5 Urban Alternatives to the Gym



Here's one way to get in shape: Tick-tack over the railing, gap jump the alley, and kong vault the wall. Confused? Well, don't be. These are moves for an activity called parkour, and the goal is simple, really: to use obstacles and the surrounding environment to move more efficiently from point "a" to point "b," and gain greater mental and physical health in the process.

While parkour has only recently gained popularity, its origins date to the early 20th century. Back then, a French naval officer named George Herbert developed a military training method known as methode naturelle or "the natural method," which involved climbing, running and man-made obstacle courses that simulated the natural environment. The French special forces later adopted the program and called it parcours du combatant, which translates as "course" or "path of the warrior." In the 1990s, Frenchman David Belle created modern parkour by combining elements of his father's military training with his own skills in gymnastics and martial arts. Its popularity increased in recent years thanks to an appearance in the opening chase scene of the 2006 movie "Casino Royale," as well as numerous YouTube videos.

For those city dwellers looking to get some exercise, parkour is a great option. With plentiful benches, stairs, poles, and other features, urban settings are the perfect place for athletes to vault, jump, climb, and roll their way to better fitness. Explore Web sites like American Parkour, Parkour Generations and Urban Freeflow to find clubs and training sessions near you.