The front lever is a calisthenics power move that requires you to raise your body up from a hang into a horizontal position and be parallel to the ground. This skill is one of the most bodyweights advanced pulling exercises that you can do, it shows an impressive display of strength and aesthetics and helps you to develop powerful core and back muscles.
Whether you already have the front lever or are working towards it, it’ll have tremendous carryover benefits to other calisthenics skills such as improving your muscle up form and providing you the foundation for holding the human flag.
According to crossfit.com, the front lever is a great exercise for developing a strong core and powerful pulling muscles. This is indeed, true. In gymnastics, all power moves are assigned grades A to F, with F being the most difficult, the front lever is rated A. Pretty crazy, right?
The front lever requires strength, mobility, flexibility, and technique. You will mainly need to have a strong core and lats to be able to perform this awesome POWER MOVE. The primary muscles worked are the latissimus dorsi, rectus abdomins, obliques, serratus anterior, rhomboid, teres minor. The secondary muscles worked are the pectoralis major, triceps, quadriceps, glutes, calf, and forearms.
This is an advanced-level exercise because it defies the law of gravity. Hanging from a bar whilst resisting the gravitational force pulling you down takes lots of strength. However, fear not because you will learn the best front lever progressions and workouts to fast-track your progress towards this astonishing skill! …You will need to do lots of pull-ups for a starter!
Before you begin your front lever journey, it is important to know that everyone’s progress is different, some are able to progress faster than others due to many different factors such as current strength, genetics, and weight, etc. This should not put you off because you should not rush towards achieving this skill, but rather embrace the journey and make that 1% improvement every day. This is the true purpose of calisthenics!
The front lever comes in different stages and progressions which ALL must go through in order to track their progress. The time frame for these progressions varies for everyone because we are all unique, but on average, you should implement these into your sessions and be able to hold them for a minimum of 15 seconds for 3 sets in good form before moving on to the next progression. The KEY to the front lever is the scapular retraction (pulling your shoulder blades together as if you are going a crush an apple at the center of your back). It is also important to try the next progression every 3-4 weeks to test your strength, don’t be afraid to experiment as you’ll often be surprised with how much you’ve progressed. The progressions are:
Skin the cat is a foundational upperbody exercise that develops your core strength and shoulders mobility. It requires you to hang from a bar or gymnastics rings followed by passing your legs between your arms and overhead into a pike inverted hang position. Every time you loop your legs over counts as a single rep, practice it in a slow and controlled manner (2 seconds over, and 2 seconds back). Perform this between 1-5 reps for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Tuck Front Lever is the second progression where you will hang from the bar or gymnastics rings, with your knees tucked in towards your chest and your body in a horizontal position. Make sure that your arms are fully locked out. You should feel the engagement in your lats and core. This is a fundamental exercise that you should revisit on a weekly basis even if you already have the front lever unlocked, it is important to keep practicing the basics, as they are the ones that build you! Perform this between 5-20 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Important note: You should perform this exercise by looking forward in between your legs.
Once you are able to hold the tuck front lever for 15 seconds for 3 sets, you should experiment with the advanced tuck front lever. This variation requires you to extend your knees forward past the bar/rings line so that your thighs are at a 90 degrees angle in relation to your torso. Your back remains parallel to the ground, and your arms are locked out. Perform this between 5-20 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
When trying this out, initially your hips may sag down and you may not be able to hold it with good form. You will also feel more leverage on your core and hips. This is part of the process! Keep practicing it and over time your from WILL improve.
This is where the fun begins! Your body shape would almost look like a full front lever. You will begin in a tuck front lever position, followed by extending one leg out fully to create a horizontal line with your body. Engage your quadriceps of the extended leg, glutes, and core. Your arms are fully locked out. Perform this between 5-20 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week, practice on both legs in a single set.
Again, when initially trying this progression, your hips may sag and your body shape would like a banana shape, don’t worry! Keep drilling these holds and your alignment will improve.
This is super exciting!! You are over the halfway point in your front lever journey, now keep practicing and staying consistent and you will for sure achieve the front lever. Begin in a tuck front lever position, followed by extending one leg out fully, and bringing your tucked leg/knee forward past the bar/ring line to create an advanced tuck position. You will feel the increased leverage on your lats, core, hips, and quads!
Perform this between 5-20 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week, practice on both legs in a single set.
Now we are talking shape! The straddle front lever requires you to hang with your legs spread out, toes pointed, glutes and quads engaged! Very important! You will then raise your body up using the strength of your core and lats to create a horizontal line of your body that is parallel to the ground.
The straddle front lever is easier than the full because your legs are closer to your hands compared to a full front lever instead. This means your body has a reduced torque to resist gravity pulling you down in a straddle front lever.
Initially, you may experience a banana-shaped straddle front lever with your hips sagging down. This is normal as your muscles are not used to being worked and held in this position. Keep drilling this exercise down and sure enough, you will achieve a perfect form. Perform this between 3-15 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
This is the final step, and your ultimate goal - the Front Lever! There are two most efficient ways you can enter into a front lever. The first way is by rasing from a hanging position with your legs fully engaged, and together. The second way is by getting into a tuck position, followed by extending your legs.
As mentioned in the previous progressions, initially your form may not look great, where your hips may sag or your form is not horizontal. This is completely normal. You can practice a half front lever where you raise your body into a 45 degrees angle, this will develop your lats and core strength for the full front lever! Practice this between 3-15 seconds for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
To achieve the front lever, you must practice supporting exercises along with the progressions in every single session. It is highly recommended that you practice the front lever 3 times a week up until you are at the straddle front lever phase. Once you are there, you can train 4-5 times a week.
Pull-ups are your King in your training, you should practice these as often as possible because they will develop your back muscles (especially your lats), improve your scapular retraction, and pulling strength. The better you are at pull-ups, the faster you will progress in your front lever journey. When doing pull-ups, make sure to begin in a hanging position, followed by pulling up until your chin is above the bar, and lower down locking your arms out before performing the next rep. This will ensure a full range of motion!
Implement pull-ups as the last exercise or your training routine rather than the start as they will fatigue your upperbody muscles very quickly, or you can train pull-ups on a separate day. If you are a beginner to bodyweight training, you can learn how to increase your pull-ups by clicking here. Perform this between 5-20 reps for 5 sets, for 2 sessions a week.
Front lever raises is a dynamic exercise that requires you to begin in a dead hang position, with your arms locked out, feet together, scapular retraction, glutes, and quads engaged. This is a great core workout and will give your lats a good burn! You will raise from a hang position until your body is in a horizontal position and parallel to the ground.
If you are a beginner to front lever training, you can regress to tuck front lever raises, one-leg front lever raises, or straddle front lever raises. This exercise is highly adaptable to your fitness level, however, initially, you may not be able to raise your body to a perfectly horizontal position, this is completely fine. Keep drilling this down and eventually, you will be able to do it! Perform this between 3-10 reps for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Front lever negatives are a reverse of the front lever raises. It will require you to perform the negative (eccentric part) of the front lever raise as slow and controlled as you can, usually at a count between 2-5 seconds. This exercise targets the core and lats, which will give you an aesthetic physique!
Again, if you are a beginner you can start with tuck, one-leg, or straddle front lever negatives to get used to the movement path and develop the strength for the full negative.
Initially, when doing negatives, you may fall from the top position down very fast with little control, this is normal and everyone will go through it. Keep practicing you eventually you’ll have more control during the eccentric phase.
It is highly recommended that you do try the full front lever negative regularly, as this will aid more strength development. Over time, you will be able to do it with perfect form. Perform this between 2-5 reps for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
This is a great exercise to condition your core and back muscles for the full front lever. It is best to practice this on parallel bars or gymnastics rings as you will have a greater range of motion. To do this, you will begin in a tuck front lever pull-ups position, followed by pulling your body as high as you can vertically upwards, whilst your torso remains horizontal and parallel to the ground.
Focus on scapular retraction, core engagement, and tucking your knees as close to you can to your chest. Perform this between 4-10 reps for 4 sets, 3 times a week. As you get stronger, you can progress to advanced tuck front lever pull-ups by extending your knees forward past the line of your hands.
Now, it is time to go over how to structure your front lever training - exciting! As mentioned earlier, you should initially train the front lever 3 sessions a week (given that you have no prior training experience). This is to allow your muscles to recover and adapt to the regimen. Once you reach the one-leg front lever phase, you should train between 4-5 times a week as your muscles would be developed enough to take on the load. Rest between 2-4 minutes between sets, make sure to put a timer on!
For each session you should practice 4 exercises, so pick any 2 exercises from the front lever progressions, and 2 exercises from the front lever training (conditioning) section. For example in a single session you will do:
If you are not yet able to do tuck front lever hold, you can change the exercise allocation, for example, 1 exercise from the front lever progressions, and 3 exercises from the front lever training section. For example:
Once you arrive at the single-leg front lever progression, you can superset the exercises together in a single set to increase tension on your muscles, and further, develop your lats and core strength. Aim to practice holding for 20 seconds on the bar. For example:
Apart from looking awesome, the back lever is an inverse variation of the front lever. On average, the back lever is easier to achieve than the front lever, because it stretches your chest and shoulders as your arms go behind the spine. The passive resistance from the stretch assists you in the hold, however, it requires good shoulder flexion mobility. If you want to catch your first lever, it is highly recommended that you go for this variation first as it is much easier to achieve.
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.