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James Bond movie inspires a 40-year-old to get fit with parkour workouts

Thursday, January 7, 2010; PG12

When his wife announced it was time to get in shape with exercise videos, George Arfken could think of only one DVD that excited him: The 2006 James Bond flick "Casino Royale." Watching the opening sequence, in which characters vault over fences, scale walls and leap from scaffolding, the 40-year-old self-described "mild-mannered guy" from Germantown found his dream fitness activity.

That chase scene is a showcase of parkour, a very real form of urban running, developed in France, that doesn't brake for obstacles. Through training, practitioners learn how to scramble over, under or through anything in their path with the grace of dancers. "It's not just nuts jumping off of buildings," Arfken tried to explain to his wife.

But if you don't really know what you're doing, that's exactly what it can be, which is why it's wise that Arfken reached out for help. And boy, is he going to need it. When we sat down to talk at the National Press Club, where Arfken is an event planner, he impressed me with tales of past adventures tree climbing and hang gliding. His current exercise routine, however, consists of walking his dog twice a day. And his plan for parkour lessons? He was hoping to watch how his pooch chases squirrels and take pointers.

That's not going to cut it, says Travis Noble Graves, the lead trainer for parkour at Northwest Washington's Primal Fitness, the first parkour gym in the country. To build up strength and endurance, Graves suggests that Arfken start with jogging, push-ups and sit-ups. At the American Parkour Web site (http://www.americanparkour.com), which Graves helps run, there's a workout of the day geared to folks who don't have access to a gym, and loads of safety pointers.

Plenty of people, including Graves, have managed to get the hang of parkour by flying solo. But since Primal Fitness is just a few Metro stops from Arfken's downtown office, Graves would rather see Arfken at Primal Fitness's beginner boot camp, which allows newbies to test their moves in a padded, controlled, indoor environment. The camp, which costs $250, meets three times a week for six weeks, focusing on perfecting skills while building muscle. "The conditioning we do helps you learn to be stronger, more agile and flexible," Graves says. That translates into such moves as leaping, rolling and even running up walls.

Arfken has been doing his online homework, including watching more parkour videos. And after taking the boot camp, he may even be ready to film his own.

-- V.H.

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