Get Up And Code 052: The Sport of Parkour
This episodes marks 1 year that I have been doing the Get Up and CODE podcast for every single week!
Feels great to have made it this long.
In this episode I talked with a longtime listener of the show, Justin Heatherington, about Parkour–a sport I've always wanted to try.
Full transcript below:
John: Hey everyone, welcome back to Get Up and CODE. I'm John Sonmez. Today, I have someone here that I’ve been wanting to talk to. His name is Justin Heatherington. I saw him tweak something about doing a Parkour. This is something that I’ve been pretty interested in, so I really want to talk to Justin about this. Because I didn’t realize that anyone was actually doing this, and that this was something that you could actually pursue as a sports. This is pretty cool. I'm really interested to find out about this. Welcome, Justin.
Justin: Hi. Thanks for having me.
John: Yeah. What’s your background? What’s your story?
Justin: Well, I'm a developer as a well. Well, being programming things since a kid, really, since an XT computer GWBasic. Nowadays, I focus mostly on the Microsoft Stack C#. Unfortunately, Windows forums torment regularly. I'm not doing as much as I’d like to in the XAML Stack, and web technologies and stuff.
I’ve never been a super athletic person, never ever. Yeah, it was a tech related blog that last year posted a video that Nokia had done with the Lumia 920, which I had. I already had the phone. I love the phone. It’s a great camera.
They did a big video to demonstrate the capabilities of their camera with some people, Ryan Doyle and Willie Sutton, some Parkour free runners from UK and Isle of Man. Like you, I didn’t really realize that people were doing it as a sport.
Justin: Yeah, like I had heard of free running. I had heard of it as something, some European thing. I think that was actually thanks to a tech commercial for one of the telecoms up in Canada. They had a free running commercial a few years ago, I think. I never thought of it as something that you can actually learn.
John: Now explain what free running is for everyone that heard of Parkour, for everyone that never heard of this before. They’re like, “What are these guys talking about?”
Justin: Yeah. Well, you often hear the terms Parkour and free running intermixed. Parkour definitely like it’s French, it originated from France, and it’s about going from like point A to point B in a most efficient, fast manner possible. You’re wanting to move your momentum like not to have to stop so you’ll maybe be bouncing off things, running up walls, jumping gaps, which often ends up with you hanging off things. Stuff like that. That’s Parkour.
Often David Belle is credited with starting that although it was his father that learned a lot of those techniques growing up in Vietnam. I forgot the entire story, but his father actually used some of those techniques in firefighting in Paris and was like well known for this.
Yeah. It’s pretty cool. That’s the official definition of Parkour. It’s a very strict like—it’s about survival. Someone attacks you, you got to get out quick, but we don’t live in that kind of world. Most of us don’t, anyways.
Then there’s free running. Now, free running is essentially Parkour with extra frills. Maybe some flips, some back flips, gainers and a lot of things that I don’t even attempt yet. I do use the word yet for a lot of things because I didn’t think I’d be doing what I'm doing now.
When you hear Parkour and free running, they are interchangeable, except in the more stricter sense, free running is a bit more of the flips, and tricks and stuff, which always looks very impressive. Sebastian Foucan was the person who was credited with starting free running, and he was the person who was in the James Bond movie, which I guess a lot of people saw and that’s what introduced free running to a lot of people.
For me though, it was more about the original Matrix movie. Do you remember? It was like one of the initial scenes and them running up walls, jumping between buildings through window. To me, who didn’t want to run up a wall after seeing that?
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was one of my favorite movies.
Justin: Yeah. When I saw this Nokia thing, I was amazed. I was like, “Wow,” like this is a lot more organized than I had pictured my mind. I hadn’t given it much thought. Instantly, I was like, “Can I do this in Toronto?” I did some searches and saw there was some meets and stuff, but then I noticed it’s called the Monkeyvault. The Monkeyvault Movement Center, I think, it’s called officially. It’s a local gym. I'm super lucky because Toronto and the Monkeyvault was the first dedicated Parkour gym in the world.
John: What a coincidence. That’s the craziest thing.
Justin: I know. Now, since then, there are tons of gyms. In Tampa, I think there is a gym for Parkour now.
John: Really? Okay. I will have to check that out.
Justin: Miami, I think, has one. LA has several. Seattle, I believe, has one. San Francisco, I was surprised doesn’t. Not that I saw but people should just—if they’re interested, they should just look it up on Bing or Google. There’s a possibility there’s a gym, like even in Canada. Toronto. Montreal has one. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, although I think one of those isn’t quite a full purpose one. It’s really expanding across Europe, and some people don’t like that because Parkour is always about being out on the street, street obstacles.
The idea of doing these things in the gym, some people maybe don’t like that. To me, it was the safe place to learn these things. I ended up last spring. I did a few intro classes, then it was just busy in the summer and stuff and then they were actually closed in the fall as they moved facilities to a really crazy big facility. Since they opened up in mid December, I’ve been going now well, pretty much every week, 3 times a week, which is insane for me. I’ve never done that.
John: Yeah. That’s pretty serious. That’s some dedication to this. I'm just amazed and you’re right, there is a gym in Tampa. I'm amazed by how this—you said you went to some classes. What do they teach you? I guess that’s the hardest thing I was trying to figure out. It was like how you go from just I’ve never done this before to jumping over cars. It’s like you got to have some kind of intermediate step otherwise you’re going to end up getting arrested or something. I don’t know.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. Well, for the record, I’ve not jumped over any cars yet and I don’t know if that would go so well, although, yeah, maybe sometime soon. In the introductory class, what they did was we actually started with, it’s called a safety or a step vault and they actually—the American equivalent is shark’s tank. They were on Dragon’s Den in Canada, and they actually had one of the dragons actually doing a step vault, just very slowly methodically. You can do that as slow motion. It’s one of the easier things.
Now, when you start picking up the speed it can be more challenging. I do actually practice it still, but that was one of the first things and doing other vaults like one of them is called the Lazy Vault. That is like Dukes of Hazard. I don’t know if you remember that show. They slide across in front of the car. That’s almost a lazy vault. That’s another thing. I did that in, I'm sure, not very good form last spring, but these were things I was able to do. At that time, I was still over 200 pounds and not in shape at all, and I was still able to do that. Just slowly, not in good form. I still practice these things to get my form better, to get my speed better, to maybe get the height higher.
There were some vaults. We went through like a tic-tac, I think, it’s called, which is like a Jackie Chan-type thing where you’re—how would you explain it? You hop off the wall and off something that’s off the floor as well. It’s like tic-tac with your feet almost because you’re moving across an area, but you’re not actually right on the floor. We just did simple versions of that. I tried balancing. I was terrible, absolutely terrible.
What else do we do in the introductory class? I tried running up walls that didn’t go so well. In fact, I actually would practice that one. That was one of the things that I really want to do. The first few times I practiced it, I’d just be hitting the wall and I’d feel it in my wrists like this burning sensation. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s probably not a good thing.”
What helped actually with that at the new gym is they have an angled wall.
John: Oh, interesting, okay.
Justin: Yeah. I don’t know what angle it would be at. I don’t know, maybe 75 or 80 degrees. Actually, practicing running up that made it a lot easier to then go and start going up the straight wall. I'm not going up huge walls yet. It’s probably about 8 feet, I'm guessing. I'm short. I'm 5’6” so 8 feet to me, I'm pretty happy with that. We did that during the introductory class. Well, I tried to do that. I'm trying to think if there was anything else. It was more like a wide variety of things, which I appreciated because I'm not sure what other facilities are like.
Well, I know like some facilities are very, from my understanding, they’re very like we have to get A and B right before you even try to do C. Whereas, at the Monkeyvault it was more giving you like a broader spectrum of it. It’s like you’re not going to do these things well, but this is the types of stuff you could do and I really like that because, I don’t know, it is almost the ADHD friendly sport as well. As I’ve learned, this podcast is where people with ADHD come to chat.
John: That’s funny.
Justin: Yeah. That is a cool thing too with training is that if I get tired doing one thing, well, physically tired or just mentally, I'm just, “Okay, I'm done,” there’s something else I can do. Or I am sometimes criticized, “Justin, get off the couch. Stop playing with your phone.” That does get uttered at the gym occasionally. Usually, there’s something else you can do or even if you do need to take a physical break, just watch some people in Toronto. I'm sure a lot of the gyms like there’re just incredibly talented people like stunt people in Toronto and I'm sure in LA and in Vancouver, people who are in the stunt industry for Hollywood or Hollywood North. There, they train doing stuff like this.
John: That’s a good point, yeah.
Justin: Maybe not Parkour, specifically, depending on what they do, but yeah. In Toronto, there are stunt people. When I started doing bench presses, a girl who was practicing with another guy, they were practicing with wood swords. She had to set the wood sword down to save me from, I don’t know if it was 75 pounds total including the bar, yeah. Hey, who can say they were rescued by a girl with a wooden sword from the bench press?
John: Yeah. That’s pretty cool.
Justin: Not all places will necessarily have an introductory thing, but if they do that is definitely, like to get a wide spectrum of what you can do then you can start to choose. Well, I want to train more in vaults. For a while, I was training more in vaults. I trained more in balancing and stuff. I’ve done balancing a fair bit through the winter, and then now, it has actually improved drastically like there’s this specific rail that I try and go across. My rule was for a long time that I can’t quit until I’ve gone across the rail once.
Now, I can’t quit until I’ve gone across the rail and come back. You know what? I actually can do that many times now during the day. I can see this improvement there. Sure, maybe people don’t need to balance on rails on the daily basis, but having better balance in general, I think, is a very positive thing. That’s what I think. There’re just so many great side effects from practicing it.
John: Yeah. You lost weight, right? It seems like this is something that could motivate. Running is pretty boring. I hate running. Everyone knows I hate running but like it’s more fun, right? How much weight did you lose? You look like you’re in shape now. I'm looking at you on video. You don’t look like you’re 200 pounds.
Justin: No, no. I'm down. This morning, I weighed in at 155.6.
John: Oh, wow. That’s huge, right?
Justin: Yeah. Since last April, I'm approaching 55 pounds lost. Eating is the biggest part of that. Having that motivation to, whatever you’re doing, to lose weight whether you’re doing some diet program which that’s not for me. For me what I found for losing weight was the most important was that I track my calories. What has got me motivated to track my calories? Well, Parkour. Absolutely. When did I not track my calories was actually in the fall. I came back from vacation. The gym was closed or I thought it was closed while they prepared the new place. I had gained a little bit of weight on vacation so I didn’t want to actually record that, because I'm like, “Well, I want to lose weight so I can keep going down.”
John: Exactly, yeah.
Justin: There was literally a couple of month period plus Christmas. I actually posted on Facebook a graph of my weight loss and everyone laughed at this big jump at Christmas. It was like, “Well, that wasn’t all at Christmas. It’s just that’s when I finally sucked it up and said, “You know what? This is the weight I'm at. I got to recorded and I got to start tracking again.”
John: Exactly, yeah.
Justin: The gym opened again mid December and a more convenient location for me. It’s the motivation to continue losing weight, like I actually do weights now. One of the earliest podcasts I listened to, I think, was on weightlifting. I thought, “Well, that’s not for me.” It’s not for me. What’s funny is how quickly that changed because it was like, “Oh. You’re telling me I do squats and I'm going to be able to jump better,” because there’s form to jumping and stuff. It’s not just about muscle strength and stuff, but nonetheless. It’s like, “Okay, squats equals better jumps.” Okay, all right. I’ll start doing squats.
I couldn’t do a pull-up in December or January. I couldn’t pull my weight up. I literally have been asking the guys at the last half week since we set up this time to record I'm like, “Okay. What are the official names of those things I do?” because it’s like, “Why do you do these things?” “Well, because I was told to. I was told it’s good and I trust these people.”
No. For pull-ups, I was doing a negative or negatives, lowering yourself down. Starting in a pull-up position and lowering yourself down over 30 seconds. I can do that now twice, 2 30-second reps and then the third one is usually around 20 some seconds, and then the fourth one is anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds. The goal is to be able to do 4 negatives at 30 seconds.
Now, I can do a pull-up. Actually, I was in Florida this winter visiting my folks. My mom asked me. We’re just south of Tampa doing this trail, and we didn’t realize until the end of the trail that each of these different spots, they had a different exercise. She asked me, “Can you do a pull-up?” I'm like, “I'm close but I don’t think I can yet.” She’s like, “Well, let’s see,” and then I did a pull-up. I surprised myself. I was like, “Oh, wow.”
To start out with the negatives at the gym, I was using resistance bands to make it easier. Yeah, it was just a surprise. When you lose that much weight like I'm still surprised daily. Yesterday, my surprise was that the pants that I thought were closer to my waist size, yeah, no, they’re pretty big now.
John: Yeah. That’s a great feeling, yeah.
Justin: It is. There was all these extra things that have came from wanting to do Parkour and being more motivated for weight loss, being motivated to actually do weights. I'm way happier this year than I was last year. I'm sure that’s with any like if you get into shape or do any sport, you’re going to be probably a lot happier, a lot healthier. That positive alone is huge.
John: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much self-image plays a part in our happiness and our success. It’s a self-fulfilling thing. The more positive your self-image is, one of the easiest ways to increase your self-image is to get in shape to be doing something physical then the more that you like find success, because you’re more courageous. It’s self-reinforcing. Instead of a downward spiral, you start to go in this upward spiral, which is pretty cool.
Justin: Yeah. The way you say that, an upward spiral, yeah, because everything starts feeding positively into the system rather than like death spiral or a negative spiral where the negatives are reinforcing the other negatives. It really has been huge that way. The stuff I'm doing at the gym, it’s not spectacular to me. I'm happy and I’m proud of what I can do, but at the same time like I know that I'm not good compared to so many people there. Nonetheless like from where I came from, it’s very good.
When I showed people and I did up the video and sent it to Nokia, my one year later video like the stuff I'm doing there, I am happy I can do that. I'm proud that I can do that, and people are amazed by that. At the same time, I know that there’s so much more.
I want to mention. I'm 34. On a regular basis, I'm one of the older people at the gym, especially on weekends. On weekends, kids galore. Like David Belle, he’s in his late 40s. His movie just came out, Brick Mansions. I have not heard good reviews on it, but he’s still doing stunts and stuff. He’s closer to 40. There have been people that are over 40 that have came out to the gym. I know.
Well, I can now do the vault individually. It’s a kong vault and you’re diving and then putting your weight onto your arms, and then your feet follow you through. I’ve been able to do that, but a double kong vault it always looks super amazing. Someone is diving and you’ll see. Maybe they’ll push-off with their hands once, but then they’re pushing off again on another wall and like going over a gap.
John: Oh, really? Wow, that’s crazy.
Justin: It is. I’ve seen people at the gym do this as young as 12 years old, 10 to 12 and as old as like late 30s. I'm sure people over late 30s could do it too with practice. The idea that only young people can do this, well, forget that. Yes, a lot of young people do this. A lot of the people I hang out with at the gym are in their early 20s, but it makes me feel young again.
John: Yeah. That’s a good point.
Justin: I would not use that as an excuse not to try it especially if you’re out of shape. I e-mailed Dan who owns the gym in Toronto. I e-mailed him last spring and I'm like, “Look. I'm over 200 pounds. I have high blood pressure. I'm so out of shape. Can I do this?” He’s like, “Just come.” I e-mailed him again reiterating “Way heavy, high blood pressure, out of shape.” Apparently, he wasn’t scared about my well-being. He was just scared. He’s like, “What?” He didn’t know what to expect.
He doesn’t remember the first time we met, but he did tell me at that time. He’s like, “Yeah. You’re not nearly as fat as what you were making it sound like.” I was like, “All right, good, good.” Obviously, if someone is worried about their health, then maybe ask a doctor or something. Still, you just got to start moving.
Literally, everyday, for over a year now, I wear my Fitbit. It tracks the steps and stuff. What I love too is that it’s giving me what I figure is a more accurate than me guessing calorie burn for the day, like it tells me how many calories. I know what I’ve ate. The Fitbit is doing the easy stuff for me for what I burnt. Then it’s like, “Well, how’s my week going?”
I don’t know. It’s all worked out very well. To stick with it, definitely to have that motivation of a sport you enjoy. For me, that was absolutely Parkour. It’s huge.
John: Wow. You’ve definitely changed my mind on this, and this is something that anyone could really, really do. It’s not like I have to go out in the street and learn it by jumping over fire hydrants and bouncing off walls. I can go to a gym where I can train specifically on their equipment. Do you go outdoors and do this as well?
Justin: I haven’t done too much stuff outdoors, but yeah. A lot of guys at the gym definitely do, and I can’t wait to actually go out sometime with them. There are various meet-up groups in Toronto. I was hoping to go to one before now, but I injured myself. You might say, “Well, is Parkour dangerous?” Well, I injured myself, yes, in a gym related accident, sneezing on my way to the gym. There you go.
Of all the crazy stuff I had done at the gym, I’ve got lots of bruises and scrapes, absolutely. Where do I pull a muscle? Driving on my way to the gym sneezing, yes. Luckily, I determined I was slowly working through it. On Sunday, I did my full workout on Sunday and I did a lot of the regular stuff I would have done prior to that on Sunday. It was good and I went last night, and did even more stuff. Yes. I'm think I'm over my injury. Maybe soon when it stops raining, I will go outside.
It’s cool now that we don’t have to learn the way that a lot of the people have learned prior because there are all these gyms. There are people that can give you the tips and the techniques, because there is technique to running up a wall. You do want to make sure that first foot plant on the wall is a good one. You want to make sure it’s—I think it’s above your knees, below your waist, because if it’s not, you’re not going to get traction. You’re going to actually keep running when you’re on the wall, depending on how high it is.
There are various techniques like there are tons of techniques for the vaults and stuff. It’s cool that people can go through that with you, and then you work your way to either maybe harder vaults in the gym like the ones that are not padded that when you bang your knee, yeah. It’s best that the kids are not around when I’ve banged my knees. In that case like those wood vaults, I don’t think they’re any more padded than a concrete wall then you’re getting a lot more closer representation.
I’ve noticed there is a psychological thing. When I’ve put two vaults, like little half walls for people that don’t know when I say a vault what I mean. When I put two of them together at the gym, it psychologically feels different than when there’s just one because you’re no longer seeing around it.
John: Right, yeah. It makes sense.
Justin: it does feel a little bit more like a wall at side, and it is a bit more freakier. Man. I don’t know. I'm excited like I know I’ll be doing more stuff in a few more months, like I’ll pick up new vaults or new ways to go over walls and stuff. Maybe later this summer, I may try doing some flips. Actually, I asked Dan at the gym. I'm like, “Do you think I’ll be able to do any of these flips?” He’s like, “Absolutely.”
John: Awesome, yeah. That would be great.
Justin: You start with the more simple stuff and you just work your way up. There’s no rules to it like if you don’t like doing one thing, well, don’t do it. Do a different thing. If you don’t like running up walls, fine. Well, don’t run up walls. I don’t know. I love it. I love that it’s being a motivation to do other things like just to get in shape, lose weight, and just be happier in general. It’s amazing.
John: Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, thanks for sharing your story. I'm definitely excited about it now, and I think that it’s something that I could actually see myself doing now. I think a lot of people, probably, that are listening to the show should try it out, check it out. It sounds like something that’s a lot more fun than just running. It’s something that we all dream of doing like you said, the Matrix. Wouldn’t be awesome to run up a wall and flip off of it, and vault over things? It’s how you used to act when you’re a kid, right?
Justin: That’s the thing. Why did we stop moving in these ways from when you were a kid?
John: Cool. Oh, let me give out a shout out to our sponsor real quick, SignalLeaf. If you are looking at creating your own podcast, be sure to check out signalleaf.com or if you know someone who has a podcast and they need some hosting services. We thank signalleaf.com for sponsoring this podcast. Check them out at signalleaf.com. I think that about wraps up this show. If someone wants to get started, what’s the best thing just to search for your Parkour gyms or free running gyms or?
Justin: I’d probably search Parkour, P-A-R-K-O-U-R. Those gyms do both, usually. Yeah, definitely. There will be meet-ups in your city if there aren’t gyms, or sometimes those meet-ups will even sometimes use gymnastic gyms temporarily. Yeah, definitely. I encourage anyone who is interested. You got to check it out. It’s so much fun and the rewards are great.
John: Cool, cool. Definitely, check out YouTube. Search for Parkour in YouTube if you want to be amazed. I can sit there and watch those videos for hours because it’s just so insane, some of the stuff.
Justin: It is, yeah, definitely. Actually, that has been a big motivation for me is watching those videos, totally. That’s what started it off. It is fitting that way.
John: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Justin. I appreciate you being on the show.
John: All right. Talk to everyone next time. See you.