I’m always on the lookout to find alternatives for exercise that aren’t confined to your stereotypical gym setting – something that makes you excited about working out because, really, if you break the word down, it’s still basically work, right? It should be no surprise to people who read my blog or know me that the two alternative fitness classes I engaged in this month were both deals I found on LivingSocial, one of my many sources for inspiration when it comes to local, fun activities.
The first class was an intro class into the street fitness trend: parkour. This kinetic, plyometric, dynamic activity was popularized by David Belle, who is considered its founder, but its origins are found with the French Army and its early 20th century obstacle course training methods. Most people have that “oh yeah” moment, though, when I tell them it’s like the opening scene from Casino Royale with James Bond chasing after a man with a backpack.
Here in Washington D.C., a place to learn the basics of parkour is at one of Urban Evolution‘s two locations, in Alexandria or Manassas. They offer both adult and kid classes. My deal was for the intro class. We started with a warmup that included two laps around the building where we had to run on the balls of our feet and jump over all asphalt cracks and paint stripes, then two sets each of crouch push-ups, high bar swing-leaps, and burpees with a pushup. The first lesson of the class was in safety and balance, talking through the core idea of parkour – efficient energy usage. We got on the balls of our feet, bent our knees and squatted to the ground to test our balance and to physically recognize the strength (or lack of) in our ankles, which is key to reducing injury risk. Continuing with only using the balls of our feet, we started jumping as quietly as possible, controlling our landings, then moved on to precision jumping. Using 2×4 wood cuts screwed into a 2-inch wood base on each side, we jumped with accuracy to land and balance on the wood cut, gradually moving our starting line out until we reached failure. Once we felt comfortable with the movement, our instructor added PVC pipe hurdles to a course of these 2×4 wood steps to emphasize the importance of high knees. I failed at this exercise, and have the bruised butt to prove it from missing the step by a fraction of an inch and falling backwards onto the hurdle.
The next phase was to teach you safe dropping and landing techniques. Here we identified the impact of moving your center of gravity lower to reduce the impact of the drop and landing on the balls of your feet to absorb some of the downward force. The somersaults were not my forte, I can tell you that! I can’t even tell you the last time I did tumbling of any sort! Add to that the mental challenge of twisting yourself to do a shoulder roll, then finish the move straight, get to your feet and run…my brain and body were just not connecting! Finally, we learned about mounting tall objects and vaulting over them. The focus here was on maximizing your movement to get up efficiently and to position yourself to land quickly and accurately. That James Bond clip has great examples of effective body positions/landings that allow you to maintain momentum. This is also called freerunning. The class ended with a “graduation” obstacle course that incorporated all the techniques we learned.
Later that day, nursing my bruised butt and tight/slightly injured shoulder muscles, I was thinking about what I learned from the class. First, much of what was demonstrated is very applicable to everyday life and any sport one may play: economizing movement and energy while not breaking momentum. Just think about the last time you tripped over something and fell. The second takeaway was that, in my opinion, parkour is for the young and very limber! I think a lot of my issues with the obstacles were mental, thinking about potential injury and how that would impact and disrupt my ability to work, drive, walk my dog, etc. The final lesson was observed two days later: I was more sore from this two hour class than I was running in a half marathon last month. Crazy, right?
The day after the parkour class, I went to Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria to take a class to refresh some of my indoor rock climbing skills. Probably not the best idea considering my sore muscles! I actually learned to climb several years ago, but haven’t been to the climbing gym in awhile because I don’t have a belay partner. I thought I could benefit from a class in movement skills, continuing on the theme of efficient energy use, as a refresher and as a way to get me on the wall. The class is called Intro to Climbing, but it really should be taken after the Basic Skills class. There is no belaying involved in this class, just moving along the wall close to the ground and doing a little bit of bouldering. In the first part of the class we focused on walking the base grips with no hands to demonstrate the effectiveness of transferring your energy and weight the right way. Next we talked about ways to conserve arm strength, which boils down to keeping them as straight as possible. Finally, we got on the bouldering wall to climb a little higher. I can tell you now, I will never be interested in bouldering because I don’t like the idea of climbing 15-20 feet with nothing securing you and only a padded mat to cushion your fall. I much prefer top-roping with a belay partner! And now, I just need to convince some friends to get belay certified so I can go back and climb again…