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What Is the Difference between Parkour and Freerunning?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Although there is no common consensus on the definition of these terms, difference between parkour and freerunning typically comes down to the types of moves used by the person engaged in the activity and whether there is any form of competition. According to the World Freerunning Parkour Federation, freerunning is an off-spin of parkour with less emphasis on efficiency and more emphasis on expression. Parkour is generally viewed as an acrobatic means of getting from one point to another in the most efficient and direct manner possible. Freerunning is very similar to parkour, except additional moves can be added for purely aesthetic flair, such as spins and flips. Parkour is also typically free from competition, while freerunning can be performed competitively.

Both activities share the same origin, though they have diverged from each other in certain ways. In general, this form of athletic activity stems from observations of various forms of movement used in French military training, as well as movements used by Vietnamese firefighters. These methods were further developed and refined by several individuals, perhaps most notably David Belle and Sébastien Foucan. The clearest divide between parkour and freerunning can be seen in the different styles of Belle and Foucan, as each has become a leading figure in the two different forms.

Spins and flips may be performed in freefunning.
Spins and flips may be performed in freefunning.

Belle is generally considered to be the leader of the parkour movement, and his training and vision for the sport involves efficient movement between locations. This means that extra moves, such as flips and spins, have no place in his form of activity, as they are not efficient and involve unnecessary energy and effort. As Foucan, on the other hand, wished to add such moves to his own movements, the split emerged. Freerunning was first used as a way to provide an English name for parkour, but has since come to typically refer to a form that includes extra movements for visual flair.

Parkour may include climbing and jumping.
Parkour may include climbing and jumping.

A competitive aspect to such athletic movements can also serve as a difference between parkour and freerunning. Belle and other leaders typically wish for parkour to remain free from competition and exist merely as a personal exploration of the world in a way that can be shared and mutually enjoyed. Freerunning, on the other hand, is often used for competitive means and may be engaged in more as a traditional sport. Despite these differences, the words are sometimes used synonymously, though this may elicit the ire of some practitioners of these disciplines.

Discussion Comments


Since this is the most recent article I can find on the differences, I thought I’d ask a question here.

I recently discovered a program called “American Ninja Warrior” and it seems like many on that show practice Parkour or free running which is what led me to google it.

Wikipedia seems to indicate that free running started because Foucan wanted to create something more suited to each individual's goals.

To me that translates into something not as intense, as some people’s individual goals may include building strength, dexterity and stamina without being bored at a gym, not necessarily learning how to flip off things.

However, when I read definitions, it sounds like free running is more intense and complex than Parkour.

Which leads me to this: Must you already be athletic in order to do parkour/free-running or is there a version of parkour or free-running that can be customized to someone who is not at all athletic? That is, a very very beginning (or “baby”) version? Hope this isn’t a dumb question.

Thanks. -- Sharon.


No, moves do not define Parkour or Freerunning. Flips and turns can certainly be used in Parkour when confined to a small space or what have you.

The difference is the intent: whether you are indeed training your flight response in a situation of danger, or out for a day of fun - this defines your movement.

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    • Spins and flips may be performed in freefunning.
      By: Mario Webhofer
      Spins and flips may be performed in freefunning.
    • Parkour may include climbing and jumping.
      By: willmetts
      Parkour may include climbing and jumping.