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Parkour strength training for beginners

If parkour reinvents the world into a canvas for artistic & athletic expression, parkour strength training also reimagines walls, rails, trees, & more into useful training tools. Common obstacles at parks, schools, and plazas empower you to reclaim and upgrade your physical performance, anytime & anywhere. Fine-tuning your basic strength movements like squat/pull/push, as well as parkour skills like jump/land/vault/climb, improves your ability to overcome obstacles, literally and metaphorically. 

Building a stronger athletic foundation with basic parkour strength movements is an engaging and effective way to boost your physical skillset. Here are 9 of my favorite #parkourstrength movements for beginners (in no particular order):

Wall dip

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.

Air squat (full ROM)

The full ROM air squat is a fundamental movement pattern to master before seriously drilling squatting/jumping/landing skills of greater intensity and complexity. While a good squat is one key to strong, safe landings, squats are often overlooked because they seem boring or basic.

Honestly, they’re not completely wrong–––especially when compared to flashy flips or jumps. However, you should still practice good squats, now and for the rest of your life. Keep squatting whether you want to perform better in sport, build a booty, mitigate injury, or simply become a badass 100-year-old human who still moves well.

In many cases, squatting to hip-below-knee is good enough but you should also develop your full squat. If you can’t squat this low yet, keep working on your mechanics and mobility until your ROM is greater. Make it a point to constantly improve at this basic squat variation but as you get better/stronger, also experiment with deeper ROM, more explosiveness, single-leg variations, adding weight, and jumping/landing.

Kong-up (split-foot, hip-high)

Kong-ups are useful for building basic strength/power, as well as full-body coordination. Think of it like a more complex box jump, or a 3-dimensional burpee. A kong-up will bring you to a squatting/standing position on top of an obstacle—useful as you transition into a jump or run. Be sure to drill this one with a split-foot stance/takeoff as it will carry over better to kong vaults, climb-ups, etc. (versus a feet-together punching takeoff).

Knees-to-elbows (dead hang)

Knees-to-elbows from dead hang is a solid full-body exercise with an application to bar skills that require an explosive knees-to-chest tuck. To improve at underbars, pullovers, kips, and laches, you must learn to lift your legs to your torso by using your abs and hip flexors. Also, this general knees-to-chest movement shows up in many more movements like backflips, vaults, and jumps.

Wall handstand (abs-to-wall)

A strong handstand, in general, is a useful tool for building ground/air awareness. As a beginner, you must spend time working on the wall handstand in order to unlock a quality freestanding handstand. For all levels, wall handstands are an effective way to fine-tune handstand technique and build upper body pushing strength.

No need to worry about “perfect” form and alignment, unless your goals are something like elite gymnastics or professional circus. For many athletes, it’s more beneficial to focus on developing adaptability and control across many handstand variations and challenges (e.g. handstand walking, up/down stairs, presses, on walls/rails, etc). Start with the wall handstand, and explore outward from here 🙂

Broad jump

Broad jumps are one of the most common power tests in sport/athletics, and a keystone movement skill in parkour. Invaluable for leaping across gaps, broad jumps are also a wonderful exercise for developing full-body power.

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and drop into a partial squat while swinging your arms behind you. As you swing your arms forward, explode through your lower body to propel yourself up and forward. Play with different takeoff angles and positions until you find what works best for you.

While airborne, lift your knees to chest and then extend your feet in front of you, reaching for your goal. On flat ground and with padded shoes/surfaces, heel-striking on the landing can be done in a sustainable way and often results in a farther distance. If barefoot and/or jumping on hard surfaces, you may want to reconsider your landing technique to be less heel heavy and more of a precision landing on the balls of feet.

Quadrupedal movement (basic, forward)

Basic/forward quadrupedal movement is a classic full-body movement for general strength training, as well as a practical movement skill to develop. Moving on all four limbs allows you to pass beneath obstacles too low to run beneath, and it’s also useful for transitioning between the ground and more upright positions.

Start on the ground, supported by your hands and feet, with four points of equal weight distribution. Your butt and head should be around the same height. Advance one hand and the opposite foot at the same time, and then repeat the motion with the other limbs, in a reciprocating pattern.

Be sure to keep some distance between arms and legs so that your knees don’t run into your elbows when you move. Start slow until you get the hang of the forward motion. Then, gradually speed up your movement. For a different but similar challenge, reverse the motion and do it backward. If performing this movement on hands and feet is too difficult at first, find a soft surface (grass, panel mats, etc.) and try it on hands/knees.

Standing box jump + step-down

The standing box jump is one of the most well-known movements in jump training. By jumping onto gradually taller obstacles, you develop general leg power/explosiveness. More specifically, the standing box jump develops vertical jumping power. It also rewards/encourages you to build better squat mobility when pushing your jumps near a max height.

As a quick injury prevention note, beginners should start on low walls and gradually build up the height with greater strength/skill. Beginners should start with a jump up and then gently climb-down/step-down (the rebounding version is higher impact *and* requires more strength/skill).

Even advanced athletes may want to consider this step-down/climb-down element when going through phases of low(er)-impact training. Dropping backward from the top and rebounding back up is much higher impact. It’s also a potentially awkward/unrealistic movement to do at max height. If your skill/strength levels aren’t adequate, or if you’re at risk of overtraining from high(er)-impact activity like sport/competition, rebounding box jumps may be a risky training decision.

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.

Learn more

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

Join the discussion!

  • I love that these exercises are not only awesome, but that you give the rationale behind why they are awesome.
    Also – great progressions and regressions. As is to be expected I imagine, I find can do the harder progressions on some, and need to do the easier one on others. In light of this, can I ask you to comment on how you would recommend one should go about programming these?
    Cheerio!

    • Glad you liked it. Programming is such a complex topic because it depends on a lot of things like your own personal strengths, weaknesses, goals, schedule, etc. I dedicated a full chapter to the topic in my book Parkour Strength Training. I also help people out via online coaching/programming or Skype consults. If you want more info, email me at ryan@parkouredu.org

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