There are three fundamental abilities you need to be great at Parkour. The first is technique. We have covered technique in our Ultimate Parkour Guide, and our Blocking, Delaying Rotation, and Tucking Tight tutorials.The second ability is strength. We recently covered strength in our Parkour Strength guide. The last ability to round out this trio is mobility. We introduced mobility in our Ankles Guide, but today we will go in depth.
Parkour MobilityMobility allows us to move powerfully between positions of stability. Without strong movement, you will burn out knees, tear shoulders, and develop the hips of an old man. Mobility provides the means to rehabilitate muscles that become notoriously stiff. Mobility provides the means to reclaim full range of motion in joints.
“Wrists and ankles are at the greatest risk; hyperextension and compression. There have been broken bones. We train to preserve our bodies.” – Brian Orosco, Tempest Freerunning
“What got me and what is kind of like the silent killer of Parkour, is mobility. I have very tight Achilles and ankles. When you lack the flexibility/mobility there, the first place that compensates is the knee. So after five years of doing Parkour, I actually developed bad runner’s knee in my left knee and I had to get surgery.” – Ryan Ford, Apex Movement
"I have developed an ankle impingement. In a nutshell, it is a minor sprain that never goes away. Given the option, I would go back in time and train my ankles the way I do now." – Dogen – Independent Tricker
I’m willing to bet many of you have no idea your mobility sucks. You will never be a talented traceur without this. In fact, you will become worse as you get older. Let’s dig into the criteria and exercise needed to maintain that beautiful carcass of yours.
Criteria and FocusThe main areas we want to focus on are shoulders, hips, and knees. To do this, we are going to use four training techniques. This is all about balance and form, no need for weights. In the beginning, you will need to stabilize yourself with a pole. After you master the techniques that way, try them without balancing support.
Third-World SquatThis is a full squat motion that helps with posture, knee mobility, and hip mobility. Your butt should touch your ankles, and your feet should be flat. You need to keep a straight back the entire time. Keep those shins vertical to avoid bad knee strains. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Here is a video showing you a proper third-world squat:
This will take practice and the gent in this video is showing great flexibility. Note how he oscillates back and forth to work out the stiffness. This degree of motion is something to work towards. I wish I had that flexibility. It is very likely you will need to lean forward to maintain balance.
After you master the technique, touch your feet together and try again. A good squat will help with your landings, especially precisions. Never land with feet apart and knees together. Collapsing knees is very quick way blowing out the PCL and MCL of the knee.
PistolThis is another great mobility exercise. As with the squat, you need to make sure your back remains straight the entire time. This exercise also helps with ankle range of motion and general balance.
Here is an example of correct pistol form:
Again, this is something to work towards. It is very likely you do not have full range of motion in your ankles. This will limit the ability to remain upright. So, start by holding onto a pole for balance.
Shrimp SquatThe shrimp squat is excellent for knee mobility and balance. You will not be dipping down as far as a full squat, so your hips don’t get much of a workout. You must remember to keep your feet flat at all times.
Here is an example of proper shrimp squat technique:
If you cannot keep the knee from going past the foot then stop. Focus on the previous two exercises. When the knee is past the front of the foot, this puts a great shear force on the knee. Excessive shear will definitely lead to injury.
Shoulder MobilityThe techniques above cover the lower body, but we also need to focus on the shoulders. Good shoulder mobility is essential to Parkour. You need to be able to express full shoulder range of motion in both directions. The proper top range should leave your arm just behind your ears. If you don’t know what that looks like, check out this photo from Mobility WOD.
The next range of motion is at the bottom. Kelly Starrett does an excellent job of explaining what proper downward mobility looks like. Check out this video for an in-depth explanation.
The improper range of motion of the shoulder – arm down position – results in the “douche bag” shoulder forward position. This is a weak shoulder position and the cause of many shoulder injuries.
Your body is amazing and will cover your back when using poor shoulder positions. Unfortunately, it will use surrounding muscles that are not near as strong and often results in tears.