On making a gym inspiring

Craig: Today, we’re going to talk about gym construction and design standards and these kinds of ideas. First, I want to try and explain why this is really important, and one [00:01:00] of the things you and I talked about is the idea of a gym being inspiring. You walk into the gym, and some gyms just click. You can see the high level athletes, it’s a kid in a candy store, and good luck getting them out at closing time.

And, I’m just wondering if you can help me unpack a little bit about how do you put that inspiration into the gym and how does that inspiration in the gym relate to what one might find outside.

Andy: When I sit down to design a gym, I try to call to the inner child that [00:01:30] is in us that makes us wanna play. This is true when I design anything, but we can talk about gyms specifically here. Whenever you go to certain spots, some spots just call to you, and though you go to other spots, you can play there for hours and train and do things, but you don’t ever really drive back there. That really shows in a lot of gym design because you can go into spaces, and [00:02:00] you can train forever, right, and you can play and do that.

But it takes sometimes emotional energy to make that happen as opposed to there are just like when you walk into some big, brightly-colored space, you just feel like a kid. Right? If it looks like a video game, if it looks … like the video games sell for reasons. They’re hitting some sort of base, inner [00:02:30] thing that’s in us that makes us just want to explore and play. If you design a facility so that this is the section that has bars, this is the sections that will have mobile obstacles so I can teach my classes, this is the sections that have concrete walls. This is where they will jump.

Craig: Here’s where climbing challenges go, right?

Andy: Yeah, exactly. Whenever you do that, you can go in, and you can train, and you can do some cool stuff, but [00:03:00] it is … That is one way to stifle some of that call to us because if you go and you have this jumpy section that has a bunch of walls and whatever, and you just stick one bar in it, people will play on that bar. It will just call to them a little bit. They’ll be like, “What is that? What can I do here?”

Craig: Why is there a bar here? I don’t know. I got an idea.

Andy: Yeah, right? If you take your big flat 4 x 4 x 8 box, right, and just put an indent window into it and [00:03:30] then put a 4 x 4 sticking out of it like six inches, people will play on that. And the nuances and the intricacies in the design really make us want to interact with it.

Now, you can design things that push people away because you’ve got this sweet bar setup right here, right? And you’ve got an eight-foot span on the back, so you can get a full swing on it, but then in front of it, it’s got a four foot, four feet away from that bar, there’s a pole sticking out, [00:04:00] right? It’s aimed at the bar, and you’re like, “I don’t want to swing on that”, right? It’s just scary looking. And you can build things that are just too close to an edge, and there’s concrete right next to it, and you’re like, “Ah, I don’t want to do this thing there. I’d love to, but it’s scary.” And there are some things that we want to do that encourage you to overcome fear, but we don’t want things to be needlessly, like we-

Craig: We don’t want to bring danger to the party just for fun, right?

Andy: Yeah, right? So, having things … Putting those types of things in your design in a way that makes you just want to explore the area is really important, and it’s something that you kind of have to have an eye for. You have to sit down and understand, because we’re not talking about like … A lot of people may not even agree that this is something that you should do.

Some people might have the opinion [00:05:00] that they’re extremely utilitarian. They want to have this space here, this space here, this space here because it makes sense for their business, how things flow. You have to, in your philosophy of how you train and what you do, have to believe that this is a thing, this thing that I’m talking about, this child-like “want to play,” because some people don’t even tap into it or use that in it because of the way that they practice parkour, so you have to believe that. And then after you believe that, you have [00:05:30] to figure out-just explore-

Craig: Like how am I going to implement that? How is that gonna come to life in my design, in my space?

Andy: Yeah, see … Look at it in every little instance, say that this is a factor, this is a check mark box for each thing that I design. What can be done here? Can kids play on it? Yes/no. Can adults play on it? Yes/no. Can … Is it pretty enough? Is it slippery? Is it built sturdy? Is it something that calls to people? And each one of these are different check mark boxes. And you should be looking at each one of these [00:06:00] as a legitimate factor when you design any space or any single obstacle.

Craig: Yeah, subspace through a micro component.

On establishing build standards

Craig: So, obviously it’s basic knowledge that you should have to meet local codes and government codes and construction codes, but there’s … In terms of a parkour gym, there’s way more than that. It’s not just, “Is this facility safe for large numbers of people” and “Does it have the bathrooms that code requires”. There’s also questions like, “Is this box gonna fall over”, “How strong is this scaffolding” and how we get to a point where people [00:06:30] know where to go for that?

Andy: Well, the thing that’s nuts whenever you try to set up a gym, is that we … The world is crazy. So, if you go in and you try to get inspected, then the inspector decides what boxes you fall under, right? So, there is no box for parkour. So, whenever you go in and you say, “Hey, I want to build this parkour gym”, they say, “Well, what is it”, you describe it and in their mind they hear cheerleading. They’re like, “So, then you’re a cheerleading [00:07:00] gym, so you have to meet cheerleading standards”. So, how you design and build that gym from then on will fail or pass based on those standards. And the next guy might say that you’re gymnastics and the next guy might say that you’re a bouncy house-

Craig: Public catering right, like what a church would be.

Andy: Yeah, who knows. They could just pick some random thing and say you’ve got to meet these ridiculous outlandish standards. They might say that, “Any box that’s eight feet tall has to have a hand rail around it”.

Craig: Exactly. [00:07:26]

Andy: You know? Because people might jump off of that, so then you will then [00:07:30] have to design your entire gym at seven foot six, so that then no one can … We don’t have to put hand rails around our boxes.

Craig: Those eight foot heights, right.

Andy: Yeah, so then finding that kind of stuff out is … It’s really hard and complicated and what we really need is, we need people that are knowledgeable about parkour to get together and put out a good basic set of standards that are … That no matter what you do, where [00:08:00] you put these things, if you have pressboard your gym shouldn’t be together-

Craig: Yeah, pressboard’s not-

Andy: If you’re using eighth inch dry wall screws or something like that, like-

Craig: The structural components, right?

Andy: You know what I mean? There’s a ton of things that you just … We need to meet these standards. And from there we need to get the government to pass that and get the code to do it or we need-

Craig: Well, I think there’s a lot of-There’s a lot of neat things like, when you look at how decks are built. There’s a lot of structural components of deck building [00:08:30] that we go, “Well, this is where we got … This is why we’re saying, use this kind of screw, because it’s from this”. But we can bring together all of those disparate pieces, “This is why we have bars here, but not railings there”. And then that … It actually isn’t new material, but it would then present it in a cohesive fashion and then the dream would be that it would be included in the actual building codes, so that the inspectors would know what they’re looking at.

Andy: Yeah, and that’s really scary for a lot of people. So, a lot of people say, “Oh, you’re going to come in and tell me that I have to build my gym and design it this way”, [00:09:00] you know? And now all the gyms are going to be cookie cutter and look like this. And instead … It depends really on how you do it. You can say that, “If this is a thing that’s going to be load bearing, then it has to have this amount of support”.

You know? And that doesn’t impede on your design. That just says that, “You can build what you want, but you have to build it this way”. Now, getting the government to enforce this is cool. But there’s another [00:09:30] way to do it, I think? You could also just … I think that with gymnastics what they do is that they say, “If you’re going to have a gymnastics gym, you have to have this label”, right? And this label means that you’re a bonafide gymnastics gym. And you can’t get that label unless you pass this inspection. So, it’s not actually government enforcing it. So, there’s ways to do this where the eggheads of construction and parkour can get together-

Craig: Right, and cook up the recipe [00:10:00] that gives everybody else the design parameters.

Andy: Yeah, which doesn’t limit your parkour vision.

Craig: Right.

Andy: But that just keeps us safe, because that’s a big thing here.

On purpose built parkour gyms

Craig: The average person who wants to build a gym, which right away, that’s a very small group of people. Especially in America, it might be hundreds of people who would have visions of building a gym. And they’re going to come at this with different … Some people are going to build the Taj Mahal, right? And some people, they’re just going to have infinite money to throw at it and for them it’s just, “Where are the t’s”, and “I cross [00:10:30] them all” and we make it look cool. And then there are other people that are like a one man shop and they’re trying to just squeak by on old fire house. So, can you kind of pick apart the types, like the scales that you’ve seen and where does it really work and where is like the tipping point for success.

Andy: Yeah, I’ve seen that anything … Like you’ve got this mansion gym, 16,000 square feet, it’s freaking huge, you go into it with-

Craig: Ten times the size of my house.

Andy: Yeah, right. And you got 250,000 dollars to blow, [00:11:00] you got two high bounce gymnastics trampolines and you’ve got custom built sculptures all over the gym. And it’s … You’ve got this crazy-

Craig: Where is this place, I want to go, right?

Andy: Right? Yeah. And you see this … There are a couple of these gyms that are out there and like Tempest was this, the top tier most amazing thing until people were like, “I’m going to do that, but bigger”. Because Tempest is 7,200 square feet, the Tempest that, the Mario won the first one.

Craig: Okay.

Andy: [00:11:30] And, it’s a great gym. We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about how there’s this giant mansion one and what we end up finding … What I see, I’ve seen in it, is that the large gyms that are over 10,000 square feet have to diversify, because it’s not something that they can really sustain completely on parkour. That they have break dancing groups or they have yoga groups, they have aerial silks, they have ninja, something like that and [00:12:00] whenever they split and diversify then they’re … Everyone is learning from each other it’s a really healthy place, whatever. Maybe it’s not, who knows. Depends on how you run it, but that is a giant master thing.

Craig: Opportunity, right.

Andy: And a lot of people go in thinking that they’re going to do that gym, but they don’t have the breakdancer that’s going to teach all the classes, right?

Craig: Right.

Andy: They don’t have the yoga person that’s going to teach the classes. So, when they go into this giant crazy thing, it ends up … [00:12:30] Eating itself. Because the hardest part of business is finding your team.

Craig: Yeah, the other people, that’s the hardest part.

Andy: That is by far the hardest part and people go into it thinking, they’ve got all this money and they’ve got this space and they’ve got this passion and that, that’s going to be good enough. Mine’s up there close, mine’s 11,000 square feet, so I think that mine is just a little bit of a luxury. But I got it for such a sweet price that it’s … We’re not really killing ourselves too much. [00:13:00] But between 10 and 6,000 square feet is … That’s kind of the money maker mark, right?

Craig: Like the sweet spot.

Andy: Yeah and you’ve got to find the right price.

Craig: Is it’s 6-10,000 square feet.

Andy: Yeah and this is all my opinion. But 6-10,000 square feet, you get people in there, they love it and you can sustain a business entirely on parkour in that. And it’s hard, right, depending on what the prices that you get and whatever. But the gym doesn’t [00:13:30] feel empty whenever you’re in it, whenever you’ve got a couple people in there training. It just … You can make it really baller and it’s not too small either. Because if you have this little small space and you go in and it feels like it’s packed all the time, but there’s only 10 people in it, then you can’t end up doing much there, you don’t get to grow really, as an athlete-

Craig: Yeah, you’re right. You’re not running NAPC there.

Andy: Yeah. So, then the smaller gyms would be another scale. So, you’ve got the [00:14:00] 5,000/4,000 square feet and they’re someone who’s like, “We’re trying to grow bigger, we want to, we just … It’s hard to get over that little hunch … That little hump”, whatever. But then you’ve got the 2,000 square feet gyms and those are the guys that are like, “Man, I need to fix this, I need to change it”. And I’ve been talking entirely in square feet, that’s not the entire marker. A lot of it is the money that you’re putting into your build and the quality in the type of build that you’re doing, because you might do it in sections, and [00:14:30] you might build it out of pallets or you might build it out of like-

Craig: It’s so neat, for people who haven’t gone to different gyms, I really encourage you. Because every one of them has, not just a different vibe, which comes from the people who are there, but the spaces are so different. You walk into one and it’s effectively a pole building, sheet metal garage with a concrete floor and it’s like bar-ville. And everything’s just scaff everywhere and then you walk into another one … You walk into Andy’s gym and it’s … I don’t know how to describe it, I feel like I walked into a video game. Just everything is … It’s [00:15:00] hard, but there’s video game characters and you know-I’m like, “The guy who runs this has blue hair and the kids love it here”, you know?

Andy: Yeah and it’s different building a gym where you think about, “What do I want to play on?” As opposed to-

Craig: Versus, “What does everybody else need?”

Andy: “What is my clientele that’s going to be paying the bills that keeps my business open going to be playing on?”

Craig: Right.

Andy: Right? And then, “How do I get those guys to turn into people that I can train with every day?” As opposed to teach. [00:15:30] And making that is really hard and overwhelming and then trying to tie that back into what we were talking about, about trying to build it with the right … Like, do I use 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s? Do I use this type of plywood … Knowing all of this incredibly intense knowledge about building, which, I’m an electrician and have been for 12 years, so I’ve been around construction for … like half my life.

[00:16:00] So, it’s hard to get that knowledge and then to take that and look at your now 6,000 square feet and it’s just an empty box and you’ve got to sit there and make that beautiful. It’s really overwhelming to cross all your t’s. So, I can sympathize with the people that are trying to open a gym and that do it wrong, because they don’t know what to do, they don’t have enough guidance, someone hasn’t stepped in and said, “This is …It’s not public knowledge how to build a gym right and how to run gym business”.

Craig: [00:16:30] Right. How many purpose built parkour spaces do we really think there are in America at the moment? We probably could name 20 if we just sat down with a pencil for a minute. But could we get to 40? Could we get to 50 before we were talking about CrossFit boxes that have a parkour person in house?

Andy: Yeah.

Craig: That’s not a parkour gym. I mean, I think those micro spaces, might be a way to call those. I think micro spaces are good. It could be really good for an outdoor community to have a spot where they can go when it’s snowing sideways. And a place to keep … [00:17:00] Some places to work on muscle up power and things. But above the size of those micro spaces, we can’t be at 100, we’re lucky if we’re at 50, I think.

On small scale builds and parks

Andy: Yeah. And this whole time that we’ve been talking about gyms, I think that a lot of this needs to … There’s a smaller scale, which is, “How do I make my vault box”, right? And, “What do I use when I do that”? And if you’re a home owner that’s just trying to make something that their kids can play on or if you’re a practitioner that’s just trying to make some basic stuff that you can play on at your house, [00:17:30] these types of standards do still matter, because you can just destroy yourself forever, just because you were playing in your backyard.

Craig: Right.

Andy: And then the … Different scale, still large, but outside parks, right? It’s incredibly hard to get a park made, because of all the … You’ve got to get your city to approve it, all this liability involved-

Andy: All the standards.

Craig: Right, and then they want to know about maintenance and who’s going to maintain this thing and what’s it going to look like in 10 years and how does it affect the viewshed of the neighborhood and-

Andy: Yeah, but then if you want to go [00:18:00] and do that type of stuff in your backyard or do that stuff on your friend’s property or something that’s-

Craig: Yeah.

Andy: You find a way around it. And then you’re like, “Well, we can just … We don’t have to deal with the city”.

Craig: Right, so we’ll just whack this together and then when it falls over … right?

Andy: Yeah, and then you’re teaching kids or you’re teaching your grandmother or you’re teaching someone that’s close how to do something on something that is shoddy.

Craig: Yeah, basis-

Andy: Or even not even shoddy, something that’s built right, but it’s not inspiring. It doesn’t call [00:18:30] you to play on it.

Importance of build standards and safety

Craig: So, since I’m talking to you and you’re used to building things and constructing and designing spaces, I think the place to start is the recent, I’m gonna say, gym collapse, it wasn’t the entire gym, it was a balcony. But the recent gym collapse that happened out in California and I want to get your thoughts on that, because I know you have some strong opinions and some people have had negative things to say about your strong opinions.

Andy: Constantly, yeah. So, I spend a lot of time focusing on [00:19:00] helping small … Like people that are trying to build a gym come to me and say, “Hey, you know how to build a gym, let’s build a gym”. Some people have money, so they’ll come to me and say, “Hey, I want to give you lots of dollars to design my gym, show me everything”. And then some people don’t have any dollars and I still try to help them. I don’t sit down and design their whole gym, but I’ll guide them through the process. So, I’m pretty familiar with starting from nothing and then having a nice space at the end, okay? From that point [00:19:30] of view, I fully understand that corners are cut and that corners are cut everywhere all the time in every business that’s grown.

Craig: Yeah, not just in parkour spaces.

Andy: Everything, all the time. And specifically with the parkour spaces, it’s not … “Don’t cut corners, because you have to in order to open”. It’s, “What corners can you cut”? And the corners that says, [00:20:00] like you say, “Alright, I’ve got $10,000 dollars to spend on this little section, how much … What am I going to put there”? Well, you say, “I’ve got this grand dream, I want these shapes and I want this thing here and I want that thing there”, and if you don’t have the dollars to build that …

Craig: The full vision?

Andy: Yeah, to build that right. To build it so that it’s hurricane proof, if it can’t take the weight then you need to, in that section, just [00:20:30] build less. And then in the future you get more money and then you build more in that space to fill out to your dream. But you just … Instead of building 15 boxes, you end up only being able to build three, because that’s the amount of money that you have for that space. You don’t then build 15 boxes, but build them with less material or build them shoddy.

Craig: Right.

Andy: And I’ve seen a lot of people that say, “Pressboard or particle board”, it’s big chunks [00:21:00] of sawdust where they just kind of glue it together, whenever you go to Home Depot or something, you see that stuff. You hit it with your hand it’s strong-

Craig: Yeah, it’s significantly less expensive …

Andy: Yeah.

Craig: However, it is not mechanically … It’s not a mechanical structure.

Andy: Yeah, it’s not something that can deal with our repeated impact, it just … It doesn’t work. It’s not something that should be made for anything in my opinion. And there’s a lot of other opinions and that’s something that a lot of people that don’t build can look [00:21:30] at and they can relate to that. Like, I can say, “Well, you have to have a certain … Like, don’t build a structure that’s high up, that’s got this square footage with 2 x 4’s, you have to use 2 x 6’s or 2 x 12’s.”

Craig: Right.

Andy: And then I start getting … talking more technical that people may not know, but everyone can kind of relate to that pressboard stuff. So, watching … This was something where they had obviously cut the wrong corners and-

Craig: I think the situation there, from what I read, it [00:22:00] was more complicated, because I think it’s a multi-use space and the parkour gym may not have actually built that particular structure, I’m not sure. They may have built it, they may not have. But that was clearly something that they needed someone who had a learned eye to look at that and go, “Wait a second, that’s … We didn’t build it, but that’s not going to be good enough for 20 kids”.

Andy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, if it’s in their space at all, as soon as you … And nobody really knows a lot of this stuff, because it’s business, you know? And we’re not business people that want to open a gym, if you have business, [00:22:30] you’re going to open something that makes money, not a parkour gym.

Craig: It’s the exact opposite of successful, right?

Andy: Yeah. So, then you go in and you’re passionate about the sport and you want to make something amazing happen and you don’t know that you’ve got to call these specific inspectors for these things. There isn’t a guiding … There’s nothing … There’s not groups that just guide you through this entire process. And though there are, in some areas, there’s places that you can call and find … But [00:23:00] you don’t even know how to find those groups.

Craig: Right.

Andy: Like in Orlando, there was a place called SCORE and I think that it is … It’s a government led thing that just has professionals together and it might be-

Craig: Just pick up the phone and call them and say, “I’m trying to build a café”, and they say, “You need to talk to this guy”.

Andy: Yeah, and they’ll tell you, “You got to look at this, you got to look at this, you got to look at this”, and if you know to look at those things and you don’t, you’re negligent and you sir … Harsh words to say about that, but if you … But most of these people just don’t know [00:23:30] to look at these things. They’re trying to cross their t’s and dot their i’s, but they don’t know.

So, if it’s in their space, then they’re responsible for it, because even if all legal repercussions, they get out of this lawsuit and they end up having to sue the building, not the parkour people, because it’s not technically … I mean, they’re business is gone, they’re done- You know what I mean? And that looks poorly on the rest of us, just because the news … The media got a hold of it.

Craig: Oh, yeah, the news [00:24:00] jumped on it.

Andy: Yeah.

On design inspiration and imagining lines

Craig: So, I’m not an expert in construction or especially not an expert in gym design, although I’ve played in a bunch of gyms. And one of the things that strikes me, is your ideas about designing lines, like coming at the design of a space by imagining what people are going to do in that space in those lines.

That’s kind of controversial, some people look at that and say, “No, that’s the wrong … That’s the exact opposite of what parkour or whatever you want to call it, ADD, that’s the exact opposite of what that [00:24:30] is. And, I’m just wondering, why do you believe so strongly that designing lines is something that you should be doing when you’re building these built spaces?

Andy: I think that, whenever you go out to a space, anybody who has scouted out new spaces should be able to relate with … You see this spot and it looks beautiful and it’s got hand rails and it’s got different levels and it looks amazing. And then you get there and you’re like, “I’m going to jump to … Oh, man I can’t really jump to that, because that thing’s there” or “Oh, I’ll go over this way then … No, I can’t [00:25:00] really do that.” You’ll see spots that hit that child-like nature that we were referring to. And though it calls to you, when you get there, there’s not a whole lot that you can do there.

Craig: Yeah, what is that crazy epic thing that we all … We know it when we see it, when you see that epic line, you’re like, “That’s the thing.” Now, why is that only available in some places?

Andy: Yeah, so when that’s not available, that’s a spot that was not designed well [00:25:30] for parkour, right?

Craig: Right.

Andy: If there is a way to design well, then there’s got to be a way to design poorly, this is one of the ways that I think is that. If it’s not … If you have everything that’s four feet apart, then you can jump over it and you go to an eight foot thing, right? But then the next jump, if you want to go bigger than that you’ve got to go … From now, from eight to twelve feet.

So, that’s means that you’ve got to run to do it and maybe there’s no run, right? So, [00:26:00] having … When I sit down to do this, I’ll look at there’s … This thing is four feet away so what can I do with that. And I can think of 15 things that I can do with that. So then I say, “Well, if I put this wall there can I still do that?” And I’m like, “Well, no, but I can do this other 20 things,” right? So, then now because that wall’s there the space is not the same way- It’s not designed the same way, but it’s designed in a way that has more options. [00:26:30] So, then I’ll say, “Well, what if I put this wall here, because that wall was good, this wall is good, let’s put this wall here.”

Craig: Yeah.

Andy: Well, now I just lost about 30 of my options.

Craig: So, you’re saying it’s more about the designing adds to the options rather than takes away from the options. You’re not imagining how the mover has to move through the space, you’re trying to imagine how many different ways they could move through the space.

Andy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so I don’t want to be constrictive, but I do want to say there is a sweet rail- [00:27:00] pre right over here, right?

Craig: Right, yeah.

Andy: There’s a sweet thing that I can do, I designed that, I put that in there, that was my plan there’s a sweet rail-pre. And now … Because I did this at Beast Coast, the year that I did that, I designed it and I said, “I’m gonna have someone kong this plank and grab this rail”, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s gonna be cool”. And then people did and I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool”. But then-

Craig: Yeah, they saw it, you didn’t tell them, right-

Andy: I didn’t tell them.

Craig: You just built it in, of course they saw it.

Andy: Then after that, [00:27:30] I saw people lining up to do kong fronts to that rail. Right? And then I saw kong fronts to grab the rail right? And then I saw people doing hands and toes dash over that thing, coming out, right? I saw people that were just balancing along the side of it and they were doing all the laché to balance to land on the thing. And I saw a ton of movement, so I’m not going to be able to envision everything, right, and I don’t want to. [00:28:00] I know that there’s more, right?

Craig: Right.

Andy: But you can … if I sit down and say there is easily 30 things that I can do here, then that’s probably a good spot.

Craig: A good line, right?

Andy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, then that just opens up opportunities. In that fashion, I look for very basic lines that I can do, right? So if there is 30 very basic things to do there, then it’s probably a good spot because you can always intricate [00:28:30] your movements.

Craig: Yeah, a lot of times you can … What is one, two, three can kind of become six in one move, you can just go right over it, you can always up the ante.

Andy: But in the other sense, if you design something where you can only … It’s got this weird diagonal log, sticking out right next to a bar with a wall up against it, that becomes something that is more like dead space. So, maybe you can come up with this absolutely beautiful … Maybe there’s four things that you can do there that are [00:29:00] just unreasonably amazing, right?

But that’s it. You just can’t really do more than that, right? So, that becomes something where now all you’re doing is crawling around on the floor under a space, because that’s the fifth thing, right? Because there’s always something else you can do, but it’s not … There’s no lines-

Craig: Nothing really inspiring, it’s not going to call to you, right?

Andy: It’s not going to call to you, it’s not going to be something that you want to show anyone that you’ve done. It’s not truly an accomplishment [00:29:30] to you whenever you train in that spot, because it looks more like a broom closet than it does … right?

Craig: Right. So, what I love most about this other than talking, what I love most about the podcast, is being able to ask people questions and then they open this door and I get a glimpse at a whole nother world and sometimes it’s really scary what goes on in people’s heads. But a lot of times it’s really interesting and I’m sitting here talking to Andy and I’m thinking, “Wait a second, wait a second, the gym is 11,000 square feet …?

Andy: Yes.

Craig: How many lines [00:30:00] are there in there that you’ve actually thought about?

Andy: Oh my gosh. In every spot, I have … In any place that you’re standing in the gym I have envisioned … one, two … Front, back, side to side and every diagonal.

Craig: Oh, yeah, [00:30:19] all the cardinals, right, right.

Andy: Yeah, so I’ve done every … In any place that you can stand-

Craig: Right.

Andy: In the gym I have planned lines for every one of those. Including, you standing and you move [00:30:30] over one foot, you got another set-

Craig: Yeah, some of the spaces are phone booth sized, some of the spaces are card table size and then there’s a couple of … The reason I asked that question is there’s a couple of neat spots where you go up on something and it’s not a 4 x 4, it’s maybe 10 inches by 10 inches and it … You’re like, you get on it and instead of being like, “Oh, what do I do now”? I get on it and I go, “Wow, if I was any good I could do all these things.” And I didn’t really think it, when I first did that, I didn’t think about, “I wonder if Andy thought all of this stuff,” I just thought you threw all this stuff in there and turned the blender on and then hit produce.

Andy: Yeah, [00:31:00] with my gym I had four … So, I was designing while I was building, but I designed four months before I built. And I was just constantly designing and re-iterating-

Craig: Did you do it in your head, did you do it on CAD or how did you do it, what-

Andy: 3-D, I used Google SketchUp – Because it’s free- And it’s easy to draw in. I’m … I have currently used … Now I can use more advanced ones, but I still … Google [00:31:30] SketchUp’s the best place to just-

Craig: Good enough, GE, right?

Andy: Yeah. But, yeah, I have the whole place down to the inch, down to the eighth inch, built in Google SketchUp and every line … I’ll just sit there with a tape measure and lay it out.

On lessons learned

Craig: Now that you’ve been away from Ninja Warrior for a few years, what are your thoughts, things that you’ve taken away [00:00:30] from that or things that you’d want to share with the parkour community in large?

Elet: I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from Ninja Warrior, especially because a lot of people in parkour have heard of some of my more negative experiences with the show, is just that it doesn’t matter why somebody shows up. It doesn’t matter why they come to a parkour class. It doesn’t matter why they come into your gym.

There’s a pretty major narrative between parkour and Ninja Warrior, it almost seems like a more competitive thing that parkour [00:01:00] and it’s practitioners feel underserved by major media outlets. They see the success of Ninja Warrior and people associate the things that we do with Ninja Warrior and rightfully so. People say, “Well all of our shows haven’t worked and we don’t do Ninja Warrior and we don’t.” When somebody shows up to your gym and they want to take a lesson and they ask where’s your warped wall and people get uppity about it or they say, “We are parkour not Ninja Warrior,” or likewise, “We are parkour not gymnastics.”

It doesn’t matter why somebody [00:01:30] shows up. They are there on part of their journey to improve themselves. Who cares why they’re motivated. They’re there to learn from you.

Craig: For some reason that brought them to you.

Elet: It brought them through your door and it doesn’t matter if you have the warped wall. You can say to them, “Hey, we don’t do exactly that but let me show you what we do and let’s show you what it can do for you.” Because there are a lot of guys who’ve been, and girls too who’ve been successful in the show come from a parkour background. It’s done a lot to get the word parkour out there despite their best efforts not to let us talk about [00:02:00] it.

That’s a whole different topic. When somebody shows up, if somebody– when I was a personal trainer– if somebody shows up, I ask them why they showed up because that matters to me. If it’s not the reason I would have showed up to the gym, I’m not saying, “Oh, sorry. You’re not good enough for my training. The reason you’re here isn’t the right one.”

Craig: Yeah. That’s crazy.

Elet: It’s just like I understand the intrinsic value of what we’re doing and if you want to take this and try to go make a million dollars from it on Ninja Warrior, that’s fine, that’s great. I hope you have a good time and I hope you learn something.

On footwear and getting back to barefoot

Craig: In that [00:08:30] line of more natural training, what are your thoughts on footwear? I’ve been getting into less and less structure in shoes and more minimalist type footwear. I know there’s a lot of nerves in your feet and there’s a lot of some people call it neurological nourishment that can happen through your feet. What do you typically wear just in general and what are your thoughts on hiking with hiking shoes versus hiking in thin, Vibram type of shoes.

Elet: Yeah, I think that’s a really important thing. Like you said, there is all of this neural nourishment that comes through your [00:09:00] feet and one of the big things I’ve noticed from doing a lot of running outside is just how aware I am of my feet.

My selection of footwear changes based on what I’m doing, changes based on the goals. I just came off of a show series 20 days long at the Canadian National Exhibition where I was wishing every day I had thicker shoes just because of the nature of what we were doing. We’re doing performance, we’re doing shoWs, we’re taking big drops, heavy impact-

Craig: [crosstalk 00:09:27].

Elet: … on manmade surface. [00:09:30] But when I’m in the woods, there’s so much more I feel when I’m in a thin pair of shoes. Currently, I’m wearing a pair of Merrell trail gloves and they’re thin, they’re chunky, great grip in the woods on wet rocks and all of that and that’s fantastic. I don’t do the majority of my training barefoot but I have kind of a fun story about a time I was hiking a mountian down in Virginia and the way up is super fun, lots of rocks. It’s this mountian called Old Rag in Shenandoah National Forrest. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the United States I think actually.

[00:10:00] It’s really rocky and it’s beautiful and the top is just this granite dome, barely any trees, all these giant boulders, great parkour opportunities. Just really enjoyable, beautiful, hike. 360 degree panoramas. On the way down, you’re going back down this really rocky, heavy impact trail and by the time I got down there, probably about three quarters the way, my knees were really starting to ache. It’s a long day, it’s seven miles up, seven miles down. It’s all elevation change, it’s not a flat spot.

Coming down, I was starting to get sore and as [00:10:30] I get down towards the bottom, I take my shoes off and by the time I hit the parking lot at the bottom, my knees don’t hurt anymore. That’s just kind of a very in your face example of, “Oh, here I’m tired and oh I’m achy,” a lot of it is just the balance of the muscles being stimulated in the way that they’re pulling on the joints.

Craig: Removing your shoes like you get back to the proprioception input. That’s something your body could change whatever it was that was causing the knee pain.

Elet: Well and a big part of it too is you’re not doing things that without padding it’d hurt because you might still be working through the same [00:11:00] movement pattern that would cause pain without padding with a shoe on but of you get rid of that ability to pad that sensory nerve down on your heel, you’re not gonna drop your heel onto the ground. When you step down off of a rock, you’re gonna reach first with your fore foot

Craig: … right. Ball of your foot …

Elet: …. and you’re gonna use those extra joints. You’ve got three joint in your toes you got a joint in the middle of your foot. You’re midfoot joint that doesn’t get used when you use a shoe.

Then there’s a minor amount of movement through the talor bones in the back of your foot. Those aren’t [00:11:30] getting pulled into play at all when you’re wearing a shoe. There’s so many more shock absorption joints that just get used when you take your shoes off and all those muscles get stimulated and that’s gonna get a little too deep into psycho-sematic pain, but that feeling that your brain is getting of, “Oh, I’m in pain,” doesn’t get stimulated because things are being used right. We don’t want to get any deeper than that ’cause that’s a hell hole of the science and neuro science.

Just kind of getting into the [00:12:00] fact that bare foot is what you’re supposed to do, it’s where we came from. It’s not gonna work if we’re trying to push 12 foot running precisions onto a metal rail, that would take years to develop, which if that’s your goal, that’s your goal. But as far subjective experience goes, man when I’m doing my performances, I want thicker shoes.

Craig: I think going even further with this train of thought on feet, there’s also the issue of how your bones get set. I’ve been recently, over a couple years, working on trying to sit comfortably in a deep squat just [00:12:30] because I think it’s a good movement pattern to be able to do. I’m finding that it’s a lot more complicated than just muscular length and just normal flexibility.

I’m wondering if people need to reassess their goals for barefoot. If you decide, “I want to train bare foot,” you might have to have go back to how you began moving as child and realize that your bones in your feet are now set a certain way.

Elet: Definitely and I think that also kind of ties back into training in nature as well because if you decide to make that shift, [00:13:00] you’ve got to reassess the surfaces you’re working with and not necessarily making things smaller but using more small movements to get the same job done.

If you’re looking to train bare foot or if you’re looking to train outside, if you go out and you push your maximum precision ’cause you know, hey man, every time I can jump 12 feet, it’s not gonna work out there. Why, because it moves, its wet and it’s gonna break.

Craig: It’s off-camber and it’s got a funny texture.

Elet: That [00:13:30] could mean your feet or it could mean the surface you’re landing on. You’ve got to take it down and you got to reassess the situation.

Also, kind of the idea of that is different. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are you trying to get out of it? Are you looking for a healthier body or are you looking to change your style? Both are good experience, all of it I hope, but just realize the reality of the situation. You could just go walk in the woods for a mile bare foot and when you come back, [00:14:00] your feet are gonna hurt. Your skin’s not tough, the muscles aren’t well developed. You’ve got these weird motor patterns that are ingrained from thousands and thousands of hours of doing something shod, and maybe also on concrete.

If this is new to you, this is changing everything. You’ve got to take not just two steps back but five and approach it. Like you were saying, the stuff that you did as a child and realize how that fits in. When I go and teach at these [00:14:30] bushcraft school events, which is something that I’m involved in a lot, is this bushcrafting community. I teach a movement class called From the Ground Up. We start with ground movement and we then work from there to transitions to quadrapedie, and we work from there into low two foot positions,

Craig: … yeah, ‘low gait’ …

Elet: … bipedal positions and then to walking, moving silently, which is especially important in our train of thought, stocking, reach, escape all of that. Then we get into jumping and running and then we get into climbing [00:15:00] into the trees and then transitioning between trees.

It’s kind of that same mentality of just approaching movement in the woods, it’s from the ground up. You’ve got to have a foundation.

On his effort to raise awareness of Lyme disease

Craig: Risk and consequence is an excellent topic and on a more practical note, you’re an ambassador for the Bay Area Lyme Foundation and lets just touch on that because it is a really important topic.

Elet: Yeah, absolutely. [00:24:00] I’ve been working with the Bay Area Lyme Foundation for the last several years. Their mission is just to raise awareness of this bacterial infectious disease.

Craig: Lyme disease, right?

Elet: Lyme disease and be able to create opportunities for research to find a workable cure and to possibly create a vaccine or something of the sort. That’s kind of the science side. What I’ve been doing with them is just trying to get people aware of the fact that this is a very real disease. It’s [00:24:30] tough because it’s not a visible disease.

Craig: But it is practically endemic on [crosstalk 00:24:37].

Elet: Absolutely and especially in the region where I come from in Appalachia

Craig: [crosstalk 00:24:41].

Elet: Especially there are some places in western Pennsylvania where they’ve done tick studies and they find 85 to 95 percent of the ticks in the area are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. I was diagnosed with it when I was 23 years old, I had had it for several years at that point without knowing it and [00:25:00] just attributed the symptoms that I had to other lifestyle factors. I was an athlete, you’re always feeling tired, you’re always feeling achy and who would have thought that was an actual thing.

Craig: Paralyzation is not normal, right?

Elet: Yeah, that was exactly what happened to me as I woke up one morning and the left half of my face was paralyzed. It’s called Bell’s palsy, it’s a common symptom of more long term infections of Lyme disease when it begins to affect the nervous system.

Speaking of risk and consequences and being selective about the challenges I undertake as earlier when I said, [00:25:30] we have a finite amount of energy, as I have a very finite amount of energy and when I reach that threshold, it’s done. I’ll begin to have these weird muscle spasms and cramps, my nervous system just gets fried and gets beat up. We might go have a training session together and you know– you’re a few years older than me– You’ll feel it for a few days and I’ll feel it for a week and a half and I’m supposed to be this big strong great machine athlete, but I got to be really smart about the way I [00:26:00] approach things because what do I want to spend my energy on.

What’s gonna help me grow, I have to be selective. That’s also helped me be very, very intentional and particular about the way that I train so that I can continue to progress with a disease that puts the majority of people to bed and kills some people.

Craig: Specifically with Lyme disease, I’ve never actually been tested for it but there is a test for it, you can simply go and have the blood test done and as long as it’s been long enough, it doesn’t give you a positive right away. [00:26:30] It has to have been in you for a certain period of time before the blood test is successful.

Elet: Well and its also difficult because the blood test is rated at about 66 percent accuracy, compare that too other major diseases, HIV AIDs, Hepatitis, all of these things 99.9 percent accuracy. There is one out of every three chances that you just get a false positive or negative. You just don’t know and its also, it’s a two tier test. If you don’t come up positive on the first one, they don’t run the second one ’cause it costs money. It’s [00:27:00] a tough system, it’s not a really functional test and it also doesn’t mean that you’re currently producing the antibodies necessary to come up positive on that. It’s really complicated scenario.

There are a lot of people, the Bay Area Lyme Foundation being one of them and the one that I work with, who are really pushing the research side of things to help people to be able to get access to a better test, a usable cure, and just really, really pushing some creative ideas in that direction.

For me on the day to day level, taking risk and [00:27:30] consequence, I’ve just got to be practical about what I do and know that, “Oh, okay, this works for me, this doesn’t.” Keep track of my diet real well, train like an athlete, which is an important topic for parkour people to begin to explore. Then manage the symptoms as they do present themselves. For me, it’s mostly nervous system based, which comes with some chronically tight muscles and the lower threshold for overuse injuries.

A lot [00:28:00] for me on a day to day is just taking care of myself and that’s why I’m really focused on the subjective experience of a lot of this is, how do I make this feel good because I don’t usually feel good. The majority of the time in fact I’m in physical pain. I feel great when I exercise though so how can I exercise more often, ’cause if I do too much then I can’t work out for the rest of the week. How can I balance it so I can do it every day so I can enjoy the feeling of my physical body every day ’cause that’s not something I get.

On staying motivated

Craig: I see you many places and you’re doing a lot of things and you’re always traveling and teaching, and obviously training as well. There are only, when I last checked, 24 hours in every day. How do you manage to find the motivation [00:16:30] to put something that’s actually useful and meaningful into your time? You, like “I have a free day,” how do you get motivated to fill that day with something meaningful and not end up back in front of the PlayStation 1?

Sasa: Because I don’t have a PlayStation 1 anymore.

Craig: Oh I knew, as soon as I said it I was like…

Sasa: Yes, I will definitely do that Driver and Colin McRae Rally all over again. No, I’m joking. I didn’t play games actually until that point. Motivation, [00:17:00] it’s an interesting question all the time because we fight in different ways against this. I think how I am here so long is that everything changes constantly, always new things. I’m not getting stuck with that, “I need to do this all the time like that or like that.” My training evolves so much from the beginning until now, that [00:17:30] when I look back I just cannot compare that person with this person kind of. Yes, in some things.

Craig: Right, you can hardly recognize yourself when you …

Sasa: Yes, like movement wise and training wise, because the first two years I cannot say that was training, was just learning about the discipline.

Craig: Learning about some physical abilities of your body.

Sasa: Yes, like learning about what I saw in that video. Then you meet people, and then I had completely new two, [00:18:00] three years doing something else. It was a completely new life again, because of new people. Actually first people, and then sharing with them what I have what they have, it was amazing. Then that happened in another city, and then I moved again. In that first small city, and then second biggest city in Serbia it’s Novi Sad so I stayed there for a couple of years. I trained there with people … I consider that was [00:18:30] the moment where I develop my Parkour. Where I actually started training, sharing, doing community stuff, doing challenges together. Growing up in Parkour, that’s like kind of my childhood, but I had first Parkour friends, just talk about Parkour all the time. How we solve this problem, how we do this, how we do that.

Craig: What are we doing next, right.

Sasa: I didn’t have any other choice, I had actually a work, because I moved out of the city, I needed money [00:19:00] to pay apartment. I did the regular work for 7, 8 hours per day, and then I did training. There was nothing else. You earn money for life, and then you train.

Craig: Then you sleep and then you start over.

Sasa: Yes. Luckily I had this work from beginning of my training. The moment I start training I had the work, so I get in that mindset that I didn’t have that excuse that when I start working, “Oh, I can’t train anymore.” Because, that [00:19:30] happened from beginning.

Craig: More like you had to squeeze the work in around the training. I sleep, I eat, I train and then [crosstalk 00:19:37] work.

Sasa: Yes, then you sacrifice everything else. There was no going out with the friends every weekend, getting drunk, doing whatever, whatever. Every time I go I finish work, I go train or I teach and I go sleep and then all over again. I wasn’t– I never was [00:20:00] thinking about that I’m actually sacrificing something you know. For me that was what I want to do. For me it was much more fun to go for, if I work first or second shift for example. If I work first shift, afternoon I can train with my friends because they were all lazy to get up in the morning at 3:00 in the morning. Then I get this benefit when I’d work afternoon. I’d get up early, I have breakfast, I go train by myself and that’s where [00:20:30] you combine these two trainings, training by yourself for two, three years. When you train in the morning, every second week, and training afternoon with your friends.

Combining two, these different styles, into one, it’s very magic happen. Because then I actually get to meet myself and to learn more about myself in that period. That I think where was the good base of [00:21:00] my understanding Parkour, and the discipline and the training. That’s how I get to discipline myself. If you work afternoon you don’t get to sleep until 10:00 and then chill a little bit and go to work. No, I get up every morning, I train, I go for work. When you can discipline yourself just by falling in love with movement, if you love something so [00:21:30] bad you can do whatever you want. For me, that love for this has been, was the key from the beginning. If I didn’t fall in love that never will happen. From there, I choose … I mean that I had… 21, 22… to move from Novi Sad, from Serbia to Croatia.

That was [00:22:00] a huge step, and then I go there and I open a class with Americo, my friend from Croatia, and that was another– completely another level. Completely new city, new obstacles, new people. I will say, first new people and then new obstacles, because it’s much more important, and completely new ideas. I get from one kind of [00:22:30] sample, or one idea for Parkour in Serbia, however it’s close, we all think differently. These guys one idea, these guys have another idea, so when you’re dropped in this kind of training you evolve so much. You learn so much just by changing environments.

Craig: You can get exposed to those fresh ideas right?

Sasa: Yes, just fresh environments is all. I was staying three years in Zagreblearning a lot from these people, and also [00:23:00] by myself. That’s where the pirate ship actually happened. The pirate ship happened just like two weeks or one week before I get VISA for America. That was 2014, and then in 2014 … I’m going to say that was the kind of, the big turn again. Every kind of three years something happened in my life, [00:23:30] accidentally. Probably not accidentally, but something really big change happened and that is important kind of checkpoints why …

Craig: Life cycles.

Sasa: Yes, why I am so long here.