Principles of Space Design for Parkour Class & Training


“Parkour can be found/done anywhere.”

Yep. But when you have the freedom to tailor the environment to a lesson that you’re teaching, or a challenge you are trying to overcome, you should take advantage of the opportunity (1) as a coach, to create an even better class experience or (2) as a practitioner, optimize your training.

...Define “Better”

Before jumping into how to make your training spaces and set-ups better for your training, it’s good to pin down what we mean by ‘better’.  A set-up is good if it is:

INTENTIONAL   Deliberately designed for a particular movement, movement style, or movement goal, such that it maximizes students’ ability to make progress


Deliberately designed for a particular movement, movement style, or movement goal, such that it maximizes students’ ability to make progress

VERSITILE   Providing both inspiration and opportunity for multiple angles and methods of movement


Providing both inspiration and opportunity for multiple angles and methods of movement

NOVEL   Exposing students to new perspectives, new combinations, or new ways to expand their toolkits or improve/reinterpret known techniques


Exposing students to new perspectives, new combinations, or new ways to expand their toolkits or improve/reinterpret known techniques

SIMPLE   Employing no more equipment or complexity than is strictly necessary to create the desired opportunity.  Aesthetics plays a role here, as well—a cluttered feel in a setup is a non-negligible negative.


Employing no more equipment or complexity than is strictly necessary to create the desired opportunity.  Aesthetics plays a role here, as well—a cluttered feel in a setup is a non-negligible negative.

BALANCED / SENSIBLE   Taking into consideration safety, group size, practitioner size, skill level, traffic flow, coach positioning, and visibility.


Taking into consideration safety, group size, practitioner size, skill level, traffic flow, coach positioning, and visibility.


Designing a set-up is a game of give-and-take.  For instance, intentional-ity often reduces versatility, and versatility often reduces simplicity.  The key is not to hit a perfect 10/10 on each category, but to find an intelligent balance between them that meets the goals of your class or training session.  That balance will be different every time—even something like sensibility, which seems universally required, may be sacrificed if there is a meta goal of putting high-level practitioners off balance or forcing a situation to deliberately practice awareness and cooperation.

From bad to acceptable

For coaches, bad-setups are also those that require additional staff to step in and make changes mid-class, break down and lead to injury, or prevent to serve all student needs.  

For practitioners, bad-setups are those that require more time maneuvering than training, lack safe progression, and create dangerous space for those sharing the space with you.

It’s important to remember that the absence of bad is not the presence of good.  Avoiding problems listed below brings you to the baseline of barely acceptable. It is only after the questions below are answered correctly that you can free up time and attention to do genuinely interesting things with space and equipment.

Let’s quickly look at what makes a set-up fail--Here are some questions you can ask about yourself about your designs / setups:

Safety (You want to be answering NO!)

  •     Is there an unstable or untrustworthy configurations of obstacles?
  •     Does it allow or encourage risky or dangerous movement?
  •     Are there unnecessarily slick surfaces or obstructed fall zones?
  •     Are there blind spots that might make collisions likely?

Content (You want to be answering YES!)

  •     Is there enough variety and opportunity to fill the class time / training session?
  •     Is there no clutter and enough space to do things like warmup/strength train?
  •     Are there options for alternatives and progressions?
  •     Does my setup avoid boring, discouraging, overwhelming, or terrifying my students
  •      (or me)?

Efficiency (You want to be answering YES!)

  •     Does my setup NOT require me to move lots of things during class time?
  •     Can I reuse or reinterpret the same obstacles for different activities?
  •     Am I using as little equipment as possible to address my goals?

From acceptable to excellent

vWith any given movement, there are obvious design solutions that will jump to mind - classic and simple configurations you have probably seen hundreds of times and know how to set up in your sleep. Two precision trainers separated apart for jumping. A single vault box set up to practice vaulting.

As a practitioner, you can work with your training partners to find interesting adjustments. But as a coaches, it gets harder. If you have seen a set-up a hundred times, your students have probably seen them a bunch, too, and have gotten all they can out of them.  
So to jump into it...

Let’s start with a common example: A lesson in vaulting. Given nothing more than a couple of vault boxes, you can fill 45 minutes with interesting and valuable activities. However, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the equipment and spaces in a gym to improve upon that basic model.

The baseline, barebones setup for a vaulting session:


Our first change can be in any direction. This setup has already achieved maximum simplicity and sensibility. As we alter it, we must ask ourselves some questions:

Are we looking to make the setup more intentional? If so, then what exactly is our intention?  For instance, do we want to teach students as many vaults as possible?  Put vaults into an actual, useful context, so that students can practice realistically?  Perfect the form and power of each individual vault?  

Or, are we looking to make the setup more novel, perhaps? in which case we should replace the vault boxes with something weirder—boxes turned on end, or a slanted rail, or a taller box with a sloped runup. We could force a tac before, or a dive roll after, etc. etc., using basic building blocks to create a particular challenge that our students are unlikely to have prepared for.  

One simple change made for the sake of intentionality (can you guess the intention?):

Vaultbox 2-01.png

Another intentionality change:

Vaultbox 3-01.png

And another:

Vaultbox 4-01.png

Compare those changes to the following change, made for versatility:

Vaultbox 5-01.png

Can you think of two or three vaulting-relevant activities that you could do with the two-square box setup that would NOT work with the two original vault boxes?

Another versatility change:                                 

And more:

Vaultbox 9-01.png

… and so on.  

These options came from a simple, 60-second brainstorm. With half an hour, you could easily apply similar thinking to multiple pieces of equipment, and make a dozen different changes that would push your larger setup from “sure, fine, whatever” to “awesome.” 

For coaches especially, the key is to hold yourself to a high standard—don’t stop at the first idea. Interrogate it, criticize it, consider alternatives. Even if you end up going with the original idea, it will be because you’re confident it really is the best way to set up your class, not just because you were tired or lazy.

As with most things in parkour, setup design begins with your goals and improves with practice. Understanding exactly what you want yourself or your students to see, feel, experience, and learn is the key to evaluating your space for relevance and quality.  

Start with a goal in mind, brainstorm, and test.  Once it’s built (or halfway built), pause and check against your mental model.  Do you envision it working?  And if not, does it need to be more intentional, more versatile, more novel, more simple, or more sensible?

Some Additional Considerations

This last section covers some general considerations that help you create great setups. They are all flexible, and all of them can be ignored entirely under certain circumstances. But if you were to look at a hundred excellent setups, you’d find them present an awful lot, and if you were to look at a hundred terrible ones, you’d find these things pretty rarely.

Build to your progressions

While you can often do multiple progressions on a single obstacle or setup, it helps to have different setups that actively encourage different approaches.  For example, if you’re seeking to push your broad jump distance, building three jumps of different sizes can be more useful than just adjusting one main jump.  It allows one to switch back and forth between the jumps for exploring, as well as invites others of different ability levels to train side-by-side.

Build to your workflow

Learning tends to be the most deep when they follow the IVA format:

Instructional - Variation - Application

When planning out your setup, create separate islands of equipment for learning / teaching the skill (instructional, basic), learning / teaching a variant of the skill (variation), and using the skill within a larger context (application).  e.g. if the skill is cat leaps, you might have one basic setup that’s a bar grip over a slanted face, a pair of stations that teach cats to vertical walls and cats to bars, and then a final course that includes two or three cats as part of a larger run.

Build with multiple directions in mind

Don’t just think about A → B, but also B → A works also.  Though some setups are the same backwards and forwards, it’s incredibly efficient to think about designing setups that are different.  It will cut down on time spent arranging obstacles to work on the task at hand.

For Coaches: Build with the group and the whole day / session in mind.

You’ll probably need to warm up.  
You’ll probalby need to do some strength training.  
You obviously want to train.

You’ll want space to pull a student aside to try an easier, slower, or simpler version
You’ll want a final boss challenge for the students who are unusually brave or advanced.  
You’ll want to do some things all together, in lines or in a circle; 
You’ll want to do some things individually, with everyone spread out.  

Before you start moving boxes around, ask yourself how much open space you need, or where you’ll have everyone line up.  Ask yourself how large your students are, and how many of them there will be, so that your lines aren’t bunched up against the obstacles. 

Build to your groupings

For coaches: Generally speaking, any class with more than six students should be divided at some point (to cut down on wait time, allow for a more efficient use of space).  If you’re expecting ten students, or if you want to do partner drills, or if you know that you’ll have some really tall folks and some really short ones, design multiple pairs of stations that your class can rotate through, instead of just one large main setup.

Art not Science

Building awesome setups is an art, not a science. There is no one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box solution, which is what makes this process fun and exciting. As you come up with your own set-ups and layouts for your lessons, share with us! Did you come up with a creative solution to train or teach something? Shoot us a photo and we’ll throw it on to our website and facebook.

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About the Atuhor

This article was pulled from the Parkour Visions Vault, and was compiled by our design / build team over the years, including Colin MacDonald and Tyson Cecka. Interested in learning more about design & construction in parkour? Check out our STURDYmade initiative and join the community online.

3 Ways to Make Your Community More Inclusive


By Goshman

When I talk to coaches and parkour leaders around the country, I often hear that folks want to make their classes and communities more inclusive but don’t know where to begin. 

There’s a lot to learn and unlearn in order to be truly inclusive, and anyone who wants to see the parkour world expand beyond just elite athletes and parkour enthusiasts needs to put in the time and effort. However, there are a few simple steps you can take right now that can create big change in making more people feel comfortable in a parkour environment.

parkour inclusivity community

1. Plan your classes for every body. 

I’ve noticed that many coaches will have a general plan for a class and only come up with modifications if they’re needed,  and usually on the spot. These modifications often are sloppy and can make students feel extremely self-conscious. How? For me, it happens when it appears I am taking up a disproportionate amount of the coach’s time by pulling their attention away from the rest of class so they can think up a modification for me. Worse, many times the “modification” is simply doing an exercise off to the side, away from everyone else. This serves to heighten my awareness of my differences and feel both disconnected from the class and worse about my lack of abilities. 

Here are a few ways to help facilitate a healthier space:

(A) From Strength to Creativity
When watching coaches and other high level practitioners train, I’ve sometimes seen them play the physical game of, “how could I do this move or route with one arm/one leg/eyes closed/etc.?” This is actually a very useful game for planning an inclusive lesson, except instead of it being a challenge of physical strength, it becomes a challenge of intellect creativity. 

(B) Plan For All Body Types
When planning your lessons, ask yourself how you can modify them for all kinds of bodies and limitations; you never know who is going to show up to your class or what restrictions they might be working with on any given day (physical and mental). Consider whether the modified activity can be executed in the same space as the primary activity, and plan for how you will make sure students using the modifications stay involved with the class. 

(C) Invite Choice
When you present the activity to a class, present the modifications as options that anyone can choose. Even your strongest student may have an injury, invisible illness or disability, or just be tired on any given day but may try to push themselves too hard if they feel worried about drawing attention to themselves or looking weak by having to ask for a modification. Making modifications a normal part of class, and making sure you’ve come up with sufficient modifications to cover most circumstances, goes a long way towards making your class accessible to a wider variety of ability levels. 

2. Pay attention to your language. 

Often our language is littered with assumptions that we don’t even notice.

One time I was hanging out with a group of practitioner and someone said, “Back then I couldn’t even do a kong.” With that simple sentence, she implied that (1) a kong is a basic move and that (2) not being able to do one is a bad thing or a sign of incompetence.

However, as we hopefully believe, you don’t have to be able to do a kong (now or ever) to be a parkour practitioner. If parkour is really about mastering one’s own movement, then it isn’t what moves you can do that should determine one’s value. 

(D) Be Conscious of Value Statements
Watch out for words that imply valuation or judgement. For example, don’t refer to things as, “easy.” What’s easy for one person may be very difficult for another and can set someone up for embarrassment when they can’t do the “easy” move. Instead, use words like “simple” or “foundational” if you’re trying to explain a fundamental concept. 

Also, try to avoid using assumptive language. If you’re a coach presenting those modifications we talked about earlier, try to avoid phrases like, “if you can’t do [main activity]....” or, again, "if you need to make this easier..." That phrasing sets the modification up as a lesser value alternative, which again can be embarrassing or hurtful, and may lead to people who SHOULD use that modification to avoid using it.

Instead, presenting things as equal options allows people to choose the one that’s right for them based on the criteria they want to use and how they’re feeling about their training on that particular day.

3. Give people a way to get involved. 

Many folks come to classes and jams because they’re looking for a community and want to take advantage of a movement environment that tends to be more social in nature - otherwise, they’d just be at the gym / training on their own. Belonging is a fundamental (but not easy!) human need. 

(E) Get To Know Your Community, and Support Them in Knowing Each Other
As a coach or leader in your community, start by learn people’s names and pronouns and create space for them to share those with other community members as well. Start class or even jams with a circle for warm-ups and end with a circle for stretching as well. These moments give folks an opportunity to all do an activity together that everyone should be able to participate in.

In the PK Gen community in Boston, we’d often play a name game at the end of class where someone would have to go around and try to name everyone else and for each one they got wrong, we’d do some kind of exercise. This was a great way to encourage community members to interact and learn each other’s names throughout the class.

(F) Find Opportunities for Volunteer Give-back
Aside from creating those basic opportunities for people to connect, it’s likely that folks who want to get involved more deeply will eventually tell you or at least drop hints about how they want to be involved. They might ask if you need hands to help set up the equipment for your big weekend-long event, or offer to scout out some new locations for your next jam, or start a conversation with you about your gym’s social media marketing plan.

Let them help!

You may have someone in your community with awesome event planning or editing or marketing or photography skills who isn’t ever going to be a coach but wants a way to contribute and feel more connected.  

To Wrap It Up

Being inclusive isn’t always easy, but it can be very simple. While most parkour coaches work hard to train their bodies, it’s equally important to train your brain so you can recognize opportunities to be more inclusive and better serve students and practioners of all kinds.

Trying to be more aware of the feelings and experiences of others and developing an understanding of how your words and actions impact different people differently can have a tremendous impact on the experience of your current and future community members. It may even be the deciding factor in whether they decide to continue training parkour or seek out another movement discipline.

By incorporating the three concepts above into your leadership philosophy and teaching practice, you’ll be taking the first step towards creating a more inclusive parkour landscape, not only increasing parkour’s reach, but also helping more folks understand how parkour can enrich their lives. 

About the Author

Goshman is a fat, non-binary human who has been training parkour for 4 years and cares passionately about making it a more inclusive sport for practitioners of all shapes and sizes. They also run a private Facebook group for Queer & Trans Parkour Practitioners. You can find more of their writing online at Want to find out more about hosting an inclusivity workshop for your parkour community? Email them.

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