- Illustration by Annie Internicola
Go ahead: I dare you. Ditch your dusty old cardio machines and barbells. Lose the perfunctory pushups and stomach crunches. Instead, turn everything you think about exercise upside down—including, maybe, your own body. There couldn't be a better place to do that than right here, right now in the Hudson Valley, where a bevy of new fitness offerings—from parkour to pole yoga—is blasting open the old paradigms to make exercise not a drag-yourself-through-it chore but a life-affirming joy.
Awaken Your Inner Ninja
Parlez-vous parkour? If you've seen an action movie like Casino Royale, or you've watched competitors in the TV show "American Ninja Warrior" performing near-impossible feats of agility, then you're probably familiar with the physical discipline. Yet true parkour is a lot more accessible and meaningful than cat-leaping between buildings, says instructor Dylan Johanson, who teaches his Innate Movement Parkour classes at The Jungle, a new athletic movement studio in Kingston that specializes in out-of-the-box exercise.
"People might see [it in the movies] and say, 'I have no intention of jumping over death drops, so parkour is not for me.' But really, it's a holistic movement discipline where we challenge ourselves with obstacles." Students start where they're at and can be any age or fitness level. Drawing upon the body's natural motions—running, jumping, climbing, swinging—they develop a whole-body approach to fitness that improves mobility, strength, endurance, and flexibility. At The Jungle, a 2,500-square-foot practice course includes such elements as an 8-by-4-foot tower, a rail system, balance beams, and bulk boxes. Students become masters of not only their bodies but also the world around them. "A body builder might have these big muscles but can't climb a tree to get a kite out of it," says Johanson. "I want to train people so they can explore and reclaim their environment. You start to get the parkour vision."
Above all, suggests Johanson, it's about being fully alive in your own body. "Parkour rejects the idea that exercise is something that you have to force yourself to do in order to not gain weight or to achieve some sort of aesthetic ideal. It's about finding joy, passion, and engagement in the movement process."
Find Grace with Flow Arts
The Jungle is perhaps the only place in the Hudson Valley offering parkour, but the fitness novelties don't end there. "It's the kind of place where you can study circus arts such as aerial silk and lyra, as well as walking on barrels, riding unicycles, slack line walking, and flow arts like fire spinning, Hula-Hoop, poi, and juggling," says Richard Ferrono, The Jungle's owner. "We're offering different paradigms in fitness and we're embracing fun, because fun leads to health."
Ferrono recommends that people begin with the flow arts and build from there to more physically demanding forms like aerial silks. "What's good about the flow arts is that they're low impact, gentle, and fun—and they're a gateway to health. Any fitness level, age, or body shape can jump into it. People become transformed." One of those people, a teacher at The Jungle, lost over 100 pounds and quit smoking after he started practicing flow arts. "He's a total inspiration in regards to health," says Ferrono, who is himself a former gymnastics coach. Also on offer are power tumbling classes with two-time New York State champion Kody Priest, as well as daily athletic movement courses for children in which Ferrono teaches circus arts, tumbling, and free running, which he describes as "parkour with flips." The studio will eventually feature performances by its instructors, who are headliner acts in their fields.
In early October, The Jungle had been open just one week—yet business was booming. "People are getting it," says Ferrono. "What we're offering is based on kindness, inclusivity, and I'll use the word 'love'—that's part of it." Even though it's not a martial arts studio, students bow in and out of class. "We're spiritual beings in physical form," Ferrono explains to his younger students, adding, "Our goal is to inspire anyone who walks in the door."
Jump for the Joy of It
Trampolines are not new—the first one was created in the 1930s—but indoor parks like Bounce! Trampoline Sports in Poughkeepsie are innovative havens for those seeking fun and fitness of the vertical sort. "People are pretty amazed at what an incredible workout they get when they jump on a trampoline," says Bounce! co-owner and managing partner Bruce Katz. "It's low impact, and it's something that everybody can do." Open to all ages, the park recently introduced an Adult Night on Wednesdays from 7 to 8pm, when jumpers 18 and up can bounce unencumbered by the teeny-bopper set. The evening includes two half-hour Bouncercize classes, round-robin dodge ball games, and timed competitions on the park's new Xtreme Challenge Course—an agility/obstacle course that's loosely inspired by "American Ninja Warrior."