inner core centre and you’re potentially a parkour pancake!
As I’ve mentioned before, just take it easy when you’re beginning and don’t be hard on yourself or compare. I know this is a hard thing for perhaps younger people to grasp becasue they’re such “gung-ho” and always comparing themselves to their peers and they want to show off a bit, hey that’s O.K. too – I used to be there remember and I know there are different chemical/hormonal things going on inside – it can be crazy times. But just take it easy & know that it’s the natural way for you to progress at a very rapid pace later on! It is at this point I would like to refer to Blane’s article (link at end of page) and he mentions the new traceurs/traceuses and how they are trying to do too much too soon which will result in a short-lived Parkour journey due to injury. Blanes says: “I’m concerned that the shortcuts available to today’s practitioners might rob them of the irreplaceable muscular development that the Lisses traceurs have, the deep rooted neurological pathways and the vast amount of muscle memory that no book, article or spoken word can give to them. The granddad strength.” Further, I like how he says, “Parkour is a personal journey and one that is hard work. There are no shortcuts and there are no quick fixes.” – Blane Rowat
On my first training session we also learnt how to enter into a roll and exit from a roll – the rest was “up to us” as my trainer said. He said he can only teach us the beginning and the end bit & from there we have to do it ourselves.
Luckily I learnt this previously with martial arts, though there are some differences with parkour:
Differences between a martial arts roll and a parkour roll:
- A parkour roll is usually used as a movement following a drop or jump from a higher place, like a wall or ledge to disperse some impact or momentum gained from the drop or jump.
- A martial arts roll can be used for many things, such as rolling away from and towards opponents, also absorbing some impact from a fall or throw, jumping and rolling over obstacles, for example benches and chairs, rolling towards a weapon you see you can use in a fight.
- A parkour roll can also be used to jump and roll over an obstacle, and remember parkour is not about the fight – it’s about the flight and escaping from potential fights/threats so a roll will act as part of your escape which is why we run immediately after we’ve come up from the roll.
- How you are taught in some martial arts, for example Judo and Ninjukai Taijutsu is to place your fist on the ground as you roll, or slap the ground as you roll to absorb some impact. We can also use it as a placement for the direction you are going to roll. But, as you know you are taught these moves on a mat in the Dojo and does not apply to rolling on concrete or hard ground as this risks breaking your wrist and injury. It will take a bit of practise if you have been taught the safety soft mat way to do a parkour roll correctly, but at least you have the basic “blueprint” in your mind already.
- A parkour roll is diagonally across the back and so is a martial arts roll though be sure to angle your elbow in an L-shape, rolling over it and the other hand goes through to guide and add to the arc shape and momentum of the circular roll.
Learning a Parkour roll tip:
Rather than doing roll after roll on concrete, just practise a few each jam or training session as your body will increasingly develop strength to protect you.
On the first session, we were introduced to a conditioning technique that involves leaning your back against the wall and your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and you hold it there. The main instructor puts his timer on for four minutes, and we are meant to hold it for the whole duration though I am yet to achieve this time.
Comment on my second session:
Well I was no longer classed as a beginner it turns out (actually we had to merge with the other class due to numbers) and I learnt so many new things.
The warm-up was difficult at times, doing a quadripedal to the side and holding one leg out at the side. Also the push-ups at different arm-widths apart was interesting. I found it more difficult the further spaced out my arms were. Anyway, it all adds to the conditioning and strengthening of the parkour body, hence the old saying, “No pain, no gain”. So, just do what my instructor told me he does, and that is each time try and better yourself – whether that be through the amount of repetitions you do, or the amount of time you hold a position & I believe that could relate to heights and jumping/reaching. Just try to make incremental differences to your own capacity…remember this is your journey.
We did combination movements across gaps and onto grass. The combo’s could be:
- jump, jump, jump over space and land on ledge silently and correctly and jump again
- jump, step, jump over space and roll
- run, jump over space, jump then roll
- run, jump over space then roll
This was great to learn how your body copes with multiple jumps or your landings and great practise for the roll techinique. At this point the instructor can see each move you make and can help with your techinique. Time and time again he said we should be landing silently – especially since it was on grass. And when he demonstrated you definately couldn’t hear him land, it was amazing.
So that’s something I would like to practise more of, my silent landings and also jumping for height and distance. I am still in the frame of mind thinking only of forward when jumping however parkour jumping is actually up, forward, tuck. So it is very different from what you may think of as a jump.
Next we did some wall lifts/wall climbs, which I must admit when I was watching the instructor it looked so easy and I honestly thought I could do it straight away! Though when I tried it was immensely difficult to lift my lower body up and onto the top of the wall.
The instuctor mentioned the importance of placing that first foot as high as you can, which I tried later on and discovered the wall lift a bit easier because it is the position of that foot that is the anchor and point that helps you lift up.
Sometimes I lost the body strength to complete the lift so I had to fall back down again. Then a few times I managed to lift up and over the wall, though it would have looked funny from behind because I literally would have been struggling to lift up.
The other tip the instructor kept telling me was to have my whole hands up and over the wall – I must have been grabbing at it with my fingers perhaps? So the correct action would be to run at the wall, place that first important foot as high as possible, place hands on the top of the wall, proceed to lift up and over the wall.
A good training tip here would be to, once you have lifted to an up position, gradually lower yourself to that position of one foot on the wall, hands on the wall and raise up again & repeat as many times as you can. If you can’t do that, I found just doing some dips at that upright holding position is more achievable for me at the moment. I believe doing chin-ups would be the ideal conditioning for this action in addition to push ups in your own time. Both of my instructors said this is more difficult for women as it uses mostly upper body strength.
I had a thought as well, that it’s a bit catch-22 because in one instance you are building muscle in your legs as you do the jumps, quadripedals and landings which weighs more than fat & then that is extra-heavy in your lower body making it even more difficult to lift up. So I guess the two keys here are: important high positioning of the first foot and build your upper body strength. I could also add a third key element here, and that is increase your speed leading up to the wall lift, therefore gaining a higher placement of that first foot and hopefully less body weight to lift with the upward motion helping to carry you up.
After this we learnt how to lift over a railing/bench. Once the correct technique is learnt, it really doesn’t take much effort – I guess it’s like Aikido, ‘Way of the open hand’, that the movement becomes effortless. Basically it needed correct hand placement first, then one leg goes over and the second follows, while your hand positioning changes. It would be better so you can view this on a video. Search for turn vault and lazy vault.
I can share that the reason you land on one leg and then the other follows – during a turn vault is because of maintaining landing stability, for example if you were jumping over a railing and there was a drop on the other side, you have a more stable chance at not falling if you land with one leg first. Because if you land with both legs at the same time and you slip then loosing your grasp on the railing may result and then you may fall.
Also, it is good to land with one foot first and then the other so that you may be able to easily and quickly pivot and continue to the next point with fluidity too.
Finally we did something which took me right back to feeling like a kid, and that was walking along the rail. I also learnt a different technique here than what I thought was the right way & that is to walk as you see a trapeeze artist walk. When you have one foot on the rail, the arms should be outstretched for balance and the other leg should be perpendicular, using that as the counter-balance.
Rather than what I thought it should be which was flapping my arms around madly while both feet were on the railing. It’s pretty interesting really and takes a lot of focus and that inner core centering I mentioned earlier.
Try walking backwards, and then a little turn to go the other way.
Then try doing the quadripedal catwalk back and forwards along the rail – hey don’t get me wrong, I am no master of this, I am just taking you along with me on my journey.
The training session finishes with some conditioning, and once again just do what you can manage and try to do a little more each time. With parkour, you’ll naturally begin to start trying out moves for yourself that you see either from others in your class/jam or from the amazing videos available. So just give it a try and one thing I find useful is to firstly imagine that you are reaching further than the point you have to reach or jump up to. I find it works well and seems to prepare body-mind for action. More on this type of thinking can be found by searching for Creative Visualisation – many top athletes use it (Shakti Gawain was one of the many authors on this topic).
I can because I believe I can.
Dunna nunna nunna nunna Reachgirl!
I think it’s good to train with the guys, I also think it would be good to have a group of girls that get together for extra training/jam sessions on their own too. Let me know if you are keen to do this too.
- Alter the type of exercise you do throughout the week: one day bike ride; the next day go for a run; the next day run along the beach; then do cross-country running; walking is great too; skipping; stair climbs; mini trampoline – there’s so many you can do. Not only does it use different muscles but it also gets you in different environments that you can have fun while you exercise imagining what moves you could do. Please don’t get me wrong, I am no exercise junkie & I don’t do these every minute of the day, or every day in fact. I just do them as I can.
- Alter the type of sit-ups: standard with knees bent and feet on the ground, standard but turn to one side as you sit up, place your legs up on a bench and do the sit-up, do pulses, do an opposite sit up, which is lifting the legs up and sitting up to meet them.
- If you are an adult doing Parkour in Perth there is an adult gymnastics class being held on a Wednesday night which I haven’t been to yet though would love to go soon because I used to do gymnastics as a kid and loved it. It’s also a good way to practise tumbling and vaulting before you do it on concrete, helps with the “blueprint”. Plus further conditioning and learning from others in a not-so-concrete environment.
- Alter you arms-width of push ups
- Don’t forget those benchdips! They work the Triceratops:)
- Chin ups on the bar – hey I am up to two now!
- Calf raises – on a stair or side of the kerb leaning against a bench or rail for support. Walking at a fairly fast pace along sand barefoot will also be good for strengthening the calves.
- At least go for about a 10 minute warm-up jog around before you commence your jam/training session – helps to warm up your muscles before you stretch and commence doing your jumps, rolls, reaches. It makes sense really. I remember a soccer coach I had once who told us to stretch before we warmed up. Me and another defender ended up with the same quad injury – I’ll never do that again. Plus, I didn’t do a warm-up jog before my first Parkour training session and I am pretty sure that contributed to me feeling like I had pulled both quads. So, please warm up!
- Train on your own sometimes, hey I did this recently and found a beautiful place of peace that brought me right back. Real nice. Though it’s always good to have another person there in case of emergency/injury.
- Start incorporating a few of your parkour moves during your jogging – it will help with your freerunning component of parkour. For me, I’ve found it’s helping me to overcome any fears I may have (yes, I do have them – I’m human). You will get some funny looks from others but you’ve probably just taken them by surprise and they’re probably going to give it a try too. I try and bound off something to get me ready for tic-tacking as I haven’t learnt it yet.
- Practise working in and around nature. By this I mean, jump up onto trees and through them, and vault over branches, it’s fun! Also try to jump up and onto trees that may be difficult. It just challenges you and shows you the strategies you use to get up. This you can also do on your own, and I recommend doing this on your own because it takes away any competition and you focus on only your moves.
So that’s about it from me, and below please find the link for the Australian Parkour Association. Hope I have helped in some way.
I can because I believe I can.
Girls Parkour Perth
Link for ‘Flow Phenomenon’ article: http://parkourpedia.com/strength/strength-and-conditioning-principles/flow-phenomenon