Your way to advance level gymnastic holds starts with back lever. Being relatively easy than front lever hold or planche hold, it might not even seem to exert much stress on elite gymnast but it will provide a hell of a challenge to even the intermediate level strength trainee.
Being relatively easier than front lever doesn’t mean back lever hold is easy. It requires a mix of significant core strength, strong posterior chain and shoulder flexibility. And to achieve this, you need to go through a chain of back lever progression exercises.
Back lever is like mirror image of front lever hold where you will be looking at the ground while in the hold. If you wish to do a front lever and maybe a human flag one day then you must work towards not only attaining but mastering the back lever hold.
The whole body weight is to be supported by lats, lower back and core muscles in back lever which makes it a tough exercise. Your arms are at an awkward angle in back lever that need great amount of shoulder extension mobility. Hence even if you are starting with good overall muscle strength you will need to develop your posterior chain, core strength and shoulder mobility further through back lever progressions.
Is back lever easier than front lever?
Any exercise in calisthenics is difficult. In case of comparison between front lever and back lever holds the level of difficulty depends on which parameters we are comparing the two. As the back lever puts you in an awkward hand position you need better shoulder mobility to perform it than front lever. Especially if you are doing the back lever with supinated grip, that is with palms facing the ground. On the other hand, front lever requires comparatively more of straight arm strength and core strength.
The opinions vary regarding the difficulty level or front lever against the supinated back lever but it is fairly agreed upon that pronated back lever hold is easier than front lever. Considering the overcoming gravity exercise charts full back lever is at seven while full front lever is at eight on the difficulty scale of one to sixteen.
What muscles do back levers work?
Along with making you look cool with the flying in mid-air position the back lever hold also works on the muscles. You need to tighten almost every muscle in your body in order to hold a back lever position, as a result, it develops your full body strength. While the efforts and the results specially focus on lats, core and lower back strength and the shoulder extension mobility.
Back lever being the pull movement involves use of many secondary muscle groups such as wrist flexors, elbow flexion, forearms, biceps and triceps.
How do you do a back lever?
Back lever is widely performed in gymnastics and calisthenics. And as already established, it is not for beginners. It needs advance level of strength, flexibility and training. You can perform back lever hold on gymnastic rings, pull up bar or the double bar at open gym.
To do a proper back lever start by grabbing the bar or the rings, lift yourself all the way up and get in to inverted hang position. Now slowly lower the body leading with your toes till it is completely horizontal. At this point your body should be parallel to the ground, your arms must be completely extended, hands on the bar shoulder width apart. Ensure that you are not piking at this position. At this moment your legs should be closer together. Hold this position, keep the muscles tight. That is the proper form to hold back lever, any other position may be a variation of back lever hold or just cheating.
Back lever hand position
There are two hand positions for back lever hold that are called underhand or pronated back lever and second is overhand or supinated back lever. Both holds are correct, it just depends on your goals for which hand position you should work towards. In supinated back lever your palms face down, it puts a lot of pressure on the biceps and elbow. The pronated back lever in which your palms are facing up, utilises more of the shoulder strength than elbow which makes it a little bit easier than the supinated hold. But if you are planning on becoming a gymnast and competing in gymnastics one day, then you need to work your way to supinated back lever hold.
From the look of it you can easily deduce that the back lever hold takes your arms in a not so comfortable angle. The amount of stress your shoulder extensions have to handle in this position requires a tremendous amount of shoulder strength, flexibility and mobility. Back lever is one of the basic movements of gymnastic exercises. To perform this a good combination of flexibility and strength in core, upper and lower back and shoulder muscles is needed. Even to start working on the back lever progression exercise you need to possess certain level of shoulder flexibility and strength.
If you are able to perform skin the cat and German hangs easily, then it can be said that you are physically ready to start back lever progression exercises to work towards achieving full back lever hold.
Skin the cat is performed on gymnast rings. It is basically an upper body stretching exercise to achieve full body motion. To perform this, you hold the rings palms facing out, raise your legs from front, continue raising till you are in inverted hang position. Now continue to pass the feet through arms and down towards the ground. Then lift your hips and rotate your legs to bring them back to starting position. During the motion, let the rings rotate freely in your hands.
The German hangs are nothing but the static hang in the position that you reach in skin the cat where you are hanging to the rings with your hands behind your back and feet towards the ground.
How to warm up for back lever?
Be it gymnastics, calisthenics or weight training it is necessary to get you blood flowing to the muscles before starting the actual exercise. An active warm up is a must before toll taking exercise like back lever hold. To reduce the risk of injury while doing back lever, following warm up routines must be included along with your regular pump up practices.
- Arm Circles
- Wrist rotations
- Neck Rotations
- Alternating Chest Hugs
- Assisted or feet to the ground German hang
- Few chin ups, pull ups & push ups
- Back extensions
Back Lever Progression Exercises
Now that you have made sure you have all the prerequisites, let us start working on back lever progression exercises. In order to achieve full back lever hold, it is necessary to follow the progression exercises in the given order. It is expected that you should be able to do each progression comfortably before you move on to the next progression.
The sequence and the instructions remains the same whether you do these exercises on pull up bar or gymnastic rings. Before moving on to supinated back lever it is recommended that you finish up all the progressions for pronated back lever hold.
Back Lever Progression Exercises
|Tuck Back Lever|
|Advanced Tuck Back Lever|
|One Leg Out Advanced Tuck Back Lever|
|Straddle Back Lever|
|Half Lay Back Lever|
|Full Back Lever|
Tuck Back Lever
You are able to hold German hang for more than thirty seconds then it won’t be much difficult for yout get into tuck back lever position. First one among the back lever progression, this hold can be considered easier one of the lot. To get in tuck back lever start by grabbing the rings, lift yourself all the way up to inverted hang position. Now bring your knees closer to your chest. Here the back can be slightly relaxed. Then lower your hips slowly till it is in line with your shoulders.
At this position your elbows must be locked, arms completely stretched out. Core muscles engaged. You can keep the arms closer to engage the lat muscles. The aim is to hold this position for forty five seconds or be able to do five sets of thirty second holds before moving on to the next progression.
Advanced Tuck Back Lever
When you have achieved to hold the tuck back lever position comfortably then try to move on to the advanced version of it. First get in to tuck back lever position. Now straighten your back completely, and move your chest out. Straightening the back will need to utilise more core strength than bent back tuck position. Try holding this position for forty five seconds, if you succeed, move on to the next progression.
One Leg Out Advanced Tuck Back Lever
It might be difficult for some to move the leg out in advanced tuck back lever position. So, start from basic tuck back lever hold, try moving one leg out, hold this position. Be comfortable with one leg out tuck back lever position then try to straighten your back from here. Then you can try first getting into advanced tuck back and moving one leg out.
Straddle Back Lever
Grab the bar or the rings, lift yourself up in inverted hang position, lower your legs down simultaneously spreading them in straddle position. Keep the legs spread as wide as feasible. If doing simultaneously seems complicated, then you can spread the legs first and then start lowering them. Bring your body parallel to the ground. In this position your arms and back must kept straight.
Aim is to hold the straddle back lever position for 20 seconds. If you find difficult to move to straddle back lever hold, then you can try knee bent straddle back lever hold in between.
Half Lay Back Lever
After graduating through straddle back lever next up is half lay back lever. Starting from advanced tuck back lever position slowly move your knees away from your chest. Through this movement keep the knees joined together. Now your upper body and thighs are completely straight and parallel to the floor, only the knees are bent. This is your half lay back lever. Accomplish holding this for 20 – 30 seconds before trying to get into full back lever.
Full Back Lever
Now as you have achieved the half lay back lever, it is just a matter of straightening your legs. It is not as simple as it sounds. As the legs stretch away from the body it becomes harder and takes more effort to hold against this increased leverage. You have worked hard through progressions. Till now you must have built the core, back and shoulder strength, and mobility to accomplish the full back lever.
Get into tuck back lever position straighten your back and move your legs out till your body forms a straight line parallel to the floor. At this time your body shouldn’t be bowed, legs should be joined and arms straight. The arms should be touching the shoulder blades, there should be no piking or sagging midriff.
Once you have achieved full back lever with pronated hand position or palms facing up, you can try for back lever in supinated hand position (palms facing down).
The back lever is an odd position to get in and also this being type of inverted position it might be difficult to get a sense of the exact position of the body in space. It would be helpful to have a partner to assist you in this matter.
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Calisthenics Back Lever Progression Exercises PDF
Click here to download back lever progression exercises PDF template.
It is an awesome feat to achieve. Being able to hold your body in air is an impressive skill to have. Progressions to the full back lever might take a month overall or it may take months to go through a single progression depending upon your body type and training. The key is to keep working through the steps, taking your time and keep yourself motivated.
If you have achieved the full back lever hold, congratulations, but the world doesn’t end here. You can go for more advanced variations like one handed back lever hold. How to progress towards one arm back lever? Well, that is a story for another day.