Elbow Levers

Al Kavadlo Elbow LeverThe elbow lever is a unique hand-balancing skill that will challenge your core strength as well as your coordination.

It’s a great skill to practice concurrently while learning the freestanding handstand, but it also looks pretty neat in its own right.

Before attempting an elbow lever, I recommend getting comfortable with the crow pose. Once you can hold a crow for 10 seconds or longer, you may be ready to move onto the elbow lever.

As the name implies, an elbow lever is performed by leveraging your bodyweight against one or both elbows while balancing on your hand(s) with your body stretched out in a horizontal position. Though it looks similar to a planche, the elbow lever is a less difficult skill due to the fact that your upper-body is resting on your arm(s).

Elbow Lever Technique
Make sure to keep your abs contracted and engage your lower back as you raise yourself off the ground. It is also important to pitch your upper-body forward in order to counterbalance the weight of your bottom half.

Though this move can be performed on a variety of surfaces, I recommend starting out by practicing on a bench, step or any other flat, raised object. This will allow you more room to lift your legs into position, as opposed to the limited amount of space when starting with your hands on the floor.

It may take some time to get used to the sensation of having your elbows jutting into your abdomen; beginners tend to find it especially unpleasant. With practice, however, you can eventually learn to make peace with it.

One Arm Elbow Lever
Though breakdancers and other skilled hand-balancers have a way of making this move seem effortless, the one arm elbow lever is a very challenging feat, so be patient if you endeavor to add this one to your arsenal.

Just like the two arm version, start out by simply trying to get your feet off the floor to get a feel for the balance before attempting to fully extend your body.

It may be helpful to spot yourself with your free hand in the beginning by reaching it to the side and resting one or several fingers on the surface upon which you are balancing.

Holding your body in a triangular formation with your legs in a straddle can make it a bit easier to find the balance with this exercise. With practice, you’ll improve to the point where you can work on bringing your body into a straight line.

Watch the video below for more:

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28 thoughts on “Elbow Levers

  • By Belatrix -

    Al, I’m always in awe of your ability to perform these bodyweight exercises and make it look effort less. One day I will get this one… ūüėȬ†

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Belatrix!  Keep training hard!

  • By Jim Arkus -

    Al, I love you, and this has nothing to do with your skills, but I’m amazed you don’t have scars and bruises all over your face from practicing these things. ¬†I see this and the handstand and think “broken nose.”

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Haha – thanks, Jim!¬† I’ve fallen on my face a few times but I don’t get hurt much because I know my limits and I know how to gradually push them back.¬† Besides, I’ve learned how to fall pretty good by this point!

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  • By Matthew Cocreham -

    Another great tutorial Al! What level of difficulty would you say the elbow lever is?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Matthew.¬† I’d put the 2-arm variation at around level 2 or level 3.¬† The one arm variation is a high level 3 or possibly level 4 move.

  • By Fern -

    You are such an inspiration Al! But are there are girls out there that perform like you do? I aspire to be like you but I cant seem to find any female role models that do what you do and I sometimes wonder if its even possible for me to reach the goals I have set, I will never stop trying, just wondering. Thanks for doing all the awesome videos!

    • By AdamC -

      I personally know a girl that can do a couple consecutive muscle ups. It’s possible, just a lot more difficult/impressive.

      • By Al Kavadlo -

        Right on, Adam! I’ve seen a few women who can do m-ups and one arm push-ups, though I’ve never seen a female do a full human flag, front lever, one arm pull-up, etc.¬† I’d love to meet a woman one day who can.¬† I believe all things are possible with enough time and effort.

        • By Robby Taylor -

          http://www128.pair.com/r3d4k7/Chinups.html 
          If you look through that list, it details a woman by the name of Lillian Leitzel. She was a circus performer in the early 20th century. At one time she did 27 one arm chin ups “dynamically” (kipping/swinging), however, apparently she could be given credit for doing 6 with proper form. Monstrously impressive for anyone, but especially so for a woman.

          • By Al Kavadlo -

            Video or it didn’t happen!!! ¬†ūüėÄ

          • By Robby Taylor -

            Hahaha how coy, Al. Knowing of the ridiculous feats of strongmen of yore, I don’t find it very difficult to believe. Besides, check out her arms! Sure, women have a more difficult time gaining strength, but from what I understand she was rather small and was also a 3rd generation acrobat, having trained from the time she was a young child. Besides that, it’s pretty easy to find videos on YouTube of girls doing straddle planches. I think I saw one awhile back of a girl doing a full planche, but I can’t seem to find it now. In any case, a straddle planche is still pretty ridiculous.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Fern!¬† There are some strong women out there doing calisthenics, but you’re right – I haven’t met any who are on my level yet.¬† I think that has more to do with the fact that most women have no interest in doing bodyweight feats, not that they don’t have the potential to.¬† Keep training hard – perhaps you’ll be the first!

  • By Rob -

    Hi Al. This is a bodyweight skill i would¬†really¬†like to learn, but i simply cannot get my elbows in the right position – i.e ‘dig’ them into the lower abdomen / hips.

    I dont know¬†whether¬†it is a body dimensions issue (short arms, broad chest), or the fact my rotator cuff / shoulder flexibility is lacking, or both.I have observed, by experimenting on friends, that the people that can get their elbows into this position can touch¬†their¬†elbows together in front of their body whilst maintaining a gap between the wrists. I, and a few¬†others¬†i’ve tried this on, cannot touch their elbows together, and are also unable to get into the right position for the elbow lever. I think this ‘elbow touch’ test is a good indicator of whether someone can get into the right position for this.¬†

    Anyway, i will keep stretching my shoulders and working the external rotator cuffs and hopefully i can get my elbows in to my abdomen one day :)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Interesting observation, Rob.  I can touch my elbows together like you described no problem.  Like you said, keep working on it and stretch!

      • By Rob White -

        Hey Al, im still struggling with the basic elbow lever, but i have now found i can hold the position quite easy if i tie my elbows towards eaqch other with a looped stretch band (i.e. so that the band forces my elbows to stay dug in to my lower abdomen area).

        This tells me its definately not a strength issue, and definitely some kind of flexibility issue in my shoulder girdle. However, despite doing lots of internal rotator mobility and external rotator strengthening (I can now touch my elbows together :), i still cant hold my elbows in by themselves when doing this move and they just slip out.

        However I noticed something interesting that tells me it might not be a rotator cuff issue – When i use the band to hold my elbows in and then do the elbow lever, i get a VERY strong stretch in my upper traps. Its almost like they are really being pulled down, along with the whole of my shoulder girdle being depressed.

        I think all along it might have been the fact my upper traps were so tight (from desk job, and years of olympic weightlifting) that its abnormally elevating my shoulder girdle, and kinda shortening my arm length and thus not allowing me to hold my elbows into the right position lower down on my abdomen.

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  • By Michael Hamm -

    Hi Al great tutorial. I have a question: What’s the diffference between an elbow lever and a planche, if any?
    Thanks

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Though they look similar, the planche is a much harder move. In an elbow lever, the arms are bent with the torso resting on them. In a planche, the arms are straight and do not make contact with the body.

  • By Guillermo Chou -

    I almost broke my neck doing this, came to forward lol.Lucky me I wasn’t on concrete. Gonna try this again in 1 month. Nice info by the way,

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      There’s a reason I have that disclaimer on the bottom right corner of every page of this website! :)

  • By Thomas_Nassif -

    Hey Al great post man. I’m actually pretty comfortable with elbow levers now and can perform them on the ground or a low elevated object but I haven’t been able to do them on a bar yet. I was just wondering if you used to have the same problem or had any advice. I just can’t get my elbows in position.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      The bar is harder for most people. Just keep practicing!

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