How to do a Back Lever

Man has yet to fly without airplanes or helicopters, but performing a back lever feels pretty close! Practicing this exercise can help you build total body strength while giving you the sensation of being suspended in mid-air. Back levers are fun and functional, plus they look bad-ass!

Skinning the Cat
Before you attempt a back lever, you’ll need to learn how to “skin the cat.” Don’t worry, I’m not advocating harming any felines! In this context, the phrase “skinning the cat” refers to rolling your hips and legs over and around to the other side of the bar from a pull-up position.

Start by hanging from a bar with an overhand grip, then begin raising your legs with your knees bent. When your knees are all the way up to your chest, rotate your body around to the other side, keeping your legs tucked tight so they don’t hit the bar as you pass through. From here, extend your legs and let your body hang before reversing the movement.

Performing a Back Lever
Once you can get your legs over to the other side of the bar, you’re ready to start practicing towards a back lever. I like to get into position by straightening my entire body so that I’m hanging almost completely upside down with my legs above the bar and my torso below.

From there, start to lower yourself one inch at a time while pitching your chest forward. The objective is to get your body parallel to the ground with your hips directly under the bar. It’s helpful to have someone watch you or videotape you while you are doing this as you’ll likely have a hard time feeling when you are in position. Remember to contract your abs, lower back, hamstrings and glutes while performing this move. Your arms are only one small part of the equation.

Watch the video below for more:

26 thoughts on “How to do a Back Lever

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  • By Kyoshi -

    Any particular reason your palms are facing up?
    A correct backlever (on rings or on bars) has the palms facing down. This puts more stress on your biceps and biceps tendon and makes them stronger.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      That’s just how I learned to do it. I’ve never had any formal gymnastics coaching on the bar. I’ll have to try it your way sometime and see for myself. Although putting more stress on my tendons doesn’t seem like a desirable thing.

  • By PhilPot -

    Great tutorial!! I’ve never tried a back lever before, because I was a little unsure of myself with the “tuck and roll” aspect of it. But I just went and tried it, and although I cant hold it, I will most certainly be throwing in negatives to my workout routine! THANKS!!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Keep practicing, Phil! You’ll get it soon enough.

  • By Rge636 -

    Nice tutorial
    I’m training this move and this is very helpful with me :-)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks! Glad that this was helpful for you!

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  • By KC -

    hooo boy, I just did a back lever tuck hold for as long as I could and when I walked away I actually felt like I was floating. That’s when you know an exercise is really hitting you everywhere!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I know that feeling!  Good job – keep training hard!

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  • By Dean Gutberlet -

    Al, I have been working on these but when do it, the pressure that I feel in my head makes it seem likes it’s literally going to explode. No other exercise does this to me, I notice your face is pretty red and strained in the video. Is it normal too feel this intense pressure? currently I just drop out of it as it doesn’t feel at all good, does it improve as you get stronger and better at executing the move?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Like everything else, yes it gets easier with practice.  So far, my head has not exploded.

  • By Ty -

    This one feels tough for me because I don’t have a lot of clearance (doorway bar) so I can’t extend my legs. I guess the next best thing would be just to extend the hip joint with flexed knees, and then as the knees move away from the bar, to stop and extend the knee, that way you increase the leverage challenge without increasing the shoulder angle.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Practicing back levers on a doorway bar with little clearance is probably not the best idea.

  • By Matt -

    this is a seemingly ever elusive move. good video:) would it help if i started by having my heels at my butt to take some weight off? im not sure if that makes sense.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yes, practicing with your knees bent is an easier variation.  FYI, there will be a much more thorough write-up of this exercise (and many others) in my new book, which will be out this spring.

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  • By Robby Taylor -

    Al, I recall reading somewhere (possibly in Raising The Bar) that you haven’t been able to perform a back lever with a supinated grip. I would highly suggest that you train this maneuver, as I read over in the forum on gymnasticbodies.com that doing a back lever with a supinated grip helps train the bicep tendons in a way that is conducive toward the planche. Hopefully it can help you reach that goal!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for the suggestion, Robby!

      • By Robby Taylor -

        Awesome! Good luck with it!

  • By Sebastian -

    nice tutorial. thank you for your videos. they are absolutely motivating. al what you think what is harder to learn? the back lever or front lever?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!  The front lever is generally harder.

  • By Aaqib Chowdhury -

    Hello Al,

    Do back lever leg raises hit the same muscles as in a deadlift? And can this move lead to comprehensive back development as well?

    • By Andy Fossett -

      If you could manage to do a back lever leg raise, it would certainly build strength, but I wouldn’t put it in the same category at deadlifts.

      A deadlift is lower-body dominant. It works the entire back, but the emphasis is on the legs and hips. In a back lever, you also work the entire back, but you’re also putting a LOT of stress on the shoulders (and elbows, depending on grip) while working the lower body significantly less.

      Here’s some better ideas for deadlift substitutes: http://www.alkavadlo.com/2012/09/04/bodyweight-deadlift-alternatives/

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