Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes

Change Log

As stated in the introduction to these guidelines, this document is going to evolve and grow over time as more data becomes present and more ideas and feedback come to light.  Below are a list of changes that have been implemented since the creation of the document.

December, 8 2009

  • Publish date

December 20, 2009

  • Fixed typographical errors.
  • Changed level 5 from “Elite Athlete” to “Highly Specialized Athlete” as this is more consistent with the actual values listed as well as the Parkour philosophy.
  • Changed the title from “Skill Standards for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes” to “Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adapatable Athletes” since this is more consistent with the values as well as the philosophies of EMI, its authors and the communities in which they are involved.
  • Footnote on genetics has been removed as suggested by Jake Oleander on the CrossFit message boards since most things on this list are, in fact, genetically biased.
  • The skill “Power Clean and Jerk” has been changed to “Clean and Jerk.”
  • Guidelines for the Snatch have been changed to be more consistent with the Clean and Jerk.  The values for the Snatch should now be roughly 80% of the Clean and Jerk’s values.
  • Changed “Vertical Jump” to “Standing Vertical Jump” for the sake of clarity.
  • Added a note that the WR that the standing vertical jump and standing box jump is unverified and highly speculative.
  • Proper credit has been given to CrossFit North.
  • Changed the level three description as suggested by Jamie J. Skibicki from the CrossFit message boards.  The new description no longer calls a lack of level three skills dangerous, but rather addresses the benefits of being level three in terms of continuous training while reducing the risk of injury.

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50 Responses to “Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes”

  1. Emil Brännmark December 9, 2009 at 5:04 am #

    Seems like quite a large gap between snatch and clean&jerk. Ie at 80 kg the level three standards would be a 60kg snatch and 128kg power clean and jerk. When I was at 80kg bw my biggest snatch was 57.5kg and my biggest squat clean about 100 with the jerk substantially lower, and that’s having barely trained the snatch at all and focusing a fair bit of time on the clean.

    • Chris Salvato December 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

      Thank you Emil. After seeing this and some other people’s comments it came to light that most times the Snatch is about 80% of the C&J. I will be changing this soon after a bit more research. With that said, do you agree or disagree with this assertion?

  2. Kevin Rohrbach December 10, 2009 at 5:37 am #

    I love this set of goals. It gives me something to work towards and a progression to work through.

    I’d just be interested in hearing your thoughts on utilising Jesse Woody’s Parkour WOD as a means of achieving all the Bodyweight level 3 standards over time.

    I like the WOD’s holistic approach and the way it tells me what to do and when to do it (either this is my version of KISS or just plain laziness; I’ll let you decide) but I’m not sure whether it is too general to concur with your recommendation above of the maximum of six goals (2:2:2) at a time. Personally, I suspect that exercises working towards a particular goal, e.g. the static hold progressions as featured in WOD 12-1-09 come too far apart to bring significant gains in that skill. What do you think, would I need to ditch the WOD and specialise more? Thanks.

    I apologise should this question be out of place in the comments here. I’ll remove it and post it somewhere else if you wish.

    • Chris Salvato December 10, 2009 at 5:50 pm #


      Jesse’s Parkour WOD is usually what i tell new trainees to start with before they identify serious goals. Oftentimes, the people who get my recommendation for the APK WOD are those who are reluctant to make goals or have little confidence in approaching a solid set of goals. It helps to get them on track, into a routine and develop a more serious standard for themselves. Over 6-12 months, the WOD would help bring you up to a level 1, for sure, but I would not think that it would get you to level 3 or even level 2 on some skills.

      To reiterate, I would suggest the WOD until you see plateaus towards the goals you are interested in. Once you feel progress has stagnated, focus on the skills you would like to excel at and they should translate over to all skills on this list quite well.

      A WOD is nice for the reasons you mentioned. You could always try another site’s WODs to move on such as, and Each of these sites focuses on a different thing and it would be worthwhile to move around from one to the other as you progress if, for some reason, you are very averse to setting your own goals.

      With that said, *customized, specific goal oriented training is always the most efficient way to progress.*

  3. Lawrence December 10, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    A comprehensive list no doubt. The basic premise is that it is possible for an athlete to acheive any or all of the skills for level 3? Once you begin pursuing goals for level 4 it is likely you will have to choose fewer of them? But you will still not necessarily sacrifice the standards set in level 3?

    • Chris Salvato December 10, 2009 at 5:46 pm #

      Yes, Lawrence. The idea is that, with some focused training over 2 years or so, most trainees within that demographic should be able to achieve level 3 in all skills barring that they don’t have some sort of injury or another unusual circumstance that would limit them.

      For level 4, yes, you typically need to choose fewer of these goals. Someone who is a cut above the rest may be able to hit level 4 across the board but even then that would likely take more than 3 years training, in my opinion.

      From what I have seen, level 3 is a great baseline for a serious athlete (that is, all level 3’s should be attainable) and level 4 and 5 are where you can go with some more specialization in a few select skills.

      Obviously, 34 skills is a lot to train at once. Luckily, up until level 3, most of these skills have a very high translation from one to the other (and to everyday activities and tasks!)

      • Lawrence December 10, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

        Thanks for that. I have always wondered how this might work. It is good to see that an 18 min 5km run is not necessarily incongruous with a 2x bodyweight back squat. You don’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other until you begin moving beyond these benchmarks and aiming for level 4 goals. I do recognise that this would not be easy but your standards indicate that it is possible for an athlete with enough training and dedication.

        • Chris Salvato December 11, 2009 at 1:44 am #

          Yes but do also bear in mind that this is a generalized list for a wide demographic. It may be more difficult for you to get to both of these skills simultaneously as compared to someone else you train with…though with proper conditioning our consensus was that this should be possible.

        • Chris Salvato December 11, 2009 at 1:45 am #

          As an added anecdotal note – without ever working on my distance running I was at about a 1.5xBW squat when I ran a 22 minute 5k. With focused work I am confident I could have hit 18 min 5k and 2xBW squat but I had to put that off since my priorities changed a bit at the time (a few years back).

  4. Pilou December 14, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    Great benchmark!! I can’t help noticing that the list is very much focused on strength. I understand that progressing on those skills will also help improve cardio, speed, flexibility, balance, etc. but I was wondering if there are other skills where strength is less of a focus that you might have overlooked (or discarded)? Women’s gymnastics? Climbing? Swimming? Tumbling? Juggling?

    As a note, did you guys look at the list of skill and the scale of performance built by Georges Hébert in the Natural Method books? I bet there are some interesting similarities, possibly some missing skills (climbing & throwing, for instance).

  5. Xi Xia December 19, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Hi there,

    Love checking out new skills standards:)

    About the 2K row time, Level three of 7:45 seems too easy. From experience at my CrossFit gym, the athletes that would be doing the other level 3 skills well have a 2K Row that is consistently between 7:00-7:20.

    thanks for putting this together!


  6. Pilou December 22, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    Hey Guys,

    out of curiosity, we did a benchmark of a subset of the skills at Primal last night with the Parkour crowd. Here’s the impressions we got, that might help you adjusting things a bit 😉

    First, having a list of skills with simple benchmarks is a great incentive to measure our level in many skills (as I said before, though, some fundamental skills like balance, climbing, throwing are missing imo). The skills we tried (push-ups, pull-ups, handstands, L-sits, wall runs, broad jumps, box jumps, climb ups, vault exit) more or less ranked us around level 2, which feels about right. So that’s a success 🙂

    However, the scale you put together is, well. very biased toward the skills you train most actively. Frankly, I don’t know that many people who could do clapping climb-ups (lvl 4), and I don’t really see how it is represents an increase in climb-up skill either. Level 3 on push-ups assumes that you can do a tuck planche, which is another skill entirely. On the other hand, the jumping scale was comparatively easy… I guess it’s to be somewhat expected from different training backgrounds, but you should probably revisit the scales first evaluating more critically your own extremely advanced level.

    Last, there was a bit of frustration that levels don’t scale well. Level 1 was unquestionably easy in most skills (the 1min handstand was borderline), and then level 2 was really hard. It seemed that those level 1 skills could be mastered in a few months of light training, rather than a full year or two. I would suggest looking back and building a level 0 (what you can achieve quickly by training a new skill) and then a level 1 that really reflects a year of practice. A few examples:
    climb-ups: level 0 = any means necessary, level 1 = without using elbows or forearms; push-ups: level 0 = 5 push=ups, level 1 = 10 declined push-ups; wall-run: level 0 = 18 in, level 1 = 30 in; handstand: level 0 = 30s AW, level 1 = 60s AW / 5s FS; etc.

    I hope you guys see this for what it is: *constructive* criticism. I wouldn’t write all this otherwise 😉
    Keep up the good work, and thanks for getting this out!!

    • Ryan Ford December 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm #

      Hey Pilou,

      Thanks for the feedback. You raise some good points.

      I am interested to hear how you guys fared over there. In fact, I would be interested to hear a more in depth summary than just that most of you were level 2. I think that is a good testament to the guidelines though. I see very little parkour people who are much more than a level 2 across the board (despite all these parkour people online claiming they are). Currently, most of our best athletes at APEX are mostly level 2 with a little bit of level 3 mixed in. I suspect this will change as our students become more experienced, smarter, and stronger.

      First off, we did have a balance and flexibility part at first, but scrapped it due to the arbitrary and somewhat random levels/rankings they were starting to produce. For example, the only way to rank flexibility stuff is to measure degrees of ROM or joint angles. Things like this are not very practical. However, doing some of the exercises on the list correctly and masterfully will make you very flexible and strong through a great ROM, particularly squats, overhead squats, l-sits, levers, and handstand presses. There is no way anyone will get level 3 l-sits or presses if they cannot touch their toes.

      This isn’t to say that balance, flexibility, and other domains should be left off, it is to say that they are more difficult to include in something like this. We want to add them in later versions but it may be in a a different method than the level rankings. For example, we might say that in addition to the level 3 guidelines, a practitioner should be able to balance on a rail for 5 min. straight and be able to hold a rock bottom 3rd world squat.

      Not many people will achieve level 4 so I would say it is good that you don’t know a lot of people who can do a clapping climb up. I would also say that it is definitely an increase in climb up skill. It is essentially a more powerful, plyometric version of the level 3 climb up that we outlined.

      About the pushups, there were lots of ways we could have outlined it. We chose to avoid decline/incline because those are progressions toward HSPU. We avoided weighted push ups because they are too difficult and potentially dangerous for most people to do. We avoided max reps of BW push ups because we feel it is in the best interest of most athletes to work on strength rather than a ton of reps. If you can do 60 push ups in a row, you can’t necessarily do 5 tuck planche push ups on PB. However, if you can do the 5 TPPU on PB, you can probably bust out 40-70 push ups in a row without ever even working on them. We feel that the planche element is the best way to develop even more strength so while it may be something that you never do and therefore see it to be unreasonably hard, it may also be something that should be added to your regiment to become even better.

      • Pilou December 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

        More details, well, there were only a few of us there with the Holidays coming and such. Our strongest man was definitely level 3 and above across the board, if you accept half-bent handstand push-ups as a proxy for tucked planche push-ups, which he never trained before. Most of us were hovering around level 2+ on jumping, 2 on parkour-specific skills and more like 1+ on gymnastics skills. Maybe it’s just because we focus on different things in our training, but also some skills may be already specialized, i.e. not really part of a ‘generalist’ athletic training (which would need to be defined formally and so on). For instance, an olympic athlete training the decathlon would not necessarily rock at handstands, and yet be a well-rounded athlete nonetheless. Having more categories is better, however, as there is no really generalist athlete: we all have a purpose in our training; so more categories means it is easier to choose the subset that fits our individual objectives.

        With regard to flexibility, I totally agree that measuring range of motion doesn’t make much sense; you don’t measure strength directly either in these guidelines. But I was thinking you could definitely use a progression of yoga moves of increasing complexity with focus on different forms of flexibility as a benchmark / guideline of general flexibility that is not secondary to strength. Of course, you need some serious yoga experts to help you with those, but I feel adding them would encourage us to include more flexibility work in our training.

        For balance, I don’t see why you can’t put up a progression of skills (e.g. 1: walk 10 ft controlled on a ledge no wider than your foot, 2: same on a rail, 3: on a slackline, 4: on a tight rope, 5: err, I don’t have an idea for that, with your eyes closed maybe? I’m just pulling this out of thin air, by the way). Same as before, many athlete with great strength levels have very average balance because they don’t bother training it as a skill.

        I would also find it meaningful to add a section on acrobatics: spins, flips, handsprings, etc. are definitely a big element of a freerunner’s training and they impact their overall skill level. It’s specialized training, granted, but so is most of the advanced gymnastics skills.

        Last, for the push-ups my issue was that a tuck planche push-up requires to learn another skill whereas most other progressions are self-contained. What about clapping push-ups instead? or one-arm push ups. For the climb-ups, I was more thinking about the “practical usefulness” of clapping climb ups: even though clapping climb-ups do show an improvement of your skill level, you wouldn’t use them in a practical situation outside of training (though many of the skills and progressions are pointless outside of training too, so it’s a weak argument). I was thinking one-arm climb-ups would make more sense from the practical point of view. Sorry to be nitpicking, but you guys did request some feedback ;P

  7. Scott February 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    I can’t help but notice that the snatch standards are higher than the overhead squat. Isn’t this a bit incongruous? To snatch 80 kg, don’t you by definition have to over head squat 80 kg?

    • Chris Salvato February 9, 2010 at 10:23 am #


      We adjusted the Snatch and totally forgot to change the OHS. The change will come through some time this week.

      Thanks man!


  8. A guy March 4, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Thanks for the good work. I have converted the guidelines into word and excel. excel sheets includes converted numbers (e.g. feet to cm, inches to cm etc.). In case you would like to make them available, let me know. I would be happy to send you the files.

    • Chris Salvato March 4, 2010 at 8:20 am #

      Certainly! I have some other changes in the queue and adding a second version for metric measurements would be nice!

  9. Ryan Danks March 6, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    I’m interested in getting my wife and I up to level 2 (we are currently below 1, but that is our goal). We have been doing Starting Strength to get those initial weightlifting levels, but are confused about maintenance. After we achieve those goals, how do we maintain them while working towards other skills?

    Is there a more streamlined way of working towards this? I noticed Crossfit had a protocol where they would perform 1 olympic lift, a bodyweight circuit, and an endurance interval in a single workout. Would something like that be ideal for this?

    Maybe, a different lift each day, 2-3 bodyweight exercises performed in a circuit (different ones each time), and a different endurance goal each day? As you said above, the ability in most of the skills transfer to others quite well, so working them in this way should maintain skill in the others that are not getting worked in that week. Yes, no?

    Thanks for any help. I love this idea of skill goals. Keeps me focused while not having to be too strict.

    • Steven Low March 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

      “Is there a more streamlined way of working towards this?”


      Train the more complex technique skills with proficiency and you will be able to do the less skilled ones much easier once you have built strength with the more complex ones. Oly, for example, is complex compared to deadlifts, squats, etc. so the bulk of training should be spent on Oly lifts over pure squats and deadlifts.

      Once you have a strong C&J and snatch you will likely have very good numbers with DLs, squats, OHS, etc. as well.

      This is the same with the gymnastics work as well — work your way from the simple progressions up to the most difficult. Handstands, muscle ups, etc. are a must, and moving on the right progressions for strength such as front lever, back lever, planche, etc. will help enormously with strength in other aspects.

      • Ryan Danks March 8, 2010 at 6:50 am #

        It was mentioned that there would be a future article on creating a training routine, or expanding on what has already been given. Would it be possible for this concept of training to hit, and then maintain, these benchmarks in that article, or something new?

        This is such a great idea but my current level if competency is lacking where needed to run with this.


        • Chris Salvato March 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm #


          As you can imagine, the project that you are mentioning is an extremely daunting task. We are building up to this incrementally. Right now, for beginners like you that have no idea where to start, we have written up a brief synopsis on beginning training programs that you would likely find as a great starting point. Basic barbell strength is a great place to start towards any strength goal – even the gymnastics movements!

          Let me know if this is still unclear and I will try to make it as lucid as possible.



          • Ryan Danks March 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

            Thanks Chris.

            I read that article (Beginner’s Program) a few weeks ago and am currently following the practical programming starting strength program. What I am confused on is how to move on from there. My goal is level 2, for now, in those strength skills. After that, I am still vague on how to construct a program, or find one to follow, that will allow me to maintain those skills while building new ones.

            I guess the ideal would be to have a program with different slots, like a bodyweight, weight, and endurance slot that you can plug different exercises into. That would be good for improving new skills, but not for maintaining old ones. -confused- 🙂

          • Traceur March 16, 2010 at 10:05 am #

            I, too, have the same question as Ryan (from 3/11/10). I practice Parkour and while conditioning is very important, technique practice and flow work is vital as well.

            Ryan, Chris and any other traceurs: do you have set routines? Eg “this day I’ll do technique work, this day I’ll do running interval training/cardio, this day I’ll do upper body work,” et cetera…? How do you practice all of these skills above and still have time to work on parkour-centric techniques?

            Thank you for this article.

          • Steven Low March 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

            You should make room to strength train at least 2-3 times a week. Parkour training which can be anywhere located with that — depending on your conditioning level probably from 2-4 times a week.

            Proper strength and conditioning is absolutely a must as it will not only help you progress faster, but it will also help to stave off injuries when planned smartly.

          • Jonathan June 14, 2013 at 9:22 am #

            I agree that something like that could take years, but do you have any sort of timeline on getting the program out

          • Chris Salvato June 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

            The closest thing we have done to that is written Overcoming Gravity:

  10. NOS May 13, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    I didn’t go through all the comments, but under MetCon tests by ‘Rowing’ do you mean actual rowing in the water in a canoe, or do you by any chance (foolish of me to ask actually) mean barbell rowing, or maybe one of those rowing machines in gyms?

    • Chris Salvato May 13, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

      Concept2 Rowing machine – though it should be relatively similar to rowing in water.

      • Guppy June 2, 2010 at 11:44 am #

        1.4x bw for dips and pull-ups seem rather high for level 2

        • Steven Low June 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

          I disagree.

          If you’re not overweight, it’s pretty easy to do linear progression up to 1.25-1.5x bodyweight for dips and pullups depending a bit on body structure/composition. That’s why we chose approximately that number.

          Dips are a bit stronger than bench press, and somewhat weaker than the squat and DL of course.

          • Guppy June 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

            When you say 1.4x bw are you including your own collective body weight?

            Because for a 100 lb dude to be level 2 he would have to do a 140lb dip. :/

          • Steven Low June 7, 2010 at 4:38 pm #


            100 lbs guy would be adding 40 lbs for 1.4x bodyweight. As dip is a 1x bodyweight exercise.

  11. Paolo June 22, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Thank you very much Chris…. this is just what i’ve been looking for… my primary goal is to acheive a full planche and hold it for 5 seconds… right now i manage to old a tuck planche for 10 sec. hehe.. still got a long way to go…
    ill keep you up to date.


  12. Luc Lapierre August 22, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    Great article, great idea, great initiative.

    I have a suggestion for the weight training guidelines:
    Since strength does not, in general, increase linearly with bodyweight, I believe it would be more representative of an athlete’s relative ability to use a Sinclair*-type logarithmic formula involving individual’s BW and percent of BW lifted in a given lift.

    *For those who don’t know, Sinclair scores are used in Olympic weightlifting as a means of comparison between weight classes, to account for the fact that lighter competitors can lift proportionally more relative to their bodyweight than those in heavier classes.
    (I’m sure the authors know this, it’s just a general FYI addendum 🙂 )

    Sorry if this was already suggested by someone else.



  13. Casey Marek November 7, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    This is what I have been looking for. But. I feel like I would like to do more.
    I want to try and get on the football team at college. And 3-4 years is too long for me. I am confused.

  14. Ryan Danks February 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Hey guys, I know this has been a while, but I’m trying to formulate a routine based on what is said above (2 Pulling, 2 Pushing and 2 Posterior Chain exercises at once).

    In the strength training section of the skills, though, it doesn’t state which ones are which. Bench I get is pushing, but does Deadlift count as Pulling or Posterior Chain (same for Squat)?

    Thanks for your hard work guys!

    • Steven Low February 24, 2011 at 9:39 am #

      Leg exercises are in general posterior chain/legs. But you are correct technically it is also a pulling exercise much like front lever is.

  15. Alex May 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Hmm well this made me feel good, the lowest ones for me are 2s and a good majority of them are 3s with a few 4s but I sure don’t feel like an advanced athlete, too weak.

    • Chris Salvato May 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

      In what did you score a 4? Did you feel the amount of time you trained for a 4 did not reflect your specialization?

      Feedback on this is important to us.


      • Alex May 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

        Vertical Jump, Pistols, Natural Leg Curls, Box Jumps, Back Lever, Front Lever and OAC. No, this reflected my specialization very well as I mainly train for vertical increases (I use pistols and NLC as my main exercises so that reflects it very well as well) and for upper body I only do bodyweight gymnastic stuff and I am very pulling dominant. Most of these skills took me a few years to get (especially if you include in the time that I weightlifted before focusing on these specific moves). The only one that I didn’t spend considerable time training (I only trained for one period of 3 months) is the box jump but I think the fact that I train vertical and am very flexible is what gave me a decent box jump after a few times of practicing it.

        I think you guys did a really good job with this btw.

        • Chris Salvato May 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

          Great!!! It sounds like, based on your experience, that the charts are accurate! That is pleasing to see. Most people we have encountered have found them to be very accurate based on the timeframes we list in the intro and that is rewarding.

          I still think this is one of the most useful tools on the internet for setting goals and gauging progress. Please get the word out as much as possible!



  16. Tane Clement May 19, 2013 at 5:55 am #

    WHat about the other areas you mentioned in the blurb at the top such as flexibility?

  17. Alex January 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    This is kind of a stupid question but what minimal bang for buck exercises would you perform in order to make general progress in all of these skills?

    • Chris Salvato March 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

      Hi Alex…this really depends on your goals. When I work with complete beginners, I normally recommend Squat, Deadlift, Pullups and Dips. If you work on those 4 things, you will make huge progress on nearly all of these skills, especially if you are weighting the movements. But these days I prefer to work backwards…that is, what SPORT or ACTIVITY do you find interesting and fun? What sport can you do all day, every day, if necessary. For me, that’s snowboarding and dynamic gymnastics/tricking. For that, I would want to work on squats, deadlifts and cleans, primarily. I would try to hit a higher-than-normal level on pull-ups and dips for upper body stability, but the core lifts would be crucial for those sports. If, for example, I preferred parkour, there would be a lot more muscle up work in the mix, which means shooting for those goals. Hope that helps!

  18. Henning Petersen March 7, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    I am 51, and have trained on and of for 5 years, serious 1 year. My sats are Bench 100, sq 120, dead 140. What goal can I aim for the next years. Do you have a list for very adult people, where we can see the possibillyties for developement.

  19. GQ August 5, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    This is very interesting. I see now that some goals of mine were unrealistic. (You’ve just spared me a lot of frustration in the next few months.) I can’t really figure out the section on weight training, though, because you don’t mention reps numbers except on the very first exercise (level one, weighted dips). Should I assume you always mean 3-reps max? Or are those others all 1-rep-max numbers? If not—how many, then? (And I’m off to sign up the 28-day handstand challenge now. Thank you!)

  20. Ian February 9, 2015 at 7:37 am #

    Same question as GQ! Thanks!