Good balance plays a crucial role in parkour, and physical strength plays a crucial role in good balance. To help you acquire the physical capacity necessary to make parkour fun, effective, and safe, we’ve put together a list of ten key exercises for balance.
While these exercises to improve balance may not guarantee perfect balance right away, you’ll start feeling the difference very quickly. Start with the first few items on the list and work your way up as you gain confidence. Take it easy early on; even if you’re already in shape, you can hurt yourself overworking weak muscles.
9 Best Balance Exercises to Consider
#1. Calf Raise
This is a good exercise to start with, easily performed on flat ground when you’re first starting. Simply shift your balance onto the balls of your feet and lift your heels. Slow and steady is key, as it’s safer and more demanding of your balance. As you progress, consider standing on an edge so you can drop your heels lower for a more intense calf raise.
Don’t underestimate the simple plank—it’s one of the key exercises to improve balance, despite its simplicity. There are technically dozens of ways to perform a plank, each with their own unique benefits, but start with the simplest: assume a push-up pose, then lower yourself onto your forearms. Make sure you keep your body straight, your butt down, and your core engaged.
If you already have decent balance, you’ll find body weight squats quite easy to perform. Ideally, you’ll drop all the way down, but if your balance isn’t there yet, your strength isn’t there yet, or you have trouble with your knees, stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Remember, your weight needs to stay on your heels, and your knees need to stay behind your toes—otherwise, you’re risking your knees and getting minimal benefits.
If you’re in really good shape, you may consider trying single leg squats. You can perform these the easy way, by placing your unused leg on a platform behind you, or with the leg extended freely in front of you.
Another of the key exercises to improve balance that focuses on developing your core, easily performed on any floor. If you’re unfamiliar with the exercise, it’s quite simple: lay flat on the ground, arms out ahead of you, then engage your back and core in lifting your feet and arms, assuming something similar to the Man of Steel’s classic flight pose. This is especially valuable for parkour beginners, as many find their balance suffers purely due to a lack of back strength.
#5. Side Plank
Side planks aren’t complex, but they’ll test your core fitness and leave you sore. Similar to the standard plank, you’ll be on your toes and forearm with your body held straight, but for a side plank, you want to start on one side and rest your weight on a single forearm. Beginners might experiment with starting with their weight on the hand and heel of a single side, as this stresses the core muscles less. Make sure you do both sides!
#6. Rail Plank
The first of the ‘practical’ exercises to improve balance on the list, the rail plank is exactly what it sounds like: a plank performed on a rail. If possible, start on a rail very close to the ground, or even with a simple line of tape on the ground.
Most find it easier to assume a pose more like a push-up pose than the plank we described earlier, as you can thus use your hands to grip the rail and stabilize your body. The trickiest part of this exercise is the back end, where you’ll likely only have room for a single foot to rest; the other should be crossed behind it or held to the side.
Perhaps parkour’s most popular exercises to improve balance, and certainly one of the most useful. Performed atop a rail, like a rail plank, the cat balance exercise is quite simple. You want both hands and both feet on the rail in a crouch pose, such that you resemble a cat walking on a track. You can hold the pose and call it a day if you’re a beginner, or move along the rail for a more thorough and dynamic exercise.
#8. Post Hops
Not for the faint of heart of those lacking in basic fitness and balance, post hops are a great exercise for balance and coordination. The concept is quite simple: find a set of posts with a top you can balance on with one foot, and work your way across them with hops. Don’t panic and go too fast if you struggle to keep your balance; while rushing may be easier in many ways, it adds an element of danger that you don’t want in a simple exercise.
If you’d like to try this exercise under safer circumstances, consider drawing boxes in chalk to jump across on the sidewalk, or using something larger than posts, such as step platforms or plyo boxes.
#9. Rail Squat
One of the advanced exercises to improve balance which is physically demanding and requires a degree of confidence on a rail, the rail squat is one of the best parkour balance exercises out there. It’s a move as difficult to perform as it is simple to describe: stand sideways on a rail and perform a squat. That’s the entirety of the rail squat, and while it’s quite easy to visualize it can be immensely difficult to perfect.
As you gain confidence in your rail squat, you can experiment with added weight, different speeds, or even try that one-legged squat we mentioned earlier.
Remember, take your time working up through each of these exercises to improve balance. The last few in particular demand a certain degree of balance and fitness in advance. You’ll still want to take advantage of the earlier items on the list, however, as many of them exercise unique muscle groups in a specific way that the more dynamic moves later in the list would not.
Advanced parkour practitioners should consider adding weight-based strength training to their routine. Weighted squats, power cleans, and similarly dynamic, full-body free weight movements work great as exercises to improve balance.