Thaddeus Robeck likes to test his limits in nontraditional ways.
“I’ve always been into athletic endeavors, ever since I was a little child,” said the 33-year-old urban gymnastics coordinator and coach at Gymnastics Beat. “I was always interested in climbing things, jumping around, running over things.”
With a history in motocross racing and an interest in extreme activities, he decided to defer from a more traditional fitness regime to something he thought looked like fun – Ninja Warrior obstacle course racing.
“I liked the idea of it being inclusive – that’s one of the things that made it so entertaining,” he said. “It’s not like an elite club. You can say, ‘Oh, my roommate gave it a try and had fun, I bet I could do that, too.’ ”
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Robeck was not alone in his interests for alternative fitness. Some new gyms throughout the central San Joaquin Valley are more specialized than their predecessors. Whether it be Crossfit, boxing, Pilates or obstacle course racing, specialty gyms have been popping up as more people want social, goal-focused workout options.
Owner and founder of Central California Movement, Jacob Hutchison, said the 9,000 square-foot facility will cater to people coming in for consistent training, gradual skill-building or an especially active birthday party.
“It’s an alternative to the typical gym experience that gets repetitive and boring,” Hutchison said. “It’s what the community says – they’re tired of the same old thing.”
California Central Movement focuses on obstacle course racing as an art and method toward a healthier, fitter lifestyle, and it is located in Visalia at 6841 W. Pershing Ave.
Hutchison said the guidance provided by trained coaches available to anyone on the courses is what will set Central California Movement apart.
“These gyms, it comes down to having someone there to assist you and build your self-confidence,” he said. “We have coaches walking around to help you, to make sure you’re safe and to help you with your techniques.”
Central California Movement is meant to be a space for anyone to practice and have fun, Hutchison said, regardless of skill level or physical ability. However, there is a clear focus on physical goal-setting in the owner’s vision, and fitness programs will be available to guide people more consistently toward their goals.
I believe fitness should be functional.
Jacob Huchison, owner and founder of Central California Movement and Crossfit West Visalia
Hutchison said a smaller, kid-sized course is also on site so that while parents are working out, kids can also have some fun.
“It doesn’t matter your abilities when you start,” he said. “There’s no baseline of fitness to come in and have fun. We have obstacles for all ages, shapes and sizes.”
For someone starting from scratch, he said, the coaches will work on individual needs to make sure she or he reaches the end goal.
This fitness trend wasn’t the first Hutchison chose to tackle – he already owns Crossfit West Visalia, a fitness center focused on intense exercise, stamina and strength.
The gym will be one of the largest in the central Valley to focus on obstacle course racing as a way to reach goals of fitness, strength and self-confidence since the closure of the Central California Ninja Warrior Training Course, a backyard Ninja Warrior rig that Robeck helped build.
In 2012, Robeck helped a friend, Jason Huewe, build the training course, and both were able to compete on the popular NBC television show “American Ninja Warrior” during multiple seasons.
However, when the course closed due to an aging wooden infrastructure, Robeck’s friend Huewe said athletes started looking for other places to play, train and compete.
“I think interest has continued to grow,” said Huewe, who now professionally designs obstacles. “People have definitely been looking for a new place to train.”
Now, Central California Movement’s brand new facilities in Visalia, along with other business that have been adding obstacles, are able to start filling that void.
A lot of cities have a core fan base, but strangely, the Central Valley fan base is just massive, and they’re really committed.
Thaddeus Robeck, American Ninja Warrior competitor
One such business is Gymnastics Beat, where Robeck coaches the Urban Gymnastics Team – a group of kids who practice parkour, gymnastics and race in obstacle courses.
“They’re basically sponges,” he said of the kids he coaches, who range from about 6 to 16 years old. “It’s what I love to do. And in explaining things, I learn a lot, too. It’s made me better.”
Although the gym has a base in gymnastics, these elements are seeping in, especially with youth, Robeck said.
A similar, more recreation perspective has also been highlighted at SkyWalk, an “extreme air sports” park in Madera.
Gyms like SkyWalk provide a social, high-energy opportunity for people to dabble in activities like obstacles-course racing. Although it began as a trampoline park, it is expected to move to a new facility three times larger than its original by Christmas, with at least five new attractions ranging from rock climbing to wall running trampolines like those seen in Cirque du Soleil. The bigger gym will be in Clovis, at 363 N. Halifax Ave., just north of Herndon Avenue.
“(People) want adventure and narrative to their fitness,” said Case Lawrence, founder and CEO of CircusTrix, the Palo Alto-based parent company of SkyWalk. “In order to really provide an alternative recreational experience, you have to provide them with an extreme adrenaline activity.”
Lawrence founded SkyWalk as the first park in his business, CircusTrix, which has become an international entity with 30 parks across the U.S., Europe and Asia. He said that number could to jump to 40 by the end of this year.
The industry of getting people in the door to sweat has always been an innovative one, but business owners like Lawrence are quickly adapting as interests emerge. For CircusTrix, success has come from evolving its early focus on trampolines and creating today’s parks, where 60 percent of the activities are inspired by American Ninja Warrior obstacles, Cirque du Soleil stunts, slack lines and trapeze.
The parks’ designs are purposefully visually interesting, catering to the so-called “Snapchat Generation.” Lawrence said the parks themselves are built toward 6 second video clips.
“These extreme recreation parks, they’re really a product of this millennial generation,” he said.
Lawrence has a goal of creating socially-geared parks where people can get fit, have fun and immerse themselves in an accepting, energetic environment. SkyWalk also offers programs that focus specifically on Ninja Warrior training, which the community has been showing more and more interest in.