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Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes

Introduction by Chris Salvato

For reference and convenience, this document can be downloaded in PDF format here.  For a brief primer into this article, check out Ryan Ford’s YouTube introduction.

In order to succeed in a sport, fitness program, or physical activity, it is necessary to establish a diverse and intelligent strength and conditioning program. To maximize your gains in fitness and apply them to highly sport-specific skills, it helps to track your progress, set goals, and achieve balance in your physical capabilities. The goal of this document is to provide guidelines based on useful goals that allow new trainees to gauge milestones and monitor progress over time.

This list of goals was chosen because working these skills will simultaneously improve many of the components of physical fitness. First defined and organized by Dynamax, these components are relevant in all kinds of sports, combat, and physical activities. They are:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility – The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  6. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into one distinct movement.
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a certain intensity.

While many resources go over setting goals and even provide a list of goals that may be worthwhile, many people are unfamiliar with what sort of progress to expect. With potential benchmarks and milestones unknown, this leaves the trainee feeling out of control. Lack of knowledge and lack of control often times results in lowered motivation. To address this problem, the following guidelines have been established so that a dedicated trainee will know the sort of progress they can expect with focused, dedicated training.

These guidelines were originally created as a collaborative effort between Eat. Move. Improve., a fitness resource co-founded by Steven Low and Chris Salvato, and APEX Movement, a Denver, CO based parkour facility.

Using the Skill Guidelines

The time frames listed for each level are based on progress that the authors have seen directly through personal experience, coaching experience, and through their involvement with their respective communities. Keep in mind that younger populations tend to progress faster than older populations; those with less stress tend to progress faster than those with more stress; and those with better sleep cycles tend to progress faster than those with poor sleep cycles. The goals listed below are for young males in the age range of 15-35 at a starting body composition of under 20% body fat. In future editions of this article, we will include more demographics.

The milestones in this article can be reached within their respective time frames by training 3-4 days per week for the first couple of years. It is advised to keep training diverse, but simple. Focus on only a few feats of strength, skill, and endurance at once. Eat. Move. Improve.’s Steven Low recommends that trainees start with and focus on no more than 2 pushing, 2 pulling, and 2 posterior chain strength goals at once. Any endurance training or skill training can easily fit into the preceding strength program.

Level One – Healthy Beginner (0-12 months)

  • Level one guidelines are milestones that can be attained by an untrained, sedentary individual within their first 12 months of training (assuming they are free of any serious injuries or health conditions). This level is the minimum standard for a healthy lifestyle and lays the foundation for basic strength gains in the following years. This basic strength will translate over into more rapid increases in capabilities.

Level Two – Intermediate Athlete (1-2 years)

  • Level two guidelines can be attained within 1-2 years after level one has been reached. These skills should be considered normal for a healthy athlete that is pursuing increased performance. The translation from one skill to another is still very high here, so working towards a few goals will also help other goals advance towards level three.

Level Three – Advanced Athlete (2-4 years)

  • Level three guidelines can be reached within 2-4 years after level one has been reached. This is an appropriate level of general fitness for those who would like to perform for long periods of time and possess a high level of strength. Taking part in high intensity sports such as parkour, combat, or highly competitive sports while possessing the abilities of level three allows for a higher degree of participation while mitigating the risk of injury. Athletes that posses many level three skills will get the most out of their training as they are able to train continuously with few injuries and work on technique consistently and without interruption.  Most individuals can obtain most, if not all, of level three skills with proper programming and dedication.

Level Four – Specialized Athlete

  • After reaching level three, some trainees may choose to take certain skills to the next level. Most level four guidelines entail specialized training that will not allow for other goals to be included in the athletes program. For example, pursuing a straddle planche will require consistent, hard training that may make another goal, such as a competitive 5k run, unrealistic to simultaneously pursue. An athlete can work toward level four without sacrificing level three accomplishments, but usually only a small number of level four skills can be attained for each individual.

Level Five – Highly Specialized Athlete

  • To reach level five in many of these skills takes a combination of superior genetics, dedication, and intellect. While level five is not necessarily a world class athlete, most people will not be able to perform many level five skills without sacrificing performance in other domains. By the time the athlete is at level five, thousands of reps/runs/holds will have been performed; years of experience will have been established towards this goal; and the athlete may progress beyond level five towards a world class level. By even striving for a level five skill shows remarkable determination and drive.


AW                 Against Wall
B                      Bar
BW                  Bodyweight
DH                  Dead hang
DPU                Deadhang Pull Ups
FS                    Free Standing
G                      On Ground
HSPU             Handstand Push Ups
KPU                Kipping Pull Ups
OAH               One Arm Handstand
PB                    Parallel Bars or Parallettes
R                      Rings
ROM               Range of Motion
RTO                 Rings Turned Out
SL                    Straight Legs
SA                   Straight Arms


  • Metabolic conditioning
    • Locomotive tests
      • Run (100m)
        • Level one – 20 sec.
        • Level two –  16 sec.
        • Level three – 13 sec.
        • Level four – 11.5 sec.
        • Level five – 10.5 sec.
        • World Record – 9.58 sec. (Usain Bolt, Jamaica)
      • Run (400m)
        • Level one – 120 sec.
        • Level two – 85 sec.
        • Level three – 60 sec.
        • Level four – 54 sec.
        • Level five – 48 sec.
        • World Record – 43.18 sec. (Michael Johnson, USA)
      • Run (5000m)
        • Level one – 36:00
        • Level two – 24:00
        • Level three – 18:00
        • Level four – 15:40
        • Level five – 14:00
        • World Record – 12:37 (Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia)
      • Rowing (500m)1
        • Level one – 150 sec.
        • Level two – 110 sec.
        • Level three – 90 sec.
        • Level four – 83 sec.
        • Level five – 80 sec.
        • World Record – 75 sec.
      • Rowing (2000m)1
        • Level one – 12:00
        • Level two – 9:00
        • Level three – 7:45
        • Level four – 6:50
        • Level five – 6:20
        • World Record – 5:36.6
  • Bodyweight skills and Gymnastics
    • Pushing
      • Push ups:
        • Level one – 5 push up
        • Level two – 20 push ups (R)
        • Level three – 5 tuck planche push ups (PB)
        • Level four – 5 straddle planche push ups (G)
        • Level five – 1 planche push up (G)
      • Dips (begin some weighted dip work at level two)
        • Level one – 3 (PB)
        • Level two – 10 (PB)
        • Level three – 30 (R, full ROM)
        • Level four – 15 (RTO and held at 45 degrees past parallel)
        • Level five – 15 (RTO and held at 45 degrees past parallel, straight body, leaning forward at 45 degrees)
      • Planche progressions:
        • Level one – 15 sec. (Frog)
        • Level two –  15 sec. (Tuck)
        • Level three – 10 sec. (Advanced Tuck)
        • Level four – 5 sec. (Straddle)
        • Level five – 3 sec. (Lay)
    • Pulling
      • Pull ups (begin some weighted pull up work at level two)
        • Level one – 3 KPU (chin over bar)
        • Level two – 20 KPU, 12 DPU (chin over bar)
        • Level three –  40 KPU, 20 DPU (chest to bar, move on to weighted pull ups)
        • Level four – 25 DPU to lower sternum (move on to weighted pull ups)
        • Level five – 25 DPU to belly button (move on to weighted pull ups)
      • One arm pull up/chin up:
        • Level one –  n/a
        • Level two –  n/a
        • Level three –  10 sec. one arm pull up/chin up negative
        • Level four – 1 (each arm)
        • Level five –  5 (each arm)
      • Back lever:
        • Level one – 1 skin the cat (piked with straight legs)
        • Level two –  10 sec. (advanced tuck)
        • Level three –  12 sec. (half lay)
        • Level four –  10 sec. (lay)
        • Level five –  20 sec. (lay)
      • Front lever:
        • Level one – 1 skin the cat (piked with straight legs)
        • Level two –  10 sec. (advanced tuck)
        • Level three –  8 sec. (half lay)
        • Level four –  5 sec. (lay)
        • Level five – 12 sec. (lay)
    • Handstands
      • Handstand hold
        • Level one – 60 sec. (AW)
        • Level two – 120 sec. (AW), 15 sec. (FS)
        • Level three – 45 sec. (FS)
        • Level four – 10 sec. (OAH, fingertip assist)
        • Level five – 5 sec. (OAH)
      • HSPU:
        • Level one – n/a
        • Level two – 5 (AW, G)
        • Level three – 2 (full ROM, AW, PB), 15 HSPU (AW, G)
        • Level four – 15 (full ROM, AW, PB), 2 (FS, PB)
        • Level five – 15 (FS, PB)
      • Handstand press
        • Level one – Headstand press (elephant press)
        • Level two – 2 press to handstand (G, any method)
        • Level three – 2 straddle presses to handstand (G, SA, SL)
        • Level four – 5 pike presses to handstand (G, SA, SL), 1 press to handstand (R, any method)
        • Level five – 3 pikes presses to handstand (R, SL)
    • Seats
      • L-sit:
        • Level one – 5 sec. tucked L-sit
        • Level two – 25 sec. L-sit
        • Level three – 60 sec. L-sit (G), 10 ft. L-sit walk
        • Level four – 30 ft. L-sit walk
        • Level five – 75 ft. L-sit walk
    • Legs
      • Broad Jumps:
        • Level one – 6 ft.
        • Level two – 8 ft.
        • Level three – 9 ft. ­­­
        • Level four – 10 ft.
        • Level five – 10.5 ft.
        • World Record – 12 ft. 2 in. (Arne Tvervaag, Norway)
      • Standing Vertical Jump:
        • Level one – 10 in.
        • Level two – 18 in.
        • Level three – 24 in.
        • Level four – 28 in.
        • Level five – 34 in.
        • World Record – 48-52 in.  (Unverified and Speculative)
      • Standing Box Jump:
        • Level one – 18 in.
        • Level two – 30 in.
        • Level three – 40 in.
        • Level four – 50 in.
        • Level five – 60 in.
        • World Record – 58-68+ in. (Unverified and Speculative)
      • Pistols (each leg):
        • Level one – 5 step ups on 24 in. box
        • Level two –  5 pistols
        • Level three – 5 pistols +25% BW
        • Level four –  5 pistols +50% BW
        • Level five – 5 pistols +75% BW
      • Natural leg curls:
        • Level one – n/a
        • Level two – 1 negative – 3-5 sec.
        • Level three – 1 negative – 8-10 sec.
        • Level four – 3 concentric
        • Level five – 10 concentrics with eccentric
    • Combined push/pull
      • Muscle up:
        • Level one – n/a (work on dips and pull ups)
        • Level two – 1 (DH, R, RTO at top and bottom; symmetrical), 1 (bar; symmetrical)
        • Level three – 10 (strict, DH, B)
        • Level four – 5 +25% BW (R)
        • Level five – 30 in 2.5 min. (R, kipping allowed), 2 with 50% BW (R)
    • Parkour Specific Movements
      • Climb up (climb up from a hanging position on the wall)
        • Level one – Beginner climb up (by any means necessary)
        • Level two – Intermediate climb up (symmetrical arms, distinct pull up and dip motions)
        • Level three – Advanced climb up (symmetrical and straight arms, appears to be one fluid motion)
        • Level four – 5 climb-up test, <15 sec
        • Level four – 5 climb-up test, <10 sec
      • Wall run vertical (subtract standing reach from wall run reach)
        • Level one – 22 in.
        • Level two – 40 in.
        • Level three – 52 in.
        • Level four – 62 in.
        • Level five – 70 in.
      • Vault exit distance (max exit distance over a 3 ft. wall; any type of vault)
        • Level one – 4 ft.
        • Level two – 8 ft.
        • Level three – 10.5 ft.
        • Level four – 12.5 ft.
        • Level five – 14 ft.
  • Weight training
    • Strength
      • Weighted dip (PB)
        • Level one – 3 reps at BW
        • Level two – 1.4x BW
        • Level three – 1.7x BW
        • Level four – 1.9x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Weighted pull up
        • Level one – BW
        • Level two – 1.4x BW
        • Level three – 1.7x BW
        • Level four – 1.9x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Bench press
        • Level one – .85x BW
        • Level two – 1.2x BW
        • Level three – 1.5x BW
        • Level four – 1.75x BW
        • Level five – 1.9x BW
      • Press
        • Level one – .5x BW
        • Level two – .75x BW
        • Level three – .95x BW
        • Level four – 1.1x BW
        • Level five – 1.2x BW
      • Deadlift
        • Level one – 1.5x BW
        • Level two – 2x BW
        • Level three – 2.4x BW
        • Level four – 2.75x BW
        • Level five – 3x BW
      • Back squat
        • Level one – 1.25x BW
        • Level two – 1.75x BW
        • Level three – 2.15x BW
        • Level four – 2.4x BW
        • Level five – 2.6x BW
      • Overhead squat
        • Level one – .65x BW
        • Level two – 1x BW
        • Level three – 1.3x BW
        • Level four – 1.45x BW
        • Level five – 1.65x BW
    • Power
      • Clean and Jerk
        • Level one – .75 x BW
        • Level two – 1.25 x BW
        • Level three – 1.6 x BW
        • Level four – 1.85 x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Snatch
        • Level one – .6x BW
        • Level two – 1x BW
        • Level three – 1.3x BW
        • Level four – 1.45x BW
        • Level five – 1.65x BW

1 Based on C2 rankings for all weight classes and genders.
2 The idea was originally inspired by a set of standards put forward by CrossFit North several years ago. Many of the ideas in the introduction are influenced as such. A copy of their skill standards can be found here.

For the change log, see Page 2.

Eating Right: How to Get Started

Preface Notes:
Before we begin there are some things that need to be addressed about this article and the advice contained within.

Firstly, this article outlines a very simple, basic methodology that will allow you to take the first steps towards eating better for health. It is my opinion that this methodology is applicable for a vast majority of individuals. This article is not a list of healthy foods. Do note that there there is a sample menu listed below. This does not mean that this sample menu is anywhere near a comprehensive list of foods that are healthy.

This article will not address the dozens of ideologies and schemes that exist in mainstream dieting (high carb, low carb, etc.), nor will it address things like why breads/grains are poor dietary choices. Rather, it will address a structured, simple methodology to increase the “quality” of your food. This is what most credible nutritional sources will say is the first step to proper nutrition. If you need a simple rule of thumb and some interesting information on how to identify healthy foods then you should check out this article from the Life Spotlight.

Secondly, I want to point out that diet itself will not put on any muscle mass – for most people, anyway. While a small amount of weight loss is possible with purely dietary changes, proper diet must be coupled with an appropriate training regimen for your body composition goals in order to achieve optimal results. If weight loss is the goal then, oftentimes, there are significant lifestyle changes that come into play. I support changing diet first since it is easier for most people to change the way they eat than to add a new workout routine to a busy schedule. Once your weight levels off from dietary changes alone, then it is usually a good time to look into an appropriate exercise program. Ideally, however, diet and exercise should be part of one’s everyday lifestyle.

Finally, in the past I had some different foods listed as special food items. I have cut some items out of this list because I prefer that novices who are just starting out avoid high-carb meals. As a result quinoa has been removed from my list of “other good foods” and oatmeal has the caveat of eating one serving per day. These foods are very calorically dense and are not good choices when learning how to eat properly. These types of foods are great but their place is not in the program for someone just getting started, in my opinion. Do note that if you find that you operate better with more carbs then it is still easy to implement high-carb meals while adhering to the guidelines below.

I am attempting to keep this short so that most people will be able to fix their diet without going into too much detail.

I. High-Quality Food Categories

Without going into much detail we can boil high-quality nutrition down to 7 basic categories:
1) Vegetables – Source of carbohydrate.
2) Fruits – Source of carbohydrate.
3) Beans – Source of carbohydrate.
4) Meats – Source of protein.
5) Fish – Source of protein.
6) Nuts – Source of fat.
7) Seeds – Source of fat.
8) Oils – Source of fat. If trying to gain weight, pour it on everything including ice cream. Well…maybe not ice cream, but you get the point. If you need to gain weight, the fats listed on the table at the bottom of this site can be very useful. If you are trying to lose weight you should probably limit the amount of oil you consume due to the high caloric density

Additionally, there are some high-quality foods that are rather ambiguous and need to be addressed individually:
A) Olives – Source of fat.
B) Avocados – Source of fat.
C) Coconuts – Source of fat.
D) Eggs – Excellent source of protein. Interchangeable with meat sources. (1 whole egg = 1 oz. meat or 2 egg whites = 1 oz. meat)
E) Dairy

  • Milk – Whole milk is good if you are trying to gain weight. Skim milk is good if you are trying to lose.
  • Cheese – Only recommended to those who want to gain weight. Avoid if trying to lose.
  • Cottage Cheese – 3% milkfat is fine if trying to gain weight. Low-/nonfat if trying to lose. Low-calorie fruits spruce up flavor.

F) Oatmeal – Source of carbohydrate. Eat this at most once daily as part of a balanced meal – which means you need to include protein and fat.

II. Menu Creation

With these categories, you can make a comprehensive menu of foods. On your own, personal menu, you should list any and all foods in these categories that you enjoy. Additionally, list any foods that you can just tolerate. As you get used to eating better, the foods you can barely stand now will start to taste better, as well. Remember, it takes 21 days on any regimen, whether its exercise, diet, or even a new job, before the whole ordeal becomes routine in your brain. Keep this in mind as you transition into your new diet – you will need at least three weeks to acclimate psychologically and physiologically.

Menus can vary dramatically from person to person and still be very “healthy.” Your menu should be your own and based on your personal tastes and preferences.

For clarity, an example of a good starting menu is shown below:

When you make your own menu, I suggest that you carry it around with you everywhere you go. The goal is to constantly expand the menu as you learn new food items that you enjoy that fit into these categories.

III. Five Simple Rules

These categories come with a basic set of five simple rules for each meal:
1) Many Veggies – At least 2 cups (total) of veggies with every meal. These can be spruced up by cooking with onions, garlic, spices and oils.
2) Always Meat – At least 4-6 oz. of lean meat or fish. Roughly speaking, 4-6 oz. is a palm-sized portion or larger. Lean meat is poultry (chicken, turkey, hen), lean cuts of beef and pork tenderloin. Most other cuts of pork are not lean. Avoid beef altogether when you are first starting since it is hard to identify the lean cuts when you are new. Some people eat over a pound of meat/fish each sitting, depending on their goals. A minimum of 4-6 oz. is a good place to start.
3) Fruits Vary – Some fruits, like bananas, pears, peaches and apples, are loaded with sugars so you should limit the intake of such fruits to one per meal. Other fruits, like berries and melon, can be eaten with virtually no limit. Berries should be a staple in all diets due to their high concentration of antioxidants. More information on the amount of calories in these fruits can be found by searching www.nutritiondata.com.
4) Replacing Veggies – If you aren’t in the mood for veggies, you can replace 1 cup beans for every 2 cups veggies. You can also eat beans with your vegetables, if you like. Try not to put veggies off, but its okay to do so sometimes. Veggies can also be replaced by fruit. High quantities of the low-calorie fruits such as berries, melons, etc., can replace vegetables. Alternatively, low quantities (1-2 servings) of the high-calorie fruits, such as bananas, dates, peaches, pears, etc., can replace vegetables, as well.
5) Eat Fat – Eat nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, coconut or olive oil with every meal. For weight loss, a male would want around 6-10 nuts, half an ounce of seeds, 4-6 olives, 1/4 of an avocado, 25 g. coconut or 1 tsp. of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Do keep in mind that, oftentimes, women may consume much smaller quantities – sometimes as little as 50% of what is listed above – depending on their goals. In general, for weight gain, eat significantly more than these quantities – you will know when you had enough if you are trying to gain. As you lose fat and your goals change, realize that the amount of fat that you need will change, as well!

IV. Snacking

Snacking is acceptable when you are just focusing on improving the quality of your food. Snacking is encouraged by some methodologies and discouraged by others. Both have good reasons for these recommendations, and it usually depends on the context and goals. For those just starting, however, make sure your snacks only come from foods on your menu. If possible, make snacks contain a source of fat, carb and protein so that they are “balanced.”

V. Supplementation

One final note is that supplementation is something that should be done only when one knows what they are doing. Most times, supplements will be a waste of your time and money. The best way to get everything you need is through whole foods. However, I suggest three supplements below that I believe everyone should make part of their daily routine. Supplementing as specified below is relatively inexpensive when compared to the benefits MOST HUMAN BEINGS experience from this supplementation.

A) Supplement with 3-5 g of DHA+EPA fish oil. Every day. At a bare minimum, take in 2 g. Note that when I say 2 g. I mean the combined value of EPA and DHA. If your pills have 280 mg. EPA and 120 g. DHA then the total EPA+DHA is 400 mg. You would need to consume at least 5 of these pills daily.
B) Drink green tea. Every day. If you are concerned about caffeine, brew one cup with a green tea bag, discard the water, then use the same tea bag with fresh, boiling water. This eliminates most of the caffeine while maintaining most of the antioxidants for which we are drinking the tea.
C) 2 multivitamin pills daily, with food. Every day. Centrum brand is cheap and should be just fine. One should consider upgrading to a multivitamin with no iron so that dosages can be increased dramatically without worrying about iron poisoning.