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Photo of Sam Parham from Parkour crew, Team 101

Will Wayland

In this article:



The words spoken by that gruff male voice (or female one if that’s what I happen to fancy) have been ringing in my ears since playing Crysis. The voice of course comes from the nano-suit the protagonist wears. I’ve wondered in the future once the technology becomes available will we all be wearing something similar. What could people achieve with such devices with their augmented strength?

Well we are 30 or 40 years from such technology from becoming available! So we humans have to make do with our own bodies and our capacities for maximum strength and maximum speed. Well the world’s strongest man is Phil Pfister and the worlds fastest is Asafa Powell, I'd be willing to bet Asafa isn’t gym shy and Pfister isn't that slow, but ultimately we want the best of both worlds.

In all sports it's well recognised that being strong and fast reaps huge benefits. Traceurs and free-runners are being increasing seen as some of the world’s most supreme athletes with the right training focus they could be even faster, stronger and injury free (being strong helps prevent injury). Strength and speed make movement seem effortless. Simply put who does not want to maximise their strength and speed? Or you could wait for a nanosuit.

Maximum strength may not be the determining factor in parkour performance but it does have real value. It provides the foundation for power and speed development and this is very important.

It is this power that can present the athlete with the option of making an explosive break, to move at high speeds in order to generate moment for longer and higher jumps. Max strength also plays a huge role in deceleration from landings.

As defined by strength expert Yuri Verkhoshansky, explosive strength consists of three important components:
Maximum strength
Starting strength
Acceleration strength.

Maximum strength
can be increased by lifting heavy loads for multiple, low-repetition sets. The strength recorded 30 ms after the start of a muscle action.

Acceleration (speed) strength is the ability to generate maximum force very quickly. By getting stronger, we are able to work longer and harder in developing our skills in practice. It can help us to create more power (speed X's time) in each of our sprint / running strokes and therefore increase our speed output. And we can actually improve our flexibility and mobility, which is so critical to mastery of technique. In addition, flexibility is an insurance package against sustaining a possible injury. I’ll be writing a flexibility and mobility guide very very soon!

Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Transferring this concept to sprinting simply means that the more force we apply to the ground as we put our foot down in a running motion or jumping motion, the more force will be returned to us in the form of energy to propel us down the track or playing field, street, rooftop. However, if we lose sight of the fact that we need to develop our sprinting technique and overall flexibility, then the strength we gain in the weight room will be for naught.

It is therefore important to include these latter aspects into your entire strength training programs. As an athlete, you are always in the weight room as a means to an end. Weight training as an athlete is NOT an end all in itself.

The reasoning here is if you only train for increased strength, without ever paying attention to how fast you’re moving the weight, you may get very strong, but not necessarily faster or more explosive. You have great maximum strength but you can’t express it fast enough. This is why, in general, powerlifters can’t jump as high as Olympic weightlifters. Too many powerlifters train using heavy weights, which move slowly, all year long.

Instead of always trying to lift more than their friends do, powerlifters should spend some time trying to lift faster than their peers. The bottom line is if no speed work is done, you will end up with a strong, slow athlete. On the other hand, if you only train for speed and never increase your maximal strength, you will not have enough of a strength base to develop explosive power. Maximum strength determines your potential for explosive strength because there is a greater pool of muscles fibers that can be adapted to the job.

So you if want to be fast and strong the answer is pretty simple:

Train for both maximal strength and speed simultaneously in your training cycle!

The following program is designed so that on Day One and Day Three your main exercise is designed to increase your max strength. On Day One Heavy weights will be used and the weights will move slowly. On Day Three, your main lift will be dynamic/hypertrophic (speed/muscular) growth in nature.

Two other days of the week will be devoted to speed training, one straight line (linear) speed day. Straight line speed is all well and good but an old adage tells us “never ask a sprinter for tips on being faster”. Why? Because they don’t have to change direction so we need to add one change of direction speed day.

DAY 1 Max strength day
DAY 2 Straight Line (Linear) Speed Day
DAY 3 Hypertrophy*/dynamic
DAY 4 Change of direction Speed Day
*Hypertrophy is the increase of the size of an organ or in a select area of the tissue. It should be distinguished from hyperplasia which occurs due to cell division increasing the number of cells while their size stays the same; hypertrophy occurs due to an increase in the size of cells, while the number stays the same.


Choose six exercises per session, four of the six must be compound exercises*.

*Compound exercises move the body through more than one joint movement, while isolation exercises only move the body through a single-joint movement. Probably the best exercise to demonstrate the difference is the barbell squat. This "king" of all compound exercises moves your body using a majority of your muscle groups and bends you at your ankles, knees, waist, hips, and to some degree, even your shoulders. Compare this to an isolation exercise such as leg entensions, which only moves your body by bending one joint...the knee.

When lifting you should be aiming for 3 sets of 5 reps. There will be two lifting days heavy and hypertrophy/speed focus.

On heavy day the weight should be heavy enough for 5 RM is enough illicit great strength gains, but not so heavy each set becomes a fight for survival.

On light day focus on 6-10 reps 3-4 sets lifting/moving as fast as possible, be honest with yourself and always ask could I be doing this faster?

(Body weight exercises are noted in blue)
CHEST Incline, flat, decline barbell or dumbbell bench presses.
Wide-grip dips. Power pushups (push up as fast as possible).
BACK Bent over rows, lat pull downs.
Pull-ups or pulldowns with pronated (palms down grip), semi-supinated (palms facing each other), and supinated grips (palms facing you grip). Fat man rows.
DELTOIDS Standing or seated military presses with a barbell or dumbbells utilizing pronated, semi-supinated or supinated hand positions.
QUADS High-bar full barbell squats, hack squats or front squats.
Pistols, Body weight lunges.
LOWER BACK/HIPS Traditional and/or sumo-style deadlifts or Good Mornings. Power cleans or snatches.
Glute Ham raises, Glute raises.
(Body weight exercises are noted in blue)
BICEPS Barbell curls, hammer curls or preacher curls.
Close grip pull ups (biceps focus).
TRICEPS Lying barbell or dumbbell triceps extensions, and pronated or supinated grip pressdowns.
Bodyweight tricep extensions.
DELTOIDS Front, side or rear dumbbell raises.
HAMSTRINGS Glute-ham raises or leg curls.
CALVES Standing, seated or donkey calf raises.
Linear Speed day, the focus here is on straight line speed and power.
WARMUP Thorough, 15 mins
HURDLE HOPS OR HIGH BOX JUMPS Perform 3 sets of 3 jumps. Rest one minute between sets.
LOADED OR UNLOADED 20 METER SPRINTS Use either a weighted vest or sled. Perform 6 weighted or unweighted 20 meter sprints. Rest 30 seconds between sprints.
FREE SPRINTS No added weight. Perform four 20 meter sprints, rest 30 seconds between sprints. After the last sprint, rest one minute then perform three 30 yard sprints. Rest the amount of time it takes you to walk back to the start line. After the last 30 yard sprint, rest one minute then perform two 40 meter sprints. Rest two minutes between the 40 meter sprints.
CALVES Standing, seated or donkey calf raises.
Change of direction Speed day, the focus here is changing direction quickly.
WARMUP Thorough, 15 mins
SHUTTLE RUNS Firstly, place a marker at 10m, 20m and 30m. Run to the 10m mark first, touching the floor and running back to the start line. Then run to the 20m line and back. Finally run to the 30m line and back. Start the routine again and repeat four times. You can time yourself to measure improvement.
ILLINOIS DRILL for this drill you need 8 markers to form the shape below. As you can see you sprint to first marker back down slalom through he middle up and back and sprint up to the last marker and then to the finish. 3-5 sets as fast as possible trying to get under 25 seconds in one set. Under 25 seconds would be average, under 20 good and under 17 would be excellent.

That wraps up the training program, with this program I recommend following it for 4-8 weeks then switching to something else, sprint training really taxes the nervous system and recovery.

The workout is pretty straight forwards and the weight training is flexible enough for you to adapt to any needs you may have in terms of strength and injury prevention.

Tips and tricks for improving speed and strength.

There are things we can do to get a little more out of ourselves in terms of strength and speed, many of these things are utilised by elite athletes to get that extra few percent out of themselves. I selected varieties that are easiest to do and use without any specialist equipment and not too much effort.

In the gym...


Co-contraction (the simultaneous activation of antagonist muscles around a joint) provides the nervous system with a way to adapt the mechanical properties of the limb to changing task requirements— both in statics and during movement.

Basically this means that by contracting both the flexing and extending muscles during a moment we can improve control and stability.

Examples would be keeping the muscles around the shoulder blades tense when doing push ups or bench pressing. Or contracting both quads and hamstrings when landing. This allows us to add stabilisation and control to heavy lifting and bodyweight movements.

Benefits :
Improved stability and control
Negatives :
Uses a lot of energy

Post Activation Potentiation
Post-activation potentiation is one of the most effective maximal strength building methods I've ever come across. Not only will it cause immediate increases in maximal strength, but it can also be a great tool for building more muscle since you'll be able to recruit more motor units.

It works by lifting very, very heavy, this fires up the nervous system and allows to it call on more strength for the next movement.

Research has shown that 5-10 seconds of maximal effort invokes the greatest level of potentiation while minimizing fatigue. So for this you might try adding weight for a pull up that you can only move for 1 rep, get some assistance to get to the top and hold for 5-10 seconds, rest 90 seconds between reps for 4 sets, then do your regular pull-ups as normal.

Benefits: Visible increases in strength
Negatives: Working with such heavy weight always poses risks.

With supplements...

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that plays a role in maintaining and restoring energy levels during sprint type activities. In humans, approximately half of stored creatine originates from food (mainly from fresh meat and fish). We can supplement it with monohydrate powder. What you’ll see if improved recovery from short intense activities like sprinting and lifting weights.

Benefits: Improved power, recovery from sprint type work Negatives: May gain a little water weight (disappear when you stop taking)

With clothing...

Foot wear and tighter clothes
This one is a no brainer, footwear with good grip will give you more traction which will in turn help you run faster and break quicker. Wearing to baggy clothes will act like a sail when moving quickly it will create more air resistance and slow you down.

It’s no wonder sprinters wear such tight fitting running gear (although i don’t recommend you go that far). Nike pro/under armour and other compression shirts are a great example of clothing that would be useful for reducing drag.


Contrast Showering
The contrast shower is a simple and convenient way to stimulate vitality and promote detoxification, as well as treat generalized areas of pain and soreness.

The idea is simple: alternating between hot and cold water while you are showering to stimulate your body to heat itself up and cool itself down, in order to compensate. This temperature contrast helps strengthen and normalize the nervous, circulatory, endocrine (hormonal), musculoskeletal and immune systems and is excellent for helping the body cope with physiological and psychological stress.

After your normal hot shower, gradually turn down the hot water until the shower is pleasantly cool and rinse your whole body under the cooler water for about 30 seconds. If you have localized areas of pain or soreness you can focus the shower stream on those areas.

Next, switch the shower back to hot to rewarm your body for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat the cycle 3-5 times and end with cool.

It is important that the hot phase is longer than the cold, and that you finish with cool water.

Now it’s time to utilize this program and these methods and be the strongest and fastest you’ve ever been.


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