We Tried It: Parkour at Brooklyn Boulders

You'll jump, you'll balance, you'll make a fool of yourself.


Jack, who is good at parkour/Photo by Madeline Bilis

“This class is open to students of ALL abilities and fitness levels but special focus will be given to beginners,” reads Brooklyn Boulders’ website.

Strictly speaking, that’s true. But it won’t untie the knot in your stomach as you approach a mess of railings, tires, and boxes, only to see your parkour classmates practicing backflips and barrel rolls.

The average person, I learned, does not choose to learn parkour—a discipline focused on advancing, as efficiently as possible, past obstacles—with absolutely no semblance of experience. My only fellow newbies were the admirably game coworker I had dragged along, and a professional CrossFit coach. Great.

Class started out well enough. After a tough but fairly standard warmup heavy on squats, pushups, and planks, our instructor, Marcus, gave a mini pep talk about how parkour is all about finding balance within yourself. Then, we put that to the test with a literal balance circuit, walking across railings of varying heights and completing box jumps after each round. This was by far my most successful portion of class, in that I did not make a complete fool of myself.

Then, we moved on to jumping: from a tire to a box, a box to a skateboard ramp, et cetera. After a couple rounds of this, we added an element. Marcus instructed us to walk to one edge of the half pipe, and look at a tire he had placed in the middle. Just look at it, he told us. If you immediately think you can do it, do it. If you have any doubts, don’t jump.

I am a competitive person. I don’t like to be bad at things, even things I could not logically expect to know how to do. So I ignored Marcus and my doubts, and attempted the jump. My body realized my mistake as soon as my feet left the ramp. I landed very awkwardly and skittered, equally awkwardly, toward the tire.

I looked back at Marcus’ disappointed face. “Jamie,” he said solemnly. “Just look at the jump next time. Just look at it.” He told me to envision success, and I nodded dutifully.

It was in that moment that I realized how seriously people take parkour. It is a cerebral, internally driven affair, and form is very important. It is a discipline, a practice, and it takes a long time to become good at it. Already halfway through the 90-minute class, I did not have that kind of time.

Maybe it was that realization, or maybe it was my quivering thigh muscles, but things went very, very downhill after that. One of our last exercises—helping a partner balance on a rail for 30 seconds, then completing six squats on the rail alongside them—was, by all accounts, a disaster. The very last skill had to be adapted for my coworker and me, given that we had butchered the one before. So much for hardcore parkour.

The bottom line is this: Parkour is not a class you drop into casually and pick up immediately. It is hard, and it is unlikely you’ve practiced similar skills elsewhere in your fitness routine. While everyone was welcoming and the exercises are scalable, people take it seriously. (Ten minutes into the workout, Marcus scolded my coworker for leaning an elbow against a table, admonishing her to stand for the duration of class. Roger that.) It’s probably great for extreme athletes, or devoted yogis who have honed the powers of introspection and listening to oneself. If you are neither of these things, as I am not, you will struggle.

With that said, once you learn to let go and accept that your box jump landings will not be silent, no matter what Marcus tells you, you will also have fun. There’s a real sense of pride when you master—or at least, don’t fail at—a skill that was totally foreign to you an hour earlier, and there’s an adrenaline rush that comes with ditching your comfort zone. It’ll be unlike any fitness class you’ve ever taken, and that can be a very good thing.

Just don’t try the jump unless you’re sure.

$20 drop-in. Brooklyn Boulders, 12A Tyler St., Somerville, brooklynboulders.com.


Jamie, who is not good at parkour/Photo by Madeline Bilis