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Get into… Parkour

Naomi Honey has been practising parkour for 10 years and says the sport has transformed her life.

How did you get into parkour?

I’d seen people doing it in music videos and on TV and I thought it looked really fun. When I found out that it was called parkour I found it online, looked up a class and went along. I was quickly hooked.

What happens in a typical training session?

You’ll warm up, do some strength conditioning such as quadrupedal movement, using all four limbs in challenging and creative ways, and then move into practising movement over obstacles and learning different techniques. No two classes are the same because the instructors mix it up and you interact with your environment differently each time. At the moment I’m focusing on running precision jumps, which involve a short run, a jump and then landing precisely on one thing – such as a wall or a railing – and stopping there. Other moves include various types of vaults to propel yourself over obstacles, and arm jumps, climbs, swings and balance, weaving over, around and through objects, with the aim of making the movements flow together. You’re constantly developing your strength, physical capability, skills and mental approach.

What equipment do you need?

You don’t need any specialist equipment. With your body, your environment and a pair of trainers you’re good to go. It’s a common misconception about parkour that you have to be really fit or strong to start doing it but that’s not true. It’s important to train safely and to build your strength and skill consistently, but it’s about starting from where you are now and extending that to challenge yourself. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do crazy acrobatic stuff.

Where is good to train?

I live in London and I’d say it is the best place in the world to do parkour, partly because of the dense architecture – the walls and railings – but also because of the great parkour community here. But you can do it in a city or in a forest – anywhere really. I mostly train outdoors. For the classes we meet at a Tube station and then go to a spot nearby to train. With friends, we revisit those spots or go exploring. Areas with a lot of urban furniture that you can interact with are great, so much of our training is in estates or areas containing brutalist architecture that many people wouldn’t think are beautiful. When you start using these environments for parkour they become playgrounds and you have this brilliant, fun, creative, energising time that really changes your perception about the area.

What would you advise someone wanting to try parkour?

To start, I’d recommend going to a class. Parkour Generations where I teach and train has an indoor facility called the Chainstore in east London – which has a mix of scaffolding structures, concrete walls and movable boxes, and holds lots of classes outside as well. There are classes all over the UK though, both outdoors and indoors as gyms and schools are starting to offer them. Although you don’t have to start in a class it makes progression much easier and quicker having a coach focused on helping you. Don’t be held back by thinking you’re not strong or fit enough – where you are is perfect, just give it a go. And while it’s perceived as a young person’s sport it’s about developing your capabilities, whatever they are – you can be any age.*

Is it an injury-prone sport?

It has an image of being dangerous but it’s far from the case. Parkour is safe because you’re in control of your environment, there’s no one tackling you, there are no balls flying at you, you’re not on a speeding vehicle or horse. All sports have some risk but with parkour you’re building up your whole body strength, balance and capability, which helps to prevent injuries.

As well as strength what does parkour give you?

Everything. There’s the general physical wellbeing and strength, which are good for your body, and I find that makes me a much calmer and happier person. Ninety-five per cent of my training is outside and I used to get SAD (seasonal affective disorders) but not any more because I’m always out. It’s also emotionally fulfilling to face and overcome challenges. You have to stay dedicated when you’re not getting a move the first 10 times and that really teaches you grit and resilience, and that if you persevere you get better.

Do you get people asking you to move on?

Very occasionally but on the whole people are very supportive. We’re very respectful, we don’t jump on people’s fences or their property – when we get moved on it’s because people don’t understand what we’re doing. They worry that we might hurt ourselves or damage something, whereas our entire approach involves doing neither. Basically, parkour is very different to anything that we’re used to seeing out in the world. The police in London see it as something positive and earlier this year the UK recognised parkour officially as a sport, which means that it will grow in popularity. More schools are interested in offering classes in it nowadays, which is fantastic as it’s a hugely positive activity for kids.

To watch Naomi Honey participate in and talk about parkour see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jii_ZCKGX1c

For classes see http://parkourgenerations.com/

Do you have a fitness story to share? We’re looking for stories to inspire others to take up or return to sport, whatever their age. Email stayinghealthy@benenden.co.uk if you would like to feature.

*Although moderate physical activity is safe for most people, health experts suggest that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise programme, especially if you have a history of heart disease, asthma, lung disease or diabetes.