Today’s Expert Interview is with Thomas Tapp, a movement junky with a passion for a number of athletic disciplines. He loves to learn new ways of using his body and teach people how to make the best out of theirs. Of all the awesome activities he dabbles in, parkour has a special place in Thomas’s heart.
Parkour is certainly one of the most exciting forms of body weight exercise out there and I’m happy to have one of the best parkour coaches to talk about it.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your athletic journey like and what do you do now?
A little about me, I’m a huge fan of movement. Whether it be acrobatics, sports, dance, parkour, or calisthenics. I will focus several months to a year on a discipline or skill, take the bits and pieces I like and make it into my own. It’s almost like a constant game to learn as many skills to become the ultimate athlete. Then the best enjoyment I get is sharing the skills, shortcuts, and training with my friends and subscribers. When you see a guy from across the world learn his handstand from the tips you gave him online. It’s an incredible experience. I also have an identical twin brother who is one of my best friends and helps me run our LearnMoreParkour website and YouTube channel.
My athletic journey was pretty typical at first. Grew up in a small country town in East Texas. Played the basic sports growing up. Soccer, Track, Basketball, and Baseball. My brother and I were pretty athletic when we were younger but what allowed us to eventually do well in sports was our work ethic and hustle. We managed to just make the cut for one of the best soccer teams in the nation at that time, the Dallas Texans. We would drive several hours to and from practices throughout the week from our small town. This is where we learned how to train like a professional athlete. Our coach, Marcio Leite, was a genius with training and skill development. He produced professional soccer players consistently and our team mate Omar Gonzales played for the U.S. National Team in the World Cup and was rookie of the year for the MLS. The time we spent learning with Marcio totally changed the way we look at training and heavily influenced the way we trained parkour to reach a high level. My brother and I really can’t thank him enough for what all he taught us.
We discovered Parkour when we were 15 years old, but didn’t start heavily training until age 17. It’s funny many people think we took gymnastics or martial arts at a young age but we were self taught in Parkour and acrobatics. We would spend hours watching action videos online. Then break down the movements and teach ourselves outside. It was a huge trial and error process. But we found what worked and trained very similar to the style of training we had with Marcio.
Now I currently help guys lose weight, get fit, and learn parkour all over the world through our online courses, private coaching, workshops, and Youtube channel. I also perform stunts for several TV shows and Commercials here in LA.
Of all the sports you practiced, what made you focus on parkour?
One word, Freedom. I was about 15 years old when I first saw parkour. It was amazing to say the least. This French guy was jumping and flipping across buildings with complete confidence and cool. He was like the super heroes I saw on TV but this was real. There was no coach, no rules, no special equipment. It was just him and the world was his playground with no limitations or boundaries. At this time, I was basically in a box of rules and structure. I was going to school everyday. The teachers would tell me how to write, how to sit, when to go to the restroom. I hated it. Then right after school I would go to track practice and soccer practice. The coach would tell us what and how to train. In the games we played, there were always rules, refs, and structure. Then I would sleep and repeat.
Parkour was just me and my imagination. I could train today or not. I could try to climb this wall, vault over these rails, or climb this hill and see what’s on the other side. I was in full control. I also could move to my imaginations desire. This freedom of choice and idea of no limitations or rules won me over.
A lot of people are intimidated by parkour. Is there an ideal parkour athlete? Who can practice the sport?
This is a great question! If you see parkour on popular online videos, TV, and movies then it looks like a sport for adrenaline junkies. This is a common misconception due to the popularity of this more extreme side of parkour.
Many people do not see the hours and years of training/conditioning it takes to reach this high level. These videos are an example of what the body can do when you implement the parkour training.
Most of my parkour training and what I teach my students, is low to ground exercises in a safe environment. No flipping off of crazy high buildings.
We start by developing the foundation and grow from here. This level is where all can benefit. We master body coordination, mobility, flexibility, balance, strength, and speed. We have many clients who use these parkour foundation exercises to cut fat and get in awesome shape. These exercises are fun, simple, and are scale-able to fit your fitness level. These are very effective for gaining flexibility, cutting fat, and gaining lean functional muscle.
Then once the foundation is built we move up a level and train vaults, precision jumps, rolls, and more of the popularized parkour movements.
We continue this gradual progression until the student reaches the level they are content.
I have personally taught women and men in their 70’s and children as young as 6 years of age. I’ve taught the tall, lanky, short, and fluffy. The people who tend to progress with the movements faster are the ex athletes or people who have had previous training in similar disciplines.
So there is no ideal parkour athlete, we can all reap benefits from the training. It all depends on how far you want to take it. 😉 So if you’re currently on the fence about parkour, remember to start with the foundation and go from there! You might be surprised with how well you body takes the training. I think everyone should at least be adding a few of the parkour conditioning exercises to their workout routine, no matter what their fitness goals are.
Parkour has a reputation for being rough on the body. Is this reputation deserved? What can people do while training for parkour to minimize risk of injury?
Yes and no. If you see the extreme videos online and on TV and try to replicate this then YES parkour can be very rough on the body and you will get hurt.
Now, as we talked about in the last question, parkour is not about taking big jumps and high risks. It’s about developing the body’s natural movements and starting at your own fitness level.
So if trained properly, parkour will not be rough on the body. In fact, the foundational training is much safe there other forms of fitness. These are all scale-able “body weight” exercises so you don’t run the risk of getting injured like you would from lifting heavy weights.
Here are a few simple tips to follow that will cut down a lot of potential injuries:
- Always warm up – We perform at least 10-30 minutes of warm up of light exercises and dynamic stretches.
- Only perform movements that you are 100% confident with performing – If at anytime you feel uncomfortable and not 100% confident with the move or exercise, don’t go for it. Train progressions steps that are comfortable and try another day.
- Use gradual progressions – Take baby steps with your training. This is HUGE for injury prevention. Start where you physically comfortable and gradually build from here. We crawl before we walk.
What was your most memorable injury?
I have had one pretty serious injury. It was more so a stunt than parkour but still close enough. I totally did not follow the steps for preventing injuries. I was working a commercial shoot with my brother. I was asked to perform a flip off over a stair set for the next scene. We had done several flips that day so I wanted to pull out a cool flip. So I decided I would go for a running gainer (that’s a backflip performed while running forward) When I began to set up for it, I started to feel uncomfortable about the move. The run up was weird and wasn’t ideal for the gainer. Right then and there I should have not attempted it but of course decided just to go for it anyways. My foot slipped just as I reached the stairs and I face planted onto the concrete. Hit my head just above my eye and scraped my face pretty good. I actually still have the footage. You can’t see my head hit but you hear the sound…just a loud blood curdling THUD! Luckily, I didn’t break anything and was still conscious. I had to get several stitches over my right eye and have scars to this day on my face. Funny thing is both my brother and I were on the shoot and he had to double my scenes the rest of the day. Good time to have a twin. So that’s my worst. It could have been prevented if I would have been smart.
we see parkour enthusiasts hanging around parks doing an exercise here, an exercise there. Is this enough to get good at parkour? What can people do to get to the next level?
You want to look at parkour just like you would look at any other sport or practice. The more time, focus, and intention you dedicate to it the faster you will learn and the better you will be. This is how we were able to train parkour for a relative short period of time and turn professional very fast. We trained parkour like a professional sport.
We took the training style from our soccer training days and implemented it into our training.
So instead of a few vaults here and there we had specific goals we wanted to achieve and laid out a training plan. We conditioned our body with bodyweight exercises 3 times a week. We drilled the parkour movements in sets and reps following the simple progressions we created. Then we would just freestyle.
Some people can get descent at parkour by training here and there, especially if you’re already an athlete. If you want to guarantee your results and you really want to go to the next level then you have to train like you’re serious. Dedicate time, focus, and train smart with intention. Just like a professional athlete.
If you want to take your training to the next level, it’s important you follow these 4 things. My brother and I learned these at an early age from training with the top soccer teams and organizations in the country, including the the Dallas Texans and the Olympic Development Team. It’s what separates the athletes who reach the top of their game and it has nothing to do with natural ability.
- Learn everything about your discipline and yourself.
You must do your homework. Study everything you can about parkour. Watch videos of the best athletes and study there movements. Invest in the best programs and coaches. This will save you years of wasted time and greatly reduce injuries. Pay attention to your natural strengths and weakness. This will allow you to create your own style of movement and enable you to get the most out of your training sessions.
- Set goals and put dates on these goals.
After you have done your research, apply what you’ve learned and create a training schedule. It’s key to have moves and physical feats that you want to get. Be very specific and track your progress from each session. When you set dates this gives you deadlines and it will push you to reach your goals.
- Put 100% of your focus into your training, no distractions.
While you are training, you have to be in the zone. Think of it almost like a meditation. When any other distracting thoughts or things come up, ignore it and let it drift by like a cloud. When I’m training I don’t talk to people and I’m not on my phone between exercises. By staying focused you will train harder, learn more from that session, and pick up the moves so much faster.
- Train hard and push yourself in each session.
You can’t just go through the motions. You’ve got to push yourself. When you train a move or perform an exercise, try and add a little more energy into each rep. Constantly be thinking of ways you can improve your form, get more power, and improve the movement. Think about the goals you want and put some emotion behind your training. Give everything you’ve got, as if your family was depending on you to knock out that last rep. Now don’t kill yourself, you still want to be safe and smart with your training so you don’t get injured but you have to push yourself if you want to become really good.
A lot of folks feel self conscious practicing parkour or just exercising outside when people are around, what can they do to feel more comfortable doing what they like?
Learning a new sport in front of people can feel awkward. Especially with parkour where we are performing unique body movements most people have never seen before.
However, if we don’t do something about this fear, it’s going to hold us back in our training and hold us back in other areas of our lives.
Ultimately we are letting other people’s opinions hold us back from improving ourselves and doing what we love.
So here are 6 steps I recommend and ones I followed to stop being self conscious during training.
Step 1- Accept The Challenge
Look at this as a challenge and a fear you want to conquer. You got to stay motivated, otherwise when you get out there and start seeing people look at you funny, the fear will win out and you’ll push it off for another day.
Step 2- Don’t Care For Haters
Realize that most people are cool and don’t look down on people like that, anyone that does is probably not someone you’d want to impress or hang out with and their opinion shouldn’t matter to you. This is a good mental switch that can help empower you and give you more confidence.
Step 3- Start With A Bang
Start with a warm up and do something ridiculously dumb in front of some random people to shake things up and convince your mind that there is really nothing to be afraid of. This can be something as simple as performing some bear crawls/ QM or acting like a frog.
Step 4- Get In Your Zone
If you are still feeling self conscious and just can’t get into your grove, put on your earphones and listen to some music to get you in the zone and to block out other people.
Step 5- You Are A Super Hero
The stronger your self image, the less fear you are going to experience. Imagine yourself as your favorite super hero or actor that everyone thinks is a badass. I like to become Bruce Lee :).
Step 6- Stick With It And Have Fun
Keep training in front of people, no matter how painful it is. Trust me you will get rid of most of it if not all of it once you’ve done it a lot of times. Make it fun. This is your movie and you’re the director.
You did very well streaking the American Ninja Warrior course and you advocate for barefoot training. Do you hate clothes? More seriously, do you think shoes are hindering athletes from reaching their full potential?
Thanks, ha yeah the clothes just weighed me down too much.
That’s a great point. Yes I feel most athletes are hindering their athletic performance tremendously by wearing shoes too often and wearing the wrong type of shoes.
I learned this first hand. In my earlier years I knew nothing about the benefits of barefoot training. As a result, I had a lot of imbalances in my body and weaknesses with my feet that I wasn’t even aware of until after I began adding in barefoot training.
The problem with most shoes is that they restrict movement of the foot. This means a lot of the muscles in the foot become weak and underdeveloped. Most shoes also alter the position of your foot and and ankle with athletic performance. For example, if you have a high elevated heal on the shoe, it automatically puts more pressure on the ball of the foot and throws your total body alignment slightly off. This is bad for anyone, especially athletes. These imbalances lead to improper movement patterns that not only hinder performance but can also cause severe and chronic injuries.
As an athlete it’s important to fix these alignment issues and to strengthen your feet.
When I first started straining barefoot I had to go really light and I would feel really sore throughout my whole foot and ankle. It was pretty nuts that there were so many under developed muscles.
I’ve been adding in barefoot training for several years now and I can currently run up walls, perform big jumps, and do flips on concrete all without shoes. The biggest benefit has been the improvement Ive seen in my jumps and landings. You can’t have bad technique when training bare foot. You feel every imperfection. Barefoot training forced me to perfect my form. Now my landings are like a ninja, very quite and smooth.
I would encourage every athlete to add in some form of barefoot training. Just simple movements are fine. Start small and gradually build. It takes time to strengthen your feet.
I’d also recommend buying a light weight, thin soled shoe for every day use. Something with protection that feels like walking barefoot. This little change works wonders.
Parkour is a high energy discipline. How do you use nutrition to keep yourself going and in optimal health?
Nutrition is one of the most important pieces to my training. It’s what my body uses to fuel everything I do. It effects athletic performance, my IQ, my mood, and even my relationships. If I eat a bunch of processed food and meals low in nutrients, it really affects me. My energy goes down, it’s harder to train, and it’s nearly impossible for me to reach my weekly goals.
I’m not hardcore with my diet. I don’t follow a certain philosophy or strictly measure out calories or anything. I just listen to my body and how it reacts to foods that I eat.
So if I’m out with friends I’ll eat some junk food and go out for drinks. I just try and make most of my meals through out the week as natural as possible. This means eating a lot of whole foods, in particular vegetables. I try and stay away from processed foods or any products that didn’t come from mother nature. My goal is to eat what my body was designed for.
The biggest breakthroughs for me have been eliminating large amounts of sugar and adding in at least 6 servings of green leafy vegetables like Kale and Spinach. This has worked wonders for my overall energy and mood.
What would you say are the best three bodyweight exercises for parkour?
If I had to list 3 I’d say…
- QM (quadrupedal movement)
- Pull Up
- 3rd world squat
These three exercise build the upper body, lower body, and core. They are also amazing exercises for building coordination and mobility, which are key for the movements you will perform in parkour.
Talk to us about your interests and projects outside parkour. Are there any plans for the future that we may want to know about?
We look at growing our YouTube channel with more fitness and nutrition content as we learn from experts in those fields. We also look at sharing with other people, who look to grow their YouTube Channels, the steps to bring in more subscribers and build a strong following. So they can monetize and share their passions.
Thank you, Thomas. That was very informative and extremely entertaining. I believe exercise is a lifestyle and not just something one does, so I really appreciate how personal the answers were, and I’m sure the SOA tribe would appreciate them as well. Keep up the great work!