Back when you were in grade school, did you think of recess as a good way to sneak in a workout? Probably not. If you were like me, recess was a chance for you to play tag with friends, climb the jungle gym, fly high on the swings and show off your hopscotch skills. In short, it was a lot of fun – and it gave you a break from reciting the multiplication table.
But if you think about it, those recess activities also got your heart pumping, helped build strength (I recall being able to make my way across the monkey bars with ease at Nayatt School in Barrington) and improved agility. And since these qualities do, in fact, make for an effective workout, it makes sense that many gyms are now offering classes that bring participants back to the days of recess.
426 Fitness in Warren is doing this with its Parkour class, a boot-camp style obstacle course complete with many of the same fixtures you’d find at a kids’ playground: monkey bars, climbing ropes, balance beams, hanging rings, hurdles and tires. Looking at all the equipment, I knew this class would be fun. But would it be a good workout? As instructor Steve Skitek gave me some background information on Parkour, I had a feeling the answer was yes.
The concept of Parkour is derived from French military obstacle course training, and its name comes from the French term parcours du combattant, which means “course of the fighter.” The idea is to move from obstacle to obstacle as quickly and efficiently as possible, using both your mind and body. In a way, Steve says, Parkour is a metaphor for life: we will always be presented with challenges and obstacles to overcome, at times requiring us to learn new skills along the way to do so. As I checked out the course I was about to maneuver my way through, I knew it would require me to stay on my toes. Here, I wouldn’t just be going through the motions of a workout; it would be up to me to put my mind and body to the test to get through the course as quickly as I could, as I would be competing against the other participants in class.
Taking Parkour with me were a man and his eight-year-old son (though there were only three of us, Steve says the class can, and often does, accommodate up to 12 people). When I saw my pint-sized competitor, I really understood that Parkour is a fitness activity for all ages. We were, after all, at a modified playground, preparing to work out by running, jumping, swinging and hopping our way around the room - and really, these are things you can do at any age.
My Parkour classmates and I ran through the course multiple times, giving us the opportunity to improve the way we navigated the obstacles each time. Ultimately we wanted to get faster with every attempt, so we modified our movements as necessary to make them more efficient. To finish up we played a game of tag, with the rule that we could only use the obstacles to move around – no touching the wood floor. I learned that it’s hard to be “it” when tagging someone requires you to jump over a mound of tires. (In fact, I think my 8-year-old friend took pity on me and let me catch him.) Throughout our Parkour hour we worked up a sweat, laughed a lot and doled out multiple high-fives. It was a welcomed opportunity to feel like I was back at recess while sneaking in a great workout. And the best part? I didn’t have to go back to reciting the multiplication table afterward.