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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Parkour: Extreme Fitness For All Ages

Parkour may be an extreme sport, but it's also a unique way for people of all ages to stay in shape.


Parkour, an extreme sport, has participants scaling walls, doing backflips and even jumping off buildings. But, at Tempest Academy in Northridge, children and adults of all ages learn the tricks as a means of staying in shape.

“You almost forget that you’re working out, because you become like a child again and you keep playing,” said professional stuntman and founder Paul Darnell. “You’re using all your muscles just to climb, to land, to role, to get up. You don’t realize that you’re getting a full body workout and then when you’re done you’re like ‘ugh I’m so drained’ but you were having fun the whole time so you don’t even realize it.”

The academy was founded by a group of professional stuntmen who wanted to teach others their craft. Classes are held in an empty warehouse that’s been designed to look like a colorful, modern-day street scene. Plush blocks and floor mats are surrounded by graffiti covered walls.

The ultimate goal for students is to be able to take the tricks they learn at Tempest, and do them out on the street.

“I think our enrollment is up to 150 right now,” Darnell said. “We have it from everyone from 6 years old to 40 plus take classes.”

The name “Parkour” comes from an old French military term, “parcours en combatant,” which translates to “fighting in motion.” Today the sport doesn’t involve fighting and has evolved into a strategic form of movement. Participants aim to get from point A to point B as swiftly and artfully as possible.

On a Saturday morning, the gym is packed with children and teens opting for a less traditional extracurricular activity.

“Team sports didn’t do it for me, and like it’s different from gymnastics because with gymnastics there’s one way of doing everything, which is like really stressful and really strict,” said 15-year-old Kyle Wattles, who’s been taking classes at Tempest for three years. “With this you can add your own style or flare, make up your own moves or do things your own way, so you can personalize it.”

So that beginners can avoid injury, most of the materials at the academy are soft and made of foam, similar to exercise mats. However, it isn’t a sport that’s risk free.

“When I first started doing Parkour I broke my arm,” said 17-year-old Adam Walton. “But that’s because I wasn’t being careful. If you know the basics and you listen to your coaches, it’s actually a really safe sport.”

Personal trainer Nicholas Barrett recommends it to all of his clients, no matter their age, as a great way to stay physically fit.

“Parkour training is really taking three different modals,” Barrett explained. “It’s taking resistance training, which is strength training, cardiovascular training and agility/balance training. So it uses the muscles in a core functional way that will stimulate more of your 206 muscles during the workout.”

For the children who swear by it, Parkour is far more rewarding than the average sport.

“Where hockey is like, competitive and you wanna win, here its just showing off, making friends and hanging out,” said 13-year-old Aiden Campos.

Burning hundreds of calories per hour is just an added benefit.  

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