Gymnastics v Parkour (which is better?)

Many people notice the similarities between gymnastics and parkour and ask which one is better. The straightforward answer is that it depends on personal choice. In this article, I dive a bit deeper and explore the history and differences between Gymnastics and Parkour.

So if you haven’t made your mind up yet, this article should help!

Let’s get started.

Table of Contents

What is parkour?

Parkour is a movement-based sport that originated in Paris, France in the 1980s and 90s. It involves navigating over and around the urban environment and all the obstacles you find. People who practice Parkour (Practitioners) try and move freely and use the obstacles to help them get from A to B in a smooth but also challenging way.

Parkour rose in popularity in the 2000s with the advent of smartphones and social media as it is a very visual and stunning sport to watch.

Parkour is more than just a sport, it is a culture, an art form and has a close-knit community who have a shared philosophy.

Is parkour similar to gymnastics?

Many movements in Parkour are similar to the ones used in gymnastics. Jumping, landing, rolling and flipping are used in both. Flips and somersaults are performed from walls and rooftops in Parkour and the basic techniques and similar in gymnastics.

For example, if you want to somersault you will need to take off, rotate and land. The principles and biomechanics are the same in both Parkour and Gymnastics regardless of where they are being performed. Twisting somersaults are also performed regularly in both Parkour and Gymnastics.

The Kong vault in Parkour is used to hurdle different obstacles but looks very similar to a Squat Through Vault in gymnastics. In both moves, you have o place your hands on the obstacle (or vault top) and bring the legs up into the chest and over the vault. Some movement but different obstacles.

The basic need for balance, especially dynamic balance is also shared between the two sports. Dynamic balance is the idea of balancing whilst moving for example running along a high wall shares similarities to a gymnast traveling along a balance beam.

Dynamic balance differs from static balances which are held still in position.

What is the difference between gymnastics and parkour?

The main difference between gymnastics and parkour is where they are practiced. Modern Gymnastics is usually inside, Parkour is usually outside. Gymnastics has not always been an inside sport. In fact, up until the second world war gymnastics events at the Olympics games were always held outside. The 1960 Rome Olympics also hosted Gymnastics outdoors.

Gymnastics uses very specific types of apparatus such as rings, beams and pommel horse. At elite levels, the apparatus has to meet strict size and shape guidelines set out by the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG). Even the leotards that gymnasts wear have to meet specific regulations.

Parkour, on the other hand, is practiced using the natural surroundings including buildings, walls, roof tops and fences. There is very little competitive element to Parkour and many people in the community are against making it formally organized and regulated like gymnastics. There is no set uniform and most people practice Parkour in trainers as opposed to the bare feet of gymnastics.

Parkour is non-competitive and practitioners mainly focus on improving themself rather than trying to achieve a competitive score.

Does gymnastics help in Parkour?

Gymnastics can undoubtedly help in Parkour, though it is not essential.

The techniques of landing safely and with control are taught a lot in gymnastics and are repeated over and over until a gymnast has mastered them. As are spacial awareness drills using high, soft mats that reduce the chances of injury. Consistent stretches and strength-building exercises are also a big part of gymnastics training and will help any gymnast trying to learn Parkour.

Although gymnastics can help in Parkour, many practitioners do not have any gymnastics training even at a low level.

Can you practice parkour in a gymnastics facility?

During the last few years, many practitioners of Parkour have utilized gymnastics equipment to help them learn more advanced flips, somersaults and twists.

Some gymnastics facilities welcome this, especially in adult gymnastics classes or open classes. Other facilities may not be so welcome, especially those that want to focus on traditional gymnastics disciplines like artistic.

The Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) added Parkour as a recognized discipline in 2018 which opened the way for gymnastics facilities to offer more structured Parkour programs in their facilities.

Some facilities have taken this one step further by opening indoor gyms that are specifically designed to practice Parkour. Continental Gymnastics in the UK sells a range called Modubox that can be installed in professional gym facilities and includes blocks, ramps and obstacles that you find outdoors.

Final Thoughts

The question of which is better gymnastics or parkour is an individual choice. Gymnastics tends to be taught in safer, matted environments and is much more regulated so if that is important to you it will be a big factor. However, even Parkour is becoming more organized and regulated since its inclusion as a FIG discipline so it really is a matter of personal choice.