Intro to climb-up strength & skill training

Table of Contents

When was the last time you stumbled across a set of rings or monkey bars outside the gym? Maybe at a park or playground? What about the rest of your city? Compared to walls, fences, and gates, rings and bars are rare finds in the concrete jungle. Perhaps we should focus more on muscle-up variations that are possible to do on more common obstacles.

The climb-up is an iconic parkour skill that’s a real-world, urban application of the muscle-up on a wall. Along with landing, rolling, and falling, climb-ups are amongst the most practical of all parkour movements. In a real-life or time-sensitive situation, getting up quickly (climb-up) and getting down safely (land/roll/fall) are 2 of the most important movements to know.

Climb-up (level 3)
ft. Ryan Ford
🎥 Taylor Carpenter

Unfortunately, these basic skills are also some of the most neglected, even in parkour-specific training, because they require loads of hard work and clever progressions to learn. As a beginner, a climb-up may take you many months, if not years, for you to develop to a high level of mastery.

Whether you’re just now learning about the climb-up, or you’ve practiced & taught it for years, this guide has you covered with 1 key climb-up progression for all levels, 3 important static holds, 5 fundamental drills, and a handful of intermediate level climb-up movements.

→ For an alternative approach to learning or teaching the climb-up, check out this free blog post: Build your climb-up from the ground up

→ To unlock our most comprehensive parkour strength & conditioning resource, consider purchasing our digital training manual: Parkour Strength Online

The #1 drill (all levels)

Moreso than skills such as vaults or jumps, we find that people struggle to find incremental progressions and methodical frameworks to work through on their climb-up journey. The missing link is often the running climb-up. Use this drill, with thoughtful scaling up or down, to challenge any level of strength or skill.

Running climb-up + climb-down (3-step run-up, head-high)

The running climb-up (RCU) is primarily for building better climb-up (CU) footwork skill & speed. It also happens to be 1 of the best CU drills out there, for all levels. This is because the running start offloads some of the work from upper to lower body. It allows you to train more reps, build more skill, and with less wear and tear on your wrists, elbows, & shoulders.

For beginners, RCUs build general CU strength, skill, & work capacity. Beginners should do them in almost every CU training session! For intermediate/advanced athletes, RCUs are more like an end of warm-up and/or light(ish) speed drill to refine & maintain minor technical details of the CU.

The static 3 (beginner)

All climb-ups pass through some degree of 3 key positions: cat hang, wall support, & full squat. By specifically training these 3 static holds, you’ll prep your body to be safe, strong, and mobile enough to train climb-ups:

Cat hang (straight-arm, base grip)

The straight-arm cat hang is 1 key position to develop along the way toward skills like climb-ups and cat leaps (aka arm jump or saut de bras). Holding a cat hang helps develop stronger grip, upper body pulling strength, and full-body tension needed to minimize foot slippage on the wall. If you can comfortably hold a straight-arm cat hang for at least 20-30 seconds, and a bent-arm cat hang for 10-20 seconds, begin working on more challenging movements.

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, and a bent-arm wall support for 10-20 seconds, begin working on more challenging progressions.

Air squat isometric (full ROM, PL stance)

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).

The fundamental 5 (beginner/intermediate)

5 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 (full ROM, base grip)

The cat hang leg press may expose weak links in your climb-up. This underrated movement is good for building 2 key parts of the climb-up: 1) grip strength 2) the skill of pushing straight into the wall through your feet (aka “smearing” in climbing).

If you have weak grip or your feet slip during climb-ups, you may struggle to control the cat hang leg press, no matter how strong you are. This movement is key for developing parkour-specific grip strength because it increases the difficulty of a regular cat hang grip by making it harder to hold on as you straighten legs + elevate hips.

Positive grip is what you have in a cat hang with your legs bent & body close to wall. A less positive, or even negative, grip is created when you straighten your legs & get your body farther from the wall. As you gain an understanding of positive vs. negative grip and applying it to movements like the cat hang leg press, you’ll start to learn 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 & fall. As you get stronger, straighten your legs more. The straighter you can 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. Some beginners do not use their legs effectively on climb-ups, partly because they haven’t mastered the cat hang leg press.

Variations & progressions:

Cat hang pull-up (full ROM, base grip)

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.

1 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.

Wall dip

Slightly harder than push-ups, wall dips are a great way to build upper body pushing strength that’s highly specific to parkour. Stronger wall dips improve movements such as vaults, climb-ups, & muscle-ups.

If you can easily do 8-10+ wall dips with good form, begin working on harder progressions like demon dips & 1-arm wall dips. If you can’t do a wall dip yet, start with something easier such as jumping/eccentric wall dips.

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. Top-outs are explosive full-body movements that require a quick heel drive, a tight tuck, and a powerful pop through the arms, shoulders, & back. At first, you may need to land 1 or 2 legs slightly to the side but eventually, work up to landing on the wall w/ both feet (symmetrically & precisely)

Cat hang high pull 1

If you can consistently crush 5-10 cat hang pull-ups per set w/ solid form, it’s time to start working on power too. Cat hang high pulls are a natural progression to move on to. At first, you will try to pull yourself as high as possible in order to catch in the right position for cat hang high pull 1 or 2. In both cases, overgrips can be a good way to refine your cat hang high pull skills since you have to rely less on grip strength, allowing more focus on pure power & footwork.

Variations & progressions:

The next-level training (intermediate/advanced)

If you want to take your climb-ups to the highest levels, you’ll need to attain a level 3 climb-up—the gold standard of climb-up training. The following drills will help you fill in the gaps of whatever’s holding you back.

Front lever (half tuck)

The front lever is an incredible movement for developing full-body tension and straight-arm pulling power in your arms and back. While a fully laid out front lever is not critical for even the most advanced parkour athletes, unlocking the half tuck front lever will significantly strengthen your climb-ups, muscle-ups, bar kips, and other random buildering movements.

Variations & progressions:

Planche (tuck)

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’ll also build strength in your shoulders, arms, and core, translating to better climb-ups, vaults, handstands, and more.

Variations & progressions:

Weighted dip

Weighted dips are 1 of the most useful movements for developing pure upper body pushing strength in the downward direction. Combined with weighted chin/pull-ups, weighted dips are 1 of the fastest ways to develop good climb-ups and explosive power for other upper body pushing skills in parkour.

Weighted chin-up & pull-up

Weighted chin-ups & pull-ups are 1 of the most useful movements for developing pure upper body pulling strength needed for climb-ups, laches, cat leaps, and more. Combined with weighted dips, this is 1 of the fastest ways to build better climb-ups and explosive pulling power.

Demon dip (full ROM)

If you can breeze through a straight-arm top-out, demon dips are next up for building advanced upper body strength for quicker climb-ups.

From the side, a demon dip looks like the fluid stitching together of a wall dip + top-out. But it’s not a wall dip, and then a top-out. It’s a wall dip *and* a top-out, at the same time. Aim to heel drive, push, & tuck––all equally & simultaneously. Keep working to get these extra quick and powerful.

Rather than performing this movement in 2 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 coordination to get you on top of a wall with speed and control.

Once you start applying climb-ups in the real world, you may find that physical fatigue and slippage are 2 of your main enemies. Both can result in a less powerful pull & 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 potentially quicker & more efficient.

Climb-up + climb-down (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 3 climb-up should appear as 1 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 2 and level 3 climb-up is that the level 2 climb-up may look choppy and slow, while the level 3 climb-up is executed quickly and smoothly as 1 fluid motion.

Want to learn more about strength & conditioning techniques to help boost your climb-up? Check out Parkour Strength Online, the 80/20 of what you should know about parkour strength & conditioning, in a new & improved digital format. Building upon our 15+ years of research & development across multiple parkour schools IRL & remote, this course will help you accelerate athletic development, mitigate injuries, & expand coaching skills.

Ryan Ford is founder of Apex School of Movement, director of Parkour Strength Online course, & author of Parkour Strength Training book.

  • I’m new to parkour and I’m really struggling with climb ups, so I wanted to see one of the easier cat hangs but when I clicked on them they said the video was unavailable, should I just do the cat hang instead?

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