How to Jump From Rooftop to Rooftop

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 5, 2011 · 42 comments

in Manly Skills, Survival, Tactical Skills


So you’re being pursued by spies/and or ninjas who want you dead. They’ve chased you through a building and onto the rooftop. You sprint towards the edge of the building and look down at the tiny cars passing below. There’s nowhere to go…except the roof of the adjacent building. You’re going to have to jump.

You’ve developed the power and strength you need to make this leap, but do you know how to do it in a way that maximizes your chances for survival?

Here’s how to jump from rooftop to rooftop like Jason Bourne.

Assess the situation. Gauge how far the building is from where you are standing. The maximum distance most people can jump, even with a running start, is about 10 feet. If the roof you’re jumping onto is lower than the one you’re leaping from, you might be able to go a couple feet more because of the added momentum.

Sprint. You need to get a running start; without one, you’re not going to go very far. To clear a 10 foot gap, you’ll need at least 40-60 feet of runway. Sprint like the dickens towards the edge of the building.

Image from zerogravity

Leap. You’re going to want to jump up and out, so swing your arms back and then jump at a 45 degree angle, letting your arms come forward as you leap. Put your whole body into it. Focus on where you want to land.

Land. At the midpoint of your jump, bring your knees up in front of you so that your thighs form a 90 degree angle with your body. Keep looking at your landing spot. As you near your landing, aggressively straighten out your legs and point your toes; the balls of your feet will hit first and absorb the tension of the landing, keeping you stable. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. As you land, your knees will instinctively bend, but try to keep them from going down father than a 90 degree angle with the ground. Let your torso sink towards your legs, and place your hands on the ground.

Roll. You want to roll on your shoulder, diagonally across your back, so you’re rolling from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Tuck your head under your armpit as you go into the roll. Concentrate on rounding your body and making yourself into a ball. Keep yourself tucked as your weight carries you through the roll and keep your knees bent and your weight low as you rise to your feet. Now scan the rooftop for would-be attackers and ninjas or use the momentum from your roll to continue your sprint.

Damn! I didn’t quite make it…So now you’re dangling from the building, holding onto the ledge for dear life. To get yourself to safety, bring your knees into your chest and press your toes into the side of the building. Push your legs up by your toes and pull your body up by your hands at the same time. Really push with those legs—they’ll have much more strength and power than your arms. When your shoulders clear the top of the ledge, move your hands so that your palms are flat against the surface of the ledge, straighten out your arms, and push your body up. Lean forward so that your center of gravity is on the safety side, so you won’t fall to your death if you lose your balance.

Once half of your body is above the wall, bring your legs over the side. Change your pants.

Remember folks, these articles are supposed to be fun. Don’t do anything stupid.


American Parkour

Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David May 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm

“If the roof you’re jumping onto is lower than the one you’re leaping from, you might be able to go a couple feet more because of the added momentum.”

Momentum is entirely the wrong word here, as you’ll be going just as fast (momentum is mass*velocity) regardless of the vertical change between the rooftops. A lower rooftop will make you more likely to land safely though, simply because you will be in the air for longer, and thus travel farther. Great post!

2 Brett McKay May 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm


Thanks for the comment. The bit about the momentum came from Popular Mechanics, which tends to be a good source on such things, but I can’t say I know enough about physics myself to formulate a response.

3 Lee May 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I thought about it, and while momentum may not be the best descriptive word, it is accurate. The extra drop would lend you more time in the air, and the momentum from jumping would carry you forwards, thus allowing you to bridge the gap. But I do see David’s point.

I’m going to have to empirically test the 10 ft standard. :) On the ground of course!

4 Connor May 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I’m going to be that guy, and say that the landing technique described here is incorrect for the situation.
In a situation where you are running from someone and are forced to making a leap across a fair distance, you wouldn’t use a double tap landing because it kills all you’re momentum and should only be used in situations where there is no other option because it is one of the most forceful landings.
Instead, you should be landing on the ball of one foot while continuing your forward momentum, your other foot should move a full step ahead and make contact a moment after the first one. When your second foot makes contact you knees should begin to bend while you lean forward into a shoulder roll; don’t bend the knees past 90 degrees or you will lose too much momentum. If done correctly, you can come straight out of the roll into a full run without skipping a beat.
This can be done where both feet make contact at the same time, and is a popular way of doing it among some of the traucers I train with, but never double tap (Making contact with your hands to dissipate force, also known as slapping), double tapping is only used when space is tight because it is rather hard on the arms and knees and kills momentum, where as rolling transfers most of the force to the ground while maintaining forward momentum.

5 Coyote May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm

You can only travel farther (horizontally) because of momentum or velocity. Being in the air longer will only make you travel farther vertically. Without momentum you will not make it no matter how much lower the next rooftop is, I don’t care how much time you spend in the air.

6 Greg May 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I’ve only started to get into parkour so I’m not an expert, but to me this landing sounds about right. The hands are not coming down to kill the momentum but in preparation for the roll which is a good move. And, if you’re really leaping ten feet, you’re not going to be able to land on one foot as Connor recommends, especially if the roof you are jumping onto is lower than the one you’re jumping from. I would go with Connor’s method is the distance was shorter but not if you’re jumping a large gap. Here is a pic of Sebastian Foucan. And you can see how he lands with both feet (although he goes into a different kind of roll):

7 Coyote May 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm

……so @David your wrong. Momentum is NOT the entirely wrong word here.

8 Connor May 5, 2011 at 7:43 pm

You aren’t really landing on the one foot, its more of a balance point so you can choose a direction for the roll, you’re weight doesn’t actually come down until you make contact with the second foot, and even then its only for a moment. In the photo of Sebastian, all his force is directed downward, where a double foot landing is the only thing you can do. I was describing the landing for a forward momentum landing, I apologize for not specifying.
For only just having started parkour, you seem to be grasping the concepts quite well, keep up the good work!

9 Indestructable Badger May 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm

God. I love this blog. :)

10 James May 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I love jumping off stuff and over stuff, but I have yet to go roof to roof.

11 Chris May 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm

As a Physicist, I have to agree with Dave here. Momentum isn’t the reason that a lower roof helps, though it is essential for making any such jump. A lower landing spot simply keeps you in the air for longer, allowing your ever-decreasing (due to drag) velocity to carry your further horizontally.

Other than that, I love the article! However, you don’t mention the forward-flip method, which, by allowing the feet to be extended far beyond the body without sacrificing momentum, can transfer moment of inertia to linear momentum, allowing for a longer effective jump.

12 Rodrigo May 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm

What sucks about being dangling from the building is that the ninjas will have already got to the other side and will be waiting with dripping awesomeness and knifes to cut my fingers.
Nevertheless, useful article. I love this site.

13 Roger Tucker May 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I see a potential lawsuit when someone actually tries this and your technique doesn’t quite work for them.

14 Black and Blue Man May 5, 2011 at 10:28 pm

“Once half of your body is above the wall, bring your legs over the side. Change your pants.”

Ha, ha, ha, ha! :)

15 Eugene Golden May 5, 2011 at 11:50 pm

or if the other roof is way out there check for any large windows to crash through………..

16 Drew Jacob May 6, 2011 at 1:32 am

I have an old ankle injury, so I think I would aim to intentionally end up hanging by my hands. That way I won’t land on my feet and re-injure my ankle. Sure it’ll take more precision this way, but being the best guy in the room at hanging from rooftops by your hands is nothing to scoff at.

17 Computer Repair Torrance CA May 6, 2011 at 3:06 am

I would never try that.

18 Paul Kyriazi May 6, 2011 at 5:24 am

Good article. Funny I was just watching Quatum of Solace and wondering if I could make those jumps.

19 Tony C May 6, 2011 at 6:57 am

The only downside to this is that you are being chased by ninjas or spies. Ninjas would effortlessly make the jump via magic smoke, land in front of you on the building, and liberate your head from your shoulders with their fantastically sharp blades.

Spies will just shoot you while you are making your 60-80 foot sprint.

20 Chris Homan May 6, 2011 at 7:48 am

@Roger Tucker:

You gotta be either a lawyer or a lawsuit-happy guy, then. Besides, the disclaimer at the end of the article should have AoM’s butt covered in case somebody decides to be absolutely stupid and try this just on principle.

21 chris May 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

Please note the success of a building jump is greatly affected by:
1. Age
2. The number of people watching. More so this one.

22 Jason May 6, 2011 at 9:42 am

I assume you mean that success is inversely proprtional to both?

23 Bryan May 6, 2011 at 9:48 am

I think I could remember all the stuff about the sprinting and the 45° jump and all that, but as I’m sailing over the paved alleyway below, toward a sharp-edged and unforgiving rooftop, there’s no way I’m going to recall two paragraphs worth of text about landing and rolling, especially over the noise of my shrill, girl-like scream.

24 Trevor May 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

But what do you do when that pesky parapet wall gets in your way?

25 Ben May 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

What a coincidence, I read this blog then out of no where I was being chased by Ninja’s. How do you know, you ask? Well I don’t… All I knew was minding my own business, rescuing kittens from an Anaconda snake, I turn away to relieve and free the kittens from that torture and… the snake suffered it’s own kind of pain. Fearing the kittens have new predators I ran, sprinting as hard as I could, puffing, sweating, hearing the silent wooshes as I tried to escape their invisible torture. I saw ahead of me a large gap… thinking to myself “I must save these kittens or so help me god”, I approached the gap with speed and leaped.

AoM if it wasn’t for your guidance, who knows what horrible fate those kittens would have faced.

26 Roger Tucker May 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

@Chris Homan

I’m neither a lawyer or law suit happy. I’m just a complete buzz kill.

27 Tim May 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm


And that’s why AoM will hit you with a writ for tortious interference.

28 Jordan May 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Being a semi-experienced Parkour practitioner ( I haven’t trained seriously for around two years now) I’d say that remembering ‘two paragraphs worth of text about landing and rolling’ is not a problem at all.
The idea is that you spend months perfecting techniques in safer locations before you take to the sky. So, you might work a number of jumping-repetitions in lower locales into your daily training session until you can perform the movements instinctively. Only when you are confident that you can achieve the required distance and land safely, will you proceed to rooftops etc.

29 Alan May 6, 2011 at 9:29 pm

As a fairly experienced traceur who has been roof-jumping, I have some comments.

1: Jason Bourne is not someone whose roof-jumping skills you should be emulating. Try David Belle:

2: 40-60 feet is an excessive distance to sprint. The distance should be no longer than how long it takes you to get to top speed.

3: Your legs should remain slightly bent at all times, NEVER lock your knees.

4: If you’re not accustomed to rolling, DO. NOT. try it in a critical situation. It took me over two months of hour-long, daily practices before I was able to safely and painlessly roll on hard surfaces. If you flub a roll, especially from a high surface onto concrete, you run the risk of injuring your head, neck, spine, hipbone, and various parts of your legs. Try rolling across a hard surface right now. Now imagine that pain, times ten. Because you WILL feel that if you fail the roll, which you WILL unless you’ve practiced.

5: A better technique for landing would be to try to take the weight of your fall about 60% on your legs, 40% with your arms, assuming you have sufficient upper-body strength to stop your momentum by pure force. If you’re jumping from a height, this will probably hurt. But it will only jar your legs and maybe arms, as opposed to the devastation a failed roll can wreak.

6: If you think you’re going to land in a cat position (the term for hanging off the building by your hands), have your feet hit first. They are MUCH more able to safely stop your momentum than your hands. Try to be going more downward than forward. Your head should be the farthest part of your body from the wall. And don’t let go once you grab on. This is a fantastic video for illustrating what’s being talked about here. Bear in mind that both of these men have been practicing parkour for many years and are at the top of the freerunning discipline, so their skills are lightyears more advanced of the typical middle-aged man.

To recap:
You should jump right as you hit top speed.
Don’t roll unless you’re good at it.
Landing on your feet and taking some of the stress of the fall with your upper-body is probably the best option for non-rollers.
Hit feet first for cat leaps.

Rooftop jumping, while insanely fun, can also be insanely dangerous if you haven’t trained for it. So don’t think that just because you’ve read this article (which is correct on all major points except the roll), you’re qualified to play at being David Belle. :P

30 Allen Palmer May 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Now….if we could just add a piece on how to prevent from tripping over this damn cape I’m wearing while jumping roof to roof…maybe that should be in the dress and grooming. And don’t get me started on this sweaty mask….

31 Steve Cianca May 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm

@Allen Parker: As Edna Mode would have told you–No capes!

32 Jay Windham May 7, 2011 at 12:53 am

Brett, keep ‘em coming. There are a few of us who aren’t going to pick apart every article and just read them for fun.

33 David May 7, 2011 at 4:09 am

Great article, but I’m gonna have to agree on that bit about momentum from post #1 (great name, by the way).

34 Evan May 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Mass x Velocity = Momentum
I’m pretty sure increased time will not increase momentum, but increased time would probably increase inertia. I’m not a physics major. Anyone, would inertia would be the word to use?

35 Jack May 7, 2011 at 11:33 pm

It wouldn’t increase inertia, it would increase impulse. Impulse = mass x change in velocity = force x time

36 Curious May 8, 2011 at 8:58 am

Actually, it becomes easier if the next roof is lower as then one doesn’t have to jump in upward direction and can concentrate all his energy in going in forward direction.

37 JohnTeal May 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thank you for taking the time to share this information, I do have a couple of minor complaints though. As I type this I am lying in a hospital bed after a failed attempt to follow your instructions… problem 1) you suggest a run up of 40-60 feet. Unfortunately the departure roof was only 35 feet across. As a result I had to improvise and run around the roof in a circular fashion twice to gain the advised run up velocity. On a positive note this confused the heck out of the ninja that was hot on my heels, the problem was he was mentally one step ahead and waited for me to pass him on the first circuit. This accounts for my black eye. The big problem that you didn’t address was the potential for disorientation caused by running in a circle. I found that pulling the preprinted instructions for the landing out of my pocket was of little use as I became confused and jumped off the wrong side of the building !!! I can confirm the drop and roll was more a drop and stop.

Could I respectfully suggest the next instalment covers the ninja smoke trick as I think it might be safer for me to try, as I will be using the crutches for several weeks.

Regards your parkour apprentice


38 dd May 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm

you cant push with legs and the lean forward

39 Bryan May 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm

A serious question for those who actually know what they’re doing:

This is a problem that has plagued me since childhood. When I try to do a running jump, I always end up about a half step either in front or behind my intended launching-off point. Is there a technique to use that helps ensure your jumping foot ends up in the right place?

40 kv May 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm

oh…now i know what i’ve been doing wrong all these years….

41 Gevork February 20, 2013 at 9:33 pm

There’s actually a sport that incorporates this pretty heavily. It’s called parkour or sometimes called freerunning. Pretty badass, look it up on youtube. I suggest looking up David Belle, the innovator behind modern parkour. He’s pretty insane with his stuff.

42 David July 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

It’s true that 45 degrees is the angle for maximum range with a projectile. But takeoff angles of elite long jumpers range from 18 to 27 degrees. This is because with a running start, horizontal velocity plays a greater roll than vertical velocity.

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