Crash Course: According to my research, parkour is a method of movement where “practitioners aim to quickly and efficiently overcome obstacles in their environment, using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves” (via). According to my personal experience, parkour is a crazy fun way to workout that feels a whole lot like being a stunt double in an action movie or one of the Mario brothers. You pick. There’s a lot of climbing, swinging, jumping, tumbling, leaping, running, and scrambling involved. It’s not really something that fits well into words, so here’s a video featuring one of the American Parkour Academy instructors doing his thang all over DC. Click here for a schedule of classes and to sign up. [line]
[left]where: 219 M Street NW/Convention Center Metro
perks: where else can you learn to do this in DC?
sweat score: 8 out of 10 [/left][right]wear: flexible clothing, minimal shoes
cost: here’s the pricing page [/right] [line]
Confession: parkour is something I have seen in videos before and thought, “well, isn’t that interesting, someone made a workout out of climbing up walls and jumping off them.” It seemed dangerous. Crazy. Reckless. Something that appealed mostly to boys who liked to climb stuff. Totally not something I would ever let my clumsy self attempt. Until I did.
The American Parkour Academy is part of Primal Fitness, a functional fitness studio located just past the Convention Center on M Street NW. The enormous space offers both crossfit and parkour classes, so there’s something for every functional junkie out there.
Walking up to the red brick building, my first impression was that it’s rugged, loud, and whirling with activity. I had to walk through a few shirtless guys doing handstands and ring dips to get to the reception area in the back. As a first timer, it’s intimidating – but everyone is friendly and will be happy to point you in the right direction if you look as lost as I did. Just don’t expect to be greeted by a reception area with calming zen gardens and complimentary lattes. This just isn’t that kind of place (in a good way).
The first floor of the building houses the crossfit box, reception desk, and a smaller area with functional training equipment. After you check in, head upstairs to where the parkour room is. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the resident pup, who enthusiastically greeted me with a hairy hello. Workouts + dogs = a win in my book. I stashed my belongings, filled up on water at the cooler, and headed into the classroom for the warmup.
I can always tell when I’m in for a wild ride on a fit crash when the warm up throws me for a loop. We did a series of dynamic movements unlike anything I had ever done in a class before, including running from one end of the gym to the other while spinning in circles and somersaulting all the way around the room. Dizzy yet? I was. The last time this body did a somersault was somewhere in-between pre-k and grade school. Rusty is an understatement. I was warmed up, slightly dazed from all the twirling, and a bit panicked about what could possibly come next.
The workout that day focused on scaling walls of all shapes and sizes. There were three stations to choose from and work through, each with varying degrees of difficulty. The instructors went over the form and technique at each station, taking questions and offering bits of advice.
I started with the smallest wall, where the focus was learning how to use the leverage in your arms to swing your legs to the top in one graceful swoop. Graceful. Ha. Let me be the first to tell you that nothing about my crash was graceful, but I sure as hell tried. I got a lot of great feedback after every attempt and eventually got my bearings. But guys, it is in no way as easy or intuitive as it seems. And this was only stage one.
Stage two involved running at top speed toward a medium-sized wall, where the goal was to use your momentum and a carefully placed foot mid-height to launch yourself up to the top. Launch. Kind of like Mario does when he wants to go down one of the pipes to beat up on King Koopa. I couldn’t quite get out of my own way with this one; the voice in my head was a bigger obstacle than the wall. But running as fast as I can toward a big stationary object isn’t something I do every day, so hey, it takes practice.
After all the tumbling, running, and jumping, I didn’t make it around to stage three. But if you’re following the pattern, that stage was the most advanced and required serious ups and hustle. In other words, scrambling up the tallest wall in the room. Honestly, it seemed 15 feet high, although I’m sure that’s not the case. I couldn’t believe how effortlessly some of the students sailed up that thing. Crazy impressive.
With only a few minutes left in the workout, we closed out the class with a good old fashioned game of “don’t touch the lava.” You know, the one you played in recess where you had to jump from rock to rock without touching the ground (aka, the hot, molten lava). But in this case, instead of rocks, the entire group of us scurried over small planks, bars, and obstacles strewn about the room. All at once. For time. Every man and woman for themselves, and heaven forbid you’re the last one back.
It was chaos. It was hard. It was hilarious. It was so much fun. Straight out of recess circa 1995. Not many workouts can give you that kind of nostalgic whiplash while also kicking your butt – but parkour, I tip my hat to you. Nicely done.
Let me pause for a moment and talk about the class members and instructors, who were hands down some of the friendliest folks I’ve ever met. Some fitness fads tend to get cliquey (you know what I’m talking about), and I was worried that something as niche as parkour would be totally insular. But I couldn’t get over how welcoming everyone was. Not only was parkour 100% new to me, but I was also the newest kid in the class, and I had a zillion-and-one questions. There was always someone willing to demonstrate a move, explain a technique, or offer a high-five after a successful attempt. Even more importantly, the instructors were extremely engaged and I never at any point felt like I was in danger, despite my constant fear of breaking a leg or faceplanting on the floor. Kudos to everyone in the class for making this total newbie feel like part of the crew.
Things I liked:
- A workout that’s so different, challenging, and fun that you forget that you’re working out
- Welcoming community, cool vibe, great energy throughout the whole gym
- Genuinely helpful instructors who care about sharing their craft
- Where else can you do this kind of crazy stuff?
Things to consider:
- This is a no frills spot. If you’re looking for cooled lavender scented towels after your workouts, this ain’t the place.
- This is a high impact, high energy class. Know your body and what it needs before you go jumping off things. Just a friendly reminder!