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.
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:
Cat hang (straight-arm)
The straight-arm cat hang is a key static position to learn before working toward skills like climb-ups and cat leaps (AKA arm jump or saut de bras). Holding this position helps develop a stronger grip, upper body pulling strength, and the full-body tension needed to minimize feet slipping down the wall. If you can comfortably hold a straight-arm cat hang for at least 20-30 seconds, begin working on more challenging progressions.
Wall support (straight-arm)
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 (feet/knees together)
A feet/knees together full squat is an advanced full squat position that’s key for parkour, skateboarding, MMA, and more. It requires extra ankle dorsiflexion to keep balanced on flat feet in a fully bottomed out position, which is critical to jumping/landing movements. In general, the full squat is essential for developing optimal mechanics and mobility in the ankles, hips, and back. The better you get at full squats, the more robust your joints become.
To improve at the full squat, you must be consistent and gradually make it harder over time. Start with the static holds but also be sure to actively move in and out of a full squat in many different ways. Another method of progressively overloading your squat is to accumulate 1 minute of time in a full squat on day 1, 2 minutes on the next day, and so on (until you reach 30 min on day 30).
- 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 harmless-looking movement exposes weak links in many people’s climb-up. The cat hang leg press is useful for building two key parts of the climb-up; a stronger grip and the skill of pushing straight into the wall through your feet (not down, AKA “smearing” in climbing).
If you have weak grip and/or your feet slip, you will struggle to control the cat hang leg press, no matter how strong you are. 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 legs + elevate 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). As you gain an understanding of positive/negative grip and applying it to movements like the cat hang leg press, you will start to learn how to manipulate your hands/wrists/arms into a more positive grip, even when your body’s pushed farther away from the wall.
Start by doing this strength-skill with a small ROM so you don’t slip and fall. As you get stronger, try to straighten your legs more. The straighter you get your legs, while also gradually placing your feet higher, the stronger your grip will become (plus a nice side effect of improved pike & overhead shoulder mobility). Another bonus of this exercise is that by pushing straight into the wall, your hips will raise a bit which means that your legs can take some of the work away from your upper body. Most beginners do not use their legs effectively on climb-ups, partly because they cannot do this movement well.
Harder than a basic push-up, a wall dip is an upper body strength movement that’s highly specific to parkour. Stronger wall dips will also improve movements like vaults and the second half of a climb-up or muscle-up. If you can easily do 8-10+ wall dips with good form, begin working on more challenging progressions. If you can’t do a wall dip yet, start with something easier.
Cat hang pull-up
The cat hang pull-up is an excellent movement for beginners who want a better climb-up. On top of that, cat hang pull-ups develop climb-up specific grip strength and footwork, making it a potentially better choice than dead hang pull-ups on a bar. Or at least a better choice for anyone looking to improve their climb-up.
One of the most common problems people have with the cat hang pull-up is hands and/or feet slipping. Ideally, your hands and feet are glued to the same spot on the wall throughout each rep.
If your hands slip at any time, you might just need to work on more grip strength. If your feet are slipping, you’re probably pushing down the wall instead of straight into it. Stay tight throughout your legs, core, and arms and always apply pressure straight into the wall through your feet.
Before you try the full cat hang pull-up, start with scapular pull-ups in a cat hang. This is a good way for you to get comfortable with the movement and start building the strength to do a cat hang pull-up with a full range of motion.
If you’re still working on your pulling strength and in need of another progression before the full cat hang pull-up, try it with a jump-assist and a slow negative. Get in a cat hang position on a head-high wall and then drop your bottom foot to the ground. Use this grounded foot, as little as possible, to help push up to the top of a CH pull-up position. Try to hold this bent-arm cat hang position long enough to place your grounded foot back on the wall and then slowly lower down into a full cat hang.
When you do CH pull-ups, with a jump assist or not, use as much range of motion as possible so you become strong and skilled throughout all parts of a climb-up. At the bottom of each rep, go into a full cat hang position with your shoulders relaxed up to your ears. At the top of each rep, pull the wall to your shoulders and lightly touch your chin to the top of the wall. The farther you can reach your chin over the top, the better. However, don’t crane your neck to compensate for not pulling high enough.
As you get stronger, try a CH pull-up with a full range of motion and without any jump-assist. Pull as high as possible and go back down all the way, on every rep you do. Start slow and controlled but as you get better, try to make your pull more explosive so you build pulling power for better climb-ups.
If you’ve got this movement down, experiment with harder variations such as doing it slower or more explosively, using walls with less grip, weighted CH pull-up, CH pull-ups w/ lock-off holds at different angles, 1 arm CH pull-up, etc.
Top-out (level 3)
As the final part of the climb-up, top-outs are a key skill for all levels to continue practicing in some way/shape/form. A top-out is an explosive full-body movement that requires a quick leg kick, a tight tuck, and a powerful pop through the arms/shoulders. At first, you may need to land 1 or 2 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.
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:
Front lever (advanced tuck)
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.
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 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-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.
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.
Cat hang climb-up (level 3)
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.
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:
- Cat hang dyno for upper body pulling power
- Top-out to tuck planche for upper body pushing strength & full body tension
- Russian dip for a better climb-up transition (from pull to push)
- Legless climb-up for general upper body strength & skill
- False grip pull-up for stronger, healthier wrists & hands
- Dead hang muscle-up for general upper body strength & skill
- Kipping muscle-up for general upper body power & skill
- L muscle-up for general upper body strength & skill