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Intro to Climb-Up Strength & Skill Training

When was the last time you stumbled across a set of rings or monkey bars outside of the gym? Possibly at a park? But what about the rest of your city? Compared to walls, fences, and gates, both rings and bars are extremely rare in the concrete jungle.

A climb-up is the name of an iconic parkour skill that is essentially the real-world, urban application of a muscle-up, on a wall, fence, or similar barrier. Along with landing, rolling, and falling, climb-ups are amongst the most useful and common of all parkour movements. In an obstacle course or a real-life situation in which you could benefit from knowing a bit of parkour, getting up quickly (climb-up) and getting down safely (landing, rolling, & falling) are two of the most important movement domains to explore.  Unfortunately, these fundamental techniques are also some of the most neglected in practice because they require loads of hard work and clever training in order to own; typically many months, if not years.

Whether you are just now learning about the climb-up or you’ve been practicing it, maybe even teaching it, for years, I’ve got you covered with the key progression for all levels, three static holds, five fundamental movements, and a handful of my favorite intermediate level climb-up drills:

The key progression (for all levels)

Unlike in skills such as vaults or jumps, I find that many people struggle to find incremental progressions and methodical frameworks to work through on their journey to better climb-ups. Use this single drill, with proper scaling up and down, to effectively challenge athletes of all levels:

Running climb-up + climb-down

In addition to being a fantastic full body exercise, the running climb-up is one of the best climb-up progressions for beginners. The extra momentum gained from the running approach makes the running climb-up easier than a regular climb-up from a cat hang position. Even though it is easier this way, a running climb-up still builds the same strength and technique needed to do a good regular climb-up. Pay close attention to your footwork during this drill because it is an excellent opportunity to get a feel for the alternating footwork pattern that also applies to the cat hang climb-up. Additionally, the symmetrical climb-down is a fantastic way to build better climb up strength.

  • Easier progressions: 1) top-out 2) running climb-up on shorter wall 3) running climb-up w/ more steps on the ground
  • Harder: 1) running climb-up on taller wall 2) running climb-up w/ less steps on the ground 3) jumping climb-up + climb-down

The static three (for untrained & trained beginners)

Most climb-ups include variations of three key positions: the cat hang, wall support, and full squat. By specifically practicing these static holds, you can prepare your joints and body to be safe, strong, and mobile enough to train climb-ups:

Straight-arm cat hang

The straight-arm cat hang is a key static position that should be learned before working toward skills like climb-ups and cat leaps (AKA arm jump or saut de bras). Holding this cat hang position will help develop a stronger grip, basic upper body pulling strength, and the full body tension needed to minimize slipping. If you can comfortably hold a cat hang for at least 20-30 seconds, begin working on more challenging progressions.

Straight-arm wall support

The straight-arm wall support is a beginner level movement to develop basic upper body and core strength for vaults and climb-ups. It is important to actively push through the arms and shoulders while maintaining full body tension. If you can comfortably hold this movement for at least 20-30 seconds, begin working on more challenging progressions.

Full squat

The full squat is one of the most important positions for any athlete to master. Some kind of full or partial squat is also a key static position that often marks the end of a climb-up. Also known as the caveman squat, 3rd world squat, and hunter-gatherer squat, this position is essential for developing optimal mobility in the ankles, hips, back, and shoulders. The more comfortable you are with this position, the more resilient and efficient your body will become at the end of any top-out or climb-up type movement.

  • Easier progressions: 1) same movement w/ less range of motion
  • Harder: 1) same movement w/ feet & knees together 2) plus arms overhead and w/ good posture

The fundamental five (for trained beginners & intermediates)

Five simple movements can teach you loads about climb-up technique while also helping to build the specific strength you need to progress. To help send your first level 1 and level 2 climb-ups, try these drills:

Cat hang leg press

This relatively harmless looking movement exposes one of the weakest links in many people’s climb-up. The cat hang leg press is perfect for developing two key parts of the climb-up; a stronger grip and the ability to push straight into the wall through your feet (not down). When you have a weak grip and/or when your feet slip while you do a climb-up, you will struggle to do this movement with power and efficiency, no matter how much upper body pulling strength you have. The reason this movement is key for developing parkour-specific grip strength is that it increases the difficulty of a regular cat hang grip by making it harder to hold on as you straighten your legs and elevate your hips. This is the difference between a positive grip (like in a cat hang with your body close to the wall) and a less positive or even negative grip (more like the straight-legged position in this video).

  • Easier progressions: 1) bar hang 2) tuck hang 3) cat hang
  • Harder: 1) same movement w/ feet slightly higher on wall 2) or on a more slippery wall 3) or slower and w/ a pause in the straight-legged position

Wall dip

Slightly harder than a basic push-up, the wall dip is a more specific and useful upper body pushing movement for parkour. A stronger wall dip will also improve movements such as vaults and the second half of a muscle-up or climb-up. If you can easily do 10+ wall dips with perfect form, begin working on more challenging progressions.

Cat hang pull-up

Mainly an upper body drill, cat hang pull-ups are perfect for beginners looking to improve their pulling strength. They work your grip, shoulder positioning, and generally promote a solid strength foundation for the climb-up. Aside from upper body pulling power, you will need a decent amount of core strength so that you don’t look like a floppy noodle.

Top-out

As the final part of the climb-up, top-outs are an essential skill for beginners to practice. A top-out is a full body movement that requires an explosive leg kick, a tight tuck, and a powerful pop through the arms. At first, you may need to land one or two legs to the side of your hands on top of the wall but eventually, work up to landing both feet symmetrically between your hands.

Cat hang knee drive

Like the cat hang leg press, the cat hang knee drive is focused on building the upper body pulling strength and general skill to achieve effortless climb-ups. Think of it like an explosive jump, where you are driving a knee upward. Because you are quickly propelling yourself up the wall, you must pay more attention to your body position. You wouldn’t want to slam your knee or chin against the wall — so watch out. Likewise, given the higher velocity involved, your body will experience greater forces, which means it might be better suited to athletes with more upper body strength.

Intermediate training

If you really want to take your climb-ups to a high level, you’ll want to attain a level 3 climb-up which is the gold standard of climb-up training. These drills will help you fill in the gaps of whatever is holding you back:

Advanced tuck front lever

The front lever is an incredible movement for developing full body tension and pulling power in your arms and back. While a fully laid out front lever is not critical for even the most advanced parkour athletes to pursue, a solid advanced tuck front lever will significantly help strengthen your climb-ups, muscle-ups, and other upper body pulling movements.

Tuck planche

After the frog stand (AKA crow pose), the tuck planche is the second key level of planche progressions. All planche progressions are a good way to increase your ability to create and sustain full body tension. By developing your planche, you will also build strength in your shoulders, arms, and core, translating to better climb-ups, vaults, handstands, and more.

Weighted dip

Weighted dips are one of the most useful pushing exercises for developing the strength needed for climb-ups, vaults, and other pushing movements in parkour. Combined with weighted pull-ups, this is one of the fastest ways to develop good climb-ups and explosive pushing power. The stronger you are, the easier climb-ups are to learn.

Weighted pull-up (and/or chin-up)

Weighted pull-ups are one of the most useful pulling exercises for developing the strength needed for climb-ups, laches, cat leaps, and other upper body pulling movements. Combined with weighted dips, this is one of the fastest ways to develop good climb-ups and explosive pulling power. The stronger you are, the easier climb-ups are to learn.

Demon dip

If you can breeze through a top-out, demon dips are the next challenging top-out progression for building the upper body strength to crush climb-ups. Observed from the side, they look like a fluid stitching together of a top-out and a wall dip. Rather than performing this movement in two distinct steps, you are shooting for a simultaneous combination of the wall dip and top-out. Demon dips require explosive power in your chest and arms and they also reinforce the full body spatial awareness to get you on top of a wall quickly. Once you start applying climb-ups in the real world, you will find that physical fatigue and slippage are two of your main enemies. Both result in a less powerful pull and final transition above the wall. By training the demon dip, you prepare your body to recover from these instances without losing any extra time. Not only is it a good drill for helping to recover from failure, but it actually makes your climb-ups faster and more efficient. Without having to pull all the way to a wall support before topping out, the movement is more fluid and quick.

Level 3 climb-up

A variation of the muscle-up, climb-ups are used to climb up and over a wall from the hanging position. Climb-ups are used extensively in parkour; after a wall run, cat leap, and many other climbing challenges. The climb-up builds the necessary strength and coordination to overcome any shape wall and is an invaluable skill for any practitioner.

A level three climb-up should appear as one continuous movement. The emphasis is on a specific footwork sequence that you should be aware of and start practicing sooner rather than later. Start in the cat hang with your feet staggered. Let’s say you started with your right foot higher than your left. As you begin to pull-up, simultaneously drive your bottom (left) knee up and step on the wall with your left foot. This step is immediately followed by your right leg kicking backward, setting you up to land a symmetrical top-out. The footwork pattern (step, kick, land) should alternate legs each step, as if you were walking or running up the wall. The main difference between the level two and level three climb-up is that the level two climb-up may look choppy and slow, while the level three climb-up is executed quickly and smoothly as one fluid motion.

Honorable mentions

Need more intermediate ideas and variations to occasionally change up your training with? Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you may also find these to be useful in developing a better climb-up:

Learn more

For more wisdom on developing your own climb-up and/or teaching climb-ups to others, check out my climb-up training program or my book Parkour Strength Training. You can also see more of my climb-up videos on this playlist.


Ryan Ford is the author of Parkour Strength Training and founder of ParkourEDU & APEX School of Movement.

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