Fundamentally natural parkour is all about finding interesting terrain that allows us to express the full set of human movements.
We are looking for gaps we can jump, obstacles we can jump and vault over, slanted and vertical surfaces we can run up or across, objects we can climb, and things we can swing from.
In the city we jump the gaps between walls and rails, we vault and jump over those same walls and rails and swing from bars.
In nature we can jump gaps between rocks, across creeks, between fallen logs or tree branches, we can climb trees or rocks, we can wall run up or along boulders & cliff face, or tree trunks. We can slide down and scramble up slopes and we can swing on tree branches.
In closed canopy forests the obstacles are often not the branches of trees but the trees themselves after they have fallen down. Often deep in the woods you can find mazes of fallen trees that produce amazing opportunities for vaults, jumps, balancing and tic tacs.
Rocky creek beds, beaches, and mountain sides can offer endless opportunities for gap jumps, strides, tic tacs, wall runs, and climbing. Bouldering areas and canyoning areas are often great for natural parkour skill training as well, and often the area that is good for natural parkour skills extends around and is bigger than the area that is especially great for rock climbing. So if you know of any rock climbing hot spots near you those are good place to start scouting for great natural movement possibilities.
While we don’t cover swimming in our courses, swimming is an important natural movement ability, and in fact the ability most likely to save your life. Creeks, lakes and beaches provide places to swim but that is not all. These environments also allows us to practice acrobatics combine movement in the water with movement over the rocks and through the trees.
I had to save the trees themselves for last as I have so much to say about them.
As primate our ancestors evolved for 90 millions years in trees. Like all primates we have a natural attraction to them. Great trees are almost uniquely rewarding for complex movement, but they’re not always easy to find.
Whether a tree will offer good branches for climbing, vaulting, swinging and jumping around in depends on many variables.
I have found there are 6 key factors that influence the shape of a tree:
Different types of trees have different habits in how they form. Coastal Live Oak, English Oak, Banyan trees, and Magnolias for instance tend to create larger spreading crowns, and these are great for moving around in. English Laurel, Sea Hibiscus, and Rhododendrons create dense sprawling thickets that can be also be incredible for movement.
Trees grow branches to reach the light which is their food. Most trees will only spread out low limbs when those limbs allow them access to light. Trees in closed canopy forest will tend to have few branches near the ground. Western Red Cedar, and Beech Trees can be absolutely incredible trees for moving in where they have the light to create a spreading habit. Where light is limited as in a closed canopy forest they turn into tall columns with their first branches dozens of feet off the ground.
Look for great trees to climb on, in areas where there is space around individual trees. More manicured parks often have more inviting trees. Trees also form sprawling habits where the canopy of the forest is broken up, whether by a pasture, a boulder field, or a body of water. All of those can be things to look for in finding interesting trees.
Wind also shapes trees. Areas with higher winds produce stronger trees with more unique shapes; often trees along coastlines are particularly interesting for moving in for this reason. Trees at high altitude and on slopes can also form very interesting shapes, due to exposure to the wind.
Water also shapes trees, the roots reach for water, and the branches are shaped by the pressure of water falling on them along with the wind. Heavy rains and wind can cause a tree to become contorted into interesting shapes, and as the trees roots search for water, it shifts the way the crown can grow.
Finally, trees in rocky areas around large boulders often make interesting shapes in the roots and branches as well.
So look for good trees where forests and woodlands meet rock outcroppings.
Based on those elements the 4 best types of areas I have found to train in are.
Coastal area and beaches are often the best places to find amazing natural movement possibilities. Including sprawling contorted trees, boulders, sand, driftwood logs, and of course the water. Trees near beaches often have enough light to encourage a spreading habit and they are often contorted into amazing shapes by wind and rain. Beaches also frequently have rocky outcroppings that provide great places to boulder hop and climb. Driftwood can make fantastic structure for moving on, and of course finishing with a swim is always fun.
City parks are often surprisingly good for movement options. Any park that has been planted with a variety of trees that have been give lots of space and light to grow can offer beautiful training areas. City parks are often built around beautiful, rock features, creeks, and beaches.
Botanical parks and arboretums are often the best for finding amazing trees, botanical gardens can be as well but the trees in these are often very much “look but don’t touch” with security guards on site to show away any potential tree climbers.
Natural movement athletes are not the only people looking for cool terrain in nature. We can often find great areas near us by looking to what’s being used for similar sports.
Rock climbing is of course a major feature of natural movement, but rock climbing areas often contain potentials not recognized by the rock climbers. Boulders that are good for climbing also often offer spaces to jump, vault, and wall run. Even better than that many times areas near rock climbing hot spots that are not interesting for rock climbing turn to be great for other aspects of natural movement.
Similarly, if you can find canyons that canyoneers have found interesting, there are often non-technical areas on the same creeks that offer amazing natural movement potential.
Cliff diving spots are another clue to areas where beautiful terrain is likely, and cliff diving is another fun aspect of natural movement.
Mountain biking areas often involve changes in terrain that can be fun for natural movement athletes too (just make sure to not get run over by anybody).
Finally, if you carefully read the descriptions of hiking areas you can start finding clues to good movement areas, like big boulder fields, or especially beautiful trees. I often find beautiful potential for movement around well-known waterfalls.
Of course when you are using areas that are already popular with another sport, make sure to be respectful of the space and learn about the specific risks of those areas from the communities that use them.
And as always, use your community within the Evolve Move Play tribe! Join our Facebook group and look for adventure buddies or just ask for recommendations in your area. Don’t be afraid to go scout out a space you have never been to, or look at somewhere you’ve been to several times but now with a new movement lens. Report back on your findings to our communities as well if you find a killer movement spot!
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