Inside a Parkour Gym

My regular gym doesn’t have top of the range cardio equipment. It doesn’t have Nautilus machines, a juice bar, dumbbells or free towels. Instead, it has squat racks, barbells, two benches, some giant tyres and a whole lot of scaffolding jammed into some concrete. My training and social life both pretty much revolve around it. Welcome to the Chainstore.

On one side, we have an open area, the racks (my preciousssss), the platform (it’s a spongy bit of floor for dropping weights onto, FYI) and the weights:

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On the other side, we have a magical parkour playground known as the parkour zone. There’s a mini climbing wall, scaffolding, boxes and concrete. The scaffolding moves around regularly, so there’s no point in getting attached to the layout:

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I am at Chainstore almost every day (feel free to say hi) and yet I still never know what to expect. I might come in planning to work on some balancing and leave two hours later, having spent the evening on impromptu routes that all end in sliding down a slope. I might plan to work on vaults and end up doing nothing but precisions, because I can see other people doing them.

I never know exactly who to expect, either. I might finish a squat set, turn around, and see a weightlifter trying to balance on top of a 250kg tractor tyre as someone runs inside it like a hamster wheel. Sometimes it’s an acrobat practicing backflips. Sometimes it’s an entire parkour class sweating copiously as they crawl up and down during their warmup. Sometimes I walk through the door and see a bunch of friends, and sometimes it’s populated by people I have never met before.

If you’ve ever been to a climbing wall, you’ll know that even when you go alone, you end up cooperating with others – taking turns on routes, figuring out problems and so on. The parkour zone is no different. I have seen one box incorporated into three training routes for three separate groups of people at the same time, with absolutely no conflict or problems whatsoever. I’ve seen people join in with each others’ training, help each other with techniques and learn just by watching. There are times when I feel like I can’t be bothered to push myself, and then I see someone facing up to their own fears and weaknesses, and suddenly I have the energy after all.

The conditioning area is more like a regular gym, minus the rows of ellipticals etc (which sucks if you desperately needed to simulate walking through syrup, I guess). The squat racks double as pull up/muscle up apparatus, there are gymnastic rings for upper body shenanigans and a handy ladder allows for much swinging and bizarre stunts.

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You would expect these weight plates to be used for lifting, but this is a parkour gym, so they also double as height-adjusters for vaults, end up spread over the floor for strides and get stacked on top of the small concrete wall for box jumps.

All sorts of things happen in the wide open gym space. Sometimes it’s covered with mats and boxes for tumbling. Sometimes it’s full of Crossfit 1864. If you want to do Crossfit, you should give them a shot, by the way – I know Crossfit gets talked down a lot on the interweb, but looking at these guys, I can’t see why. They train like beasts and seem really supportive of each other. They have skipping ropes, barbells and a whiteboard, and they are not afraid to use them. If you’re allergic to hard work it’s probably not for you, though. They don’t screw around.

This place has heart, and it has spirit. It has people who will spot each others’ squats, and give friendly advice to n00bs. It has people who train so incredibly hard that it will inspire you, and people who move with such grace and skill that it’s a sheer joy to watch them. It has people who will play on the railings with you, help you to push yourself harder and challenge you. No treadmills, though. Sorry about that.

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