Earlier this summer, the sport and leisure team at PHA found ourselves working with the world’s leading Parkour organisation, Parkour Generations. As part of our brief was to promote the fitness benefits of the discipline, I thought it only right that I give it a go. After all, how could I persuade others to give it a try if I wasn’t prepared to do so myself?
And so it was that I signed up for a one-on-one session with top Parkour trainer, Alex Pownall.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I met Pownall, as he liked to be called, at Archway Tube Station one baking hot afternoon, and so it was with some trepidation that I followed him in to a nearby council estate. I wouldn’t follow many men in to a north London council estate, but Pownall seemed like a trustworthy fellow. Plus he assured me that we were headed for a spot handily equipped with railings, walls and slopes – all perfectly formed for a beginner’s Parkour lesson.
Parkour, also commonly referred to as free-running, is a movement form that originated in France which encourages individuals to use the momentum and strength of their bodies to propel themselves through and around their environment. It has gained huge worldwide popularity in recent years, thanks in no small part to the awe-inspiring Parkour sequence at the beginning of Casino Royale.
I am told by Pownall that the discipline is a fantastic all body workout and that there won’t be a muscle group left untouched by the routine he is about to put me through…. goody.
But first up, the warm up. As well as running up and down (first at a gentle jog, then a fast run, then as fast as we thought we could go, and finally ‘100%, running for a plane you reeeaaally need to catch’ sprinting) we did a series of exercises which involved a combination of squatting, lunging, crawling… and walking like a cat. Bloody hell, I didn’t realise walking like a cat was so hard. They make it look so easy! I tried to collapse pathetically on to the floor two metres from the finish line, but then…. ‘Don’t give up!!’ barked Pownall. I think the bark frightened the cat within me, and so I managed to drag myself over the final two metres.
With the warm up out the way, now it was time for the Casino Royale-esque stuff… jumping over walls, scrambling up railings, swinging off lamp posts and balancing on beams suspended in the air…. It sounds like I may be exaggerating, but no. Over the next hour or so Pownall taught me how to do all those things. Granted, the ‘balancing beams’ were a metre off the ground, and the wall was only four foot tall…. But still.
We started with the wall jump. Pownall showed how it was done, first with two hands and then with one. I followed suit, and although I didn’t quite manage to nail the silent soft footed landing that Pownall demonstrated, I did make it over the wall in one piece. Once I’d conquered that successfully and confidently, we moved on to a bigger wall (over 5ft) and Pownall showed me how to get up by taking a running jump and using my leading foot placed about waist height to propel me up high enough to get both hands steadily on the top. From there I was able to pull myself triumphantly up on top of the wall and walk to the end before jumping off again.
Next we did some weaving under and over metal railings and then progressed to the light post swing. This involved standing on a wall about 4ft off the ground, grabbing said post and swinging 360 degrees around it to land back on the wall. Sounds easy and looked easy. When Pownall did it. But when I was stood on that wall gripping the post like my life depended on it, it didn’t feel so easy. I flunked the first attempt and Pownall had to catch me half way around. ‘Let gravity do the work’ advised Pownall. ‘Kick off from the wall and let your weight pull you round’. I tried to follow his advice the second time, but human nature ensured I didn’t fully commit. I got a bit further round this time but still didn’t quite manage the full 360. But buoyed by my small improvement (and some encouraging words from Pownall), on the third attempt I took a more confident step off the wall and this time managed to do as instructed. I let gravity do its thing and somehow I managed back up on the wall where I started. Easy! And it really was easy, as soon as I allowed myself to believe that I could do it.
That’s the thing with Parkour; more than half of the battle is with your mind. As any Parkour video on Youtube will show you, the human body can do incredible, almost unbelievable things if your mind will let you.
We finished up by learning a few more moves and then putting the sequence altogether. Up a wall, along a wall, under and over some railings, over another wall, up a ramp, down a slope and back to the start…. It was exhilarating! And fun! And in my head I looked like a Bond girl!
On my way back to the tube I text Pownall to say thanks and rather naively boasted that he must have gone easy on me because I couldn’t feel any of the aches and pains that I’d been promised at the start.
The next morning I woke up and at first couldn’t quite work out why my torso ached. My usual keep fit routine involves running and playing netball, so the torso is not a place I usually associate with that satisfying ache brought on by exercise. But then of course it dawned on me. The wall jumping and lamp post swinging and other Parkour moves had all well and truly worked my abs, as well as muscles I didn’t even know I had down my sides and back.
Our verdict: Would I recommend Parkour to anyone else? Hell yeah! Parkour Generations run classes across London for beginners, pros, and even families. I highly recommend you give it a go as a fun and novel way to keep fit.
Our score: 9/10
Let us know what you thought by commenting below or contacting us via the PHA Media website