By Helen Robinson
When Team USA gymnasts Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas compete at the Rio Olympics, the resulting rush of interest will see gymnastic fitness center Flipshack break its record for enrollments.
But Flipshack’s purpose is broader than setting kids on the track to Olympic glory. Owner Wayne Larsen is more interested in how he can transform people’s confidence, bodies and lives once they’re interested in gymnastics.
“Everybody wants to move like a gymnast,” Larsen said, “But not everyone wants to be a gymnast. We’re not a high-level competitive gymnastics center, and we don’t pretend to be.”
Flipshack focuses on dynamic movement education, Larsen said.
“This means [we] teach you how to move from your core, how to stabilize your joints, how to jump and land properly, how to fall safely. Then we take gymnastics and parkour — because nothing is more complex — and we use those to develop your coordination and confidence. It’s an incredible springboard into any sport.”
Flipshack members — from toddlers to septuagenarians — take their dynamic movement skills with them into other sports: rock-climbing, equestrian sports and dance; bouldering, mountain biking and even American Ninja Warrior.
American Ninja Warrior, Larsen says, “is very much like what we do here.” Three former Flipshack instructors and one member have appeared on NBC’s famously challenging obstacle course competition.
When Larsen says, “We’re not your mother’s gymnastics studio,” he’s serious.
Every instructor at Flipshack studies the biomechanics and physics of movement, so they can communicate the right ways to move and build physical confidence.
“We might have 160 unique skills at Flipshack, but there are really only a dozen ways to move,” Larsen said. “We don’t want to understand how to do a front flip, we want to understand why we do these things in order to make a front flip work, because we want that to transfer to the greater world of movement.”
Coaching rock climbing, baseball and skateboarding all helped Larsen expand and improve Flipshack’s instruction methods.
“In our urban program, I was coaching a falling zone and this kid said, ‘It’s just like Kung Fu!’ and I said, ‘It’s exactly like Kung Fu.’ You’re not going to fall differently in kung fu than you will off a mountain bike — so the more I cross-train, the better I can communicate to people how movement works.”
Two years of research, as well as work with physical therapists and sports science master’s students, has resulted in the new Flipshack Instructor Training, a 40-page manual and comprehensive training program covering basic human anatomy, anatomical terminology, biomechanics and Newtonian physics. Larsen created it because he couldn’t find a program that would teach Flipshack staff everything he wanted them to know.
“I’m entrepreneurial in spirit,” he said, “So if the world doesn’t provide something for me, I create it.”
Flipshack’s newest program, Mobility, is an eight-week, in-house falling course for adults. The course, which grew out of falling programs Flipshack developed for indoor climbing gyms CityROCK and Pure Bouldering, focuses on core strength, balance conditioning, physical confidence, jumping dynamics and falling techniques. In the works for 16 weeks, Mobility had its first success before it even launched.
“In week seven of the pilot, I got a text from the 69-year-old lady who had asked us to develop the falling class for people of advanced age,” Larsen said. “She had tripped, stumbled and fell forward — but she did the break-fall that we’d taught her, and apart from some scratches she was uninjured. It was amazing.”
Larsen has experience with risks paying off.
“I held my breath a couple of years ago when I started getting bold about saying ‘We are not a gymnastics center,’ and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “Because there are some people who really think they want their kids to be gymnasts, but once they learn more about how it single-focuses kids, they change their minds.”
Flipshack has a competitive gymnastics program in the USA Gymnastics recreational league, Xcel.
“It allows our kids to go through all the same life lessons as the Junior Olympic program, without the time and the financial commitment,” Larsen said. “Our kids work out five hours a week, where a comparable JO program would work out 10 hours a week. That means our kids get to play volleyball, do music, have other interests. As a parent, I want to expose my kids to tons of different things, because I want them to have a skill set that allows them to stay active the rest of their lives.”
About once a year, Flipshack instructors identify a child who has what it takes to be a Junior Olympic gymnast, and send him or her on to an appropriate program.
“When we recognize that here, we will never hold anybody back,” Larsen said. “We want everybody to follow their passion, and we want to support your foundation so you can be successful in whatever you choose to do.”
Larsen, who moved to Colorado Springs when he was 4, competed in high school gymnastics in college job while attending UCCS, and then spent time in California studying at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
“My wife was an artist, a dancer, a massage therapist, and I was an actor and I was coaching — but now we had kids and we needed to have a grown-up financial future,” he said. “Then someone said ‘Why don’t you run your own gym?’”
They bought the former Aerials gym on Eighth Street in the summer of 2007, right at the beginning of the recession. Undaunted, they focused on building a strong culture and a long-term vision, then watched enrollments climb year after year.
Larsen is a big believer in the benefits of a company culture, and in not having competitors.
“I think that if I look at another business as my competition and study what they’re doing and try to emulate that, then I’m just playing catch-up on someone else’s ideas,” he said.
“So we just hold fast to our vision and what we believe in, and we constantly try to solve our customers’ problems, and increase the value of what we do. There’s enough pie for everybody.”
FLIPSHACK GYMNASTIC FITNESS
Location: 1789 South 8th St.
Contact: flipshack.com, 719-578-1006