Spot The Difference: Parkour/Freerunning Vs. Freestyle Gymnastics/FreeG

Spot The Difference: Parkour/Freerunning Vs. Freestyle Gymnastics/FreeG

Spot The Difference: Parkour/Freerunning Vs. Freestyle Gymnastics/FreeG

We often get parents and practitioners alike telling us that they’ve been to the “freerunning club down the road”.  This inevitably leads to us asking where this other club is based and who is coaching there, and we always get the reply, “X Gymnastics Club”.

Now, let us state this from the outset: Train Hard are not against other Parkour Coaching organisations teaching in the area, in fact, we would love to see more high-quality parkour coaching across the South-West of England. What we are against is gymnastics clubs stating that they are delivering Parkour/Freerunning when in fact they are delivering a separate and distinct activity.


“So what is this other activity?”

It’s called Freestyle Gymnastics, or the recently rebranded ‘FreeG’. Catchy, eh? (The use of the word ‘free’ might even make you think it has something to do with Freerunning/Parkour! What a coincidence!)

Through this clever advertising (and often false advertising), many gymnastics clubs across the country are getting young people into their gyms on the false premise that they are actually or will actually be learning the activity called Freerunning or Parkour. We’ve had several clubs in our area who have stated on websites, promotional literature, and in person that they deliver “Freerunning classes”. And we are not alone down here in Bournemouth – many of the coaching organisations around the UK have had similar problems in their respective locations.

 “So what are the differences between Parkour/Freerunning and Freestyle Gymnastics/FreeG?”

This is a great and important question.

Back in 2005, British Gymnastics issued an official statement on the activity of Parkour/Freerunning. You can see the original statement here. To sum it up:

1) They did not want to teach Parkour in their gyms (only gymnastics movements on their syllabus would be covered)

2) It should never be done outside of the gym

3) The term ‘Parkour’ should not be used in advertisements. 

At some point in 2009, the Freestyle Gymnastics add-on module was created for gymnastics coaches to complete in one six-hour course. The coaches currently have to be a minimum of Level 2 qualified gymnastic coaches in a given discipline (that can even include trampolining!), so a trampolining coach with absolutely zero experience of moving over obstacles could, in theory, do this one-off, six-hour course and deliver a Freestyle Gymnastics session from thereon in. Incredible. Trampolining and passing over obstacles could not be more dissimilar. Trust me! (I was an international trampolinist prior to my Parkour days).

Even a gymnastics coach who believes parkour movements and gymnastic movements to be “the same” because “they look similar” are wrong. Inevitably, these practitioners learning these movements inside a gym WILL want to take these movements outside. That’s a natural progression. Will they be ready to do so from a FreeG class? Does it prepare them for this? We think not.  FreeG is designed to be an indoor activity! It is not Parkour/Freerunning. But do you really think that young people will not attempt these movements outside? Really? What’s more is that many of the gymnastics equipment companies have designed “FreeG equipment” to be “urban”; looking like brick walls and crash mats emulating “tarmac”. If this isn’t encouraging and lulling participants into a false sense of security, then I don’t know what is!


“Why has British Gymnastics created FreeG when they were originally so against allowing Freerunning/Parkour in their gyms?”

As their statement above recognised, Parkour/Freerunning has become a VERY popular activity, and more importantly, it seems that Parkour is not merely a fad (see the excellent article from APEX Movement here regarding fads and trends).

It is a widely-held belief within the Parkour Community that British Gymnastics have “cashed in” on an activity that they initially did not want any part of, and created a similar, diluted activity that masquerades as the actual discipline it’s clearly based upon. (The course syllabus for the Freestyle Gymnastics add-on module was even co-created by well-known Parkour practitioners and uses much of our specific terminology!)

Back to the DIFFERENCES between these activities.

Parkour/Freerunning is an OUTSIDE activity. It was created in an outdoor environment, and has developed in an outdoor environment. Everybody loves a foam pit and sprung floor to practice the acrobatic movements on, but these things are a relatively recent development in the Parkour scene. There are now many indoor Parkour facilities (including ours in Poole) so that practitioners can train their discipline without being kicked off spots. These act as additional training areas for working parkour movements that they otherwise may not have access to (for example, in Bournemouth and Poole there was nowhere to practice laches, until we built The Parkour Project). Even though these indoor facilities have been built, many of them have attempted to keep true to Parkour being an outdoor activity, with taglines such as “Outdoor training, Inside”.

This is because Parkour is about becoming a functional human being, able to move safely and effectively in all terrains and environments, not just able to throw themselves over their heads in a padded room with crash mats and foam pits.

This is the definition of FreeG on the BG website:

“FreeG fuses traditional gymnastic and acrobatic tricks, with kicks and leaps made famous through martial arts and brought to worldwide attention by festival performers and stunt actors.” 

We are quick to make clear at our Train Hard sessions that if you’re there to simply learn the things in the above definition, then you are in the wrong place, and we direct them to a place that does offer those things. However, we are clear to point out that the definition above is very far removed from what Parkour/Freerunning is. We then explain what Parkour/Freerunning IS about:

Parkour is non-competitive. It is about self-development through movement practice. It is about community. It is about developingphysical and mental resilience. Developing a sense of camaraderie. Developing respect for self, others and the environment. Parkour practice should affect other aspects of your life for the better.

At Train Hard Parkour, our goal is to create skilled parkour practitioners who can move safely, efficiently and confidently through their daily environments, instilling in them an ethos of respect, humility and self-development.


In summary: Freestyle Gymnastics is not Parkour/Freerunning.