Front Lever Training

The front lever is one of the most difficult (and coolest looking) calisthenics exercises of all time. Performed either as a static hold or for reps from a hanging position, the front lever involves pulling your whole body up til it’s parallel to the floor, almost like you are laying down…on air!

In the continuum of bodyweight strength training, a static front lever hold ranks amongst the most difficult feats. I’d put it somewhere between the human flag and a full planche.

First Things First
Achieving a front lever requires serious back strength as well as total body control. Before you consider front lever training, you should be able to perform at least 10 dead hang pull-ups and several full range of motion hanging leg raises. I also recommend you learn to do a back lever and a dragon flag first.

Tuck Front Lever
The easiest variation on the front lever is the tuck front lever. Hang from a pull-up bar and squeeze your legs into your chest while rolling your hips back until your torso is parallel to the ground. Try to stay up and hold this position for as long as you can.

More advanced variations can involve extending one leg while keeping the other tucked or keeping both legs in a half-tuck position. There are many steps in between the tuck front lever and the full position.

Straddle Front Lever
By opening your legs during a front lever, you’re not only changing the balance, you’re also shortening the lever, both of which make this move slightly easier than a full front lever (though still more difficult than the tuck lever). You’ll need better than average hip mobility to pull off a decent straddle front lever, so make sure you’re stretching regularly.

Front Levers for Reps
When building up to a front lever hold, performing front levers for reps can be a very useful tool. Keep your whole body tight as you use your lats to pull your body into the lever position, then lower back down to a dead hang and repeat. The movement pattern is similar to a dumbbell pullover, except you’re moving your entire body instead of just a dumbbell!

When your form breaks down, switch to hanging leg raises. This can make for a very difficult superset.

Front Lever to Muscle-up
The front lever to muscle-up is a great way to work towards improving your front lever hold, as well as a bad-ass move in its own right. It’s easier to do the muscle-up first, then lower yourself into the lever, maintaining total body tension the whole time. Hold the lever position, then pull yourself back over the bar and repeat. Try using a false grip for this maneuver.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Working your way up to a front lever hold can take a very long time. Be patient and gradually build to several seconds on each step before moving onto the next one. If you find yourself getting stagnant in your progress, take a break from front lever training while you continue to work the basics (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.) then come back to it after a few weeks. In the big picture, a little time off can sometimes give you a renewed focus. The front lever is a very difficult move and I am still working on perfecting it myself!

Check out the video below for more:

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  • http://twitter.com/GregorWin Gregor

    I would add FL rows (be it tucked or straddled) and lat pulls (with elastic bands) as assistance exercise.

    Those two helped me a lot.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Gregor – Good call on the tuck front lever row!  Definitely a great exercise to help work towards the full FL.

  • Anonymous

    Great post & great steps for achieving the FL. You say the FL is harder than the human flag?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks – glad you enjoyed this one!  I can hold a flag significantly longer than a front lever, but I know a couple people who the opposite is true for.  I also probably practice the flag more often (it’s more fun!) so I suppose it’s pretty individualized.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah that makes sense. If you train harder with one, you’ll be better. Did you by any chance write a Human Flag tutorial? I don’t seem to be able to find it. 

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I sure did!  Anytime you see a word highlighted in the text of one of my articles it’s usually a link to a tutorial or related article.  So it you click the phrase “human flag” in the 2nd paragraph of this post it will take you to my flag tutorial.

    Also, many of my bodyweight tutorials are linked (and ranked according to difficultly) in this post: http://www.alkavadlo.com/2010/05/mastering-your-body-weight/

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  • Dale

    Al, would levers suffice as a go-to horizontal-pull movement ?

    I’ve been alternating pullups and inverted rows of late, but in introducing lever progressions I find that they induce a contraction, between the shoulder blades, which is every bit as intense as the contraction I get from the inverted rows.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Dale, I think you answered your own question – Go for it!

  • Dale

    You’re too-clever-by-half, my friend. ;)

    Thanks!

  • KC

    With the front lever, back lever, and dragon flag, do you think it’s fine to just start with the tuck variation and then over time just straighten out more and more until it’s perfect technique?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Absolutely!

  • Nunh

    Excellent – you sure are a strong and dedicatedperson! Very inspiring!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Nunh!

  • http://disqus.com Ty

    This gets compared to a dummbell pullover, but the position of the shoulder when there is tension on it seems totally different. Seems a lot more like doing a bent-over rowing movement except with locked elbows, actually.

    The elbows start at ~90 degrees or less of flexion almost fully extended to the sides at the top, right? Whereas with a pullover, 90 degrees basically has no tension and it grows to full as you flex overhead and stuff, requiring upward scapular rotation and all that.

    If I was doing pullovers to train this, decline seems like it would be closer to the curve. The only thing that sucks about that is if you did a decline, your weight would probably hit the ground :(

    I bet straight-arm lat pulldowns would mimic this a lot more in terms of when the resistance peaks at a given angle of shoulder extension/flexion.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    You might be over-intellectualizing this.  The best way to train for a front lever is to train with your bodyweight, using the progression I outlined in the tutorial.  Weights and cable machines will have little carryover for this move.

  • Xander

    Hello good sir, i just wanted to great you all the way from Holland, reading everyarticle with great intrest. Very inspiring what you have done and thanks for sharing :)

  • Xander

     instead of greating you, im greeting you haha

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks!  I appreciate the comments!

  • Abnormalstrength

     I think Ty may be over emphasizing the pull over exercise.  Other blogs I have read have recommended a pullover type movement with bands and you mimic the hollow hold while you hold the bands in place.

    If you are close I believe it might help, but should not be the mainstay of the training.  Maybe, the last 10%.

    What you have outlined in the “first things first” is awesome and is definitely the 90% to get people there.  And as a side point I hope people follow that advice before training for the front lever as they should be strong enough to nearly perform one with that skill set….Maybe add an L-sit for 30-60sec…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robby-Taylor/44409147 Robby Taylor

    the front lever muscle up is definitely one of my long term goals. this and one arm chin ups are where i want to be as far as pulling exercises go. of course, there are always harder exercises, but i personally feel that these two exercises represent a very high level of development that’s reasonably practical to maintain long term. moves like one arm front lever pull up and one arm muscle up just seem too intense to maintain long term. besides, if you’re doing OAC and FLMU regularly, you have a great base to go from if you do decide to kick it up a notch in the future.

    curious, clearly a pull up is easier than a muscle up, but is a front lever muscle up necessarily harder than a front lever pull up? because for the pull up you have to maintain the front lever position throughout, but if you’re good with muscle ups then the dip part of the muscle up would be a pretty nice break, i would imagine.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Front lever pull-ups are way harder than front lever muscle-ups!  I can do several FLMUs but not a single FLPU.

  • David

    Al,

    I believe tight hamstrings have hamstrung me from doing L Sits and Front Levers. Can you suggest what I could do to loosen the hamstrings. Stretching may help, but haven’t had too much luck.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey David – It takes dedication and patience to improve flexibility. You have to make stretching a top priority. Regardless, the length of your hamstrings is irrelevant to performing a front lever (though they can certainly be a factor on L-sits).

  • Robby Taylor

    Hey David, I would suggest focusing on the pistol squats. It will give you all of the hamstring flexibility that you need, as well as being an excellent leg and core strengthening exercise in its own right. It is ok to bend the free leg at first but work on straightening it out over time. I find it helpful to grab the free foot with the opposite hand for support.

  • David

     Patience! Ok, back to the strectching!

  • David

     Thanks Robby. I’ll give it a try!

  • Anonymous

    Al, first off I’d just like to say I’m huge fan of your blog and videos, I’m pretty sure I’ve read every post and watched every video, and even gotten some friends reading your blog. So I’ve definitely learned a lot from you (and gotten alot stronger too) in the last year or so. But now that that’s out of the way I’ve got a question. I can hold a back lever for a few seconds and can do a few front levers for reps, but I was wondering if it was ok for to bend my elbows when working on front levers. I just find it makes the exercise significantly easier. Any input is much aprreciated, thanks.                            

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Thomas – Thanks for the kind words!  I’m glad to have been such an influence on you!  

    I think it’s okay to have a bend in your elbows when you are working on front levers. I can’t think of any reason why it would be a major concern.

  • Troy

    I’ve been working with front tucks as a starting progression to front levers and am curious as to where I want to “feel it”? At this point I feel the burn and most muscle contraction in my shoulders. Is that where I want to feel the majority of contraction at this point?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    The tuck position doesn’t involve as much core activation as the others. It’s normal to feel it more in your upper body.

  • bklynfirefighter

    Al
    A few months ago, I was able to finally hold a front lever for a couple of seconds, then couldn’t do it again ! LOL
    Now I have gone back to square one and can hold a tuck lever for a minute and am going to take it progressively from there.
    No problem with the back lever….
    Once I get that front lever it is back to working on that kipup….and that is driving me crazy since I have worked on that for so long.
    thanks for the info and the inspiration
    John D

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, John! Keep at it!

  • Dean

    Al Kavadlo, how often should i train my abs and the front lever?

  • RobbyTaylor

    Think of the front lever more as a high level pulling exercise rather than an ab exercise. I’d say 3 or so times a week should be good, depending on how you’re incorporating it into your training. L sits are supposed to have good carry over to the front lever, and at one point I was doing them almost every day

  • Dean

    Cool! Thanks mate, i appreciate you advice. Do i have to stick to my pull ups because i’ve seemed to hit a plateau in which my pull ups number cant never reach 15x consecutively. I am however thinking of training for strength than endurance..

  • RobbyTaylor

    It’s a good idea to keep doing pull ups. I usually pick one high level exercise to build a workout around, then 3 ‘low level’ exercises to support it. I do 2 pushing and 2 pulling exercises, alternating so that I get something resembling rest throughout the set. Here is what I’m planning to do today:

    Straddle back levers
    handstand push up negatives
    pull ups (switch grip every set)
    dips (bring the shoulders down to the hands)

    This way I can really focus on the back lever while still getting good reps in with the other exercises. Also, the handstand push up negatives allow me to help develop my handstand push up, which is currently my go-to high level pushing exercise.

  • Dean

    Alrite then.. Thank you once again. I’m gonna hit the bar tomorrow. Lets train hard together!