The World Is Your Gym

Fitness is in the eye of the beholder.

Schuykill River Path.

What if it were possible to blur the line between the gym and the rest of the world? For those who want to challenge their fitness, exercise, and movement skills in unorthodox ways, I have a way to do just that. The concept is not new. I’ve heard it described as “Parkour Vision,” and basically it means viewing through the eyes of “x” art. In short, it’s a way of looking at your environment through a broader lens, which provides a more varied way to train, practice, and play.

What do you see here?

The Ben Franklin Bridge connecting Camden, New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Become a Hammer

Growing up skateboarding in the suburbs of New Jersey in the 1990s, I noticed a distinct shortage of awesome places to skate. My friends and I would go behind Quick Mart near the dumpster, the bump in front of the manhole cover, and the rocky curbs at Latta Court most frequently. As we got older, we would take public transportation to Trenton, Philly, and New York City as much as possible to find more interesting spots to skate.

When there are slim pickings for places to skate, you get creative really quickly. You develop a hawk eye for anything which might have even the smallest nugget of skate value and you milk the hell out of the thing until it breaks, you get yelled at, or until you have exhausted the possibilities. An old desk could be used as a ramp, a platform, a ledge, or something to jump over. A bike rack could be arranged in a number of ways so you could slide, grind, or ollie over it. A piece of plywood dug out from construction trash had equal potential. That’s why the Quick Mart dumpster was great. There was always something to drag out of there to skate on.

Without even noticing it, our view of the world became shaped by our search for skate spots. The old saying, “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail” sums it up well. It reminds me of the cartoons where one character is starving and his buddy starts to look like a roasted turkey.

As an adult, even though I seldom skateboard anymore in any meaningful way, I still see the potential in a park bench, or a marble ledge, or a hand rail. But now, I see these same things from an expanded view. Where most people see a picnic table as something to eat a nice lunch on, I see it as something skate-able, something I could climb on, crawl over, leap on, lift, or tilt on its side to help me climb onto something higher.

What do you see here?

Schuykill River Path.

The Schuylkill river path in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Adapt to Your Environment

That’s cool and all, but how does this help anyone?

The idea is to be able to find a way to play, practice, train, and move anywhere, any time. To not be limited by your thinking and to be able to adapt your skills to the environment. When you adapt to your environment, you will be forced to change the shape your body takes and the way you perform your movements.

My challenge to you is to go to a park or any other public place and look for new ways to practice your movement skills. I don’t care if it’s push ups, squats, crawling, fighting, or some sophisticated combined practice. Find ways to apply your art to the environment. Find three ways you can play on or use a park bench aside from sitting on it. Find three things you can do with a wall aside from leaning on it. View your environment through fresh eyes and see what is around for you to play with.

What do you see here?

Rodin Museum.

The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

View the World With Fresh Eyes

With this view, the nice, tidy lines drawn in the world start to blur. The municipal building in Philly stops being only the place where I get upset arguing about my city taxes and becomes a place where I can run, jump, climb, and crawl across the various obstacles. The park becomes a place where you can climb trees, throw rocks, or play games with your friends, rather than just a place where you sit on a bench. Even the bench becomes something you can navigate, its use limited only by what you can see.

The world becomes your gym and your playground instead of just a segmented place where different duties are performed. Before you know it, you will start to see new uses for everyday objects. Photos will speak to you differently, and the most boring of places will become a lot more exciting.

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Photos courtesy of Josh Vogel.