I think I’ll focus an article on one of my favourite movements at the moment – Levers. I have explained them briefly before but thought I might try a slightly more practical post! There are several variations and types of levers. Best of all there is a pretty steady progression through the various types, as I’m finding out. For those who don’t know what a ‘lever’ is for calisthenics purposes, it’s basically a type of movement where you hold onto something and hold your body parallel to the ground. The 3 fundamental ones are the elbow lever, back lever and front lever (variations generally relate to one of these). I might try something different this time and provide lots of photos!
So first, the elbow lever. This is the easiest of them all because you are able to rest of lot of your body weight on your arms. Harder to do on flat ground, the way I started was on a dip bar (so if you overbalance you can stop yourself on the next bar, rather than fall to the ground! [yes I may or may not have face planted a few times haha :/]). You grab the bar with your arms about waist width, palms facing outwards, like this: (Imagining my push up bars are whichever bar you are using)
Then jump up and hold yourself, and adjust your arms to line up your elbows just inside your waist if need to. Now, you control yourself and bring your legs up while lowering your chest and head down, until your entire body is parallel to the ground. It will probably be a little uncomfortable at first having your elbows dig into your sides, but it gets better. You will need to lean your arms forward, so they aren’t coming straight up from the bar (note the angle of my arms in the pic below). You will need to have a solid core foundation before attempting this. Doing planks regularly I have found helped a great deal for working on this lever. This is basically what it looks like:
Note the line showing how you should be in a roughly straight line from your heels to your head.
At first you may be able to hold for a second or two. That is great because you have the strength for it. Try to get a photo or video or even someone watching as I found when I first begun I thought I was straight but I had a bend in my body. From there you just practice as much as possible, holding as long as you can. Soon you’ll get to 10 seconds easily. Although I was practicing back levers concurrent to my elbow levers, I found once I hit a 10 second elbow lever I seemed prepared to start trying a back lever.
The back lever I found was the trickiest to start. This is because, at least while training up to it, you begin with what’s called ‘skinning the cat’. Don’t worry, you don’t need to harm any animals! What this means is you grab a bar around shoulder width, and lift your legs through your arms and over the bar so you’re hanging upside down. This is tricky because you need to arch your back and extend your legs out so they are not quite straight up. Like this: (Pretending the gym rings are bars in this case)
From there, you will normally start with legs straddled as that decreases the difficulty. You then focus on keeping your body straight and tensing pretty much every muscle as you bring your legs down and chest up. It’s important to keep your body held straight – this is where a very strong core is necessary. Once your body is parallel to the ground you hold as long as you can. I’ve reached about a 5 second hold with legs together so far. I will probably aim for a solid 10 second hold. This is how it looks:
Finally, front levers. I’m yet to achieve a complete one but I’m getting close. So with this instead of putting your legs through your arms, you just bring them and your body straight up in front of you. Now there’s a number of ways I’m going about training for this, through advice in person plus what I’ve read/seen online. Generally I start with tucked lever holds. The further your legs from your torso in this movement the harder it is. So therefore doing a lever with your legs tucked is a good place to start. From here you can start getting one leg out:
Eventually you should be able to do a straddled lever. Alternatively, you can do ‘lever reps’. For these you basically pull your body up into the lever position, keeping your body completely straight. This is incredible for working the lats, or wings to some people :). Take note – this are incredibly hard and I do not recommend attempting a lever rep without strong lat and shoulder strength. I will be sure to post a complete front lever when I reach it!
What I love about levers is you can have fun with them in different situations and locations. Here’s two of my favourite:
Of course it wouldn’t be a post of mine without a Socrates quote:
‘Did ya notice how the right leverage can be very effective ? What if I were to tell you that’s what your training, even your life, is about ? Developing the wisdom to apply the right leverage in the right place, at the right time’