Do you dream about opening your own parkour gym? Opening one’s own training space is a fantasy many athletes share and in the past few years a handful of entrepreneurial traceurs have successfully made the leap.
Matt Antis and his wife Whitney have been the co-owners of Revolution Parkour since 2010, and they definitely know a thing or two about running a successful gym. In fact, they are currently looking to expand to a second Portland location.
In between a thriving class schedule, Matt was able to sit down with me to talk about his experiences in the parkour gym business.
If you’re considering going down this path, let his insights help you get started on the right foot:
How did you decide to make the leap into owning your own gym?
For me, I had known for some time that I didn’t want to just work for someone else my whole life. I had been reading some very influential books, like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and realized that being a business owner was one path to the freedom that I sought. When the opportunity to purchase Revolution Parkour came up, Whitney and I did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that it was the right move for us. The timing was right so we scrambled to get the funds together, and the rest is history.
What does it take to expose new people to parkour and get more people involved in the sport?
I’ve found that holding free events for people to get their feet wet with parkour is a nice way to get fresh faces in the door. It’s hard to compete with something that’s offered for free. And, if someone has been sitting on the fence about trying parkour, holding a free seminar is a nice way to have them get some exposure.
What are your thoughts about conditioning for you students?
One of the great things about parkour is that, in many regards, it is a “self-conditioning” discipline, meaning that through repetition, the student’s body builds the necessary strength and endurance. However, progression is also key, so in cases where the strength is not yet there, we use drills to help students build up their strength and stamina.
One of our favorite activities is to have people run a “parcours”, meaning we set up a series of obstacles and have them run through for a set number of runs. By keeping track of the repetition and variety of skills in each course from week to week, we can get a sense of their progression, and when and where it’s necessary to build from.
What is your advice to helping someone interested in starting their own parkour gym?
Establish a good team! You can’t do it all on your own, and you’ll need to have a good team of lawyers, marketing people, real estate agents, and insurance people on your side. Set yourself up for success by having a network of people who possess the skills, knowledge and resources you might not have.
I’ve found that an “insurance broker”, not an agent, is the first bet for finding the right person to connect you with a good insurance plan. Likewise, it really pays to hire someone who is an expert at branding, to help get exposure for you gym. Pay to do it right the first time.
It also helps to have a supportive spouse. Marry someone with an entrepreneurial drive if you can!
In terms of the potential liabilities of running a parkour gym, what types of injuries have your students encountered?
We haven’t really had as many injuries as people might think over the past few years. Probably the most common injuries with our beginner students stem from not falling correctly, for example, bracing yourself with your arms extended, which can lead to a broken wrist. This is why we focus on teaching techniques (such as break falls and rolls) that equip students to avoid injury by properly absorbing the force or transferring the momentum of a fall.
Think of how quickly a football player would break an arm if they tried to catch his weight with his hands when being tackled. He’d break it for sure with all of that pressure. They’re taught to absorb the fall with their chest and torso.
Parkour is obviously different, but by using a roll or a break fall many injuries can be avoided.
What has been one of the hardest parts about running or opening a parkour gym?
Well, we are trying to open a second location, and I can tell you that just finding a suitable space is really hard. You have to have the right square footage, the right height ceiling, and of course it has to be zoned appropriately. Getting all of those things together at a good price can take a lot more effort than you’d imagine.
It’s weird to say, but until you’re confronted with it, you don’t realize that you’ll actually run into competition for space. Not from other people trying to open a parkour gym, but from other business owners who have similar space needs. Say someone wants to open an indoor batting range, you’ll probably end up competing with that person to find a suitable space.
Prepare yourself for a treasure hunt.
Where do you see the discipline going in the next few years?
Well, things are definitely looking up. Events like American Ninja Warrior have brought a lot of people in to our gym to train, so I suppose that will continue to build momentum.
I think more local and mobile events will become commonplace over the next few years. The Alpha Warrior event is a traveling obstacle course race that is starting to gain publicity. Parkour athletes would have a distinct advantage in a race like that. Speaking of races, even mud runs like the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder are a chance for people to get exposure to running obstacles.
Parkour gyms should definitely be positioned to benefit from that trend.
(For the record, my audio recorder failed, so the text above is my attempt to paraphrase Matt’s wisdom.)