Parkour, unlike some other sports, is a full body workout that gets kids and adults moving by having them run, jump, vault, and swing through obstacles in ways that they have not moved before. In addition to being a full body workout, the sport improves upon certain fitness related skills that are useful to have if a situation ever calls upon them. These skills include agility, balance, power, speed, coordination, proprioception, reaction time, and spatial awareness; all of which play a tremendous role in the development of any athlete. Another benefit comes from the social skills that are developed in a gym setting by working with people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. A person with special needs may have trouble with any or all of these things, however, parkour can be an excellent way to assist special needs individuals of all ages.
Parkour moves individually work different types of muscles, but as a whole, every movement in parkour engages and strengthens the core muscles. Swinging works on your shoulders, lats, and grip strength; while climbing engages the pushing and pulling muscles in your upper body which include the triceps, biceps, and chest. Running, jumping, and vaulting develop and engage your posterior chain which include the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Developing and growing these muscles is simple because parkour activities encourage play and creativity while teaching practical and fundamental movement related skills. The unintentional benefit of recruiting all of these muscle groups is the incredible development of the athlete’s proprioception, which can be a difficult thing for people with special needs, especially those with dyspraxia. Parkour is a deceptively easy way to train proprioception that is also incredibly fun.
At a fundamental level, parkour is about learning to be able to safely and effectively use one's body in situations where it is needed by developing coordination and spacial awareness skills. Spatial awareness is an organized knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in space. Through the repetitive motion of training specific parkour skills one can develop and sharpen their coordination and spacial awareness. For example, if a child wants to explore in their surroundings, maybe on a playground or even in their backyard, having the coordination and spacial awareness to climb on top of something high or jump to something below them is going to make the child's life easier as well as build up the child's confidence in their own abilities.
As a sport, parkour not only helps with your physical health, but also with your social health. The parkour community is an extremely close and supportive one. We have meet ups and help push each other to develop our skills in a positive and constructive way. The community consists of individuals of all ages, shapes, sizes, and experience. Another aspect of developing social skills with parkour would be in the time spent in the gym and in classes. In a school setting, children are typically restricted to only kids of a specific age range, whereas at a gym everybody has the opportunity to work with a variety of people. This helps push social development even further than a school setting or a small group would.
Parkour is an empowering and disciplined sport in the sense that it requires time and dedication to execute the skills correctly. For the individual, special needs or not, there is a self-fulfilling element to achieving such physical accomplishments. We all have our own obstacles in life that we find hard and struggle with, however by pushing through the doubt and uncertainty, we can eventually look back in amazement at what we have accomplished. This same mindset, if practiced enough, will translate over into how that individual views challenges or “obstacles” in the world. More parkour facilities should offer special needs programs so that every person can take advantage of the benefits that this discipline has to offer.