I went through a phase about a year and a half ago. I had been out of parkour due to injury and wasn’t quite brave enough to go back, and so I started going to fitness classes at the local generic gym. If there’s one thing I learned during this phase, it’s that generic gym fitness classes are not that great if you have actual fitness goals. For a start, they’re not really classes. Classes should teach you something, and I have no idea what you’re meant to be learning in generic gym classes. It’s certainly not proper form – yes, I know not everyone can do a perfect form push up or pull up or sit up or whatever. I know, because I’m not that great at all this stuff either. However, there are progressions for exercises, and then there are the injury-inducing horrors that I’ve seen.
Secondly, training should be showing you some kind of progress. You don’t need to be a total gains-obsessed gym bro, willing to do anything for an extra 1.25kg on your deadlift, but if you go to a class for week after week after week and nothing about your fitness level is improving, what exactly are you doing? Classes like that don’t help you with parkour. Parkour is hard, and requires a kind of fitness that’s about being able to move well, with strength and good range of motion and resilience – not the kind of “fitness” that is all about burning calories, wearing bikinis and takes how much you sweat as a measure of success.
Not that you don’t sweat at the Mov’ fitness class in Chainstore on Tuesdays. There were pushups. There were planks. There were even crunches, and my abs still hurt two days later – thanks for that, Forrest. But it wasn’t mindless repetitions and groaning – it was all about moving better, and being stronger for parkour. That meant that as well as the push ups, we had stations that included routes, clambering along a rail, squatting on rails and hoisting ourselves up walls. It was stuff that was aimed at improving strength, coordination and ingraining helpful movement patterns all at once. “It’s about resilience in parkour,” said one regular, Karen. “Training to last.” If that’s not what fitness is about, I don’t know what is – being able to move well, and do it for a long time without wearing yourself down or injuring yourself.
Another regular, Dean, gave me his take on the experience:
“The movements and exercises themselves are usually pretty straight forward, often just exaggerated versions of movements you make everyday. However when you break them down and begin to utilize them the way we do in the classes they take on a different context and meaning. Suddenly you begin analyzing your body and its abilities in a new way. Like with all Parkour it’s a matter of developing your strength and other attributes by regaining a range of movement we no longer utilize in day to day life, but with the Mov’ classes we focus that idea on a single motion to begin understanding how it relates to the way you move your whole body.
As you progress and learn more, you start to piece together the singular attributes you develop to make better use of your whole anatomy.
While in a single class you’ll often go through dozens of different movements or exercises, unlike at a gym where perhaps a similar ethic is used to train specific body parts independently – with Mov’ no one exercise is done in complete isolation. Instead of utilizing weights, or machines to do it – you use your body as its intended to be. A simplistic idea with a huge variety of possibilities and implications. As Forrest would put it it’s ‘nothing complicated’ – just move.”
Chainstore isn’t like normal gyms, so I guess it’s no surprise that its fitness class is not like fitness classes at other gyms. It has formed a core tribe of regulars, too, led by Forrest, who takes genuine delight in seeing them grow and surpass their own expectations. They’re a fun tribe, but they’re also hard workers. They’re hardcore. I don’t mean the noisy kind of hardcore that you sometimes see at gyms, displaying as much testosterone as possible and making a show of everything – they are the kind of hardcore that gets its head down and works. They are hardcore without the ego – pushing their limitations without pretending they don’t exist, facing challenges without posturing, getting stronger without the flexing (despite the size of Forrest’s biceps). It’s a good tribe, and it’s open to anyone – just show up at 6:30pm on a Tuesday. Bring water, but leave your ego at home.