The Ultimate Parkour Beginner's Guide
- James Isaac
- 1 Jul 2010
This is a salvaged and reformatted copy of the 2010 Ultimate Beginner's Guide. Hopefully the 3RUN forums will return at some point, and I can move this back there. Unfortunately quite a few links were pointing to the forums - I've tried to find replacements for as many of these as possible. Anyway, for now, enjoy - especially if you're a beginner!
So, you want to learn how to do this awesome stuff, eh?
This is a updated (2010) version of the original Ultimate Beginner's Guide, written by TK17, Spike, Sean and TC. With the original guide being nearly 5 years old, some of the information has become outdated, nearly all of the links are broken, etc. So we've decided the easiest way to sort this out would be a semi-rewrite. Contributors to this new version are myself and Marcuspwns.
Some other resources from the 3RUN community you may want to check out as well:
Free Running Wiki - A Wikipedia clone based on the parkour/freerunning world. The articles there aren't aimed at beginners or written in the style of a tutorial, but if you're trying to find info about a trick, person or place, this should be your first place to look.
This is a rough guide to getting into the world of 3RUN. Everything said in here has worked for us or for people we know, but obviously we aren't the world authority. This is meant to be a list of suggestions and hints, not a 3RUN bible.
Be sure to look at our site's disclaimer before you take any advice; always keep your head about you and remember that we are quite capable of making a mistake. That being said, we hope some of this helps, and welcome to the forum.
There are a bunch of different disciplines practiced by people here. When you're watching a video or explaining what you're doing to someone else, whilst there are many similarities and overlap between the disciplines, it's important to understand the boundaries.
The art of forward movement. In parkour, every motion must be as close to 100% efficient as possible in taking you from point A to point B. Therefore vaults, drops, jumps, rolls, wall climbing, and catgrabs are part of parkour, but spins, flips, and direction reversals are usually not.
Traceurs utilise obstacles and the spaces between them to create a forward flow, taking physical objects meant to restrict motion and using them to enhance it instead. A parkour video usually follows one or more traceurs in constant motion throughout an environment, as they overcome a variety of different challenges such as fences, walls, and gaps. Most parkour videos will include very few shots of "safe locations" such as a gym, because the key to parkour is interaction with the real, outside world, as in a chase, rescue, or emergency situation.
Examples of parkour videos:
Urban gymnastics. In street stunts, most techniques will be individual and not part of a "run", i.e. you will climb up a telephone booth and backflip off, end of trick. Street stunts can include anything in the range from climbing to handstands to large drops to flips and spins, and it CAN utilize parkour techniques and have moves that flow into one another, but it usually does not.
Stuntmen utilize large, stationary obstacles such as balconies, rails, walls, and other urban architecture. A street stunts video usually follows one or more stuntmen in NON-constant motion throughout an environment, as they take each location and perform some stunt involving the obstacles nearby. Most street stunts videos do not include any clips from a gym or other safe environment because the appeal of the video is the stuntman's ability to control his own body in dangerous environments without protection.
An example of a street stunts video:
A subset of martial arts kicking techniques and freestyle gymnastics. Tricking involves tight spins and flips usually done on level ground with plenty of space. Although tricking can be done in single techniques, there is usually an emphasis on a continuous flow through linked moves in the form of combos, with momentum remaining high throughout. Because of this, tricking requires the ability to generate explosive power with single-leg takeoffs, a great deal of coordination and body control, and flexibility.
Trickers usually do not utilize any obstacles. A tricking video usually shows just one tricker in a variety of different environments, often including a gym or a grassy area, because the emphasis is on the tricker's motions themselves, on his flow and his ability to flip and spin, rather than on the dangerous nature of his environment. Indeed, it is in a tricker's best interests to seek out the ideal soft, flat terrain so that he can push his limits without unnecessary risk.
An example of a tricking video:
The art of expression through motion. Free running takes the basic skill sets of each of the other three disciplines and combines them into a single activity.
Free runners often take part in parkour-like runs, but are freed from the efficiency restriction, and so include spins, flips, and direction reverses to increase the overall aesthetic appeal of the run. They also utilise single obstacles after the manner of stuntmen, and sometimes perform tricking combos off of those obstacles. There are no rules at all in free-running; the goal is to achieve a sense of personal freedom and satisfaction with your technique. However, a typical free-runner will be proficient at a wide range of vaults, able to take medium to large-sized drops with a roll, and good at several different kinds of flips, most usually the basic front, side, back and wallflips.
A free running video usually follows one or more free runners in fairly constant motion throughout an environment, with occasional pauses for techniques like handstands, flag holds, and flips from stationary positions on obstacles. Free running videos will include absolutely any kind of location, from safe environments like a gym or a pool or a sandpit to urban environments like an escalator or a rooftop to natural environments like a forest or a cliff.
An example of a free running video:
It's important to remember that these definitions are not meant to limit your own personal activity. Feel completely free to mix and match your skills, doing whatever interests you most. You may find yourself more attracted to tricking, but still enjoy one or two parkour techniques, or you may be a genuine traceur who nevertheless loves to do backflips off of high objects. The definitions are there to provide a framework for communicating with other people, and to maintain respect for the boundaries of the original disciplines. As long as you understand where the lines are and you acknowledge when you have crossed them, you are totally free to play to your own strengths and preferences.
None of these disciplines require any extraordinary level of fitness, or any prior skill; you can begin at any age (or gender) regardless of what shape you’re in. Keep in mind, though, that these are physically intense disciplines, so you will need to learn your own limits, stay within them, and push them back gradually as you gain strength and confidence. A few things to keep in mind:
Balance, coordination, strength, and endurance all play a part in your ultimate success. You will improve your physical condition just through practicing, but you'll certainly find it easier going if you develop these areas deliberately, known as conditioning. Your body's muscle groups can be split into three main categories. Leg strength is central in all of these arts, and a regular exercise program will help protect your joints, as well as increasing your jump height and distance. Core strength is often neglected, but is just as important. Your core consists of your hips, back, sides, stomach, chest, and rear shoulders - the "core" of your body. Finally, upper body workouts such as pull-ups and push-ups can improve your parkour game, although they'll be less useful in tricking.
Make sure you include some cardiovascular exercise, be it biking, swimming, running, or something else; a lack of endurance will shorten your workouts and stop you from making good progress. Lastly, and most importantly, STRETCH OFTEN. Flexibility will expand your abilities, prolong your career, prevent injuries, make it easier to build strength and speed, and generally make you feel better. A very thorough guide to stretching can be found here, thanks to TricksTutorials.com.
Much more information on developing these areas of fitness can be found in the strength and fitness section of this guide.
No matter how much of a natural athlete you are, you will never progress as quickly on your own as you will if you take advantage of the community. There are literally hundreds of sources of information that are worth checking out, but some of the best ones can be found right
here on these forums.
Browse through the forum, look for skills that you're interested in, or use the
search feature, and read what people have to say about them. If you don't see an answer to your question, post up a new thread - we have athletes here who specialize in dozens of sports and skills from all over the world and who are happy to give newcomers a leg up. Most importantly of all, download and watch videos.
There is absolutely no substitute for a good video if you don’t know anyone in your area. Videos will provide inspiration and open your eyes to a range of new possibilities, both in terms of your own progression and by forcing you to re-evaluate your own environment. Watching others perform will give you insight into correct technique as well as showing you what is possible at each stage of expertise. Best of all, on this forum, you can actually talk with the athletes you're most impressed by, since most of our videos are posted by members. They'll be happy to give you advice and explanations of how they got to where they are today. Remember that the better you understand a move, the more likely you are to be able to pull it off, and that includes knowing what’s going on with every part of your body at every step of the way.
Keeping yourself from getting hurt in these arts is largely a combination of common sense and knowing your limits, but there are a few things to remember that will help you stay injury-free.
Firstly, don’t try new moves in unsafe environments. The best places to train difficult skills are gymnasiums or martial arts academies, where you’ll find a range of equipment and mats as well as experienced teachers. If you don’t have access to these, there are alternatives: sand pits, mulch piles, soft grass, swimming pools and trampolines all provide relatively safe places to work on new techniques.
Secondly, when you do get out into the real world, check takeoff and landing surfaces, make sure rails and walls are sturdy and non-slippery, avoid crowded areas, and don’t go out if it’s raining or wet. Make sure you’re wearing a good, solid pair of shoes, whether they’re running shoes, cross trainers, trail sneakers, or just plain tennis shoes. What you need in a pair of shoes are strong grip, low weight, snug laces (tie them, don’t be a fool), and if possible a set of good insoles.
Finally, remember that having other people with you is a two-sided coin. Friends can help keep you enthusiastic, offer advice, film for you, look out for you, and help you if you get hurt, but don’t let yourself get talked into doing something stupid or dangerous just to impress them. None of these arts are competitive; you always have more to gain by walking away and training more, if you’re uncertain of your abilities.
Whilst this isn't essential, it will almost certainly help you progress faster, and making your time training more enjoyable. Finding a local community who train a discipline similar to the one you're looking to start will be a huge help. They'll be able to give you pointers for moves, inspire you, show you places to train and watch your back in case you get injured. Some ways to find a community near you:
Look in our local subforums for a topic about your local area. You may want to reply to the topic, or individually private message the people who posted in it - if they don't check the forums regularly they may not see your message if you just leave a reply, but they should be notified by email about PMs, so use your better judgement.
2. Search Youtube for name of your city* parkour and look for videos filmed by teams based in your area. If you like the look of their training style, send them a message over Youtube asking if you'd be able to join them training.
3. If Youtube doesn't return anything useful, try Google. This is less likely to turn up results, as only big communities tend to have websites set up, but if you're lucky you may find a thriving community close to you
Create a topic in our local subforums with the name of your area clearly in the title. If anyone else from nearby stumbles across it, they'll reply or send you a PM. Tick the "Notify me when a reply is posted" checkbox so you get emailed if someone replies.
There are a few things that are common to success in any of these disciplines. You must be patient and hardworking, willing to spend years to develop proficiency. Depending on your innate athletic ability, some things may come to you almost immediately, and you may find yourself wondering why anyone thinks these skills are difficult. Do not be deceived; just because your limits may be different from those of others doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Also, just because you can pull off a particular technique doesn’t mean you have it under control or are doing it cleanly.
You must endlessly drill your skills, even the most basic, until they can be done in your sleep; otherwise, when you don’t have time to think and your body is reacting on its own, it won’t do so in the way you need it to. A traceur launches himself towards an obstacle and all of a sudden realizes it is a foot taller than he expected; a stuntman stumbles as he runs towards a gap; a tricker slips on a takeoff and rotates unpredictably as he goes into a flip; a freerunner lands on a roof that gives way, dropping him an additional ten feet. It doesn’t matter if the traceur can slip through an 18-inch hole; it doesn’t matter if the stuntman can run over a moving car; it doesn’t matter if the trickster can pull off a 900 degree rotation; it doesn’t matter if the freerunner can do a handstand on a rail for 30 seconds: at this point, all that matters is how well they know their basics, whether their bodies can adapt when everything goes wrong. When the drilling gets boring, add some variety, work on something new. There are so many techniques out there that you should never get bored, but neither should you ever consider yourself done working on a trick. Constant drilling will also keep you constantly building strength and coordination, protecting your joints and honing your muscles, so that it becomes easier for you to progress from one level to the next.
You must learn how to roll correctly. Read this tutorial and watch the related video. If you’re not interested in rolling, you’re not really serious about getting into freerunning. Adios.
You must stretch and warm up before practicing or performing. Always. Eventually, your body will reach a level of health and flexibility that will let you do a trick or two even if you're not stretched, but even so, you still need to maintain a consistent warm-up habit. "Warming up" consists of mildly intense (think jogging) activity lasting from 5 to 10 minutes, using all of your body. You want to break a little bit of a sweat, get your heart rate up higher than resting but not really thumping. This will loosen your joints, promote blood flow, and prepare your body for action. "Stretching" consists of assuming static or dynamic positions that move your limbs and joints to the limits of their range of motion. Make sure that you stretch every large muscle group; including pairs (if you stretch your quads, stretch your hamstrings). Stretch your back in all directions; stretch your hip joints in all directions. Stretch anything that was sore after your last practice. Stretch any muscle you plan to use while you work, and you'll be stronger and less prone to injury. When you're done with the day, stretch again and you'll be less sore and remain more flexible. Once more, here is a pretty good guide to stretching if you don't know much about it yet.
Advice for parkour
The key to parkour is remaining comfortable within your environment, so that you can flow. So, to begin training parkour, start with things that you can already do. Have you ever jumped over a fence, using one hand to boost you over? Have you ever climbed a tree? Have you ever jumped off something taller than you? Have you ever balanced on a rail? Have you ever tried jumping between the parking lot lines? Have you ever done a leapfrog? Have you ever tried to climb up an eight-foot wall? These are all excellent beginners’ techniques; as you grow more comfortable, you will be able to improve them and start linking them together.
Look for areas with handicap ramps, short columns, small stairways, lots of railings, gaps and drops, fountains, benches, decks, non-sacred sculpture, etc. Playgrounds, universities, and town squares are all great places to start. Basically, any place that would interest a skateboarder or a rock climber will interest a traceur. Once you find a location, simply pick a starting and ending point, and get between them as quickly as possible, taking the obstacles as naturally as you can. Then go back the other way. Then do it again, only this time, you’re forbidden to repeat a move. ;) You’ll get the picture quickly enough.
Injuries in parkour come mainly from attempting to cover obstacles you’re not ready for, but sometimes you may get hurt even in familiar situations. Scraped hands, stressed knees and ankles, battered shins, and sore shoulders are all common, but are less likely if you take your time and listen to what your body is telling you. If something hurts, something’s wrong.
Tutorials for most of the basic parkour techniques can be found easily on Youtube. Moves that you'll want to get started with include: the roll, precision jump, cat leap, wall run, climb up, speed vault and monkey vault.
To work your way up to precisions, gap jumps, and drops, simply jump around as much as you can. Challenge yourself, first in safe places, then in increasingly more difficult circumstances. Learn your limits, practice recovering from mistakes. To develop the catgrab, simply climb things as much as you can, building upper body strength and coordination. Then start jumping to grab low walls or dumpsters or railings without letting your feet touch the ground. To get a handle on the basic vaults, check out tutorials, or if you've got the hang of the basics and want some new ideas, take a look at Vaults 102.
Most importantly, get your hands on as many videos as you can, from as many sources as you can - watching the way others handle their environment will give you new ideas for your own methods of movement. A few sources to look for, both here and elsewhere, are videos by Phil Doyle, David Belle, Teige and Apex Parkour. Subscribe to Youtube channels so you're kept up to date with the latest videos, and take a look through older videos from the big names too.
Advice for street stunts and freerunning
The biggest obstacle to a future stuntman is his own mental blocks. Confidence barriers will stop you every step of the way. They shouldn’t be ignored - lots of the time, they’re right when they tell you you’re not ready - but they must be broken with training, progression, and dedication. Find a safe place to practice, and a few spotters (or at least friends to stand there while you try things, in case you get hurt), and just pick your trick. A set of tutorial videos on the basic tricks can be found in this topic. Advice on all of the basic tricks can be found on the forum, but here are a few general tips:
2. Tight tucks yield better rotations. When beginning to flip, try bringing your knees all the way in and really using your arms to generate momentum.
Almost any injury can occur in street stunts, but a few areas to watch out for are crushed heels (always try to land on the balls of your feet), sprained wrists (don’t ever try to just STOP yourself with your hands), and tweaked backs (make sure you stretch and warm up).
Take a slow progression with any skill, from your safe zones to grass to concrete, and make sure you work on roll recovery. Over- and under-rotation are serious problems for stuntmen, and you don’t want to bash your face or your back. The best techniques to start with are handstands, wallspins, frontflips, backflips and wallflips, tutorials for all of which can be found here. Once you get the hang of these basics, you can progress to greater heights, smaller takeoff and landing spaces, twists, and other more impressive stunts. Many of the strength-based skills found here are impressive in and of themselves, as well as being great for building fitness. Don’t forget to work on your jump skills; they’re crucial in leaping across rooftops and dropping down from buildings.
Advice for tricking
Tricking differs from parkour and street stunts in the sense that you absolutely MUST master a few techniques to become successful, whereas in the other arts you have more room to skip around. Being able to translate horizontal momentum into vertical momentum (blocking), being able to enter into and exit rotations in a controlled manner (spinning), and being able to link techniques together (flow) should be your focus at the outset.
Once you’ve found a good place to train (a gymnasium, a martial arts academy, a field, or a beach), you’re ready to go. At first, it may be helpful to practise without shoes so that your feet are not as heavy and bulky, but remember to train with them on as well, because someday you will take your skills onto concrete, where it’s best not to be barefoot. A few skills to begin working on immediately are the roundoff, which bridges the gap between running and backflipping; the 540 kick, which teaches the essentials of one-foot takeoffs and body rotation; and the cartwheel, which leads to the one-handed cartwheel, the aerial, and the sideflip. Learning how to do standing backflips will also be a big help when it comes to having the confidence for handsprings, gainers and kick-the-moons, and a spotter can make the difference between this trick being fun and being a nightmare.
Injuries in tricking mainly occur in the lower body: pulled muscles, twisted ankles, jammed knees, broken toes, etc. As always, warm up, progress slowly, and ask for advice if you’re unsure of the proper technique for a given move.
Tutorials for most basic techniques can be found here. Learning how to control spin is simply a matter of practice. Yet again, finding videos to teach and inspire will be instrumental to your success; look especially for samplers from big names like Vellu, Scott Skelton and Michael Guthrie.
Supplementary strength training (known as conditioning) isn't essential - training any of these disciplines on their own will improve your strength and fitness. However, conditioning does have benefits - you'll increase your strength faster, it will improve your confidence, tricks will feel easier and it can be done anywhere at any time (gym membership isn't mandatory).
Training at home or outdoors without purchasing any equipment is completely possible, and very useful for these disciplines. These exercises are known as bodyweight exercises - i.e. the only resistance used is your own body. A more in-depth guide to bodyweight conditioning written by Nathaniel is available here.
When talking about exercises, the following terms are used:
Reps - the number of repetitions you do in one go
Sets - a "set" of reps, with a break in between each set
So, 2 sets of 5 reps of pushups would be 5 pushups, then a break, then another 5
The amount of reps you do in each set determines what effect the training has. You want to try and adjust the exercise so that you can only just manage your target number of reps. The last rep should be difficult, but you should still be able to keep good posture.
1-5 reps = strength/power
6-12 reps = muscle size
15-60 reps = muscle endurance
Endurance is only really useful for recovering for an injury - for these disciplines you'd generally want to work on developing "explosive" strength to help increase your jump height, improve your climbup speed etc. However, if one of your goals is weight loss, it might be worth including some aerobic exercise in your routine - such as biking, jogging or swimming. If you find an exercise is become too easy, one way to help increase the difficulty is by adding weight, e.g. by wearing a backpack filled with books.
For each muscle group, you ideally want to leave 48 hours in between conditioning sessions, to allow time for recovery. While you put strain on a muscle, you break it down. It rebuilds stronger during your rest period, so if you strain it every day and don't give it time to recover, you're doing yourself more harm than good. A common way of controlling this whilst still being able to exercise every day is to split the exercises into categories, grouping together exercises that work related muscle groups, and doing one category each day - e.g. splitting up upper body (arms and core) and lower body (legs).
You should try and develop your separate muscle groups at the same pace - don't neglect certain areas, or you risk muscle imbalances which can lead to injury; this is especially important with pairs of muscles, e.g. the bicep and tricep.
Some various exercises that will help you in freerunning and parkour, which you can pick and choose for your own routines, along with any variations or other exercises you can think of:
- Pushups - It's important to keep good posture during these. Start laying flat on your front on the ground with your head up, chin resting on the ground, hands by your shoulders. Push up to full extension keeping your body straight and in this position. If you aren't able to do this yet, rest your knees on the ground instead of your feet, and pivot from there. Pushups variations include wide-arm pushups, diamond pushups (hands together forming a diamond shape), pseudo planche pushups and handstand pushups.
- Chinups - For these a chinup bar will be a huge help. If your parents don't want you drilling holes in your door-frame, the Iron Gym is a bar which slots onto door-frames. Try alternating your grip between hands facing towards you (chinup) and away (pullup).
- Planche - The full planche consists of holding your body horizontal, parallel to the ground, with straight arms and only your hands touching the ground. This takes a huge amount of strength, however there are many progressions that can be practiced to build up to it, described in detail here. These are particularly good exercises as holding the position engages many different muscle groups.
- Hanging leg raises - Hanging off a bar (or lying on your back on the floor if you don't have access to a bar), raise your legs up to your chest as fast as you can, either with straight or bent legs. This is exactly the same motion used in tucking, so is of great benefit if you want to learn flips
- Plank / Superman - Static holds which strengthen your core
- Squats - If these become to easy, a great way to increase the difficulty without a squat rack is by training one legged squats (pistols).
- Calf raises - When developing your vertical jump, this isn't quite as important as the thighs or gluteus (which are trained through squats), but does play a part. It will also help increase your ankle strength. For ideas for variations which will help avoid ankle injury, see Dogen's Titanium Ankles tutorial.
A quick note on increasing vertical jump height: strength is only part of the story - you will also want to increase the "elastic" power in your legs, which is what's able to give you fast spring in your jump. Plyometric exercises such as this, as well as just practising any discipline which involves jumping, should be trained as well as squats - but not while your muscles are fatigued from strength training, otherwise you'll make them used to under-performing. You can also practise precision jumps (the parkour move where people jump from one wall to another) on your floor, which will increase your jump height and give you practice for free running. The idea is to get as much distance as you can with the jump, then land on the balls of your feet, and bend your knees to absorb the impact landing as softly as you can.
Take 2-5 minute breaks in between each set. Exercise about 2 hours after a meal, drink a sports drink or water while you're exercising, and have something to eat soon after you finish training. If you feel the muscles aching the day after, that's normal. You can stretch the muscles after exercising to "cool down" which will help reduce aching.
You now have all the information required to make your own workout routines to suit your current level, and work around your other activities. Have fun :)
Wherever you like. Hopefully, this article so far has given you the tools you need to get started, whatever your current skill level. Now, all you have to do is get outside and get cracking. Our final piece of advice is to truly stick to it. There are many sports and disciplines out there in the world, of which most are easier than the ones described here. Yet out of all of them, there are none that bring a person closer to his environment, none that give him a better understanding of himself, none that give as much confidence and control in any situation that might arise. Each of the arts above can be done merely as a hobby, but the things you learn within them can also be applied to your entire life. If you have the courage, the determination, and the discipline to become a true member of 3RUN, then you will eventually learn that your greatest assets are your own mind and body, and that as long as you have those things, nothing can stop you.
Here are some recommendations if you find yourself being run out of every place you go, if you get constant police attention and if you’re having trouble finding good locations to practice in:
If you’re getting run out of every place you go
Try to practice early on Sunday mornings when there aren't many people up and about, from maybe 7AM until 11AM, and move constantly. Don't stay in any one area long enough for someone to call the police or come outside to yell at you, just stick in a tight group and move through as quickly as you can.
For general practice, avoid being in a large group as this can make people wary. Try to think about what you look like to other people – a group of 10 teenagers jumping around on people’s roofs is going to look suspicious, no matter how innocent you are.
Drill smaller, less rebellious techniques constantly. Work on long jumps, balance, handstands, simple vaults: these things can be done anywhere, and aren't likely to attract much attention, even at uni or in public areas. The key is to look as though you are NOT practicing anything - you want to look like a few friends just passing through who are in a really good mood and just felt like jumping a rail, or doing a handstand. Don't stay long in one place, and save the big moves for later, and you can get a lot of basic work done every day.
If you get constant police attention
Explain what you’re doing. Often free runners and traceurs will get reported as skateboarders or bladers and police won’t actually see you doing any moves before they try and move you on. If you explain to them that you’re doing, sometimes they might be understanding and let you carry on.
Always be polite when talking to authorities. If you’re rude to authorities, they’ll be less likely to let you off and they’ll remember in the future. This could potentially ruin free running and parkour in your area for not only you, but anyone else wanting to do it. The difference between having cooperative authorities and uncooperative is phenomenal.
Having said that, know your rights. Sometimes people (including the police) assume you’re ignorant and try to take advantage of that. Some quick research can help you understand what you’re able and not able to get away with. Here is a list of civil rights for the UK; it is recommended that you research the rights for your country/region.
If you’re having trouble finding good locations to practice
Try to find some old equipment you can use in your own house/places you know you’re free to practice in. Getting hold of some old mats or mattresses is useful. It may not be great, but it’s better than nothing.
Perhaps the most useful of all equipment for learning flips is a trampoline. They can help you get used to the movement in a relatively safe environment, as well as helping you learn control – something extremely important when learning free running, street stunts and tricking alike.
If you can, try and use a pool with a diving board – be careful, if you’re using a public pool with a lifeguard, they might not allow you to practice, try to check beforehand.
You’ll be able to buy mats etc. by looking on ebay, however if you can, try asking a local school/gymnasium if they have any old equipment they can sell (or perhaps give) you. This will often be a cheaper option.
Sign up for a gym as a gymnastics student, and actually take an introductory course. Be patient, don't mention tricking, free running or parkour, go ahead and take advantage of a chance to learn roundoffs, back tucks, front somersaults, etc. After a few months, you should either know the instructors well enough to branch out a bit, or have learned enough to move out on your own.
Re-evaluate your environment. Often places that seem devoid of opportunity are actually quite good. This is one reason why training with different people is so good – you get to see your usual training spots from a different perspective. It's likely that one of your homes, or one of your friend's homes, or a business run by someone you know, contains places to practice if you're creative enough.
Go to public parks when the kids are in school, when they're empty. Especially those with playgrounds, especially those that aren't easily visible from the roads. Practice in the sand pits, and on the jungle gyms, and with the slides. Playgrounds are great for agility and confidence.
Watch as many videos as you can. Open your eyes to as many of the possibilities as you can find, and eventually you will find places to match.
Finding good places to train is often very difficult, so try being creative. Don’t stick to the same places all the time. If you find yourself getting stuck at a certain place, leave it and move on to somewhere new. Come back in a month or so and often you find yourself seeing things which you were previously blind to due to over familiarity.
First tip is, listen to your fear. Always. This doesn't mean you won't eventually get the job done, but when you are feeling fear you should always stop for a minute... your mind is telling you that you haven't thought things through enough, and it's never worth it to just rush ahead anyway.
Stop and think. Why am I afraid? Am I doing something that's harder than what I've done before? Am I higher? Is the jump farther? Is the landing surface smaller or harder? Is there no one around to look out for me? Am I more tired than I ought to be? Am I being motivated by bad things (peer pressure, desire to show off)? Am I just not ready? Would I be more ready a week from now?
Often, you will find that your fear is giving you a good, solid warning. If the answers to those questions above are "yes," sometimes it's best to just step down. There's never anything wrong with getting a bit more training, with working on the technique in safer areas until you feel more ready. If you're bummed about how this slows down your progression, imagine how much your progression would be slowed down by a broken leg.
Sometimes, though, you'll realize that your fear is just that: fear. There's nothing more to it. You'll think about it, and know that you're capable of doing it. You've done it before, or it's just plain not as hard as your mind thinks. Sometimes you're truly ready, but you're still scared. In that case, you've got a few options.
David Belle and Chase Armitage both use visualisation to get them through their next challenge.
First off, imagine the move, step by step. Imagine every piece of it that needs to happen in order for you to pull it off... how fast do you need to be going? Where do your feet and hands need to be? What will it look like while you're in midair? What's your backup plan if something slips? How can you recover safely if you fall? Go through the move in slow-motion in your head several times, until you're sure.
Second, imagine some situation that motivates you to get it done. David Belle, who was a firefighter, imagines a trapped child on the other side of the obstacle. Chase Armitage imagines rescuing someone he cares about, or imagines that that person has asked him to do it from the bottom of their heart. You might also try remembering why you approached the obstacle in the first place - are you filming for a video? Are you trying to become a better person? Have obstacles like this stumped you in the past? Are you searching for that feeling of freedom that only parkour gives you? Anything that will strengthen your resolve, your drive to commit, will help you "decide" to do it.
Sometimes you will be able to shake the fear off and start running, only to have it return just before you hit the obstacle. You stumble, freeze, stop too soon or crash and burn, because you were immobilised by your fear at the last second. The problem is, your conscious mind started you running, but your subconscious still wasn't "convinced." You drowned out your fear, but you didn't actually get rid of it. To help your buried fear stay buried, you can build patterns in your mind and in your musculature that stop your subconscious from "breaking the rhythm" right before you try a technique.
First off, you can practice the motion extensively in a safe environment. Try to do it the same way every time, and focus very much on how it feels, how your leg musles spring you up, the way your body moves in midair, the sense in your hands as you first make contact. Your body will "learn" the motion and, in moments of confusion (such as when you're afraid), it will revert to what it already knows and you'll automatically perform the move correctly - IF you've practiced enough.
It also helps to have a set start-up routine. For example, gainers are a frightening technique for me. But I have developed a method of approaching the ledge, positioning my body, raising my arms, inhaling, and jumping that I perform the SAME WAY EVERY TIME. Because of this, even the simple act of starting this routine ... doing the first few steps ... calms me down. My body loses its fear because it's busy thinking, "Oh, I know what this is ... now I do THIS!" Instead of fighting the subconscious, distract it: make it help you do the move, make it participate.
This technique is the most dangerous, because if you apply it in the wrong situation it can doom you. ONLY USE THIS TECHNIQUE WHEN YOU HAVE ALREADY EVALUATED YOUR FEAR, VISUALIZED THE MOVE, AND PREPARED YOURSELF ... IN OTHER WORDS, WHEN YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO IT. Set yourself up a good ways away from the obstacle, and try to arrange things so that you have no choice but to follow through. If it's a big jump, approach the takeoff fast enough that you can't slow down before the edge. If it's a huge vault, focus on the takeoff and get yourself into the air before you think about the obstacle and freak out. If it involves a very short run, get someone else to count down from three and YELL at you to GO. Basically, arrange the environment so that by committing to start the technique, you force yourself to finish it, so that a last-second spasm of fear can't stop you.
The danger of this is obvious: if you're truly not ready, and you set yourself up to force your way through a technique you can't handle, you've just sealed your fate. So I will repeat my warning: do NOT put yourself in this sort of situation unless you KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are ready. Because if you do, and you are not, there is nothing you can do to prevent bad things from happening. But if you ARE ready, setting up a commitment situation can bring out the best in you, make you perform to the limits of your ability.
This one's also a bit dangerous, because it can end up putting bad pressure on you to meet someone else's standard. But again, if used wisely, this can make you beat the fear to reach a level you already know you're capable of. Watch some videos of your favorite parkour heroes, listen to some good, exciting music. Get in the zone, get inspired, get pumped up. Watch people doing the very same technique that you're afraid of, tell yourself you're going to live up to it. Bring your friends along, especially if you've got one who's not as good as you, but who has conquered his fear and done it anyway. You KNOW you can do it, even HE's doing it. And you're ready. The inspiration factor is small, but it can add that last bit of push that breaks your barrier.
Just remember, though: parkour is an individual journey. There is no need for you to prove anything; there is no such thing as "better" or "best". This is not a technique you should use to push your limits, struggling to match some other person when you're not ready. Again, it's not worth it ... bragging rights vs. six weeks in a cast? No contest. Only do this when you haven't reached your limits because of your fear.
Preparing for flips
Many beginners are afraid to fully commit to flips because they're afraid of what might happen if they don't land on their feet. It's important to realise that on most soft surfaces (sprung gym floor, sand, mats, trampoline, soft grass) falling is very unlikely to result in injury. With a bit of practice to improve your "aerial awareness", your body will be able to figure out what it's doing in the air, anticipate the landing, and adjust your body so you're able to recover smoothly. As long as you're expecting the landing, and "bracing" yourself, the impact is unlikely to cause any pain.
Another thing to keep in mind is how unlikely it is to land on your head with most basic flips. With a frontflip for example, as long as you can throw yourself forwards and land on your back, you've already cleared your head and the worst that happen is you'll land on your back. If you've braced yourself for a bad landing, you can also avoid any common pitfalls of unprepared people, such as kneeing yourself in the face.
With moves like backflips this is slightly different, as it does take a moderate amount of coordination to get over your head, which may not be possible on your first attempt. That's why spotters (one or two people to support your lower back and help flip you over, ensuring you don't land on your head) are a good idea for your first backflip attempts.
As mentioned earlier, preparing for falling is likely to take practise - if your body's not used to flipping upside down, you may feel disoriented whilst in the air, and not know how you're going to land. It's important to get over this though. Once you're confident in the air and comfortable with not necessarily landing on your feet, you'll find it a lot easier playing around with your technique to improve your tricks, as well as trying new movements for the first time.