The art of getting from one point to another as efficiently as possible. Free running is similar but involves more flips and creative expression; although these differences are less important now than they once appeared to be. A strength and conditioning parkour workout should enhance these abilities.
Either way, games like Assassin’s Creed and Mirror’s Edge demonstrate the potential application of this type of movement – especially when combined with other skills. So, too, do Jackie Chan movies.
And it’s good for you! Parkour actually shares its routes with functional training and movement training: these are all offshoots of Georges Hebert’s natural method. Hebert spoke of the importance of being “strong to be useful” and his ideas were adopted by the French military in the form of assault courses, known as “le parcourse,” and various efficient escape techniques. Those same ideas were later taught to David Belle by his father Raymond Belle, who had served in the French military. David Belle, along with Sebastien Foucan, went on to create the parkour movement.
If you want to move like an assassin – drop behind a target and then silently take them down – you should learn parkour or free running.
The Argument for a Parkour Workout
But you can also augment your free running skills with a parkour workout using specific strength and conditioning drills. This can be used to increase power in jumps, balance, core strength, and grip strength. It can build traits like endurance, explosiveness, and resilience. A strength and conditioning parkour workout will give you more options for expression and creativity. It will open up new possibilities and turn the world into even more of a jungle gym.
And, for those non-traceurs, taking some parkour-type movements and adapting them into your training can result in a workout that’s fun, with amazing functional benefits.
A parkour workout is not just for free runners then: but for anyone who wants to be able to move with greater freedom and athleticism.
How to Devise a Parkour Workout
To devise a parkour workout, we can turn to the ATSP hierarchy I discuss in my book: Functional Training and Beyond. That stands for:
In other words, we break down parkour into its component skills. These are things like: precisions, cat leaps, climb-ups, breakfalls, running, side vaults, kong vaults, palm spins , side flips, hurdles, and any others you want to add to your movement vocabulary. We then break down the traits they involve: like upper-body explosiveness, balance, hip stability. Finally, we can look at the specific physical attributes we need to train: like fast twitch fiber in the lats, or strength in the medial glutes. This is what we must target with a free running workout.
Often, this means choosing an exercise that looks similar to the movement: this is specificity. And as I explained in the martial arts conditioning video recently, it’s also a good idea to focus on explosive movements with a relatively light added resistance (up approximately 75% of bodyweight, or just bodyweight). Most of these exercises will, therefore, be bodyweight moves, possibly with a weight vest added.
Movements for Parkour
If we’re looking to emulate Assassin’s Creed specifically, or the more “practical” aspects of parkour, we should probably focus on:
The following movements can be added to your parkour workout to enhance these abilities.
The broad jump is like a vertical jump you are probably used to seeing in the gym, except you are launching yourself forward. So, it’s a horizontal…
This exercise increases the role of the hips and the ankles, while slightly decreasing the importance of the knees. That in turn makes it an excellent tool for training the hips without access to a heavy bar bell. It also has better transfer to running speed due to the more horizontal orientation. And of course it teaches you to jump across gaps. You can make this movement more challenging by adding a weighted vest, or by swinging a medicine ball up as you jump. This is actually quite similar to a kettlebell swing, which helps highlight why that movement is so powerful.
You can easily measure your progress by placing cones or markers. Better yet, you can give yourself a target – such as a small towel – to land on. This not only helps to train your accuracy for precisions and build confidence in a safe environment, but it also makes the exercise even more fun and engaging by incorporating a “cognitive” element.
Skipping is an incredibly high-value movement for a parkour workout. This improves ankle stiffness, which translates directly to better running speed (contractions in the calf actually play a minimal role in plantarflexion during running – it’s all about those tendons!). Even better, it also trains rhythm. Rhythm is an underappreciated component of athletic performance and has many critical roles: whether it’s a fighter trying to break an opponent’s rhythm, or it’s a traceur timing their steps to ensure their good foot is planted just in time to make the jump.
Speaking of running faster and jumping from one leg, bounding is another incredible tool you can add to your arsenal. Bounding is a popular exercise among athletic coaches that involves leaping from foot to foot to cover as much distance as possible (safely) per stride. It’s also PERFECT for a parkour workout.
This works a little like shock training with a Verkhoshansky depth jump, in that you will be training the myotatic stretch response – returning energy in an explosive way as soon as you come into contact with the ground. The difference is that you’ll be doing this off a single leg as you do when running or jumping in parkour. This can translate to potentially huge gains in running speed and leaping ability.
This can be progressed using cones that show where the feet should be placed. You can also experiment with consecutive hops in different patterns, too. Darting from side to side will also help improve with hip and ankle stability, direction changing, and injury prevention.
Progress slowly with this to avoid injury and be careful. This is a highly-plyometric movement with very high impact, so leave your ego at the door! Or the entrance to the field…
Pistol squats will improve your single leg strength and stability, your mobility, and your balance. All great things for a parkour workout.
Training each side is important to help you become more ambipedal. This is something I didn’t really touch on in the last video: the ability to jump off either leg is a huge advantage when it comes to confidently clearing gaps.
Interestingly though, athletes tend to be better at balancing on their non-dominant leg. This makes sense, seeing as you balance on that leg to support yourself while using the other leg for more dextrous movements like kicking. Balancing on both legs independently is a quick way to improve balance for crossing beams and ledges, then.
I haven’t spoken much about training vertical jump yet, which is because there is far less of that in parkour than we might typically assume. The truth is that most jumping is done from one leg while running, and as JC would say, this is more about energy transfer than production.
That said, there are definitely times when a high vertical jump is useful in parkour. And tends to correlate with many other useful skills. When it comes to improving jump height, sticking with the classics is the way to go. The squat absolutely adds inches to verticals, and especially if you keep the focus on bar-speed: moving explosively during the concentric portion of the movement.
Goblet Squat Jumps
My favourite movement for improve vertical jump height at the moment, though, is the goblet squat jump. Here, you simply take a kettlebell or sandbag and hold it in front of you, then jump straight up as high and explosively as you can. This keeps the movement fast and explosive, while also engaging the core. By putting you in an anti-flexion movement, it works the erector spinae and strengthens the core. This translates to more explosive vertical power through the whole body.
Kettlebell swings are also a strong option, especially if you use a slightly more squat-like motion. Yes, the squatting kettlebell swing is a real thing and develops more ground-reaction force than a regular swing. It is not “wrong” and won’t hurt you! You can also employ the overspeed kettlebell swing technique, by swinging the weight back down toward you more forcefully and then absorbing that momentum to return it back to the air. This makes the movement a lot more plyometric but without adding high impacts to the joints.
The climb-up is a move that involves, simply, climbing up onto the top of a wall. You run up the wall, catch the top with both hands, and then pull yourself up and over. There are a number of different progressions for this movement, with the easiest/ugliest being the “struggle up” and the most impressive being the level 5 climb up. The level 5 involves pushing off both hands to pop up and onto your feet. It looks a little like a kong vault. Other progressions involve moving the legs to one side and essentially side-vaulting at the top of the movement. There’s a great video about this by Jimmy the Giant, which I highly recommend checking out.
Those familiar with their calisthenics will immediately identify this as “essentially a muscle up.” Which it kind of is. Muscle ups can help you to get this movement, then, but so too can actual climb-ups. Simply perform the hardest progression you can for time and number of reps. This also represents a fun alternative to regular muscle ups/explosive pull ups that anyone can use.
Another pull up variation that works well in a parkour workout is Pavel Tsatsouline’s “tactical pull up.” This is a pull up performed with the thumb on top of the bar. Remember, a pull up uses a pronated/overhand grip, so if you place the thumb on top as well, you are grabbing the bar in the same way you might grab a ledge, windowsill, or pipe. Practicing this type of pull up will prep you for climb-ups, toughen your grip, and ensure optimal activation of the muscles you need for that movement pattern.
I also recommend throwing in some rope climbs. Not only is this a little like climbing a vertical pipe or lamppost, but it also toughens up the grip like nobody’s business. Tough hands can be a huge asset for someone climbing onto walls all day.
I recommend maintaining an L-Sit position while you climb to engage the core, and adding a weight vest to up the difficulty.
Finally, I do recommend some weighted dips – perhaps on gymnastic rings – to build that pushing strength. Here, we are breaking the movement down into its constituents and strengthening the chest and triceps with isolated repetitions.
Crawls should be a staple of any free running workout. I’ve spoken a lot about crawls lately, so I’m not going to go into huge detail here. Suffice to say that crawling is a contralateral movement that develops hand-eye coordination, core strength, and balance. Crawling for distance, or while pulling a sled or sandbag, is also excellent conditioning. The latter builds powerful quads as you push off the ground with your feet in an explosive manner. This is yet another great way to increase running speed and jumping height/distance with a parkour workout.
Crawling along thin beams dramatically increases the challenge, engaging the core even more and even the grip. This is amazing for body awareness. This “bear crawl” is actually considered a parkour move in itself.
Speaking of body awareness – which is crucial for a traceur trying to land a jump in a balanced position – performing some form of tumbling or acrobatics is also a great option. Too few of us spend any time upside down or rapidly rotating, but this has a ton of benefits for cognition, agility, explosive strength, and more.
Carthweels are one option as they are easy and fun to perform. Mine are ugly and unstraight, but I do them anyway. They also serve as a brilliant first progression that can get you toward more impressive aerial skills like the aerial or side flip. Or so I am told!
There are slower, easier variations you can use to build up to the cartwheel. Or you can practice other movements like the kip-up, handspring, or breakfall for reps.
While we’re on the topic of locomotion, we should also include the “ground kong.” This is also known as the forward ape in Animal Flow, or Frogger in GMB. The connection here makes sense: Mike Fitch, founder of Animal Flow, also did parkour.
The movement involves placing both hands on the ground in front of you and then jump your legs through into a deep squat, before leaning forward and repeating the movement again. This is a great mobility movement for developing a deeper squat and it can also be used to condition the chest and shoulders.
Hollow Body Rocks
Core training is critical, as a strong core is fundamental to all athletic performance. I’ve quoted Dr. Stuart McGill on this channel countless times for saying:
“Proximal stiffness enhances distal athleticism.”
What this means is that you need a strong and stiff core to produce force from your limbs. Otherwise, any attempt to push or swing is going to bend and contort your body rather than translating that force through the limbs and to the target. It’s like hitting someone with a plank of wood that has a nail in the end, versus hitting someone with a bendy branch that has a nail in the end. Both hurt, but the former is faster AND more impactful.
V-ups hollow body
Hollow body rocks are a movement borrowed from gymnastics and involve contracting the core and then rocking the body forward and backward. The contraction should be in the rectus abdominis, which should bring the shoulders naturally off the ground slightly.
La-Lanne Push Up
Of course, there are many more awesome anti-extension movements you can use in a parkour workout; such as my favourite the La-Lanne Push Up. Check out my various posts on core and back training to see more suggestions for anti-flexion and anti-rotation, too.
Finally, running should also be included in any parkour workout. While parkour practice often revolves around perfecting jumps and moves at a single spot, endurance is still very important. It’s precisely when you get tired from lots of leaping across gaps that accidents can start to happen. By running regularly, you can improve your cardio while also cementing good form – improving hip stabilization, core strength, and more over long distances. Amazing things happen when you run regularly. There are countless reasons to include running your parkour workout.
You even learn to better gauge your own speed based on the movement of objects in your visual field – a phenomenon known as “optical flow.” Better yet, I recommend trail running to improve your hip and ankle stability and to practice moving in multiple directions.
Amazing things happen when you run regularly.
Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee both ran every single day at various points in their career, so should you.
The thing to keep in mind when you are designing your parkour workout, is the type of free runner you want to be. What kind of movement are you trying to achieve? Are you into the graceful, flowing movements of monkey-style parkour? If so, you may prefer to focus more on mobility and movement training.
Parkour Workout Vault
Alternatively, you might be more partial to big jumps, fast movement, and straight lines. If that’s the case, you should focus more on the athletic movements that build explosiveness and stiffness.
Or maybe you want to do something creative and new?
Whatever the case, you start to design the movement by first designing your strength and performance. The creative expression ultimately ends up on film, but it starts when you begin devising your training plan.