Edinburgh, both by design and nature, is the perfect urban gym. With its sloping streets, stair filled ‘closeys’, parks and paths, it’s no surprise so many runners, boot camps, cyclists, skate boarders and Parkour groups use Edinburgh for their outdoor workouts. Some people may see this as a ‘nuisance’ but I’d rather see people (of all ages) outside getting fit instead of lounging on the sofa playing video games or watching TV. And from my experience with running groups, outdoor bootcamps and now a challenging session with Access Parkour – there is no doubt in my mind that these high-intensity workouts, with varied challenges due to terrain and weather, will get you fit. Fast! So although urban fitness may be considered a social ‘grey-area’, it does take place, it does make you fit, I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon, so I thought I should check it out and report back. If you have any questions, please read the rest of blog to see what the class was like, check out the websites for more info and get in touch with the coaches – I’m sure they’d be happy to discuss any concerns.
But what is Parkour?
According to Parkour UK (the National Governing Body for Parkour) Parkour, aka Free Running, started in France in the 1980s. The nine originators used their strength, agility, flexibility, stamina and courage to run, jump and climb across any terrain (mainly urban street structures such as walls, steps and railings) that they encountered. I’ve always considered this a fascinating yet ‘extreme’ sport. One to watch, but not to try. However, over the last few months, I’ve been in contact with the coaches from Access Parkour Edinburgh who are fully qualified instructors affiliated with Parkour UK. Their qualifications and communications assured me that their sessions were suitable for everyone, so I felt comfortable sharing details of their classes on the Healthy Edinburgh Facebook and Twitter pages but never was brave enough to go along. I wanted to go check it out but I was a bit nervous – would everyone be super-fit and super-adventurous? Would I be the only girl? Would I fall on my face?
And then fate stepped in……
A few weeks ago I was chatting with fellow blogger, Kylie from A Consequential Adventure. We were sharing some of our ideas for upcoming activities. Out of the blue, Kylie mentioned she wanted to try a Parkour class – she thought it would help her prepare for a second attempt at the Tough Mudder. Like me, she didn’t want to go on her own. A quick text and now my ‘adventure buddy’, Emma was also roped in (you may remember Emma from Aerial Assault and Alien Rock). It seemed like a sign that it was time for us to give it a go…..
So, what was it like?
Although I’m sure our instructors were more than capable of these amazing feats, this is NOT what we did in the Access Parkour training session….
Overall our session was:
Tough! Fun! Social! Friendly! Tough! (did I already say that?)
But seriously, I have to say this was one of the most well planned, structured and delivered fitness classes I have EVER been to! This sort of high intensity training may not be for everyone, but if you are considering giving it a go – do it with these guys – you will be in safe hands with coaches who are not only qualified, experienced and skilled but who also have to ability to teach with patience and understanding. Our EXTREMELY well organised and structured 2 hour session (yes TWO HOURS – I thought it was just 60 minutes – boy was I in for a surprise) consisted of:
We met in Bristo Square (they now have a new meetup point as Bristo Square is closed off for construction)
We jogged over to a quiet corner near Teviot Row (Bristo Square was deserted as most of the students were off to the pub Library) where we formed a circle to do a very thorough warm-up. The attention to detail started here. We just weren’t flailing our arms and legs about – there was a strong focus on technique and the coaches were quick to stand alongside anyone that needed help or an extra demonstration.
It’s hard to explain all the moves we did after the warm-up but hopefully the pictures will do the talking. Needless to say we got a great workout, we had a good laugh at our botched attempts and we had plenty of instruction and encouragement from the fab coaches: John, Adam and Gordon.
Jumps/Hops Up Steps
It was a big group, with a good mix of guys, gals, newbies, regulars, coaches and coaches in training. The group was then split in two, with 2 of the coaches (plus trainees) taking us newbies on a little run down to the large corner in the even quieter George Square. The corner was built on steps. Steps! We looked at each other. We looked at the steps. We knew. This is gonna hurt!
Our first mission was to do a standing ‘hop’ up onto the first step. This was all about technique. Landing both feet at the same time, on the balls of our feet – not flat footed. First one step, then two maybe even three. Jumping more steps meant landing with knees bent, pointed forward, not too far apart. This was called the ‘landing position’ and would come in handy later on. Our coach, Adam, makes it look so easy….
Now it was our turn. Don’t let the pics fool you, we weren’t just squatting on the edge – this was hard – we were jumping 1, 2 even 3 steps at time over and over – (unless we were tired – then we pretended to be working on our ‘technique’ or fought over whose turn it was to take pictures)
Looking back now I can see our feet too far apart or flat on the steps, our knees wide apart – our butts too high or too low. We blamed it on doing too many squats in aerobics classes! ! If at any point our technique wavered, the coaches were there to offer tips, demonstrate and correct. It really felt like we were getting one-to-one tuition.
We added to the challenge by doing a walking/running start. First leading with the left leg, then the right. We did these repititions HUNDREDS of times
One hand cartwheel
This was a fun ‘choreographed’ move. We stepped on the bottom step, stepped the other leg to the side, swivvled round, put one hand down (across the body) and did a little one handed cartwheel. Of course, this is the only picture we got……me with my bottom in the air….
By now my thighs were throbbing. But it wasn’t time for a break – it was time for a challenge! We put our jumping and landing skills together to continuously hop up the stairs. We could hop 1, 2 , 3 at time. It was up to us. We just needed to reach the top. But there’s a catch. We had to do this for 5 minutes straight, seeing how many times we could make it to the top! I lost count after about 3 times – and snuck in a break taking my turn at with the camera. Even with the break, this took my legs to total shake-down!
Finally, we moved away from the steps and positioned ourselves in front of a wall. Our mission: throw yourself at the wall – let your feet touch first (both together) then land in the squatting ‘landing position’. That’s the ‘splat’. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Hardest part was getting both feet to touch in about the same spot on the wall. My left leg was lazy and lower down. Adam suggested using my left leg first to get it up to par with the right. That seemed to help.
The advanced move: throw ourselves at the wall – feet first – then grab the ledge with our hands – try and hold there (without your feet sliding down the wall). Eventually we could work towards climbing up and over (which is what the advanced group were doing). The initial instinct would be to grab the edge first but doing the Cat Splat helped us learn to use feet first, hands second. This was a bit harder as my upper body strength is not as good as my legs, and when I did grab hold of the ledge – my feet slid down the wall! I think some of the others had velcro on their shoes!! But I did manage to take some good pictures 😀
Tight Rope Walking
The two groups came together and jogged (hard to do with shaking legs!) round to Potter Row for some balancing practice. This was a bit scary as the rail seemed so high but we did this in pairs, with one person on ground to lend a hand. I had to hold on to Adam’s hand the whole time but he did say eventually I relaxed my grip (and circulation returned to his hand). Emma, a natural at these things, managed to let go for a bit – well done!!
The final challenge was for everyone to get up together (each group on different sections of railing). I took pics and was ground support. It took several attempts but they did mange!
After nearly 2 hours of repetitive strength and stamina drills, it took all my energy to manage the final jog back to Bristo Square for the cool down. Of course they managed to sneak in some Ab work before the final stretching.
This workout was high intensity! I’ve done a HIIT class – Fat Burn Extreme – which was just as tough but it only lasted 30 min – this was 2 hours!! But everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I had fun doing it and the time went quickly. This class was physically and mentally challenging; by the end my muscles were shaking and totally fatigued but I felt very proud of my achievements. And tired. Very tired. A very satisfied tired.
- Although perfectly suitable for beginners to Parkour, you do need some basic fitness before starting as you’ll need stamina for the short runs, strength for the repetitive skill work and a good core for balance and stability in all the efforts.
- Perfect for anyone who’s done a lot of weight training in a gym and looking for a new challenge or anyone training for a mega obstacle course challenge. This had all the physical challenges of military style fitness workouts and boot camps – but less ‘shouty’ and more friendly 😀
- Ready to have a go? Make sure you start with a structured training classes, like this one. Once you learn the basics you can progress to the ‘jam sessions’ which still have a coach but these are more ‘free style’. There are mixed jam sessions throughout the week and a girl’s only session every other Wednesday. Details of all classes are on the timetable.
- Any questions? Contact Access Parkour at firstname.lastname@example.org before coming. They were quick to respond to emails and super helpful in helping me figure out what class to start with and with answering all my queries.
Is it safe?
As far as safety goes, the leaders were all Qualified Coaches (First Aid is a part of the Qualification) and there was a high ratio of coaches (and trainee coaches) to participants. I always felt like there was someone right there checking on me at all times, ready to demonstrate and walk me through as many times as needed. And they really placed an emphasis on proper technique – no sloppy jumps or landings allowed! Overall the session was very well structured with a warm-up, the exercises built up techniques in layers and there was a final cool down. Splitting us into 2 groups was great – us beginners didn’t feel overwhelmed or out of our depth. All this attention to detail made it perfect for beginners to Parkour BUT I wouldn’t recommend this to someone just beginning to get fit. If you have a decent level of fitness and are looking for a new challenge (maybe you’re bored with the same weight machines at the gym) or if you’ve signed up for a fitness challenge event and need some serious cross training and love to be outdoors and train in a social environment – you’d love this!
I’m sure unsupervised extreme sessions (unlike this one) can cause concern to some members of public – but our session was more like an Urban Boot Camp – in fact anyone passing by would think – wow look at the bunch of people having fun getting fit. Because they have Parkour UK certification, Access Parkour have been invited by local schools to run after school clubs and activities/workshops for Edinburgh Council. So the actual training seems to be approved and generally accepted, the main grey area is ‘where’. Our coaches made sure to pick quiet areas of town and were on the lookout for passersby, making sure the public was safe as well. If you want the physical benefits without any grey area – they also run indoor ‘Access’ classes in conjunction with Dynamic Balance. These indoor sessions improve strength, flexibility, stamina and balance – all necessary to excel in outdoor Parkour but also improve general fitness and overall health. The indoor classes are also a good place to start if you need to improve your fitness levels before trying an outdoor class.
More Info About Access Parkour
Access Parkour is a coaching organisation offering a variety of Parkour based classes that provide fun, non-competitive, safe physical training for all levels and ages. They have regularly scheduled outdoor adult classes, indoor adult classes, childrens’ classes and family classes as well as special workshops. Their certification standards ensure that they can be hired for special events, group activities and sports days; they are an approved provider with Edinburgh Council and deliver after school sessions at several local schools. The team all have sport based coaching backgrounds and/or parkour specific certification plus they are patient, attentive, encouraging, and inspiring!
In addition to improving fitness in the community by providing fun, non-competitive training, they also want to let people know what Parkour really is so that there is more understanding, less assumptions and less ‘grey areas’. In fact, they are also in talks with Crags community Centre to build a Parkour Park for skills training for all ages. Here’s John one of the coaches from Access Parkour …
Although I was planning to try Parkour anyway, I was invited by Access Parkour to try this class and have written this post based on my own opinions, observations and experiences. If you want to find out more there is plenty of information on the Access Parkour website, the Parkour UK website or you can contact one of the coaches directly at email@example.com