Back when you were in grade school, did you think of going to the playground as a good way to sneak in a workout? Probably not. If you were like me, it was a chance for you to run around with friends, climb the jungle gym, maneuver the monkey bars and fly high on the swings. In short, it was a lot of fun. But if you think about it, those activities also got your heart pumping, helped build strength and improved agility. And since these qualities do, in fact, make for an effective workout, it makes sense that one of the latest fitness training trends is bringing adults back to the playground.
To learn a bit more about this type of training, known as Parkour, I recently met up with Jonathan Montalbano at Brown Street Park in Providence. Jonathan, a highly trained gymnast, runs Parkour classes each Saturday morning at the park, sharing his passion for this noncompetitive skill sport with anyone who wants to learn, for free. If you’ve never heard of Parkour, but you’ve seen the show American Ninja Warrior on television, then you’ve caught a glimpse of the philosophy behind the movement: to move from one obstacle to another as quickly and efficiently as possible, using both your mind and body.
The concept of Parkour is derived from French military obstacle course training. It requires running, jumping, rolling, climbing and balancing, so a playground is a great training ground for both new students and “traceurs” (experienced Parkour practitioners) alike. Brown Street Park is particularly ideal since it’s equipped with a jungle gym, monkey bars, parallel bars, a climbing robe and hanging rings. I watched in awe as some of the more advanced students swung effortlessly across the hanging bars and back-flipped off the monkey bars. But knowing I was a newbie, Jonathan was really good about keeping things at a beginner’s level for me. First we worked on precision jumps – jumping from one stationary object to another one, either higher or lower than where you started, with the goal of sticking the landing. It requires a lot of focus and balance, and believe me, it’s harder than it sounds. Then I worked on my climbing and agility skills, hoisting myself to the top of the monkey bars as quickly as I could. I thought I was fairly strong, but this attempt humbled me. Let’s just say there’s room for improvement.
After one session with Jonathan, I’m nowhere near the ninja-like moves that he and the other traceurs have perfected. But one great thing about fitness is that there’s always something more to learn. If you’re looking for a new fitness endeavor and if you miss acting like a kid at the playground, Parkour just might be perfect for you.