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What Is a Parcourse?

By Ray Hawk
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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A parcourse, sometimes referred to as a par course or obstacle course, is a form of specialized fitness trail set up with climbing barriers and other physical challenges to heighten the training speed and abilities of people who regularly use them. Outdoor parcourse fitness trails exist in many countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand. They are not only designed for use by the public, but are also a common method of initial physical basic training for military men and women and are also used by off-duty military personnel as a form of recreational activity.

Public parcourse designs are often built into nature trails and incorporate exercise equipment made out of the natural timber and the terrain of the surroundings. They include such exercise stations as balance beams, bars for chip ups and for hanging by one's hands as they progress from bar to bar, rope climbing, swinging rope obstacles, and more. A typical parcourse includes enough spacing between exercise equipment so that participants can do some free running from event to event, and is often built in a circular pattern so that the course can be completed as many times as one wants without ending up at a distance from their starting point. Each exercise station usually displays a complete description of how the equipment should be used in a safe and effective manner, so that the parcourse offers a full range of strength and agility training for the body.

Building a parcourse amounts to essentially constructing an outdoor gym, and both their location in refreshing natural surroundings and flexibility make them appealing to all ages. Exercise stations can be avoided if they appear too strenuous, and participants can walk the course as well as run it. Often the exercise stations can be adjusted as well to make them easier for children and seniors as well as adults with physical limitations.

Many parcourse fitness trails often go largely unused, however, since they look more challenging than they actually are despite the fact that their low cost of construction and maintenance makes them easy to incorporate into many community parks and forests. Advantages that the parcourse offers over local gyms include that they are usually free to use, are available around the clock, and offer a chance for both travelers and local fitness club enthusiasts to stretch muscles they didn't know that they had and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. They also allow for people to train individually and at their own pace, since each station is explained thoroughly. Each fitness trail is made to have a natural rhythm that doesn't require coaching or exceptional ability to complete.

Thousands of parcourse fitness trails now exist around the world. The sport can be traced back to the 1960s in Europe when they first started to gain popularity. The Swiss architect Erwin Weckemann is credited with being the inventor of the parcourse, and the designer of the first one to be put up in Zurich, Switzerland.

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