Sunday, October 19, 2014

Subpar for the course

No complaints. If I have to be on the road for
five days, the Loews Ventana Canyon is
not the worst place to be.
I've just returned from a work trip that took me to Tucson for several days, staying at a lovely resort hotel at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I've served on this Board of Directors for two years now, and I know that these annual meetings are long and intense. I don't get as much sleep as I need due to the meeting schedules, and my diet is much heavier than I'm used to, so after a couple of days I usually feel pretty run down. But this year I was determined to get some exercise every morning, even though it required being up at an ungodly hour, figuring I would not only feel better, but I'd have more brain power, too. I've been recovering from last month's marathon and triathlon, and am still not running heavy mileage, but in addition to wide and scenic desert roads to run on, I had access to a lap pool, miles of beautiful hiking trails, and a yoga studio, so each day I challenged myself to do something different.

One day I got up early and took myself out for a morning walk along the Parcourse. Raise your hand if you know what a Parcourse is!? Those of us of a certain age will remember that these outdoor "fitness trails" were all the rage a few decades ago. And those of you of certain other ages have surely seen them and wondered what they are (and who uses them). These dirt paths lined with "obstacle stations" were constructed in urban areas all over the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, and usually contain between 10-20 different pieces of wooden equipment for upper body, lower body, climbing, jumping, and balance exercises. Each station has signage to instruct the user on the apparatus, or just a cleared space if the activity doesn't require equipment (e.g., jumping jacks or toe touches). You walk or run between the stations, which are staged to provide a thorough workout, including stretching. The stretching stations are all at the beginning of the Parcourse, though, because that's how we rolled in the 80s. I saw the signs for the Parcourse outside of my hotel, and thought to myself smugly that it would make for a fun and easy workout, and also that it would be sort of hilarious to do all these old school exercises. I only wished I'd packed some Dolphin shorts. Raise your hand if you remember Dolphin shorts!?

The balance beam
The trail
The "touch toes" station

As it turns out, the Parcourse was no joke. I learned two things that morning: 1) this old exercise methodology is still very relevant, and 2) I am ridiculously unfit. Almost all of the obstacles were really hard - like the log hops, rings, and vault bars. And some of them I couldn't do at all, like the chin-ups. Even the ones that seemed easy - like sit-ups, jumping jacks, and the balance beam - were challenging in the context of the full 18-station course. I was seriously dying by the end, and am still sore, three days later. It was a great workout, and it was also really fun.

I naturally had to Google the history of the Parcourse, and wound up deep in a rabbit hole of early 20th century physical education theory. Parcourse was invented in Europe in the late 1960s, and was designed to promote physical fitness in the "Natural Method" of Georges Hebert, a French physical educator who designed sessions that were
... composed of exercises belonging to the ten fundamental groups: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, equilibrium, throwing, lifting, defending and swimming.
Nothing new under the sun. Today we have "functional fitness" taught to us in private gyms, and we compete in "gladiator" obstacle races. No doubt the field of exercise physiology and the fitness industry have made many important advancements, but I'm struck by how much good sense Hebert's theories still make. He believed in a method that promoted "organic resistance," developed one's internal energy and courage, and directed the "moral drive" in a "useful and beneficial way." And he was among the first to advocate for the benefits of exercise in women, believing it important that they develop self-confidence, athleticism, and will-power through physical pursuit.

My own self-confidence is still a little shaken by my humbling 45 minutes on the Parcourse, and it's abundantly clear to me now that I need to work on some basic strength and integrate some plyometrics into my routines. I'm getting soft in my middle age! And believe me, soft does not look good in Dolphin shorts.

All I wanted as a kid was Dolphin shorts.
My mom never relented. And for that I say:

Do you have any favorite "low tech" strength, balance, or plyometric exercises? Would love to hear your ideas! And if you've got any thoughts on improving my quadrupedal movement, I'm all ears ....

No comments:

Post a Comment