Technical, Physical & Mental: The 3 elements of Parkour training

21 September 2021

After our last blog introducing the main structure of our Academy Curriculum, this week we thought we would dive a little deeper into what it takes to be a good Parkour athlete, which is the foundation of our curriculum.

It is widely accepted that there are three core elements to Parkour training that a practitioner must work on to perform at a high level and avoid injury:

  • Technical training;
  • Physical training;
  • Mental training

A balanced approach to training is very important: if a Parkour practitioner does not put sufficient time into any one of the above, it will limit their progress considerably. Let’s explore each of these and see what it takes to do well in each.

Technical Training

Of the three, this is the type of training that usually comes to mind when we think of Parkour. It’s the practice of moving over obstacles and refining skills to make movements more efficient and more complex. It refers to working on the four movement pillars we talked about in our last blog post: jumping, vaulting, climbing and swinging.

As you can imagine, this is where most practitioners want to be spending their time. They want to unlock the exciting new vault technique they saw on Instagram or jump a railing at a more difficult angle than they have before. Refining technique is where a lot of the excitement is and is a very rewarding aspect of practising Parkour.

After all, it’s the technical training that we’re watching in social media videos and in the movies – it’s the most easily identifiable part of Parkour. Now let’s move on to the other two, perhaps less discussed, but equally important types of training.

Physical Training

To practise Parkour (or any sport) to a high level, you need to build a body that can not only perform the movements, but is strong and mobile enough to withstand the forces and mistakes that are inevitable during practice. To do this we use conditioning. Conditioning refers to the exercises we use to strengthen our bodies and become more mobile in various ways. 

Physical training for Parkour is mostly made up of bodyweight movements, for example pull-ups, push-ups or squats. Some more experienced athletes also lift weights to build strength beyond what is possible with only bodyweight exercises. For the most part, we try to use exercises that can be performed easily in the same location as we would do our technical training. This means the exercises should require minimal props except obstacles we might find in our training environment such as a wall or a bar.

While there are hundreds of different exercises available, we recommend sticking to simple movements that are similar to the movements you want to build strength in. For example, if you would like to be able to do larger and more accurate Precision Jumps (a jump from one obstacle to another) we would recommend training broad jumps and box jumps. What makes broad jumps and box jumps conditioning movements, rather than Parkour techniques, is that they don’t require a high level of accuracy or carry any particular risk – they simply require maximum effort to perform.

Without care and attention to physical training, a practitioner will soon reach the limit of how much they can progress. They will be unable to climb up onto a higher wall or jump a bigger distance. They will also get tired more quickly and put themselves at a greater risk of injury. We will explain how we have incorporated this into the curriculum after we investigate the last type of training, which is mental training.

Mental Training

Many people say after first seeing Parkour, “I would be too scared to try that!”. This refers to the mental side of training. While fear is not the only part of mental training, it is an easy example to understand so we’ll start there.

At the beginning of anyone’s journey with Parkour, they are not going to be confident. Almost all of it will be totally new to them, and where there is uncertainty, fear follows. This is exactly what we want to see from a beginner to Parkour. Fear is what keeps us safe; without it, practising any sport, or even crossing the street, would be dangerous! In Parkour, we do not strive to be fearful, but to learn how to manage fear.

As we improve in our technical and physical training, it is normal for us to gain confidence. This growth in confidence is what enables us to consider movements with an increased element of risk. We aim to reach a level of confidence in our technical abilities, and in how strong and mobile our body is, that new movement opportunities become available. These movements can still be scary and it can take some courage and determination to overcome that fear, but if it comes from a base of confidence then it won’t hold us back from reaching our potential.

This is one type of mental training we go through in Parkour. We train our mind to identify new movements and challenges, assess the risks involved in those challenges and then whether we feel ready to try them. 

So that’s a quick look at what each element is. Now how do they translate to our new Academy Curriculum?

How it all comes together:

As you can imagine, fitting this into one, two or three hours a week for our students is quite the puzzle, and while we can’t always look at each type of training in depth within one lesson, we think we have found a pretty good balance! Below is a diagram we put together to map out all three:

As you can see, the technical side of Parkour is the largest piece in terms of content and is the best place to build from. The movements are what make Parkour what it is, and the physical and technical are what enable better movement. This is also represented within our Student Handbooks. In each level, two of the four pages of the handbook are dedicated to technical training and we have our own in-house system for assessing them: Broken it, Quality Checked it, Repeated it and Tested it. More on that in our next blog!

The techniques will all be covered during lesson time, building upon previously learnt movements, with step-by-step progressions. Some movements can take many weeks to learn and develop and therefore there is rarely a lesson without a strong focus on technical practice.

Each level also has a strength requirement to fulfill the physical training requirements of Parkour. Each level’s strength goals have been planned to build and maintain the strength required for future levels and units. For example, in Unit 1, students need to hang from a bar for 20 seconds, but there are no technical movements that require this in Unit 1; here, we are building up our students’ grip strength to prepare them for Swinging techniques when they get to Unit 2.

We are also very aware that if our students only practise their strength movements in their weekly lessons, it’s going to take a while to get there, especially when we move into the higher levels. We will be encouraging students to practise the exercises in their spare time, at home, in the park or wherever they like to train. The extra effort will be worth the reward of progression! A student cannot go up to the next level or unit without completing these exercises, as without them they will not be able to do the more advanced movements safely.

This brings us to how we have incorporated the mental side of Parkour. This was a much greater challenge to work in, but we have a few tricks from our coaching experience and our own training. The very nature of the mental skills that a practitioner will learn and use while training Parkour makes them very hard to test, and to explain to young people. We have therefore embedded opportunities for our students to demonstrate good values or to overcome a mental challenge throughout our coaching methods. These moments will be rewarded as and when they happen. Using the example above, a student practising their strength exercises at home shows great determination and dedication. For some, the fact that they were able to step away from their video games to put in 15 minutes of practice deserves celebrating, and we will make sure to celebrate it!

While there are no official requirements to demonstrate these mental skills, it will be almost impossible for our students to move through the curriculum without progressing in their mental training, if they intend on working their way up through the levels and units.

We hope this continues to help you understand our methodology of the new Academy Curriculum. There is still plenty more to come as we take other deep dives into different elements of the curriculum: in our next blog we will be exploring our assessment system for technical training.

As always, feel free to contact us and let us know your feedback! See you at the academy!