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What Is Free Running?

By Soo Owens
Updated Feb 15, 2024
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Free running is a style of urban acrobatics that incorporates jumps, flips, wall climbing, and other activities to traverse a cityscape. Unlike its close relative parkour, free running, or freerunning, is less about utility and practicality than it is about the aesthetics of the body's movements. It requires an area that is arranged with numerous kinds of obstacles and multiple directional capabilities, both horizontal and vertical.

Sebastien Foucan developed both parkour and free running. Parkour was created as a discipline with which a person, using only his or her body, can travel unhindered and safely through any urban environment. The focus of parkour is efficiency, while free running is a practice that was developed as a mode of individual expression. It gives an individual the opportunity to add his or her own personal style and flair to any urban landscape, in a non-permanent way. Though the two are often confused, due to visual similarities, they are, in fact, quite different.

The term free running was originally an attempt, in several films, to translate parkour into the English language. The two words, however, began to acquire separate definitions and are no longer used to denote the same style of urban acrobatics. Free runners and parkour enthusiasts alike are quick to point out the difference.

Free runners employ techniques and skills from other physical disciplines. Their movements are designed to highlight the freedom of the individual as well as the appealing visual effect that the movements convey. A free runner’s movements may not be as efficient as those of a parkour practitioner, but efficiency is not the goal.

An environment rich in obstacles and twists and turns is the ideal location to showcase a free runner’s ability. Aside from tailoring their techniques to their own individual preference, free runners are also subject to the surrounding environment. A free runner should interact with their surroundings as opposed to moving through the area as quickly as possible. Flips and spins are commonplace in free running along with a number of vaulting and wall climbing techniques.

Free running uses the entire body and is an aerobic activity. These characteristics have led to its adoption, by some, as an exercise program. The desire to use the acrobatic techniques and to get in shape have made it popular.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Oct 26, 2014

@croydon - I feel like the biggest distinction seems to be that free running is an organized activity and sport while parkour is an activity. Like the difference between figure skating and just skating.

Regardless, I'm glad that this sort of activity is being encouraged. Exercise that takes advantage of the urban environment instead of occurring in spite of it is definitely a step in the right direction for young people in particular.

By croydon — On Oct 25, 2014

@Ana1234 - Well, the original intention of a definition isn't always going to be something that lasts. I suppose if the person who organizes free running games and classes is always referring to these things as being about free running rather than about parkour, then the term will catch on.

It sounds like there are fairly solid distinctions that are obvious to people who actually do these things as a sport or hobby which just might not be obvious to the casual observer (or the casual non-observer).

By Ana1234 — On Oct 24, 2014

I actually think that part of the confusion is that the definitions sound like they should be reversed. Free running sounds like someone is trying to get from one place to another with as little regard for obstacles as possible, while parkour sounds more fancy, like a dance craze or something.

Although I hardly ever hear people call this sort of thing free running anyway. It always seems to be called parkour when I see videos of it online.

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