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Don’t be afraid of parkour moves for a better workout

You may not have heard of parkour, but you’ve certainly seen it. Some of its more extreme moves, such as rooftop jumping from building to building, are often featured in action films. But for everyday practitioners of parkour, it’s about scaling more down-to-earth terrain, like picnic tables or fences — even just walking along rocks and curbs.

Parkour — also known as “the art of movement” — is basically the act of walking along without stepping aside for anything. That includes rocks, walls, even skyscrapers. Official practitioners go over what is in front of them, never around. Then came the modern version.

Modern parkour began with the military in Vietnam as a way to escape from something or someone chasing a soldier. The basic moves were just running, jumping and rolling to absorb the stresses of a landing. Since then, it’s caught on with civilians throughout the world; not as a method of escape, but as a way to work the body.

You can add parkour-type movements to an ordinary walk to become a much more functional athlete. These simple moves will improve your balance, timing and coordination.

You’ll be less likely to fall if you get off balance, and more able to make the extreme moves that are sometimes required in almost every sport. You’ll be able to jump higher and react quicker — all without ever lifting a weight or going to the gym.

A walk that includes parkour-type movements requires looking around for natural obstacles that you can use as you walk along, such as picnic tables and benches, fences, low walls and curbs. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you take on the obstacles without breaking pace. For example, if you see a picnic table with benches ahead, you just jump up onto the bench or table without a pause in your walking movement, neither speeding up or slowing down, then jump down without a “stutter step,” continuing your walk. You don’t stop to gauge the obstacle.

A parkour walk can be as extreme as you wish. You may choose an obstacle that’s relatively easy, such as walking on rocks in a stream bed, or in a more urban area, use something more difficult, such as a chain-link fence (that you don’t need permission to climb). Step close enough, reach out to grab the fence and begin climbing, maintaining the rhythm of your walk, swing one leg then the other over the top of the fence, climb down and continue walking.

One of the best ways to plan a parkour walk is to make a repeatable “course,” just as you design a regular workout with sets and reps. Find obstacles that will require effort, joint flexion and balance. At first, the walk may be difficult to complete without pausing or breaking pace, but keep practicing until the entire routine is easier. Once you can manage every obstacle, speed up the pace. Include obstacles that require lateral moves, vertical jumps and precision footwork. Something as simple as walking along the line of a curb, without stepping outside the curb, is good practice to improve the coordination between eyes and feet.

But, if a movement causes pain or is very difficult to complete, eliminate it. Some obstacles may be continuously hard to complete. Practice that movement separately to work on mastering it. Never be so enthusiastic that a particular part of your walk poses a risk.

If you follow a regular path for a parkour-style walk, remember to change it up once you have made the pace quicker and it becomes easy. You can use different obstacles or approach them in different ways. For example, jump on a picnic table bench, then on the table, take a few steps and jump back to the bench and then to the ground. Use your imagination to design a walk that challenges your athletic ability while improving it.

Parkour purists may claim these kinds of walks are not real parkour. Strangers may stare. So what? You’re doing a walk variation that has the ability to get you into the best athletic shape of your life.