Written by Amy Dominguez
Picture this scenario.
You're a woman who does parkour. Awesome!
Yet more often than not, when you walk into the room, you’re the only female. Let’s be honest, you’re not surprised. You might feel out of place. You might also feel totally welcome. You might feel like you need to give room for others. Or you might be comfortable taking up space that you’re due. In the parkour world, the participation of females is an extremely small percentage. Is it because boys naturally like to throw themselves against walls and flop on any mat they see? Mmm, maybe. However, I think the bigger answer is that girls are often conditioned at a young age away from high-risk and high-intensity activities. No matter how you feel, it goes without saying the dynamic is always different when females are the minority in a sport.
But what if you went to a parkour event where it was strictly for women?
Would you train differently? Would you carry yourself differently?
These were all questions I had for myself going into the annual Women’s Parkour Movement event in Sacramento.
I heard about WPKM through Freedom in Motion's CEO Jimmy D. who learned about the event through Parkour Visions. I honestly didn’t know anyone attending. I quickly started scanning the few Instagram accounts of female athletes I personally knew in Southern California. With luck, I found Jess Chan who I had just met at World Chase Tag (if you haven’t seen the episodes of Freedom in Motion and Hops Co, they should be on YouTube soon!). Though we had only introduced ourselves briefly a month prior, I figured it “Hey why not?”, so I asked if she wanted to embark on a 19-hour road trip with me!
Day 1 of the Women's Parkour Jam
After a long drive, we arrived at the Parkour and Performing Arts gym. The night began with a meet and greet followed by some time to jam (if you don’t know what jamming is, in parkour lingo it means to train together).
We warmed up while introducing ourselves, and what I didn’t realize is how far people came for this event! There were people from Colorado, D.C., and one person even road tripped across the US to attend.
It was great to get to learn some of their stories and how they were introduced to parkour. Interestingly enough, the pandemic was a big factor for many, including myself.
The night ended with some great training where we shared fun challenges. I even got to teach Jess a 2-step-180 cat and watch her work through the mental battle of pushing herself through some doubt to the point of success!
Both of us had so much energy and were the last two training in the gym, but we decided to call it a night so we could get enough rest for day two.
Day 2 of the Women's Parkour Jam
Everyone initially met at the Sacramento State Capitol Building for another introduction for the newcomers and a good warm-up. I was surprised to see a lot of familiar faces! It was encouraging to see all the women who I had trained or competed with separately all come together. This was the first workshop day, so the whole group packed up and migrated to the spot where it would take place.
(PSA: If you’ve never been to Sacramento for parkour, I highly recommend it. I was getting so distracted along the way with all the interesting structures and spaces for potential training).
Parkour Workshop #1
The theme of our first workshop was Postural Restoration lead by Ann Hoang. Anne is a movement specialist and has been training parkour since 2016. I studied Exercise Science and so was excited to get into the biomechanics side of our movement. Now postural restoration, what does that even mean? Well, basically it’s about proper breath training, muscle activation and deactivation, and fixing overall structural imbalances. For example, we focused on relearning chest/ribcage placement during movements involving cat hangs. If your chest is sticking to far forward it means your back muscles are already engaged, which would hinder you from being able to be explosive in something like a cat-180-precision. In simple terms, you can’t turn something more on than it already is- at least not without potential damage in the muscles, or just failure in the move. Similarly, we learned how to remove strain from the lower back by adjusting the pelvis position.
Forward pelvic tilt is a very common position for women to be in and therefore affects muscles down the chain such as the hamstrings. Because of this we also learned to activate (turn on) and deactivate (turn off) our hamstrings while keeping the low back in a relaxed and neutral position. We did these movements while lying on the ground with our feet up against a wall and our legs in a 90-degree position. All this translates to things such as strides and plyometric jumps because you have to be able to know how to exert power in the proper way to get more distance.
By the way, if you’re interested in getting stronger, Freedom in Motion has parkour classes dedicated to just this type of increased body awareness and overall parkour-focused strength building (look for ages 14+ Strength on the schedule). If you want to learn about becoming a coach, Freedom in Motion offers parkour coaching certification courses as well.
In these more relaxed positions, we moved on to breathing techniques. First off, Anne had us take a 4-second inhale through our nose and then exhale for 4-seconds through our mouths with a ‘haaa’ emulating a sigh. If you’re reading this right now and becoming conscious of your breathing, try it with me. 4 seconds in through the nose, 4 seconds out through the mouth making a ‘haaa’ sound like you’re sighing. It’s a great relaxation and cool-down technique as well. Ann then handed out balloons to everyone. We were asked to try and blow up the balloon without puffing our cheeks up whilst doing the 4-in 4-out technique. You would have thought we were at a meditation retreat for a minute there, but breath placement is so important in parkour and something that must be trained as well.
Due to the commonality of sedentary lifestyles, many people have lost the ability to regularly access a full breath of air. Learning how to breathe properly can help not only with parkour, but with anxiety, sleep, and emotional regulation. And this applies to all ages! If you have kids and haven’t tried breathing techniques, I highly recommend it.
We concluded the workshop with a warmup that Anne enjoys using for clients before they begin a movement session. Then we moved into a session of our own! We trained at various spots until sunset, filming each other's lines or challenges and just hanging out. At the end of a long day, we shared a yummy meal together and watched the inspiring female athlete parkour film, Queen City. A groundbreaking project that brought North American female parkour athletes to train together, learn from each other’s processes or techniques, and create a community. There currently are no other short films involving solely female parkour athletes and their stories, but hopefully this project will lead the way to change that statistic.
Day 3 of the Women's Parkour Jam
On our final day, we trekked over to UC Davis for another workshop and day of training.
Parkour Workshop #2
Emily Fleet lead the second workshop through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it relates to parkour. As you might be able to make out in the photo there were 4 categories.
Moving from the bottom up we have:
Physiological: Bodily capabilities, injuries/ailments, diet, sleep, sensory issues
Security- safe space: stability (checking surfaces) & weather, knowing your rights, awareness of the environment/people
Community: belonging, love, gratitude
Purpose: connection, self-esteem, self-expression
Most of our time was spent reflecting and discussing our own position in parkour through each of those categories. Where did we feel we were lacking? What did we feel was in abundance? Where did we feel secure? Or what was holding us back from growing in those areas?
Parkour is unique in that it gathers so many people from various walks of life.
Because of this, all our answers were different, but that was powerful because it helped us all gain a new perspective. Not everyone enters the sport for the same reason, and not everyone feels the same when participating either.
As a young person I have the privilege of the societal expectation that it’s okay try something as “crazy” as parkour, and seeking newness is normal. But it is rare for an older person, especially with kids or grandkids, to be exposed to or encouraged to try something like parkour. Even so, they often feel like they can’t or shouldn’t, but that’s just not true. EVERYONE can do parkour. And on that note, if you’re a mom, Freedom in Motion Loma Linda just started a "mom’s parkour session" on Sunday mornings! If you’re an adult on the fence and think “I’m too old”, “I’m not fit enough”, or “It’s too scary”, trust me when I say parkour is still for you. We meet you where you’re at and whatever level you are. We teach with a method called regressions and progressions, which means we can break down any move to make it easier or harder for you along your journey of learning. It’s not about being as good as the person next to you, it’s about overcoming your own challenges and mental fears, making you a stronger person in parkour AND in life.
Following the workshop, we got to train more at various spots on the university campus and enjoy the beautiful weather. Though Jess and I had to leave early to hit the road for the long drive, I came away from that final day being reminded of why I do parkour and how it brings people from every background together. I learned that if someone needs an intentional space to be able to fully be themselves in that activity then by all means we should continue to create those spaces for them. Finally, to answer my own questions I had going into the event, yes, I did train and carry myself differently. Not because of anything I did, but rather because for the first time I got to experience the powerful support of women who were on the same journey as me in this wild sport of parkour we’ve come to love.