The Parcourse: An Old Movement Returns with New Swagger

The beautiful nation of Switzerland has a history of novel inventions, including Velcro, Cellophane, and the World Wide Web. One that the country is lesser known for, but no less enriching to our lives, is the parcourse.

The concept of the parcourse is simple: exercise stations spaced out along a nature trail. Its origin dates back to the late 1960s, where a Zurich-based sports club was training in the woods using equipment wrought from the trees. Today, these outdoor circuits often feature professional equipment and can be found in parks and along trails, scattered throughout urban and suburban regions across North America.

When the movement crossed the pond to America in the mid-70s, the New York Times described the parcourse as “a combination of jogging and calisthenics intended to make both more interesting by alternating them.”

That offering of exercise variety is certainly a crucial component of the parcourse’s value, though hardly the only one. The natural setting of a parcourse—also known as a “fitness trail” in some communities—plays a sizeable role as well. According to The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think and that even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood.

Commercial gyms reduced the popularity of the parcourse around the world throughout the 1980s until they were nearly extinct. But the recent virus pandemic rendered gym locations a danger zone, shutting them all down for multiple months—which, as any exercise junkie knows, is near an eternity. This revived the popularity and usage of fitness trails and reminded everyone that it is important for cities to offer such amenities for the health and wellbeing of their communities.

Explore the parks in your area and see if you can find a parcourse. And if you do? Well, don’t just stand there—get moving!

RECOMMENDED ROUTINE

Every fitness trail is going to be a little different, which means you have to be willing to adapt your workouts. Fortunately calisthenics are great for that kind of flexibility.

Each station will be designed for an exercise, or often multiple different exercises. Some stations may be dedicated to stretching; many will have signs providing information regarding their intended usage. Don’t do anything that feels unsafe.

  1. Perform each station’s exercise to near-failure. (You may rest and repeat the station before moving on.)
  2. Walk, jog, or run to the next station.
  3. Rest before and/or after stations as necessary.
  4. A typical person should aim for 20 to 60 minutes of physical activity with an average heart rate of 65-80% of their maximum.

Some will focus on training at the stations and use the walks in between to rest. Others will seek cardio from jogging and use the stations for stretching and breaking up the run. Do what works for you!

CHALLENGES: Improve your time by increasing your movement speed or reducing rest times each session. Or, you can repeat the circuit additional times for training volume and endurance improvement.