Do you need to do strength training exercises when you’re practicing parkour on a regular basis? Does strength training improve your form and help make you a better traceur (practitioner of parkour)?
A lot of people are hard-pressed to get back in the gym when the whole reason they started practicing parkour was to get outside! Still, there are some great benefits to doing strength training exercises if you’re serious about parkour.
What Is Parkour?
Parkour is a practice and discipline that involves efficiently moving through a path of obstacles, usually in an urban landscape. It has a lot in common with military obstacle courses and martial arts, though it tends to be more informal and incorporates objects that already exist in the environment.
For example, a traceur might jump over a park bench or shimmy up the side of a fence to get to the goal. The end location can be arbitrary, and the point is more to have fun along the journey. There are certain established techniques and moves that are common in parkour and that most traceurs eventually have to learn, such as vaulting and climbing.
Parkour is similar to freerunning, but it’s more focused on efficiency of movement than fancy tricks. Parkour is also more of a cooperative effort and this has cultivated a thriving community. You’ll find that most traceurs are very welcoming and eager to help newbies learn the ropes.
Is There a Need to Strength Train for Parkour?
To get technical, you don’t need anything to train for parkour. Strength training exercises are just a supplement—but they can definitely help you, especially if you’re struggling to get certain moves right. In fact, there are a few reasons why you might want to consider strength training exercises:
1. Fixing Imbalances
Even with a holistic, full-body workout like parkour, unbalanced training can happen. This isn’t so much about the nature of the discipline as it is simply about our own bodies. You will naturally tend to use certain muscles instead of others because of your body structure. Sometimes, this can lead to massive development in some areas and weaknesses in others that will eventually hold back your growth.
For instance, let’s say that your genetics dictate that your lats (the muscles of your upper back) will grow a lot faster than your forearm muscles. You may be strong enough to pull with force from your lats—perhaps when pulling yourself up the side of a building—but your forearm muscles may not be able to help hold the grip for very long. As a result, you might subconsciously avoid holding on for a long time in favor of quick, explosive movements that rely on your lats.
In a case like this, your lats will continue to grow more and more, but your forearms will be weak, which will make it harder and harder for you to grip, especially as you gain muscle in other areas and try to do fancier moves. A solution to this would be to do strength training exercises that target the forearms.
You can do this with any muscle group that lags behind for you. One muscle group that tends to be underdeveloped for people who mostly focus on bodyweight disciplines like parkour are the leg muscles. If you do strength training exercises with weights, then you have the opportunity to challenge those muscles a lot more, so that your upper and lower body are more balanced.
2. Protecting Against Injury
Sometimes we may not realize the weaknesses that we have when we set out to explore a new environment or try a new parkour move. This can lead to injury.
Strength training exercises allow you to master certain basic movements—such as pushing, pulling, or balancing your weight—in a controlled area before you start introducing complicated elements. It can help your smaller muscles get strong enough to prevent injury.
3. Helping You Work Up to Your Goals
Sometimes a movement would be too overwhelming to learn all at once.
For example, maybe you’re a bit intimidated by the idea of pulling yourself up the side of a tall fence and then lifting yourself over it with just your upper body. This is the basic movement of a “muscle up,” though, which is like of a fusion of the pull-up and the dip. If you practice this movement in a gym, you’ll be better prepared in the field.
Strength Training Exercises Don’t Have to Happen at the Gym
Having said all of that, you don’t have to go to the gym to do your strength training exercises necessarily. Most of the exercises that will help with parkour are bodyweight exercises, anyway, which means that you don’t always need gym equipment. Anything that challenges your muscles can be “strength training exercises,” even if you don’t use typical weights.
Bar training—that which uses chin-up bars, jungle gyms, monkey bars, and other similar equipment—is a great type of cross-training for parkour. You don’t need anything besides typical playground equipment to do it.
You can also stick to exercises that literally only require your body and a stable floor, such as push-ups. Get creative!
Improve Your Parkour Skills with These Exercises
If you do want to head down to the gym and work on your strength training in a more formal way, though, you’ll want to make a plan to do these exercises every week on a schedule. This is how you actually get results. They won’t happen instantly, and you have to be consistent about it.
Also, focus on exercises that count and that will help your form in parkour the most. Here are five important strength training exercises for parkour:
Dips mostly target the muscles of your chest (pectorals) and the back of your arms (triceps). They help you practice the motion of lifting your body over an obstacle without momentum and with only your upper body.
Doing weighted dips—where you place a weight between your legs to make yourself heavier—can be extra beneficial. If your body masters weighted dips, then pushing only your body weight with your arms will become a piece of cake out in the field.
Some of the same muscles that dips target can be targeted by push-ups or bench press, though dips more closely emulate the actual movements you will make when trying to move through obstacles. If you find that your muscles are too weak to do dips, then you can work up to them with angled push-ups. You may also want to try a triceps push-down machine or some “skull-crushers” with free weights.
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2. Pull-Ups / Chin-Ups
Pull-ups help you get better at climbing and pulling yourself over obstacles that lay overhead. They primarily work your lats (upper back), but they affect almost all of the pulling muscles of the upper body. They can also indirectly work your forearm muscles because they require you to be able to hold a dead hang of your entire body weight.
A lot of people—especially those starting out—find that they can’t do even a single pull-up. If this is your predicament, then you can start with a lat pull-down machine and then work your way up to regular pull-ups, then eventually to weighted pull-ups.
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The squat is a movement that targets the muscles of the legs and glutes mostly, but carrying the weight of the bar on your shoulders can affect upper body muscles indirectly as well. It’s hard to work the legs with just bodyweight training, so weighted squats can do a great job in helping lower body development.
Squats can help you jump higher and more explosively, and they can also help protect your leg muscles from injury.
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The deadlift targets almost all of the muscle groups, though it’s the best strength training exercise that hits the lower back. Because humans have become so sedentary, it’s not unusual to injure the lower back, and doing regular deadlifts can help prevent that.
Overall, though, it’s a great compound exercise to do for general strength work. It works the lower body in particular, so it’s a good supplement to the squat, and you can toggle between both of these movements in your routine.
5. Overhead Press
If you’re working on getting strong enough to do a handstand push-up movement, then the overhead press can help get you there. It works your arms, but it has a particularly strong effect on your shoulders, especially your traps (the muscles on the back of your shoulders). If you want to train some weak shoulder muscles, one of the first strength training exercises that you’ll want to turn to is the overhead press.
Parkour can be a demanding discipline, but it’s not without its rewards. If you’re facing what seems like an insurmountable wall in your progress, then you might consider getting strong enough to climb it with strength training exercises! Cross-training at the gym can help prevent injury, improve your results outside, and ease you through plateaus in your parkour training.