Feet First into Fitness: Hardcore Parkour

Parkour brings obstacle-course training indoors.

One of these days, Ross Donolow might leap a tall building in a single bound. For now, he’s content to swing among the ropes and horizontal bars of Pinnacle Parkour Academy in Cherry Hill.

“I’d much rather do this than lift a dumbbell 20 times,” says Donolow, a windsurfer, kiteboarder and competitive runner from Philadelphia who plunged into the French discipline known as parkour about a year ago.

Although rooted in military obstacle-course training, parkour caught on among civilians as an unfettered street activity in recent decades, with participants scaling walls, vaulting over railings and leaping catlike from roof to roof. Videos of their stuntman-like feats—hand walking atop a rollercoaster, for example—spread through social media.

Now the activity has moved indoors at places like Pinnacle, which Jamie Rahn, a four-time competitor on American Ninja Warrior, and business partner Phil Pirollo (who also competed on the show) opened last fall. At least two other New Jersey studios are dedicated to parkour: The Warrior Lab in Hainesport and Pirollo’s other Pinnacle Parkour in Washington Township.

The word parkour comes from the French parcours, meaning “course” or “journey.” A male participant is called a traceur; a female is a traceuse. Rahn says parkour, like martial arts, emphasizes balance and agility, skills that can be particularly beneficial for older adults. “It will help you not fall if you happen to step on a patch of ice.”

Donolow, 59, with nary a bit of fat on his 5-foot-8-inch frame, opted for parkour as an alternative to monotonous gym routines. “It keeps you ripped and strong,” says the information-technology database consultant. He goes through a grueling indoor parkour routine twice a week with eight other disciples, ages 19 through 37.

Rahn—striking with his limeade-hued hair—oversees the workouts, making sure clients don’t get hurt or overdo it. Pinnacle offers basic and advanced classes for adults and kids as young as 3. The first class free; an introductory offer of four weeks of unlimited classes and open gym runs $99.

Some still prefer to practice parkour in the street. The Movement Creative, based in Brooklyn, offers outdoor sessions in parks and playgrounds in Fort Lee, Montclair and New York City, employing walls, stairwells and other public structures. Favorite sites depicted on their web pages include the Montclair High School amphitheater and Brookdale Park in Bloomfield.

As a rule, traceurs respect property, says Movement Creative cofounder Jesse Danger. When told to stop jumping a public wall, they will do so.

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