Today I want to tell you the story of how sedentary programmer Sergey learned parkour.
He was 39 years old when I met him,
- father of two
- 1.93m tall
- and “underweight”
according to his own words. He was very lean indeed.
He mastered parkour with me in 4 sessions a 2 and half hours over 4 Sundays. Not just the basics!
And yes, that’s just 10h (including warm up and me talking all the time).
Parkour Training in Berlin During the Summer of 21
We trained together in central Berlin during August of 2021.
It was a summer with moderate temperatures and it would rain frequently, the second half of the month was even downright cold and cloudy.
So of our four sessions it was raining or still wet on three of them as far as I remember.
Despite the partly wet conditions Sergey not only managed to learn all the basic parkour moves we planned.
He also mastered additional combinations and was able to create his own lines consisting of 3 or more jumps/obstacles at the end.
Apart of that he was able to deal with several types of fear successfully: fear of
- “looking stupid”
- injury and pain.
Believe it or not but he jumped over a “rood gap” in his third session.
Training Parkour at Ground Level
Sergey had some background in martial arts and was pretty flexible as I’ve found out during the warm up. How?
He was able to perform some more advanced Yoga postures I had to learn the hard way for months or even years.
So he wasn’t completely handicapped by the sedentary lifestyle he was forced to lead due to work and family obligations. He also arrived by bike so that he was moving regularly it seemed.
Of course on day one we started training at ground level after the warm up. On the first day it’s important to find out how far you can go without hurting yourself.
Sergey was learning fast but was hesitant to try the parkour roll even though we warmed up and started training on an actual basketball court with a tartan surface.
He was somewhat accustomed to rolling during martial arts training but that was inside in gyms and on padded floors.
We train parkour outside so that the trainee does not develop a false sense of safety.
Everybody has to know that a mistake can result in pain or even an injury when training parkour. Thus every move has to be prepared and executed with care and confidence.
We also learn spacial awareness so that there is enough room for the body to move without hitting yourself.
Learning the Parkour Roll Outside
Sergey was too scared to even attempt a roll at first.
Only after I broke down the parkour roll into separate moves and showed them in slow motion he was able to overcome his mental block and try it. Then it worked almost immediately. The actual moves were quite a few now that I think of it:
- sitting down in a squatting position
- proper “triangle” hand position on one side
- bowing down diagonally
- landing on your shoulder
- actually rolling over your back
- using momentum to stand up
He was not confident enough at first to do the roll fast but we repeated it several times until he was able to do a clean parkour roll with enough speed and momentum to be able stand up effortlessly right after it.
That’s the purpose of the actual parkour roll in contrast to rolling in martial arts: you want to go forward as soon and as fast as possible after a drop. Sometimes a roll can be also connecting two other moves to create a flow without major interruptions.
To ensure Sergey could roll without thinking about it I made him perform several rolls one after another from one end of the court to the other. He got used to rolling with ease that way.
Repeating a move more than once in a row does not allow you to overthink it. Thus you have to rely on your intuitive movement skills which are most likely encoded in your genes for millions of years.
Learning the parkour roll outside can be really scary, especially on concrete or other similarly hard surfaces made of
Why? You expose your neck at a relatively high speed. A conventional gymnastics roll over the spine could cause major injuries here. Thus the parkour roll is diagonal. Why?
The impact is spread mostly over the sides of your back.
Also a roll prevents you from seeing where you go. It’s almost like a flip in that case. Not being able to see in the direction you move can be disorienting at first.
It’s hard to roll forward in a straight line especially due to the diagonal movement over your back.
Personally I started training the actual parkour roll outside (especially on hard surfaces) only after 6 months of training other parkour moves! Thus even trying it on a less risky type of floor can be daunting, especially on day one.
Rolling Over Obstacles
Nowadays I roll over relatively small obstacles like benches or relatively high ones like ping pong tables so that the rolls have to be very exact.
We even practiced with Sergey a roll on an obstacle – something between a bench and table. It’s like a large place to sit situated at the new Rütli Campus in Berlin Neukölln.
Sergey did it slowly at first and then repeated the move a few times after conquering his fear.
The edges of this large “bench” are rounded and the risk of falling is relatively small due to size and height of it (like 0.5m) but it’s still not an easy feat unless you overcome the mental block associated with the fear of falling.
Despite the somewhat scary aspects of rolling over things it’s often the safest and most prudent move to overcome obstacles. I tend to use it at the end of a session or on bad days when I’m already too tired to vault over or traverse obstacles in other ways.
To put this achievement into perspective: it took me several months of training 4 to 5 times a week before I even attempted a roll outside on ground level.
I did a preparation or prep move by lying on the floor on my back and mimicking rolling movement for a few months before I was confident enough to start rolling on tartan.
The First Line
This was Sergey’s first actual line performed not on ground level:
- kong up on the “bench”
- roll over it
- jump down and land with a stick
landing (instead of just running on e.g.).
This way we learned all the major types of landings to
We tend to just run on naturally instead. In the early decades of parkour nobody really trained stick landings as people were focusing on clean long and dynamic runs.
A stick landing is like a full stop. Only in recent years gymnastics type landings have been popularized on YouTube and the likes. It makes sense to train it to learn controlling a landing as some walls have a drop on the other side e.g, though.
Ideally you also train lines and runs so that you don’t just focus on single “impressive” runs you can post to Instagram or TikTok but actual real-life training methods.
Fear of Heights and First Roof Gap
As a beginner you will realize though that a line or even run can be quite exhausting. The more astonishing was the quick progress Sergey exhibited.
Even though you don’t have to jump at height when you train parkour, it’s usually mostly ground level or slightly above that, you can do it when you want.
I don’t jump from roof to roof like you see in the most popular parkour videos online. Why? It’s not necessary. There is no
going on. Yet when you first learn about parkour the expectation is there though. Either you have seen countless roof gaps jumped over already or other people have likened parkour to that type of risky jump.
So one or two of the lessons actually deal with fear of heights specifically while the others prepare you to deal with it.
Think about it: when you go out on a balcony you don’t have a panic attack.
Most people at least don’t experience fear of heights on balconies. Why is that?
They know (or rather assume) they are safe. It’s the same dynamic as in crossing the street. You could get killed by passing vehicles any time but you don’t think of dying each time you do it.
So lesson two was about gently overcoming the fear of heights. We sat and crawled on relatively broad wall surrounding the picturesque Körner Park in Berlin Neukölln.
Personally I also sometimes run on it but we didn’t do that yet. It was just slow and relaxed getting used to it. At the end of the session we just sat there facing the drop of like 4-5m onto grass and chatted about famous freerunner Dom Tomato who could flip down, our families and the people in the park
The third session in Treptower Park already featured a roof gap!
It was not you what you think though! It was a small one of like 4 feet and 2 – 2,5m high.
It’s easy to jump over but there is a drop below the gap that can be scary once you decide to dive roll or kong over it.
Also on one side is like a brick gate that is not very broad and has some possibly thorny bushes on the other side so you don’t want to overshoot when jumping back to it.
Sergey jumped over the roof gap without hesitating after I showed it to him. He could easily jump 6 feet or more so that the gap was not a difficulty.
He also jumped back to the gate that was like two feet wide with no signs of fear. It took me years until I jumped from obstacle to obstacle that was higher than hip height.
Leaping like a Cat
During the last session in the famous Berlin “gelbes Dorf” (“yellow village”) spot near Hans Böckler Park in Kreuzberg – that has been even visited by Storror in 2020 – we learned the cat leap among others.
Sergey was also able to create a few lines combined with other moves like
- climb ups
- tic tacs.
He did a few strides, three or four on low level obstacles, a kind of round blocks meant to prevent people from parking on the sidewalk, then did a cat leap from the last one, a climb up from the wall he landed on and a considerable drop back from the top of it (like 2m) or simply by jumping down several steps at once.
That was quite impressive just by the number of elements involved but also a perfect execution of the cat leap he just learned a few moments ago on flat ground. Here, already a significant gap was underneath.
Running up Walls on Rainy Days? No Problem!
Sergey also did a very high wall run twice – on a slippery surface – plus having wet soles as it was a rainy day.
That shows that he was not afraid of pain or injury anymore. He was able to assess his skill level and committed to the jump despite the higher level of risk.
I usually can wallrun there only in perfect conditions or I really struggle to climb up.
Apparently his low body weight and his superior height made it easier for him but I also like to think of the proper technique he used and I had shown him.
After all the wall was also 2,5m high – a major difficulty for parkour beginners in general, without slippery surfaces or rainy days.
Learn Parkour in a Week!
That was a very successful parkour course or set of coaching sessions in my opinion. I was indeed proud. Sergey remained humble though.
Do you want to learn parkour like Sergey did? In 10h on four Sundays?
In case you’re strong already we can do it even on four days in one week (Mo/Tue + Thu/Fr). Otherwise you might be sore sooner or later.
Are you still scared of even trying parkour?
Ask me anything by writing a mail to onreact at onreact.com
* I changed the name slightly to protect the privacy of my trainee.