A front lever is an impressive feat of strength that requires a remarkable amount of back strength as well as a rock solid core.
A lot of people might not find this calisthenic move to be as remarkable as handstand push-ups or a human flag, as it doesn’t seem as difficult to do… that is, until they try to do it and realize it takes a lot more strength and skill than they might have thought.
The front lever is not just a hold that will catch people’s attention and raise eyebrows (in amazement), but it will also help you develop great looking lats. If you have trouble developing back muscles or getting the full sweep of your lats to show, the front lever will definitely construct that for you.
The front lever isn’t very complicated to learn or build up to, but it does take time to master it. Just because it’s bodyweight training doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can take anywhere from 5+ months to master. But with patience and consistency, you’re guaranteed to succeed!
To learn to master the front lever we’re going to break the movement down into small fundamental progressions. This article will cover the beginner areas from how to prepare for the movement, to what muscles you need to strengthen to progress with it.
First up we should already have some good lat strength. The basic requirement is just 10 good, dead hang pull-ups.
If you can do 10 good ones, then you are ready to start training the front lever progressions.
2) Hanging knee raises
Secondly, we need some solid core strength.
An easy 10 hanging knee raises is all that’s necessary to start training for the front lever.
Another fantastic ab exercise i love to do is hollow body holds. It strengthens the position that you’ll be in when doing the front lever. Work up to a solid 60 second hold. Have your lower back touch the ground and try to lift your butt off the ground. Contract maximally.
3) Scapular retractions and depressions
Scapular positioning and strength is crucial for the front lever. The proper scapular positioning is depressed and retracted (pulled together and down; as if preparing for the bench, but without arching the back).
Some people have muscular weakness and struggle to pull the shoulder blades together, so strengthening this weakness directly can help a lot to progress in the front lever.
Scapular depressions is the exercise we want to do to strengthen those muscles. Start by hanging from the bar. Have your scapulas relaxed, up and away from each other (don’t relax the shoulder joints too much or this can cause shoulder injury). Then focus on pulling your shoulder blades down and back. Flex for a moment and then drop back down into the starting position and repeat for at least 15 reps.
4) Arched pulls
Once you’ve gotten good at the above exercise, and can get 15 reps with ease, then you can progress to the next exercise which is arched pulls.
Aim to get 15 or so reps of these. They’re not hard to do and don’t really count for working sets in a workout, but rather something you can do as warm-up or drop back sets if it’s something you need to strengthen.
5) Straight arm push-downs
A nice exercise that you can do, if your lats feel trashed, is to have a light day where you do straight arm push-downs for high reps, 12-15, just to get some blood flowing in the lats, while also doing a movement specific exercise.
6) Front lever raises
Once you are able to do the previous mentioned exercises with ease, you can start doing the tuck front lever raises. Hang straight from the bar, bring your knees up to your stomach and then pull yourself back. Touch your shins to the bar and then lower yourself back down. Do this as controlled as possible. This is a nice, straight arm dynamic exercise that will directly transfer to being able to do front lever holds, which is a static movement.
If you struggle a little with this one and can get only 2-3 reps, consider doing slow negatives. Shoot yourself up into the top position, assume the tuck front lever position and then slowly lower yourself down for a duration of 6-10 seconds. Do this for 3 or so reps. Keep in mind that your whole training session shouldn’t consist of just negatives as it’s very draining on the body and you’ll need to do front lever specific exercises to do more volume afterwards.
7) Tuck front lever holds
Lastly, although tuck front lever raises are great, I also like to do tuck front lever holds, which is an isometric contraction that will strengthen the muscles in the position that you’ll be doing the front lever.
Although you can achieve your full front lever by just training the holds, don’t do all your front lever training with just holds, because you want to be strong in all positions and from all angles, and not just one. So split up your training between dynamic straight arm movements and holds.
Stay posted for part 2 where I’ll be discussing more advanced progressions for mastering the front lever hold.
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