Imagine that you are working your *** off for one specific goal for a year. The whole process is successful sometimes, while on others it is just straight out frustrating. And then magic happens – you get your first front lever.
It isn’t perfect – to be true it looks horrible. But *** perfection!
Getting the move pretty comes after, owning the move in the dictionary of workouts.
Nonetheless – that feeling is awesome. And no one can take you your achievements.
I neither mastered the full front lever and am still on my journey. But I learned much on the path!
In this post I wanna share my experiences with you, to help you along your way. If this move is your goal – but why else would you read this? 1
So – let’s get into this topic and examine the front lever closely. First off, let’s take a look when it makes sense to start working towards it!
Which prerequisites should I have?
The front lever is an advanced move. That’s why you need a baseline of strength. The stronger you are, the easier you will get this skill nailed!
There is no point in training specifically for this skill if you haven’t any baseline strength and struggle for example with pullups.
I made the mistake and giot greedy. I started to work towards it too early. If I would have delayed my skill work and had focussed on getting strong as *** first – I would be much further now. But – maybe then I wouldn’t write about this move…
Master these moves first2:
Get strong in them. Work on controlling your scapulae throughout the entire movement
Try to master 12 pullups or 5 chinups with 120% of your bodyweight.
Why the heck pushups for a pulling skill?
It is all about shoulder blade control. Learn how to use your most important body parts for upper body movements.
Try to aim for 15 perfect reps in a row.
- Hollow Body
This is the most basic foundation of many exercsies.
Better master it earlier than too late.’
Try to get down a full hollow body hold for 60s and start working on negative dragon flags. I would aim for 3 straddle dragon flags.
The front lever – in detail
First – let’s break down the movement!
- Dead Hang
Start every rep here. You hang relaxed down from a bar.*
- Active Hang
Activate your Scapulae and pull them down. As you pull them down you move upwards.
Now try to break the bar in two to activate all your back muscles.
- Pull the bar down towards your pelvis
This movement is controlled with your shoulder blades. Pull them back as you move more horizontal.
Keep your arms straight and locked out.
Now hold this horizontal position or pull yourself all the way up into an inverted hang (or even back into a german hang/back lever)
Alternatively, you can start every rep in an inverted hang lowering down into the front lever. Both movement, starting at the bottom and the top make sense to train.
Plus, all cues I named here are also valid when performing this move on gymnastic rings.
The main actor
I may proudly introduce – your scapulae!
Likewise, any other straight arm movements, your main creators of this artsy skill are your two shoulder blades.
Most of the power will be created there. Therefore – they have to be insanely strong.
In the beginning, this might be a weird way to move your body and it takes patience until you build strength and control there. But don’t give up – that actor will find its place in the harsh move world, too. Keep pulling! 🙂
Straight arm because your arms have to stay straight throughout the entire movement.
Never ever bend your arms. As with all straight arm skills, this is a bad habit you should eradicate at first sight.
Bend arms make the movement significantly easier and take the work of your shoulder blades.
Bending arms while performing straight arm movements is the cheating in the calisthenics world. And likewise many games, cheating doesn’t get you much farther and everyone sees it.
Doing so you prevent your shoulder blades from getting stronger. Unfortunately, that is exactly what you need to progress.
The hollow body position is one basic positon in calisthenics, gymnastics and many other activities.
While in that position, all your joints are stacked upon each other and your musculature is active. More engaged muscles = more power and control.
For easier exercises like the pushup and pullup, a straight HBH isn’t necessary. But alter on, when trying to get down the front lever or a handstand, this position might be very helpful.
Therefore, better to start early than late. Try to make it the base of every movement you do.
My #1 calisthenics wisdom:
Too much time spend in hollow body? Never heard of that!My crazy brain while helplessely trying to figure out this post.
How should I train for the front lever?
Skill training should be done prior to your strength work. This could be in the morning or immediately beforehand. But let’s not get too deep into that right here.
To learn more about how to structure your workouts properly read my entire post series about this topic!
Dedicate 10-20 minutes to this part of your workout and choose 1-2 skills to work on.
I would work on the basic front lever progressions:
- Tuck Front Lever
- Advanced Tuck Front Lever
- One Legged Front Lever
- Straddle Front Lever
- Full Front Lever
It is important to choose the appropriate progression. To learn more about finding the right progression have a look at this post.
Do 3-5 sets of it and hold it for 10-30s each.
When starting out I would work on the front lever 3 days pers week, integrated into your regular pull sessions. Later on, you can increase the number of days up to 5 days if you are really serious about that skill.
Skill training is all about learning a movement. Work on your technique here. Learn how the movement is supposed to feel and try to recreate it. Work on a level appropriate for you.
Skill training should NOT exhaust you. Quality beats quantity here – the goal is to spend time in that position.
After the skill work is done – let’s kick asses and get trashed. Not every session – but from time to time that’s legit. 😀
Choose 1-2 front lever specific strength exercises. I would do them as your first exercise on pulling days.
It is okay to work at your limit here. That’s what strength work is about and getting stronger takes a toll. No one’s gotten strong without enduring pain! 😉
Now that this is clear, let’s have a look at the specific exercises!
Accessory exercises to build your front lever
Three exercises to build specific strength
Front Lever Raises
To perform Front Lever Raises you pull yourself dynamically up into the front lever position starting in a Dead Hang.
In this Video by FitnessFAQs he demonstrated this exercise, as well as the later on introduced Front Lever Rows and Ice Cream Makers.
It is a great exercise to build up the necessary shoulder strength to pull yourself up into the front lever position and eventually hold it.
Choose an easy progression for you which you can hold comfortably for around 10-20s – fro example the tuck. Then go for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.3
Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns
Why shouldn’t a calisthenics athlete use weights? 😀
To perform a Lat Pulldown you grab a straight bar mounted at a pulley. Now you pull that handle with straight arms down, starting above your head all the way towards your pelvis.
It is exactly the shoulder strength you need to pull yourself up into the front lever – shoulder flexion. While the Raises also work the same motion, this weighted variation is easier to load and can be a good swap.
You could perform drop sets to ramp up the intensity – this can hardly be done strictly with your own bodyweight.
Front Lever Rows
I love this exercise!
It addresses not one but two problems at the same time: You are in the front lever position and can accumulate time there, plus you are rowing and building bent-arm strength.
Therefore perform an easier progression of the front lever and pull yourself up to the bar.
The movement is slightly different from any other row you know because to stay in a front lever you have to pull towards your pelvis.
Everything else that is important to perform a perfect row stays the same – except the little detail that you are staying horizontal in the air right now!
It should look like in this video by FitnessFAQs
Three exercises to get over a front lever plateau
Holds of the more difficult progression using a band
Holds are a great exercise when hitting a plateau or wanna bridging the gap from one to another level. Try to spice up your regular routine with these.
Take a resistance band* and attach it to the bar/ or your rings*. Next, you step into the band and pull yourself up into an inverted hang. From there you go down with the band supporting some of your weight from under your pelvis.
The band now supports you at the most difficult part of the movement – while staying horizontally. Because the band is under your pelvis and not at your feet it won’t lead to bad habits.
I would do 2-3 sets and try to hold them for 10s each. The goal here is to accumulate time.
Negative reps of the more difficult progression
To do perform this exercise you start out in an inverted hang. Now you lower down as slow as possible trying to resist gravity pulling you down.
Like the previous banded variation, this is a wonderful exercise to really feel what the next level should feel like. Especially, when it comes to straddling and full negatives.
The most important part here is to go SLOW. If you are just falling down you won’t get much out of these, Each negative phase should take 5-10s. I would do 3-5 sets of 1 rep.
Ice Cream Makers
Eiter you hate them or you love them. When it comes to ICMs there are just extremes – it is likewise pineapple on pizza. Is it awesome? Or the devil’s work? 😀
ICMs are a dynamic exercise and a lot of fun. It is important to perform them as slow and controlled as possible, but as quick as needed to be able to perform them in the first place.
If you manage to do that and find your pace – you can progress well with them. If instead you just swing yourself up. your time would be better spent elsewhere.
To perform an ICM start in the top position of a pullup. Now brace your whole body. From here you swing your body upwards and straighten your arms.
When done correctly you should stay horizontal with straight arms for a short period of time. You’re holding a full front lever!
They should look like that.
Enjoy the ride!
OK, that was my approach to the front lever. I hope this guide will aid you on your long way towards that skill – until a badass front lever is proudly part of your ever-growing arsenal of skills.
If you aren’t ready yet to work towards this skill – get strong. Build up your foundation. As previously said, the stronger you are the easier it will be.
Check out my free beginner program to get you started, subscribe to my newsletter, or check my other programs to build that foundation.
What is your experience with that skill? Is the front lever one of your goals or did you first read about it here?
Or share your approach with me – maybe you have some favorite exercises and special tips in your toolbox, too!
As always – have fun training,
Sources and further reading:
- GMB’s great post about the Front und Back Lever
- Tom Merrick’s very detailed video about the front lever.
- And the already above mentioned video by FitnessFAQs showing various different moves which can be done within a front leverish shape.
- If you read this post just plainly to support me and you have no interest in levering – just let me say here that I deeply love your unrelenting support!
- And remember – the stronger the better! If you are insanely strong and repping out pullups with half your bodyweight aren’t a big deal, the journey will get sooo much easier. Learn from my mistakes and don’t be greedy.
- Alternatively you could also use a resistance band*, wrap it around your feet and perform the full front lever rows, gradually lowering the thickness of the band. Just watch out to don’t use the band as a too strong aid by bouncing back up.