The possibilities offered by calisthenics to train our bodies are endless. The limits are only in our imagination and although the human body has a finite number of movements it can perform, the combinations between these and the mechanics of movements, added to the opportunities offered by the bars, automatically turn any place that has a bar into a gym to exercise.
In the world of calisthenics, most static and dynamic exercises require a tremendous amount of strength. The Front Lever is one of the most challenging and represents one of the many ways to measure progress throughout our calisthenic journey.
Front Lever Benefits
If you really want to get a huge strength in the upper body, the Front Lever is an excellent choice and whether you do not yet have the level to perform it, the mere fact of practicing with the exercises for its progression already give you a greater strength than if you were not in the attempt to get it.
Recall that the Front Lever is an exercise in which the entire core of the body is confronted with the force of gravity that leads down, in addition to the entire body weight, supported only by the strength of grip you have at that time.
The force that must be produced by the muscles that make up the core is gigantic. But every effort has its reward, since being such a high intensity, the body in the medium or long term adapts to this type of intensity, increasing the number of type II fibers (either A or B), which will produce a notorious hypertrophy in the muscles of the abdominal area and the six pack will be ready to show it off.
Another important benefit is that it boosts our grip strength, since during the development of this exercise it is the only support we have. The muscles of the wrists and forearms are forced to perform supreme forces to resist the weight of the body and the force of gravity against us when we lift our feet to the sky.
This aspect is important because in the future it may be possible that other exercises where we need a lot of grip strength will be easier, such as climbing exercises, one-handed pull-ups, etc.
Although it may sound very dramatic, grip strength can save our lives in case of falls, since a well-developed strength in the muscles of the hand and fingers can give us support and stability on narrow surfaces in any situation where we lose our balance, as do climbers for example.
Correct technique and common Front Lever errors
To perform the Front Lever, you must be positioned with your body completely horizontal and facing upwards, with your only support on the bar.
A novice mistake is to try it when they are not ready, and perform it with some curvature in the back or with the hip arched which can give us problems.
Therefore, you must perfectly understand the progression of the exercise before attempting it, in order to achieve the movement with a completely straight back.
Muscles involved in Front Lever
Dorsals. The muscle mostly involved along with those of the following point.
Middle zone or Core
Front Lever Exercises
1. Hollow Body Hold
The first thing we must work to achieve the Front Lever is the tension posture of the core and legs. Although it is true that the arms play a very important role in this exercise, it is important that we have the necessary strength in all the muscles that make up the core and legs to maintain the straight position that makes this movement so attractive.
For that it will be very useful to practice keeping this position on the floor, with legs and arms elevated while activating the core (hollow body hold), as much as possible.
2. Dragon Flag
The Dragon Flag is an indispensable exercise to increase core strength throughout the preparation of your Front Lever, if the Hollow Body Stay is not a challenge for you at this point, the Dragon Flag is the exercise that will give you the strength for your body to achieve the required stability.
For that reason, the Dragon Flag is not recommended as a progression but as a complementary exercise that should be present during your routines while building strength in your shoulders and back.
3. Scapular Lunges
This exercise will help you maintain tension in the upper back by activating the scapulae, this movement is essential to raise the trunk, which in initial phases will be with bent legs.
This movement has a very short range of motion, to do it you must start hanging from a bar, through depression and subsequent retraction of the scapulae try to send your abdomen forward while keeping your body upright.
4. Front Lever Raises
This exercise consists of getting into Front Lever position directly without going through the previous progressions. Once you do that, you lower yourself back down until you’re hanging from the bar. That counts as one repetition. This will require a lot of work on your core and lats. You can do 3 to 6 sets of 3 to 5 reps (always with perfect technique).
5. Negative Front Lever
You could say that this exercise is the opposite of the previous one. You must perform negative sets of the Front Lever. Like any other exercise, and especially in negative sets, remember that it is important to control the descent. I recommend starting with 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 4 repetitions. A full written explanation of the exercise would be a bit cumbersome, so let’s just watch the video:
6. Ice Cream Makers
A very good advanced exercise to continue to gain strength and/or strengthen our Front Lever. It is important to keep the body upright at all times so that the technique is perfect. Let’s watch the video:
Front Lever Progressions
Here is my video on the classic Front Lever progressions along with my personal secret at the end of the video:
1. Tuck Lever with Elastic Band
In the image you can see the position of the band on your feet, both in the Tuck and in the normal Front Lever, although I recommend that you put the band on your back, this way you are not altering the direction of the force that you must do, since the band is under your center of mass allowing a more natural position, which is important when you try to leave the band.
2. Tuck Lever
Once you can last at least 30 seconds in the previous exercise you can leave the elastic band and do the Tuck Front Lever without assistance, just remember to keep your knees close to your chest while keeping your back horizontal. If you have trouble doing this remember that your hands should not be exactly on your shoulders when holding the position, but rather, looking to be on your hips.
In addition to holding the position, you can also start by doing a few Tuck Lever Pull Ups, i.e., pull yourself up to a horizontal back position, lower immediately and repeat.
3. Advanced Tuck Lever with Elastic Band
Once you are able to maintain the above progression, it is time to move on to the Advanced Tuck Lever. You should try to straighten your back so that it is parallel to the ground, while keeping your knees away from your chest. The weight distribution will change, and inevitably, the difficulty of the exercise will increase noticeably. Stay with this progression until you achieve sets of 15 to 20 seconds. Therefore, we recommend, in a parallel and complementary way, to train exercises such as the Plank, Dragon Flags, Knee Raises, Leg Raises, etc.
4. Advanced Tuck Lever
Next, do this progression without the elastic band. Remember to slowly bring your knees away from your chest while keeping your back as straight as possible.
5. One Leg Front Lever with Elastic Band
The next progression is the Single Leg Front Lever. From the Tuck Lever position, extend one leg while keeping the other leg bent and elevated in the tuck position. Your entire body should be parallel to the ground during the execution of this exercise. You are ready to progress to the last step when you can hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds. Avoid hunching at the waist, as this can lead to lower back pain. If you are unable to keep your body straight, go back to practicing the previous progression.
6. One Leg Front Lever Negatives
In this movement we will get closer to the final position of Front Lever, but of course we must do it gradually. To begin this exercise hanging from the bar, you will raise your legs until they are in a vertical position as well as your trunk, now you will bend one leg and start to lower in the most controlled way possible, keeping your legs straight with respect to your trunk.
With this movement you will increase your strength before being able to do the sustained position with one leg, that’s why it is important to lower slowly, when you realize you can do it so slowly that you can keep your body horizontal with the leg bent for a few seconds.
7. One Leg Front Lever
This is one of the last progressions to reach our goal, it is basically to maintain the position of Front Lever to one leg that we did in eccentric movement in the previous exercise. Remember that the upright leg must be in a straight line with the trunk, as it is a common mistake to lower the hips forming a kind of “v” instead of a straight line.
8. Straddle Front Lever
At this point you are very close to doing the full Front Lever, the only help you will have is to place your center of mass a little more up your body and a little less torque (leverage) from your legs. This is only achieved by opening your legs, for this it is important to have good flexibility, the more you can open your legs the easier the exercise will be.
9. Front Lever with Elastic Band
Your body is getting used to the position, although you still need a little strength to maintain it, to work on the strength while maintaining the position an elastic band is a great help. Although you may have seen some people with the band on the tip of their toes, this not only helps you go up, but it also changes the direction in which you do the strength, so I advise putting the band on your lower back, just below where your hands will be located.
10. Front Lever: Repeats and Holds
The final touches to perfect your Front Lever, if you can already hold the position even for a couple of seconds, you can practice doing repetitions, that is, hanging on the bar, with your trunk and legs rigid, perform the flexion until you are in Front Lever, then lower as controlled as possible, try each time to hold the horizontal position for longer until your Front Lever is ready and you can boast of your new movement.
Front Lever Exercise
Here are some short routines focused on the muscles that work the most when performing the Front Lever. It is not necessary to perform only one routine, if you are strong enough, you can intersperse between the different proposals or even combine them. Take the numbers of the series and repetitions as a reference to then create your own training routines.
Pull-ups – 4 x 10
L-Sit Leg Raises – 4 x 10
L-Sit Hold – 4 x 10″.
Knee leg lifts – 4 x 8
L-Sit hold – 4 x 15 to 20″.
Front Lever – 4 x 10
Front lever to one leg (interleave legs) – 4 x 5 (each leg).
Front Lever Pulls – 4 x 5
Half front lever or straddle front lever – 4 x 5 to 10″.
Front lever deadlifts – 4 x 5
Front lever lifts – 4 x 3 (with pause in Front position).
Front Lifts (up to touch the bar) + Negative – 3 x 3
Front Lever Variants
1. Front lever with closed grip on parallel bars
2. Front Lever 360°
3. Front Lever con Agarre Supino
4. X-Grip Front Lever
5. L-sit to Front Lever
6. Forearms Lever
7. Front Lever Walk
8. 2 Fingers Front Lever
9. Front Lever to Muscle Up
10. One Arm Front Lever
This article serves as one of many examples that Calisthenics has no limits in terms of creativity, imagination and variety in training.
These exercises all stem from the Front Lever, an excellent exercise to increase the strength of our core body and grip strength that can be very useful to achieve other complex movements and even in dramatic situations, can become something vital and decide between getting injured or wounded, and getting out unscathed in the face of a fall.