by Ondine Brooks Kuraoka
What is a parcourse?
It’s a fitness trail! From medieval Latin (percursus), it literally means “running through.”
The parcourse features a number of stations (typically 18-20) set along a jogging path with basic equipment, instructions and illustrations to guide exercisers through a solid, full-body workout. The beauty of these trails is that you can tailor your workout to your needs and pace, there is generally no wait to use the equipment and best of all, you’re outside. And it’s free!
A Swiss architect, Erwin Weckemann, invented the first parcourse in Zurich in 1968. Parcourses soon dotted the European landscape by the hundreds; a fitness trend was born. Peter Stocker (1942-1990), golf icon and Bay Area real estate developer, installed the first U.S. parcourse in Mountain Lake Park, San Francisco in 1973.
These fitness trails gathered momentum through the nature-loving 70s and into the early 80s, with thousands popping up throughout the U.S. Then came the gym craze, with glamorous bells and whistles and a league of helpful staff and personal trainers, and parcourses seemed unsophisticated in comparison. But now outdoorsy simplicity is back and there is a renewed appreciation for the good old-fashioned workout the parcourse offers.
Be sure to warm up with some walking or jogging before starting your workout. You can do jumping jacks, walking lunges or more jogging between sets to improve the cardio benefit at the parcourse. Don’t mistake the basic equipment and casual set-up for easy. On your first run-through of the circuit, it’s best to complete the minimum suggested repetitions, or fewer, depending on your fitness level. Don’t force yourself to “get a better workout” by pushing it to the limit. Avoid injury by going easy initially and building up to more intensity gradually on later visits. Spend time cooling down with more walking after working out.
Perrier Parcourse Fitness Circuit at Morley Field
(Print out this map before leaving).
Donated by the Great Waters of France Company, distributor of Perrier water, this parcourse spans 2.5 miles with 18 stations. Find the starting point directly across from the Balboa Tennis Court parking lot. Making your way toward the Bocce Courts, the circuit zigs, zags and doubles back if you follow the stations in order. It ends across from the start, at the tennis courts.
Beginning with an Achilles stretch, you’ll find the classic parcourse components here, including the log hop, chin-up bar, vault-bar, bench leg-raise, step-up and balance beam. Stationed on grassy, tree-lined park grounds, it’s a beautiful way to achieve your workout goals for the day.
“It’s an oldie, but a goodie,” says Sean Ortuno, a reservation agent at the Balboa Tennis Club. “It’s a great course for endurance, cardio and it’s an excellent upper body workout.” Ortuno has completed the Perrier Parcourse six or seven times and has usually had the stations all to himself.
Why not play hooky from the gym or the Pilates studio for the day? Go retro! Put on your sweat suit and head outside. Bring a friend and start a new fitness routine- parcourse adventuring!