It’s almost impossible to know how parkour affects you until it’s gone. For 4 months now, I haven’t been able to do anything involving my legs due to horrible Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS.) My doctor suggests it may be caused by overtraining of my quadriceps.

I have been sitting at home thinking to myself, “What about everything I was able to do? What about all the improvements I’ve made to my technique? What will happen to it? What will happen to me?” I hadn’t felt this down about myself since before I started parkour in high school.

Parkour grows more “mainstream” every day. As that happens, people will do parkour for more and more varied reasons. People do parkour because it’s fun; it will get them in shape; it helps them escape harm; or it helps them prepare in case of a crisis. These are all great reasons to do parkour.

But I believe there is one reason to do parkour that has been undervalued: parkour has an incredible ability to promote self-esteem.

Parkour is unlike any sport on the planet when it comes to building self-esteem. While most sports depend on a team, or comparing your successes to those of others, parkour is a personal journey that requires no winner. That freedom to be who you want to be is something that can motivate you.

Self-esteem is a big problem in the United States. “Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.” (ANAD, 2013.) What is it about our culture that makes people think it’s a good idea to starve themselves?

Even Lucy Romberg, arguably the most accomplished female in the discipline, has struggled with an eating disorder.

A big part of the problem is our celebrity worship, Hollywood, and our athletes. There are entire companies built around the idea that you (a man or a woman) are not good enough. They even passively admit that they cause part of this problem. Phrases like  “You don’t have to starve yourself to look this good” and “eat real food and still lose weight” might as well say “hey we know you’re purging to look like you could be on this magazine but, buy this magazine and you won’t have to!’

I’ve found that parkour’s approach to self-respect is different from other sports. Yes we have a few super-fit athletes (that often take their shirts off) but even the best traceurs, the ones that train the hardest, are often the first to tell you that parkour is for everyone. A “parkour body”, as the fitness world might label it, is attainable.

Parkour is the most inclusive activity I’ve ever been a part of. The martial arts community, while in my experience, is wonderful, is often polarized between styles, traditions, and whose master/sensei/guru is best. I played tennis in high school. While it (and other sports) built camaraderie, they were also full of yelling, teasing, and hurtful banter. Sure, this has happened in the parkour community, but never to the degree that I have seen in other sports.

The parkour community is generally supportive and helpful. They give positive feedback and constructive criticism. The traceurs that are looked up to are more hard on themselves than the other people in the community. That attitude and positive re-enforcement fosters self-worth and builds trust. On top of that I’ve never seen anyone turned away from parkour training for any reason.

At it’s most basic level parkour is about training to overcome obstacles. Those obstacles can be physical or mental. As anyone who has practiced parkour for any length of time will tell you something visceral goes through your head when you land a precision for the first time. That feeling of being able to do a vault or a jump you’ve never been able to do is incredible. It can fuel you for the rest of the session, the rest of the day, or even the rest of the week.

Take this experience as an example

A few weeks ago, against my better judgement I went out and met with friends to train. I didn’t do much; I taught basic vaults to new people and showed them how to roll. But that wasn’t enough for me. Everyone around me was doing something I was able to do before my injury. It was a horrible and I felt inadequate.

And then, something happened that completely changed my attitude.

A friend was struggling with a cat-to-cat across two brick walls. I had struggled with this exact movement earlier in the year, but I had eventually overcame and conquered. With my experience in tow, I shared tips to guide my friend, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t explain it in words, and my friend wanted a visual cue. So despite feeling weak, I decided I would teach by example. I pushed off the wall as hard as I could.

The result surprised me. All that strength that I felt myself losing over the preceding weeks wasn’t nearly as much as I had thought. The loss was mostly in my head.

After that, I was content to retire for the day, and to continue coaching the beginners through their fears.

Parkour is a lifetime sport with many stages of practice.

With careful training, you can fuel an entire life of overcoming obstacles. You’ll realize that you are in control. You will look better and you will feel better. These are things that only you can take away from yourself. That’s why parkour can be such a powerful transformation tool: it makes you aware that your potential isn’t a set point, that you can do practically anything you set your mind to. That potential will keep you moving forward, tracing out whatever path you want. It will give you confidence, and a sense of self-worth.

Next time you’re feeling down about where you are in your journey remember, you do parkour. A lot of people wish they were brave enough, fit enough, or self-confident enough to do what you do. With the proper training any obstacle, even your own self-doubt can be overcome. If you need help, look to your local community. Find a role model to guide you where you need to go. Failure will happen. Don’t let that define you. Overcome failure and then repeat the process again.

Community Stories

“My 9 year old is an avid parkour enthusiast who is self taught. He takes gymnastics at a local gym to help build a strong core and overall body flexibility. When he shared his desire to begin parkour 18 mos ago I had never even heard of the sport. We live in a remote area of Tennessee so I had to research the sport/lifestyle/art on the Internet. I was absolutely terrified at what I saw. But my son is a fighter, he was born early @ 29 weeks gestation and fought to breathe, fought to gain weight and fought to simply survive. Two years ago I put him in football, hoping he would show an interest and although he didn’t quit, he broke his arm the first scrimmage. He spent most of the season on the sidelines, suited up with nowhere to go. His coaches were amazing and recognized his sportsmanship and athletic ability, but I knew he had no passion for it. I finally relented and allowed him to begin watching and teaching himself parkour. He started with gliding, monkey vaults and jumps and I was both amazed and proud of what I saw. He was a different child. More confident yet more intuitive. More social with his peers but less worried about whether he was accepted. He blossomed and became his own person with his own value system based on what HE could achieve, setting his own goals and not worring about what others think or say or do. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see him overcoming obstacles and enjoying every minute of it.” – Jessica Hall, Mother of a traceur

[Parkour is a] “Great form of aerobic/anaerobic exercise,”depending on your style” to develop practical endurance and and possibly develop better body composition. Encourages creativity in continued development of conditioning variety as well a application. Large social groups allow for motivation and insight which most other activities,arts, sports dont. Can be practiced almost anywhere with an open mind. People actually go outside! I have a few more, but these are my reasons. Oh wait…its good fun too. All of this chalks down to helping me look,feel, and be good.Boom! Positive self esteem!” – Miles Coney, Traceur