Climb the Campus with Parkour

Get out of your exercise box—and take your fitness to new heights. Here’s what you need to know about college parkour.
Published July 18, 2018

If you know anything about parkour, it’s probably that it involves jumping off of things. But it’s also quickly becoming the most fun way to get fit on campus. And, fortunately, it doesn’t actually require yelling “parkour!”

Here’s what every college student needs to know about on-campus parkour, and how to run, jump, and climb your way to better fitness.

Parkour 101

“Parkour is commonly defined as a training method that teaches one to use all the physical attributes of the human body to navigate through a natural or urban terrain using techniques such as running, jumping, climbing, vaulting, and more to overcome any obstacle in your path,” explains Greg Milano, director of USAP College,  USA Parkour’s college division, and former coleader of the Boston College parkour club.

Not to be confused with freerunning, a cousin to parkour, which places more emphasis on cool acrobatic-inspired stunts and less priority on efficiency. Put simply, parkour’s all about getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. And if you have to go over a wall to get there, so be it.

“The parkour videos that you see online are of elite athletes at the peak of their training, but it’s important to remember that parkour can be as simple as getting over a knee-height obstacle,” says natural movement coach Eric Rossi, an ambassador to APKU, American Parkour’s college affiliate program, which works with USAP College to advance parkour on college campuses. “By training the body through its innate movement patterns—learning to get up off of the ground without using your hands, plus hanging, swinging, climbing, and crawling on all fours—your exercise becomes more functional.”

Rossi notes that parkour is ideal for college students who aren’t fans of traditional gym workouts, who are looking to improve their overall athleticism for other sports, or want to build muscle and lose weight.

“I’ve seen men and women go from not being active to having radically changed their body shape and outlook on life in a year,” says Rossi, noting that parkour is as good for your mind as it is your body. “You can easily put in your headphones and perform some reps in the gym or laps around the track, but parkour requires you to really focus on your surrounding and trains your mind-body connection. It encourages focus that allows you to really thrive when you go back to your books.”

And the confidence that comes with parkour doesn’t hurt, either. “Many find that the benefits go beyond the physical skills but tend to include rewards such as breaking mental barriers of confidence and even tackling fears,” Milano says. After all, if you can climb over that wall or flip off of the side of a building and land on your feet, what can’t you do?

How to parkour on campus?

With help from organizational bodies such as USAP College and APKU, co-ed student-run parkour clubs and groups are increasingly popping up across U.S. college and university campuses. This academic year, roughly 30 college clubs are recognized through USAP and APKU.

Typically, these campus groups exist purely “for the fun of it,” with more experienced parkour athletes organizing and heading up each training session. (However, more and more college students are getting certified as parkour coaches to provide their clubs with extra know-how.)

“We are constantly improving and having fun with it,” says Connor Stephens, president of the parkour club at the University of Virginia. He first tried parkour as a freshman when the club’s then-president and fellow marching band member invited him to try it out. “We don’t really have end goals, and none of us is aiming to be a professional athlete. We just enjoy hanging out with friends and challenging each other to conquer new obstacles.”

Currently, some iteration of the club meets five days per week to train and practice. Some days, three people might meet. Other days, ten or more will participate. “It’s super casual,” Stephens says. “I technically run the practices, but we really just show up to a location and everyone does what they want. Sometimes we come up with a challenge that we work on as a group, or if someone’s a beginner, we get excited to teach the fundamentals and introduce them to the sport.”

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The group, like most, train on walls, railings, and other on-campus architectural features that are out of the way of other students and teachers, but when working on riskier moves such as flips, they’ll move to the grass or even bring out the landing pads. The University of Virginia group even moves inside once per week to take advantage of the gymnastic team’s trampolines and foam pits.

While most clubs prioritize as-built and naturally occurring obstacles, they will often build their own with boxes, walls, and other objects when trying to practice specific skills or when hosting larger events, Milano says.

For instance, throughout the academic year, various schools around the country hold “jams,” or meet-ups for parkour athletes to collaborate and work on new skills. Many are one-day affairs, but Stephens notes that some span the entire weekend and students crash in each other’s dorm rooms.

Meanwhile, some parkour clubs organize special events to showcase their skills to other students, Milano says. “It’s also becoming more common at smaller regional or on-campus gatherings to include matches for athletes or speed competitions from one point to another using parkour techniques,” he says, noting that the first organized intercollegiate parkour competition was held in 2015. While competition isn’t a part of most college parkour clubs, it’s beginning to become an option for those who are interested.

How to get started

To find out if your school has an existing parkour club, check with your on-campus student organization office or website. There, you can get contact information for the current president or leader, Milano says. He notes that searching Facebook is another great way to find groups that might not be listed on the school’s website. Remember, a lot of these groups are small!

Lastly, USAP College and APKU have internal databases of contact details for club leaders and can easily connect you with the leader of your school’s club. Check out their sites and shoot them a call or email for info. If your school doesn’t have a parkour group, and you’re interested in starting one, these groups can help you out there, too. From building interest on campus and structuring lesson plans to applying to become an official student organization or sports extracurricular, they exist to make starting a parkour club as easy as possible. 

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