S/LowParkour – all the awesome strength balance mobility – without the fear of Death and Injury Part?

This post is going to tell you about what i’m calling slow and low parkour – S/LowParkour – S/LowPark.- LowPark? Dunno yet. it’s something i’ve been seeking for years and finally realized may be staring me in the face. And now i offer this insight to you, to see if you agree and to test out. That is, if full on parkour feels one step or leap too far, we can all s/lowP towards uber strength, mobility, balance, movement. But first, a bit of background.

Parkour is probably the most amazingly awesome whole body movement practice – of moving like a human. It has several awesome qualities: its first awesome quality is that It includes what we’ve been saying makes up MOVEMENT: the coordination of strength, mobility, balance. It also relies on the environment as it is, to be explored as opportunities for movement, rather than obstacles to movement. That’s a second awesome.

A Third Awesome is that Parkour – unlike your favorite Arnie gym movement (even my beloved pull ups) – goes across ALL planes of motion.

Check it out: any gym workouts with weights – or without and you’ll note that they all pretty much map to ONE plane of motion, the sagittal plane (as per the Bodyweight workout chart to the side).

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When we’re walking/running we’re in the sagittal plane – so pretty normal. But in life we also have to move to the side, reach over, turn, jump. Break out of the saggital

We therefore need to practice our MOVEment in these planes just as much as the saggital if we want to be smooth and efficient in them – which is what parkour definitely does.

Coordination of Strength Balance Mobility

When folks practice parkour, they include jumping down from ledges or up to ledges, walking on ledges. So balance, mobility, strength, are each challenged, concurrently. That’s fantastic: that’s movement.

Parkour also has a lot of grip work – grabbing, releasing, pulling, pushing – grip strength is correlated with mortality, how bout that? so good there too. Out for a walk? ANything becomes a possible place of exploration. Fantastic.

A challenge for parkour uptake is possibly the fear threshold – especially for those of us whom we might call “risk averse.” – We’ve seen district 13:

parkour – with its french roots – showing off in district 13

Towards slower/lower Parkour ?

The core or heart of parkour, it seems to me, is about its very multi-planer movements – there’s a lot of work where both hands and feet are involved at the same time – from hanging onto a wall and climbing up or dropping into a roll from a great height. It’s all very kinetic, and all very full body.

That dynamism with the whole body in play is not there in the things i usually use and have built up a strength practice around for years- like kettlebells, pull ups, push ups, presses – all things sagital, and mainly minimal kit – like a pull up bar, rings, and yes kettlebells, bands (as per this list of making such tools accessible).

These practices however are not what one would call “athletic” in the sense of athletic movement. What football player, or even golfer moves just in the sagittal plane? What of any physical, land-based play, involving the whole body, moves in just that single direction?

Outside this space (or box) of pull ups, push ups, swings, rings and dips, I’ve been dauntingly inspired by the definitely beyond saggital plane movement work of Ido Portal (for example this low bridge rotation attempt). And for years and years have observed systems like Natural Movement (MovNat) (eg this Hawaii island run jump and climb) And, a bit more recently, the coordinated patterns of Animal Flow. And there are many more with that capoeira vibe – all of which felt – i gotta say – either completely (and prohibitively expensively) out of reach or just not my jam. Too structured; not structured enough. Largely featuring men without shirts on showing off their incredibly ripped torsos, doing supposedly intro tutorials that were not intro at all.

And then, more recently, what i’ve been practicing and sharing with folks – particularly in terms of building a strength practice – is a bit of a change. It’s inspired by GMB fitness and their four core, four on the floor movements: monkey, frogger, crab, bear. Why? several reasons

check out frogger, crab, bear, monkey
  • The approach to movement is ACCESSIBLE: start where you are – whatever challenge you find there is GREAT – and here’s how to get going. No guys without shirts; actually some women; older and younger Case Studies – VERY FRICKING HUMAN. Ya, in my practice i do deal with Real Athletes in Pain, but most of the time, i’m working with Us Normal Humans. So i really appreciate seeing Normal Humans doing this stuff.
  • The WAY of these Movements: These “animal” movements get our arms working with our lower body – so there’s a whole body coordination involved – strength, balance, mobility – the whole movement package at once – like parkour – and heck – like life.
  • NEW ORIENTATION NEW SENSITIVITIES NEW BRAIN/MUSCLE WORK MORE RESILIENCE By working the body in new ways – like on all fours – we are re-learning balance and mobility and developing that precious odd angle strength.
  • These moves also capture most of the move fundamentals of push, pull, rotate, squat, carry. They’re a little light on pull – which is hard to get without grabbing something.
  • there are more moves in the GMB kit that capture rotations in what they frame as developing the transitions between these moves towards flows – including shoulder roles, rocking – stuff – that bringts these moves together

ARE THESE Animal MOVES THE HEART OF S/LowParkour? These animal movements – the four on the floor – give us – i think – therefore – the LOW part of parkour. And the approach – makes it super accessible – letting us SLOW down the moves – in fact slowing moves is not only important for skill building it’s also strength building (as touched on in this post around concentrating in the contraction). The mission i get from GMB – and you can hear it yourself in their videos is – start where you are.

Great! – so we have balance work in these, a lot of strength, a lot of coordination because these movements are whole body in motion, and we have mobility – for these motions. These attributes cover a lot of parkour. What’s missing? Anything missing?

Other Parkour Bits for S/Low: Grip, Pull and Leap

While the GMB animal moves are likely the heart of S/Low Parkour, there are a few more bits to include (and let me keep my pull ups as an option – you’ll see)

OBSTACLES Parkour – if we want to touch on everything in the parkour kit – also has obstacle navigation It’s very involved with challenging gravity with obstacles.

What i’m keen to explore with y’all is whether doing more four on the floor work encourages more opportunities to work with the environment for fun and movement.

For instance, what about using the curb as a walk in a straight line challenge for balance? what if we considered, walking backwards down the last two stairs before the landing? or just walking backwards. What if we stepped up on that rock to go over it and perhaps little cat jump down into a roll in the grass? Dunno – let’s find out.

GRIP & PULLING Another attribute of all that leaping we see in the district 13 clip above (just for example) is a lot of grabbing ledges and pulling up ropes, walls, ladders. Grip is as noted HUGE for our lives. THere’s two ways we can get grip and pulling going – to add to our S/lowParkour:

Carry stuff with handles – like oh i dunno – kettlebells? 🙂 Grocery bags, heavy(ish) stuff, where we grip? That’s a kind of pulling up action – we are resisting the pull of gravity to take these out of our hands. Here, when hand grip carrying, we can also challenge moving sideways, exploring rotations, like pick up in front rotate to side put down, do a squat turn pick up, walk etc.

Also of course for pulls, are pull ups. These work grip – oh yes

And these can become more dynamic with things like monkey bars or the amazing rings at muscle beach in california (why these kinds of rings only seem to exist in this one place, who knows).

Rings ON a pull up bar are a kind of way to play with brachiation as well.

S/Low Parkour – a work in progress

Yes, these accessible four on the floor movements as framed so accessibly by GMB fitness are what SEEM to be a great foundation for slower, lower parkour – not only lower on the ground than roof tops, but lower risk of injury for more abilities, starting points, ages?

With the add on of some grip work/ pulls – either as grip working carries or pull ups/arm swings (the Complete Monkey, perhaps) – it seems there’s an opportunity to then – from that confidence building body (of) movement, to begin as well to explore taking these moves outdoors, where i once again hold out the movement test of all time from Grover: over and under around and through. Pass this test, we’re moving here!


What is SO EXCITING to me here – that suddenly these very much on the ground with gravity moves – are also actually a precursor or cousin of the urban acrobatics of parkour that have seemed so out of reach. It’s like no, dude, this IS parkour – it’s s/low parkour, of a perhaps less dopamine-dependent variety. And maybe it’ll be the great foundation for jumping from one wall to another. It’s kinda nice it doesn’t have to be. Cuz i still got pull ups, too 🙂

it’s a work in progress, and its at least for me – kinda re-inspiring and re-invigorating my movement practice. You?

thanks for reading.


Movement Snacks – Build strength, mobility, balance throughout the day

Last post, we looked at the key ingredient for building strength, according to the latest research, is getting to some fatigue. What some recent reseasrch work is showing is that there are big wins to dosing our day with what Frank Forencich some time ago called “movement snacks” in his book exuberant animal – and what the sports science community has joylessly called “exercise snacks.”

That is, short, relatively intense bursts, over the course of a day, are good things. Efforts that get you to that fatigue place in 3-5 minutes, every few hours, can be, it seems, super. One paper refers to Sprint Snacks of 30 second bursts with 30 seconds of recovery.

The thing is: not every snack break has to be the same – either the same intensity or the same plane of movement. It’s ok to mix it up. THe following offers a movement snack menu, followed by a small movement meal, just to push the analogy.

5 minutes of Core Snack (with kids) – the awesome thing here is that with two humans following along, you can see variations – and again the main thing – find your TOASTYness – getting to a happy fatigue place – in five – it can be done

A morning starter snack – Tested over Thousands of years – Some of Sunrise salutations

Nice movement snack way to start your day

Another Morning Movement Snack – animal moves
Tell me you don’t get to toasty good fatigue with this follow along

The Inner Strength Builder Snack: hit the stairs, or grab a stool and step up and down – breathing through your nose. UNILATERAL GOODNESS can also be explored, where you work one side of the body at a time. For example, if you have a box or chair or block you can step up to, you can also do this one leg at a time – and that will get fatigue going.

A DYNAMIC snack – up the INTENSITY/EFFORT with or without implements.
Now me, i love kettlebells – and if it were up to me i’d have them available everywhere, for everyone. This is long time KB buddy Steve Cotter showing you 2 minutes to toasty goodness.

As you can see the KB lets one go from dynamic movements like the swing that works up and lower body, gets pulling and pushing moves in, just for starters. It’s high intensity without high impact. 20 swings. a few presses, some squats, some more swings. THAT is both an upper, a lower and a core workout RIGHT THERE.

KB Alternative: HI LO speedy squat pushes
Without those beautiful KB’s – SPEEDY SORTA SQUATS is an option – here, i like putting my hands on my knees, and then squatting down and using my hands to help with the push back up – at a really good clip – my goodness that can get the tempo up and also let me sustain the movement. swapping 20-50 speedy squats – with 10- 20 push / presses back and forth – little bit of rest after each set – for about 5 minutes.

A SLOW and LOW SNACK. Do whatever you want, but GO SLOW, and GET LOW Doing 5 – 7 minutes of slow bodyweight squats – or bodyweight push ups – or slow spiderman pushes or whatever – that focuses on slow, concentration on contraction – breaking when needed but as little as possible – will cause mental and physical fatigue – and build mental and physical resilience too.

EDT SNACK BLOCK We have a great protocol that takes seven minutes (snack size) swapping ten reps of one move/ten reps of another (called escalating density training – described here under “block”). The rep scheme can also be adjusted. Here the goal is JUST seeing if each time you do the block you can add ONE MORE rep. Here’s an example of adapting squats and push ups for a 7 minute block.

BUDDY SNACKS – going right to the originator of the playful movement snack, here are some of Frank Forencich’s crew exploring pairs movement play – how bring these movement snacks to your office? The opportunity here is that these pair moves bring together strength, mobility, balance in order to coordinate with each other. 5 minutes to toasty fatiguey goodness.

you might consider these pair play snacks at work

A MINI MOVEMENT MEAL – The following is an example of more of a meal than a snack – a 20 minute on the ground exploration to build strength, mobility and balance, courtesy of the crew at GMB fitness. The high side over traditional RET is that it works multiple plains of motion: remember we’re use it or lose it, so working side to side, at odd angles – that is also protective. Where do we tend to get injured? at ranges of motion we rarely explore. So let’s explore!

See where you get to fatigue. It’s a great way to start the day. Personally, i use this kind of practice session in the evening to get in good fatigue before sleep. It’s awesome. Really if you do some physical movement a few hours before you want to sleep, you will be amazed at the effects.

How Get Strong(er)? Easy! Find your Fatigue.

A question that is constant in the strength building community is about what’s the best thing to do to build muscle? or for some best way to just to build strength?

EASY – work a muscle till its close to, or is, pooped. Rest. Think about doing it again.

In recent work the components of this heuristic have been assigned the acronym FITT – frequency, intensity, type, and time. In summary, the biggest pay off for building strength is not number of sets, not load, not “time under tension” – but the I of INTENSITY – which in this case means getting to what the authors call “volitional fatigue” in whatever movement is being done. (aside: For muscle geeks out there, this has been quite the shift in understanding – as described in this study)

The main part of this heuristic is: “volitional fatigue” – getting to a place where it’s getting hard to get in that next move. Let’s break this down to consider MOVEs first in this RET context, and then Volitional Fatigue, and then ways to get there.

By move in this case, the literature focuses on Resistance Exercise Training (RET). That is movement that focuses on taxing skeletal muscle (the muscles around our joints like legs, back, neck, hands, toes) by having it work to resist gravity (as per the previous post about how movement is all about gravity).

In the book the Anatomy of Movement, there’s a lovely conceptualization of “Resistance” in terms of this relationship with gravity. When we just let a limb go, or drop, we offer gravity no resistance. When we lift that limb – we are using our muscles, and thus resisting gravity. As noted last week, no gravity, no resistance, no movement. Falling onto the bed at night? no resistance – a very short free fall going WITH the force of gravity. Getting up in the morning: resistance 🙂

COUNTING We often measure our work in such contexts by reps (the number of times we do a movement) sets (the number of reps we put in before a break) and recovery (the time between sets). [More on Set, Reps, Blocks, and Moves here]

Upper/Lower Focus in Moves In RET work, particular movements focus on different muscles or muscle groups, like arms, back, butt, legs, etc. In our work we’re usually focusing on compound movements that involve multiple joints. So a pull up works arms, upper back, a whole lot of abdominal (core) area, some chest.

The image above shows the main muscles “worked” in a deep squat. You can see: its mostly a lower body working move: butt and top of legs are the main areas worked – so this is also where you’d expect to feel fatigue.

ADJUSTING MOVES TO WORK FOR YOU These resistive movements are often characterized in terms of fundamental movement patterns: push, pull, squat, rotate, carry. We can do this kind of RET with just our bodies (often called “calisthenics); we can also add load to any of these movements with specifically weights, elastic bands, shopping bags, small pets, colleagues

ADJUST THE MOVE TO SUIT YOU – If we can’t even do the movement with our body weight – we adjust it to a place where we can; if our body weight is too light to produce that challenge (with a reasonable number of reps) we adapt in the other direction.

a fast playlist with some principles about how to make any move SUIT YOU

Another related attribute to building strength in doing this work is to focus on “maximally contracting” the muscles while doing the movement. In other words – if it’s easy to get in ten reps of push ups for example, if you focus on squeezing all the muscles involved throughout that whole movement, the effects are greater for strength/hypertrophy. Which in the experience of folks also tends to get to that fatigue point sooner, too.

Exploring Fatigue

The way we build fatigue? usually looked at WITHIN sets. SO, with a given load (like one’s body weight) how many reps of squats for example does it take to have those main involved muscles get to fatigue?

Thus, good focus on what we’re doing with our bodies, making every part of a rep work and count – no just going through the motions – is a big win.

CAVEAT: in the resistance training and particularly body building world one talks a lot about “going to failure” – where you can no longer execute a properly formed movement – whether a squat, dumbbell curl, whatever. We are not talking about necessarily hitting that total failure point. Pavel Tsatsouline, the guy responsible for bringing kettlebells to the attention of folks outside Russia, has always drawn on excellent Russian sports science to say “have a few reps in the tank.” Brad Shoenfield, who has literally written the book on the science of hypertrophy, has seen the research now really support this view. So what we’re talking about is (ok introducing another made up term here ) a FATIGUE RANGE of thinking yes you’d have to really work very hard to get that next move, and might not make it to actually trying to get that next repetition (like another squat another pull up) AND not making it completely. Toast zone (i can see the shirts now). Getting toasty takes on new meaning?

So Fatigue is: towards feeling like you are DONE, or would be if you went a little longer at whatever you’re doing.

Tip to test your STRENGTH focus: what gets you to towards toasty goodness? with as much of your body engaged as possible (to start).

So it’s totally fine to use lighter loads – it will just take a little longer to get to that toasty point of fatigued goodness.

Next time, we’ll look at Toasty Treats throughout the day – what Frank Forencich has called “movement snacks”

BONUS TIP: THE RIGHT KIND OF FATIGUE – Intriguingly IF you’re feeling TIRED in body and soul from work and you haven’t been doing time under tension – going for a walk, skipping some rope, doing some Monkey’s and Froggers, can help break out of that accumulated lack of movement fatigue and give you that REAL physical fatigue that is gonna hit your happy places – where you’ll sleep better too.