A series exploring unique fitness classes by someone who hates fitness classes.
You can thank YouTube for bringing Parkour to the people. You know the videos: nimble-footed dudes scale city walls, leap from buildings, over railings, and do backflips off concrete ledges. This is the world of Parkour.
Parkour started in France in the late 1980s, spreading through Europe and the UK for the next 20 years. Thanks to anyone with a cellphone camera and a YouTube account, Parkour has since exploded into popular culture. It was featured heavily in the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” as well as in an episode of “The Office,” where Andy, Dwight, and Michael yell “Hardcore Parkour!” and climb over desks.
The idea behind Parkour is pretty simple: Get from point A to point B as fast and efficiently as possible using only your strength and surroundings. When done right, there is a power and gracefulness to it.
But there’s another kind of video you’ve probably seen. The ones where people don’t quite make it over that railing and instead plummet to the concrete below. These are the fail videos, and it’s what I have in the back of my head before my first Parkour class.
Parkour Generations Americas started in Boston in 2012, a branch of Parkour Generations out of the UK. PKGA offers 10 classes a week for a range of ages and that include options for either indoor or outdoor instruction. Indoor classes are about perfecting specific movements and honing skills while outdoor classes focus on how to approach and conquer specific obstacles. I opt for indoor, hoping the risk of a fail is lower.
Held at an elementary school in Somerville, the class begins with a warm-up from our instructor Evan. He guides us through a series of moves: neck and shoulder rotations, squats (the one and two-legged variety), and then sends us on the move, jogging, crawling, and crab-walking around the gym both forward and backward.
The 28-year-old Evan has tattoos running up his forearms and his hair is slicked back. He’s been training in Parkour for six years and has a background in gymnastics, martial arts, boxing, wrestling, cage fighting, and Budo Taijutsu.
Evan separates us into two groups based on skill level and I happily take my place among the beginners. We turn our attention to the wood and metal structure in the center of the room.
A series of metal pipes set at various heights and widths form a sort of freeform cage. Around it are four wooden boxes, one at each corner. It’s meant to mimic an outdoor environment and elements of the structure can be adjusted to make the class harder or easier as needed.
Our first task is to approach the box at a run, plant our hands and swing our legs over before seamlessly sliding between two metal bars to enter the cage and then clear another metal bar to exit it.
A second instructor, 19-year-old Freddy, gets us started with just how, exactly, to do this. He demonstrates the movements, giving us specific hand and foot placements as a guide. Then we’re off.
I approach the box at a slight run, second-guess myself, and stop. I back up and try again. To my surprise, I’m over the box and then under the first set of bars. The next bar I’m supposed to clear is up past my belly button. We’re to plant a foot and a hand on top of the bar and then use the combination of upper and lower body strength to kick the rest of our body over. It takes me a few tries, but I clear it.
We run through this series at least a dozen times, building on our skills, and then switch sides with the more advanced group. Here we’re introduced to more variations, only the goal now is to move quicker and more effortlessly without all of the stops, starts, and second-guessing.
There are no mats. This makes the class both more challenging and more serious. You can’t take as many risks when there’s no soft landing to catch you. We watch as a kid in his late teens takes a misstep coming off the box and hits the ground. We gasp, but he springs back up, smiling.
The class of 12 is almost all male and I can see why this would appeal to a certain adrenaline-loving guy who doesn’t like being cooped up inside a gym. The only females in attendance are myself, my friend Karla, and a girl we meet named Sarah.
Beyond the intense physical strength required for truly excelling at Parkour, there’s also a mental workout at play. “Can I really get my body to do this?” I find myself thinking over and over. Silencing that doubt is key.
Here’s the thing about Parkour. This doesn’t feel like a fitness class. Which is good, because I sort of hate fitness classes. In addition to learning the course, we run through strength drills of pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, and squats. It’s an incredible workout that never once feels like you’re “working out.”
The next day, I feel like someone could scrape me out of bed using a spatula. Everything hurts. Parkour is indeed hardcore.
Parkour Generations Americas
Where to find it: Various locations around Boston
Cost: $12-$15 for drop-ins (depending on the class), full sessions vary