May 07, 2021 9 min read
If you’ve ever wondered how you could attain the same ripped abs and back of a male gymnast, then you should give the front lever a try.
Front levers are one of the most difficult isometric exercises that gymnasts and other athletes perform. Not only does it require the work of your entire body, but it requires mental stamina and workup, unlike typical exercises.
The best way to get to the front lever is with these front lever progressions. Over time, if you stay consistent with these progressions, you should easily be able to front lever better than many gymnasts can.
The front lever is a common strength hold in men’s gymnastics. Gymnasts usually perform it while holding on to rings or a single bar. It’s considered to be a calisthenic exercise in which you use your bodyweight as a form of resistance.
Rather than lifting weights, you are the weight that creates resistance and builds lean muscle. If you need evidence that calisthenics is going to make you shredded, just look at gymnasts who rely almost exclusively on bodyweight exercises to achieve results.
To do a front lever, you grab onto a pull-up bar with your arms straight down and hold your body in a horizontal position parallel with the floor. From your head to your toes, your body should form one straight line suspended in the air as you hang on to the bar. You then hold the position for as long as possible.
The way to work yourself up to doing a full front lever is by doing the front lever progressions. These progressions are easier moderations of the front lever that progressively get more difficult until you’re in shape to do the full exercise.
First off, front levers and front lever progressions are full-body exercises. Literally, everything from your toes to your fingertips needs to be engaged in order to make it happen. Specifically, front levers are going to build strength and endurance in your:
In addition to getting ripped from calisthenic exercises like the front lever, some of the other benefits of bodyweight exercises include:
These calisthenic benefits plus the immediate strength-building benefits from doing front levers are what make them such a great bodyweight exercise.
Correct form is king when it comes to exercise and front levers are no different. If you want to make the most out of your front lever or front lever progression, stick to these key form rules.
First and foremost, keeping your back flat the entire time is super important for preventing injuries. Naturally, your back is going to slightly curve near your shoulder blades regardless of how strong you are. But, do your best to keep your back nice and flat.
The way you can do so is by pulling your shoulder blades back during the exercise and retracting your scapula. Also, adding tension to the rest of your body, including by pointing your toes and flexing your glutes, should help your back stay flat.
As you hang from the bar, try to keep your arms straight. When your arms are straight, more of the work is going to have to come from your core and back where it should be coming from. Avoid bending at your arms to prevent unnecessary work from your biceps and triceps.
Don’t try to hold your head up high or let it drop back once you’re in the front lever position. Rather, try to keep it in line with the rest of your body in order to prevent neck injuries.
Practice each of these front lever progression exercises in order to build strength in the areas necessary to do the progressions as well as the full front lever.
Each of them is a bodyweight exercise meant to help you build up strength in all of the right places. You can also add these exercises to your regular training routine to get an effective, low-impact workout.
If you’re just getting started on front lever progressions, start your warm-up or workout with dead hangs.
They’re simple: just jump up to the pull-up bar and hang on for as long as your can with straight arms. Dead hangs not only warm up your upper body muscles but also:
Dead hangs are the base for achieving a full front lever.
Wear a weight belt or add weight plates to your body and do pull-ups. This is really going to prepare your lats to hold you up during the front lever. You can also try muscle-ups as an alternative to weighted pull-ups.
To do a muscle-up, start in a dead hang and then perform a kip swing where you pull your whole body up towards your hands on the bar. You should be in somewhat of a dip position.
Then, push yourself up so that your arms straighten up from the dip and your hips are at your hands. Drop yourself back down into a dead hang and go again.
Prep your back strength to do the front lever progressions with inverted rows. Unlike regular rows where you pull a bar or dumbbells towards your body, you pull yourself towards a bar with inverted rows. To do an inverted row, set a bar up at hip height on either a smith machine or squat rack.
Then, lay underneath the bar so your shoulders are positioned directly below the bar. Grab ahold of the bar overhand with your hands slightly wider than the width of your shoulders. Pull yourself towards the bar keeping your elbows in tight and your entire body straight. Think of the position as an upside-down push-up.
Prep your core strength and the backs of your arms for front lever progressions by doing L-sits, another common gymnastic exercise. To do an L-sit, sit on the floor in a pike position with your legs straight out in front of you, back straight up, and palms flat on the floor.
Then, press yourself off of the ground just using the palms of your hands and keeping your feet in line with your hips. The goal is to maintain that isometric pike or L position for as long as you can. If you want an extra challenge or your wrists hurt from doing these on the floor, try doing them on a parallette.
Another core exercise to work on is hollow body holds. Lay on your back with your body completely flat on the floor. Press your lower back into the floor to avoid arching. Then, raise your legs and chest so they’re hovering off of the floor.
There should be just a slight curve to your body and the only thing that should be on the ground is your lower back. For an extra challenge, keep your chest and legs hovering off of the ground while raising your arms straight up into the air as if you were reaching for a bar.
Hold the position for as long as you can. This is essentially the same position you will be in while doing the front lever.
Even for people with huge abdominal and upper body muscles, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to do a front lever right off the bat without at least some front lever training. That’s because it requires a lot of stability and coordination in addition to pure strength to achieve it.
Therefore, if you want to get to the point where you can do and hold a front lever, step up your core, back, and chest days while working on these front lever progressions. If you can achieve each of these progressions, over time you should be able to do a full front lever.
The way to start each of these progressions and the full front lever is by grabbing onto the pull-up bar overhand and flipping yourself into an inverted hang. An inverted hang looks like a handstand except you keep your hips up by the bar. From there, you move your hips away from the bar into each of the different progression positions.
From the inverted hang, pull your body into a tucked position with your knees pulled in towards your chest. You want your body to get into as much of a ball position as possible while keeping your arms straight.
Your back should be rounded but still parallel to the floor. Once you are in the tuck position, hold it for as long as you can without releasing the bar.
Lever Once you’ve got the tuck front lever down, you can level it up with the advanced tuck lever. To do it, get into the tuck front lever position and slowly release your knees from your chest. Keep your legs tucked up but release your knees slightly to work your abs more.
Allow your knees to move away from your chest as far as they can go in order to get the maximum work out of your abs. Your back should be straighter in this position than it was in the regular tuck lever. Hold the position for as long as you can with the right form before moving on to the next progression.
With the single-leg front levers, you’re going to start extending your legs out like you would for a full front lever. However, you’re just going to do it with one leg of a time. To start, get into the advanced tuck lever position with your back as flat as possible.
Then, extend one of your legs outward so it forms one long line from your toes to your head. Keep the other leg tucked in towards your chest. Think about the position like you’re doing the bicycle exercise for your abs. Hold one of your legs extended out for as long as you can and then switch sides.
Now, you’re going to extend both of your legs out parallel to the ground. Get into the advanced tuck lever position, extend one leg out parallel to the ground, and then the other. Keep a gap in between your legs as if you were in a straddle position on the floor.
The further apart your legs are from one another the easier it will be to maintain the position. Be sure that you’re not hunching your back but instead engaging your abs as much as possible to create a super straight back.
You’ve made it to the front lever. The goal here is to create a straight line from your head to your toes and hold the position for as long as possible without breaking form. Grab on to the bar and get yourself into a tuck-front position.
Extend your legs out one at a time, open them into a straddle position, and then press them together until you’re in a totally horizontal position. Everything should be engaged from your glutes to your abs to your lats.
Once you’ve got the front lever down, you can give one of these advanced front lever exercises a try.
Front lever pull-ups are going to challenge your abs and back far beyond what regular pull-ups would. To do the pull-up properly, get into your front lever hold with your body completely horizontal. Pull yourself up towards the bar so that your hips touch the bar.
You want to keep your forearm straight up and down and hinge at your elbows so that you’re using your biceps and back to pull yourself up. So, as your hips hit the bar, your biceps should also be horizontal with the ground. Be sure to keep your elbows in tight along your body as you pull up.
The gymnastics rings are exceedingly more difficult to do a front lever on than a stable bar. Because the rings can move around during the exercise, you need to keep your body as still as possible to avoid swinging around on the rings.
Very slowly, hoist yourself up into a front lever just as you would on the bar. Go slow and engage your abs to avoid a lot of swinging. Then, hold the position just as if you were on the pull-up bar.
Now that you can use two arms to do a front lever, try working up to using just one arm at a time. Start from the regular front lever then release one arm backward to create a long time from your fingertips to your toes. Keep the arm that is holding on to the bar straight and engage your back muscles hard to hold yourself up.
Whether you’re an ex-gymnast, trying to add some calisthenic exercises to your routine, or just want to challenge your body in a new way, front lever holds are the way to go. This dynamic exercise works your body and helps you get ripped.
Not to mention it looks cool to do and requires a lot of strength and stability. The fastest way to get to the front lever is with these front lever progressions. Put your entire body to work with these progressions and you’ll be on your way to the full front hold in no time.
Bonus tip: If you want to speed up the time it takes you to get to the full front lever hold, then give our back and biceps workout a try.