I’m normally more of a racer, so when OMQ sent me down to the Chainstore Gym, right by the Thames in East London, for a parkour lesson, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
This was no ordinary parkour lesson, either. Held by Parkour Generations, this was the first day of their Rendezvous weekend. And this first day was very exclusive – I was one of just 30 people invited to take park.
The weekend involved various training sessions held by the top parkour coaches from across Europe and America. It was hardcore stuff, and I was a complete novice. I’d never even considered parkour before, so I was relieved that we were split into three groups based on experience. But even among the beginners, I was the only person with zero parkour experience.
We had three different sessions during day one of the Rendezvous weekend. Here’s what I learnt.
Balance is key
The first session introduced us to manoeuvring around what is basically a giant play park. After this, we were made to balance on a scaffold pole for 25 minutes.
For OCRs and triathlons, I train for speed, endurance and power… not balance. I was awful, I couldn’t manage 25 seconds, 25 minutes was unthinkable.
I’m pretty sure that my six-month-old nephew would have been better at this than me.
Upper body strength helps
Despite my dodgy balance, I was able to compensate with sheer strength. Given a choice of walking across a balance beam or hanging from a bar and shimmying down it, I would take the latter option every time.
On the flip side of this, there were others in my group who lacked strength but had fantastic balance, so they could take the other option. It was a nice mix of abilities.
You need to be fit
Even though I was a novice at parkour, the fact that I’m physically fit and strong meant I pretty much got away with it without completely embarrassing myself.
But I wouldn’t advise anyone taking up parkour as a means of getting fit. Build up your endurance first, spend some time in a gym, then it’s parkour time!
People that do parkour do weird handshakes
Parkour is all very street. I suspected it might be, so I dug out my baggiest shorts for the day – this was not a place for lycra.
But I’m not street at all and I got caught out.
I’d noticed that when people shook hands, they grabbed each others forearms instead of each other’s hands.
I went to shake hands with one of the coaches and made a real mess of it. Foolishly, I went for the hand, while the pro went for the forearm. Remember those old Ali G clips when he would fist-pump a politician, who would inevitably balls it up and look like an out-of-touch old man? Yeah, I was the old man.
Parkour is extremely friendly
Everyone was really great and welcoming. It is clearly a tight-knit community, and this was as much of a social gathering as it was a training session.
I’ll admit that I felt out of place to start with, but that feeling soon went and I had a good time with my fellow beginners. I think I would have made some good new friends if I was there all weekend.
You can take the boy out of OCR, but you can’t take OCR out of the boy
Our last session of the day ended with running a small obstacle course for 15 minutes. This involved walls to climb, things to jump over and squeeze through.
Game on, this is what I’m all about! This was practically a mini OCR. I’ll admit that I’m a little overly competitive and I just couldn’t help myself here.
It was quite clear that I was the quickest in my group, so I set off with the aim of lapping everyone. Which I successfully did.
Where’s my medal!?
I’m too heavy for piggybacks
During our very thorough warm up session, we had to pick a partner who was a similar size. At 90kg, I was probably the biggest guy there. So I tapped one of the coaches on the shoulder to see if he would be my partner.
The coach, Stephane, looked me up and down and declared that we were not the same size; but he agreed anyway. We had to take turns piggybacking each other around a short lap.
On the way round, he asked me how much I weighed, then proceeded to shout “quatre-vingt dix kilogrames!” In his native French, over and over.
After a quick Google, it turns out that Staphane Vigroux is practically parkour royalty. Top bloke too.
Parkour is great!
I had a great time with my first parkour experience and I’d definitely consider it again. It’s a relatively easy thing to try and have fun with, but it would take years to master.
If you have the opportunity to try parkour, you definitely should. And Parkour Generations at the Chainstore Gym in London is the perfect place to start.