Parkour v Gymnastics

Welcome to the exhilarating world of movement, where the elegance of gymnastics meets the raw, urban energy of parkour. These two disciplines, though seemingly different, share a common thread – the incredible display of human agility, strength, and creativity. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the fascinating realms of gymnastics and parkour, uncovering their unique characteristics, histories, and the sheer physical and mental prowess required to master them.

Gymnastics v Parkour – Which is better? Can there be a winner? Let’s find out.

parkour v gymnastics

What is parkour?

Parkour is a movement-based sport that originated in Paris, France in the 1980s and 90s. It involves navigating over and around the urban environment and all the obstacles you find. People who practice Parkour (Practitioners) try and move freely and use the obstacles to help them get from A to B in a smooth but also challenging way.

Parkour rose in popularity in the 2000s with the advent of smartphones and social media as it is a very visual and stunning sport to watch.

Parkour is more than just a sport, it is a culture, an art form and a close-knit community who have a shared philosophy.

is parkour useful

Is parkour similar to gymnastics?

Many movements in Parkour are similar to the ones used in gymnastics. Jumping, landing, rolling and flipping are used in both. Flips and somersaults are performed from walls and rooftops in Parkour and the basic techniques and similar in gymnastics.

For example, if you want to somersault you will need to take off, rotate and land. The principles and biomechanics are the same in both Parkour and Gymnastics regardless of where they are being performed. Twisting somersaults are also performed regularly in both Parkour and Gymnastics.

The Kong vault in Parkour is used to hurdle different obstacles but looks very similar to a Squat Through Vault in gymnastics. In both moves, you have to place your hands on the obstacle (or vault top) and bring the legs up into the chest and over the vault. Same movement but different obstacles.

The basic need for balance, especially dynamic balance is also shared between the two sports. Dynamic balance is the idea of balancing whilst moving for example running along a high wall shares similarities with a gymnast traveling along a balance beam. Dynamic balance differs from static balances which are held still in position.

What is the difference between gymnastics and parkour?

The main difference between gymnastics and parkour is where they are practiced. Modern Gymnastics is usually inside, Parkour is usually outside. Gymnastics has not always been an inside sport. In fact, up until the Second World War gymnastics events at the Olympic games were always held outside. The 1960 Rome Olympics also hosted Gymnastics outdoors.

Gymnastics uses very specific types of apparatus such as Rings, Beams and Pommel Horse. At elite levels, the apparatus has to meet strict size and shape guidelines set out by the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG). Even the leotards that gymnasts wear have to meet specific regulations.

cartwheel on balance beam

Parkour, on the other hand, is practiced using natural surroundings including buildings, walls, rooftops and fences. There is very little competitive element to Parkour and many people in the community are against making it formally organized and regulated like gymnastics. There is no set uniform and most people practice Parkour in trainers as opposed to the bare feet of gymnastics.

Parkour is non-competitive and practitioners mainly focus on improving themself rather than trying to achieve a competitive score.

Does gymnastics help in Parkour?

Gymnastics can undoubtedly help in Parkour, though it is not essential.

The techniques of landing safely and with control are taught a lot in gymnastics and are repeated over and over until a gymnast has mastered them. As are spacial awareness drills using high, soft mats that reduce the chances of injury. Consistent stretches and strength-building exercises are also a big part of gymnastics training and will help any gymnast trying to learn Parkour.

Although gymnastics can help in Parkour, many practitioners do not have any gymnastics training even at a low level.

Can you practice parkour in a gymnastics facility?

During the last few years, many practitioners of Parkour have utilized gymnastics equipment to help them learn more advanced flips, somersaults and twists.

Some gymnastics facilities welcome this, especially in adult gymnastics classes or open classes. Other facilities may not be so welcome, especially those that want to focus on traditional gymnastics disciplines like artistic.

school gymnasium

The Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) added Parkour as a recognized discipline in 2018 which opened the way for gymnastics facilities to offer more structured Parkour programs in their facilities.

Some facilities have taken this one step further by opening indoor gyms that are specifically designed to practice Parkour. Continental Gymnastics in the UK sells a range called Modubox that can be installed in professional gym facilities and includes blocks, ramps and obstacles that you find outdoors.

Freerunning and Parkour

A discussion around Parkour and gymnastics should also include Freerunning.

The history of freerunning is closely tied to the history of parkour. The development of parkour in France in the 1980s and 1990s led to the formation of a group called the Yamakasi. This group of young men began to experiment with parkour, incorporating their own unique movements and styles. The Yamakasi soon became known for their incredible acrobatic feats, and their training methods and movements began to evolve into what we now know as freerunning.

parkour vault on wall

Freerunning, on the other hand, emerged in the late 1990s in France and the UK, developed by Sebastien Foucan, who was a friend and contemporary of David Belle. Freerunning builds upon the philosophy of parkour but incorporates a greater emphasis on creative expression and aesthetic movements.

Freerunning gained international exposure in the early 2000s when videos of the Yamakasi performing their incredible stunts began to circulate online. These videos inspired a new generation of athletes to take up the sport, and freerunning soon began to gain popularity around the world.

ObjectivePass obstacles whilst traveling
from point A to B efficiently
Expressive movement of the body
Place of OriginParis, FranceFrance
CreatorSebastian FoucanDavid Belle
Basic Skill ListsVaults, precision jumps, wall runs, rolls,
cat leap, tic tac, underbar, lache
Vaults, precision jumps, rolls, back flips,
front flips, cork, 540, 720, wall flips, aerial
FIG RecognizedYesNo
CompetitiveCompetition was originally discouraged.
However, Parkour is now a recognized FIG discipline
with attempts being made to
include it in the Olympics.
Began as a social rather than competitive
sport. Some events are now held. Chase Tag
has elements of Freerunning.

The Benefits of Freerunning and Parkour

Both Freerunning and Parkour are excellent forms of exercise that require strength, agility, and endurance. They are also excellent ways to build confidence and mental toughness, as practitioners often push themselves beyond their physical limits to achieve their goals.

Moreover, Freerunning and Parkour offer practitioners an opportunity to explore and interact with their environment in new and exciting ways, developing a heightened sense of spatial awareness and a deep appreciation for the world around them.

Final Thoughts

The comparison of gymnastics v parkour highlights that there are many similarities, especially in the types of movements. However, the question of which is better is an individual choice. Gymnastics tends to be taught in safer, matted environments and is much more regulated so if that is important to you it will be a big factor.

Even Parkour is now becoming more organized and regulated since its inclusion as a FIG discipline so ultimately it’s a matter of personal choice.