In parkour, athletes learn to turn the world into a playground. But they should also learn to use common objects like trees, rails, benches, and walls as exercise equipment. Even though I recommend some basic weightlifting for intermediate and advanced athletes, you can still get a great workout by doing only bodyweight exercises. In this article, I have compiled a list of my top 10 bodyweight exercises for intermediate level parkour practitioners. Looking for even more on the subject? Check out my book, Parkour Strength Training.
A classic gymnastics exercise, the L-sit is a phenomenal exercise for developing full body tension and abdominal and hip flexor strength and flexibility. With the obvious similarities between parkour and gymnastics conditioning, an L-sit is a great core exercise addition to any traceur’s training regimen.
Forward cat balance (rail)
Cat balance is a technique used to move along the tops of narrow obstacles such as rails, walls, or I-beams. By keeping the center of gravity low and having more points of contact with the obstacle, cat balancing can be safer, faster, and more stable than moving on two feet. Because every muscle in the body helps in balancing and moving along the obstacle, the cat balance is a great conditioning exercise, particularly for the legs, forearms, and shoulders.
Toes to bar is a great core exercise with perfect application to a fundamental skill needed in parkour; the ability to lift your body from a hanging position without changing the orientation of your arms. In order to do many techniques including underbars, pullovers, kips, and laches, you cannot rely on only lifting your body with your arms, you must also learn to lift your body while maintaining the same arm angle in relation to the ground. Toes to bar are like knees to elbows, but require a bit more strength and flexibility to execute.
After the frog stand, the tuck planche is the second level of the planche progressions. All of the planche progressions are a great way to increase your ability to create and sustain full body tension. By developing your planche progressions, you will develop incredible strength, especially in your shoulders, arms, and core. This will translate to better climb ups, vaults, handstands, and more.
Front lever (half tuck)
The front lever is an incredible exercise for developing full body tension and pulling strength in your arms and back. While a fully laid out front lever may not be necessary for parkour athletes to pursue, a solid advanced tuck front lever will help strengthen your climb-ups, muscle-ups, and more.
A strong handstand is a valuable tool for building ground/air awareness. It’s a fundamental skill for safer falling and better tricks. 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 building adaptability and control across many different handstand variations and challenges (e.g. handstand walking, up/down stairs, presses, on walls/rails, etc).
Pistol squat (no grab)
Pistol squats are a challenging single-leg squat classic in which you hold a leg straight in front of you while lowering down on the other. The goal is to build better squat *and* pike mobility by keeping your front leg hovering above the floor as you squat as low as possible.
Staying balanced while you keep your foot flat on the floor takes strength, skill, and significant ankle mobility. You’re doing great if you can keep your front leg fully locked out during the movement. You’re a beast if you can grab the straightened leg with one or both hands throughout the full movement.
Level 1 = flat foot, no foot grab, free leg straight + off ground, butt to heel
Level 2 = flat foot, grab foot w/ 1 hand, free leg straight + off ground, butt to heel
Level 3 = flat foot, grab foot w/ 2 hands, free leg straight + off ground, butt to heel
- Easier progressions: elevated pistol, assisted pistol
- Harder: shrimp squat level 1, shrimp squat level 2, shrimp squat level 3
Nordic curl eccentric + push-up assist
By letting down as slow as possible, you can develop the same strength needed to go back up. By adding in a little bit of a push up from the ground, it makes it possible to still back up and challenge yourself through the full range of motion.
- Easier progressions: Harop Curl
- Harder: Unassisted Glute Ham Raise
Climb-up + climb-down (level 3.0)
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.
- Easier progressions: 1) running climb-up + climb-down 2) cat hang climb-up (level 1) 3) cat hang climb-up (level 2)
- Harder: 1) cat hang climb-up (level 4) 2) weighted climb-up
Depth jump for height
Depth jumps for height are one of the best bodyweight movements for building vertical jumping power. However, they are also intense and impactful. Before trying, you should have competent squatting/landing skill, and already have a good level of lower body strength and mobility. Be cautious and detail-oriented when you do this movement because every little injury, imbalance, or error is amplified due to landing/rebounding forces that increase linearly with drop heights.
Rather than gently/quietly absorbing the drop from an obstacle, your goal is to rebound into a powerful vertical jump. The purpose is to hone your reactive ability — your ability to transfer a compressive force (landing) into an explosive force (jumping). It’s like transforming your body into a highly efficient coil spring. Compress, then explode!
For this variation, stand on top of a low obstacle, stepping off by leading with one foot. It is important not to squat down before dropping. This ensures that you can measure your box height and progressively overload with taller boxes over time. After you step off the box, land on two feet, and then spring into the air as high as possible.
Focus on two main things: 1) most importantly, go for maximal height by using an overhead target as motivation. Swipe your fingertips at a tree branch or a chalk line on a wall, and try to reach higher on each jump. 2) less important, but still critical, aim to keep your ground contact time to a minimum. As you drop off the obstacle, hold your hips, knees, and ankles like a hooded cobra, poised to strike. Explode off the ground as soon as you make contact.
Measure your touchdown in fractions of a second and experiment to find your sweet spot of timing. Somewhere between 0.3-0.4 seconds is ideal for most people. Any slower and you aren’t harnessing your reflexive power to its best effect. Too fast won’t allow you to generate optimal power and height either.
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find out exactly how long you were on the ground. Have a friend film you in slow-mo with a smartphone. Find some editing software to help count the number of frames that your feet were on the ground for (you can also do this manually, frame-by-frame). Then, divide that number of frames by the frame rate your camera shoots at. For example, if you’re on the ground for 24 frames and you’re shooting at 60 frames per second, your ground contact time is 24/60 = .4 seconds.
- Easier progressions: 1) soft depth drop 2) hard depth drop
- Harder: 1) depth jump for height w/ progressively taller obstacle 2) depth jump for distance 3) depth drop to sprint
If you’re looking for easier and/or harder progressions, try some of our other posts:
- Too old, too fat, too weak for parkour? Start with these 5 basic movements
- Intermediate parkour strength movements
- Intro to climb-up strength & skill training
Looking for more formal coaching/programming?
Free video demo playlists on my YouTube channel:
- For untrained beginners
- For trained beginners
- For intermediates
- For advanced
- Upper body mobility training
- Lower body mobility training
- Upper body pulling movements (bodyweight)
- Upper body pushing movements (bodyweight)
- Lower body movements (bodyweight)
- Squat progressions & variations
- Single-leg squat progressions & variations
- Bridge movements, drills, & progressions
- Quadrupedal movement progressions & variations
- Handstand movements, drills, & progressions
- Rail balance movements, drills, & progressions
- Jumping/landing movements, drills, & progressions
- Hang progressions & variations
- Muscle-up movements, drills, & progressions
- Climb-up movements, drills, & progressions
Ryan Ford is author of Parkour Strength Training & founder of ParkourEDU and Apex School of Movement.