I’ve seen quite a few people on r/parkour asking for advice on how to start learning flips, so i thought I’d write a guide here that I can link people to instead of writing the same thing out again every week.
I’m going to be talking through the basic three flips: frontflips, sideflips, and backflips, as well as giving some general advice on tricking. I’m writing this under the assumption that you’ve either read the whole thing or you already know what I’m talking about.
What should you know first
Other than being able to jump and tuck you should also learn how to block, it’s the most effective way to get height out of any trick that has a run up. Blocking is the act of converting forwards momentum into upwards momentum by sticking you feet out in front of you, but not too much. There’s a great video by Dogen which goes more in depth, definitely worth a watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNAe3okMud0
Center of gravity is another thing you will want to understand, in most cases when you flip you will want to get your center of gravity as high as possible, you do this by delaying the flip (or spin), here’s another video from Dogen that talks about center of gravity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz7FtYrLQdY
While we’re on the subject of Dogen’s videos, you might as well watch his titanium ankles video which talks about ankle conditioning, having strong ankles is very useful for tricking. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B1XvEbJUKE
Where to learn
Most people recommend finding a gym, a sandpit, some old mattresses, or anything that gives a soft landing. If you have access to any of these then by all means make use of them, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t. I learned all these flips outside before I had access to a gym and I’m not the only one, a lot of people seem to be against a “just go for it” attitude, and I understand why, but I’m all for it. What you have to remember is that crash mats and sandpits don’t prevent injury, they reduce the impact and pain but you can still break your leg if you land wrong. Honestly, just find a fairly soft patch of grass and go for it, I’ve bailed these flips in pretty much every way possible on grass, and I’m completely fine. If you do have access to a gym then try not to get to comfortable with sprung floors, and crash mats, and everything being padded.
I recommend learning these flips on flat, not only will it give you good habits but in my experience it’s easier to start low and work your way up than to start high and come down. If you can flip on flat then you can flip off something, if you can flip off something then you can’t necessarily flip on flat.
Figured I should go over this quickly before we move onto the flips, there are a few different ways to tuck and mostly it comes down to personal preference which one you choose to do. There’s the over tuck which is when you grab in front of your legs, and the under tuck which unsurprisingly is when you grab behind your legs, and then there’s the cowboy tuck which is the same as an over tuck but you pull your legs apart, this helps you rotate faster which means you can delay the tuck longer which allows you to get more height.
Most of the time I go for the cowboy tuck, I grab my shins just below my knees and aim to pull them to my shoulders, but on some tricks it feels easier and more natural for me to do an under tuck, even though I tend to find these are a lot looser. Have a play around with them and see which one feels best.
By far the hardest of the three to land but also the least scary to attempt, generally it’s a good place to start with so you can get used to rotating. There’s a few different techniques for this flip but I’m just going to go over how I (mostly) do it. I’d recommend a run up of 5 steps before the hop into the block, the last 3 steps are the most important, they’re the ones that should be generating the most power and speed, this goes for all moves in my opinion. I keep my chest up and look forward while I’m taking off and I have my arms around head or shoulder height and I throw them into the air to help generate a bit more height, after delaying slightly I pull my legs up toward my chest to start the tuck and at the same time throw my arms and chest down towards my knees, this generates the rotation and let’s me grab my knees as soon as possible for the tuck. Un tuck when you spot the area in front of you.
The good thing about frontflips is they can be easily turned into a dive roll if you get scared or if something goes wrong. There isn’t really a secret trick to having the confidence to do these, but they don’t really hurt to bail so just go for it and see what happens.
Sideflips are a lot easier than fronts and not particularly scary, but some people have trouble getting their head around them. You don’t need as much run up for this trick, 3 steps before the hop should do it, when I hop I come down one foot then the other but take off from both feet at the same time. I throw my leading arm (I rotate over my left, so in my case my leading arm is my left arm) straight up then throw it down, like I do on the frontflip, but my back arm swings up behind me which generates both height and rotation at the same time. When I tuck on sideflips it feels more natural to grab behind my legs, but recently I’ve been grabbing in front to try and pull it in tighter. I find it harder to spot on sideflips so knowing when exactly to untuck can be a bit of trial and error, it really depends exactly where you look during the rotation.
A helpful way to learn sideflips is to roll over something, most gyms will have some form of soft block you can roll over, but if you don’t have access to a gym you can go over a friend or put jackets on top of a wall and go over that, then it’s just a matter of jumping more and more into it each time until you either sideflip over the obstacle or get comfortable enough to take the obstacle away and go for it.
Physically the easiest trick of the three but the scariest to try, If you can you should get someone to spot you, this involves supporting your back and helping throw your legs over, but if not the way I learned was to go over my shoulder which allowed me to spot the ground quicker which made it a lot less scary, but this method can lead to bad habits so keep that in mind and start going over your head as quickly as you can. You want to spot something in front of you when you’re taking off, ideally eye level or just over, when you take off jump straight up and throw your arms over your head, DO NOT LEAN BACK, I can’t stress that enough, you should be going straight up in the air. You should be waiting until the peak of your jump before you tuck and getting your arms right above your head, if you bring your arms in to the tuck too soon you will kill your height. I push my hips and chest out and roll my shoulders back slightly as I’m jumping up, then when I’ve reached the peak of my jump I bring my knees into my chest quickly for the tuck which creates the rotation, untuck after you’ve spotted the ground. When you take off don’t crouch down too far, I find it best to start standing upright and do a quick explosive jump.
There are hundreds of video tutorials on youtube, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one is the best so I’d recommend having a search and looking at a few different ones, some channels that I know do decent tutorials though are:
Jesse la flair: www.youtube.com/laflairparkour
I’m sure I had some more things in mind when I started writing this, so expect it to be added to whenever I remember what else I saw going to say. But until then I think this is finished enough for me to publish.