Conquering Obstacles, Ninja Style

A new gym brings the free-wheeling outdoor sport of parkour indoors

Photo: Carol-Lynn Holden, founder of CTC Obstacles, London’s first parkour gym 

YOU WON’T FIND an elliptical trainer at CTC Obstacles. There’s no towel service or juice bar. What you will find is a stripped-down, functional approach to exercise that looks a lot like child’s play.

Located in the corner of an industrial warehouse in south London, CTC Obstacles is the city’s first parkour gym.

“With parkour, there’s no set beginning or end. It’s about how you swing, how you balance, how you jump, how you keep yourself going in a forward momentum,” explains CTC Obstacles founder, Carol-Lynn Holden. “It’s about learning to be more agile than you ever thought possible.”

Unlike gymnastics with its emphasis on proper form and technique, there is no right or wrong way to traverse an obstacle.

Holden—a former boxer who won fights all over Ontario—first dreamt about opening a ninja warrior-style gym three years ago. “I was competing in Spartan races and there was nowhere to train,” she says. “But no bank would fund me. They thought it was just another gym.”

“It’s about how you swing, how you balance, how you jump, how you keep yourself going in a forward momentum. It’s about learning to be more agile than you ever thought possible.”
—Carol-Lynn Holden

Since then, the popularity of obstacle training has exploded.

“Kids see American Ninja Warrior on TV or parkour ­videos on YouTube and they realize these are sports where you don’t need a team. It’s all about how hard you push ­yourself,” Holden notes.

The 6,000 square-foot facility opened at the end of May and quickly attracted scores of mini-ninjas to its summer camp program.

Since then, CTC Obstacles has become a popular ­destination for birthday parties—attracting an equal ­number of boys and girls—and sports teams looking for an alternative workout.

“A lot of hockey teams have come in to do team building and we hope to get them back to do functional training, even if it’s just once a month,” Holden says. “Playing on our ­obstacle course enables them to train muscles that they aren’t using the rest of the time. They are exercising without even knowing it.”

The gym is also open for drop-in ­sessions, attracting energetic climbers of all ages.

“The most popular age group is nine through 14, but we have five-year-olds who will run at our eight-foot ramp wall all night long. When they finally make it to the top, they feel amazing. That’s what we are trying to promote.”

Parents are often more afraid of a fall than their children, says Holden, before adding that the risk of injury is minimized thanks to plenty of thick mats.

Adult fitness classes will soon be added to the CTC Obstacles schedule, with a focus on boxing, kick-boxing, weights and kettlebell training, and of course, adults are always welcome to put their own ninja-warrior skills to the test on the gym’s parkour course.

“We hope to establish ourselves as a family-friendly gym,” Holden says. “We’re not just a place to play. We’re a place where the whole family can get healthy and have fun.”  Nicole Laidler