The Return of Recess
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The Return of Recess

When Torontoist was a wee tyke, we used to hate gym class. It made us feel flabby, unloved, and a little tired. Recess, on the other hand, was the greatest thing ever—every day! The jungle gym! Tag! Imaginary battles! Recess had it all.
As we’ve gotten older and indulge ourselves in eating street meat and the like, we are slowly beginning to realize that perhaps we should have paid a little bit more attention in gym class and a little bit less in lunch. Working off our paunch at the gym is boring, hard and scary—there’s only so much our imaginary iPod wall can buffer us from the judgmental gazes of men with viking-like musculature and women with butts that simply do not quit.
So when we heard about a way to get exercise that was fun and reminiscent of the forty-five minute forays into fun of our recesses of yore, we had to check it out.
Did we mention that they’re doing it all in public space?

SPAR-Fit is the brainchild of Adam Moody, Jonathan Kellet, and Alayna Molotkow—three fitness-conscious funsters who grew frustrated with commercial gyms. So they’ve decided to make their own “anti-gym”—a fitness program that is meant to be fun instead of tedious, and one that they promise delivers results of a svelte physique and more importantly, functional full-body strength and endurance. SPAR-Fit incorporates elements of traditional fitness programs, but adds-in both a “Spartan approach” to fitness and a traditional schoolyard-like twist that makes it more fun.
Torontoist attended a class Wednesday night that took place in the playground of Whitney Public School near St. Clair and Mount Pleasant Avenue. So far, classes have been running outside in public spaces and smaller parks such as Winston Churchill Park, the Rosehill Reservoir Park, and Moorevale Park, among others. The city itself has tried numerous times to make fitness more accessible to all residents through programs such as Get Your Move On, though such programs have accomplished little as obesity rates continue to rise. With the city’s recent budget issues, we expect that public space and funding for fitness activities will continue to be reduced. SPAR-Fit hopes to find a home by winter, but “playing” outside while we can is a lot of fun.
2007_07_19sparfitball.jpg“It’s a waste working out inside. It makes workouts more interesting. Sometimes you have to move around kids on bikes, puppies, and stuff like that” said Molotkow, as she, Moody, and Kellet dot the playground with ropes, balls, and some more traditional fitness accessories like mats. Ten minutes before the class began, participants started to trickle into the park. Some came in yoga clothes, others came in clothing with grass stains and dirt already caked on. They were the wise ones.
As each new participant arrived, they introduced themselves and joined the conversation. Unlike fitness classes in traditional gyms where everyone tries to keep to themselves, the folks at this class were friendly, open, and hading a joking attitude towards the entire experience. The class, about eight people, was a diverse mix of ages, genders, and physical ability. We didn’t feel intimidated or insecure at all—there were no judgments, it seemed. We hoped that the class would foster this kind of attitude.
“The goal is to get away from the impersonal feeling of a gym” said Keller, “and to have fun!” All three made sure to stress that they were sick and tired of the constant feeling of selling that people get at big corporate gyms.
“Gyms have been ruined for me now,” said Molotkow. “Who wants to stare at a number counting down on a treadmill when you can have fun like this?”
Once we were underway, it was a lot like the fun of recess. One of the biggest differences from normal gyms that we noticed was how social and silly of an atmosphere it was. One of our first drills was running around the field pretending we were animals, doing duck-walks, bear-walks, and crab-walks, complete with quacking, growling, and…crabbing. Those in fancy Lululemon outfits quickly realized that the old schoolyard nemesis of grass stains wouldn’t leave them alone just because they spent seventy dollars on their pants.
While we didn’t quite get to it on Wednesday, the classes typically involve everyone’s favourite childhood activity—playing on the jungle gym and monkey bars. Kellet, Moody, and Molotkow have been using traditional playground equipment to develop muscle and have fun. Bouncing balls against walls, reminiscent of our childhood games of handball, was also used to build full-body muscle. “Battle training” was incorporated as well, reminding us of the miniature schoolyard wars we played as kids. As we punched and kicked to the sounds of Japanese war drumming that was bursting out of some mini-speakers, that It took us all of our willpower not to yell out “This. Is. SPARTA!” while we pretended to be Greek warriors.
As SPAR-Fit grows, the three creators hope to have more schoolyard fun. Once classes are bigger, they want to play some old-school camp and schoolyard games like fitness-oriented capture the flag and Hooverball (volleyball with a medicine ball).
Ga-ga!” shouted Kellet in epiphany. “That’s a game we have to bring back!” Our fellow imaginary Spartan warriors agreed.
Alas, one of the unfortunate drawbacks of playing outside is a vulnerability to rain. As much as we fancied ourselves to be classical warriors, once the thunder began an hour into the class, we had to duck into a nearby gazebo. Unlike our elementary school days, there was no indoor recess.
“That’s game, people,” yelled Kellet with a smile.
SPAR-Fit runs several times a week. For a full schedule of classes, please see their Facebook group or blog.
Photos by Simon Chambers from the Torontoist Flickr Pool and Alayna Molotkow.