The “Pinnacle Exercises” are what we call the most advanced, staple exercises of the Bodyweight Athlete. But just as their name implies, the Pinnacles represent the higher level achievements in bodyweight training- nobody starts there. An entire continuum of regressions, progressions, and conditioning exercises need to be mastered along the way. In this tutorial, I’ll teach you a the Floor Conditioning Drill for Front and Back Levers, a great conditioning exercise that helps you strengthen the muscles you’ll need to perform a front or back lever. And as an extra bonus, this lever preparation can be done with just a stick, so you can get in some practice even when you aren’t anywhere near a training bar!
Pinnacle Exercises in Progressive Bodyweight Training
Dynamic Vs. Static Pinnacles
Pinnacles can be categorized as Dynamics or Statics. Some examples of Dynamic Pinnacles include the Muscle-Up (starting fast, progressing to the slow non-kipping muscle-up as the most difficult); Single Arm Pull-Ups; Freestanding Handstand Push-Ups; Single Arm Push-Ups; Tuck Body Rows; and Pistol Squats with its variations. The Static Pinnacles are isometric holds including Planche work; Handstands; L-Sits; Human Flgas; and Front/Back Levers. Dynamics are usually performed in sets and reps, like traditional resistance training, while Statics are held for timed sets.
Progression and Skills
You have to work your way up to the Pinnacle exercises with proper progressions. It’s common to see an enthusiastic exerciser decide they want to learn a Pinnacle static like a human flag, only to give up a week later, with some sore muscles and a deflated ego. The problem is that they were focused just on the end goal, and not on building a strong foundation and then enjoying the process of properly working through the variations. Every one of the Pinnacle Exercises requires a gradual progression that includes building skills. If it were just about strength, you’d see a lot more people in the gym repping out Handstand Push-Ups. There has to be a whole spectrum of attributes working together in unison, like balance, stability, coordination, endurance and, yes, strength. That’s why it’s so important to drop the ego and start all the way back at the most regressed variation of a Pinnacle Exercise. How quickly you progress is depends greatly on the amount of time you’re willing to put in.
Sample Front Lever Progressions:
For example, with Front Lever training, nobody starts out with perfect horizontal positioning of their body. If we were to start out training with a high bar, we would start someone hanging in a tucked position with knees towards chest. Then you might try to hold your body horizontal, but with a shorter “lever arm” by keeping your body tucked in the Front Lever Tuck position. You would work your way up to holding it for at least sixty seconds before moving on to the next step, where you begin to use more leverage by moving your knees farther away from your head. If you put in the time and practice with the proper progressions, you’ll eventually get your legs fully extended, parallel to the ground, in a full Front Lever! (Check out our Tuck Front Lever Video Tutorial here.)
Variations for the Road
I’ve spent the better part of the last three years on “the road”, which more or less means in the air and in plenty of hotels. That’s no excuse, though: the bodyweight practice must go on! When you spend that much time in hotel rooms, you tend to get pretty creative with your workouts. Luckily enough, as bodyweight athletes we don’t need much. In fact, if you follow GBT you’ve probably heard me say, “Give me a few square feet of open space and I call it a gym; give me a pull up bar or a good ledge and suddenly it’s a luxury gym!”
Seriously though, a good bar is not always so easy to find. Sometimes a sturdy door with a towel stuffed underneath will suffice for Pull-Ups, but for some of our “Pinnacle” exercises, a door just won’t cut it. That’s particularly true if you’re training the Front or Back Lever. So, the variations in this article are the “Bar-less” version of lever regressions.
The Floor Front and Back Lever Conditioning Drills
The Floor Front and Back Lever Conditioning Drills can be the starting point if you’re just beginning to work on Front or Back Levers, or can be a great tool for conditioning your Levers when there’s no bar in sight. All you’ll need is some sort of stick, broom handle, dowel rod, PVC pipe or pretty much anything that you can’t easily break or bend.
The specific reason Front and Back Levers are so challenging is because the mechanics are not in our favor. The shoulder girdle and the muscles that connect it are holding up the rib cage. The closer we get to the toes and the further away from the shoulder joint, the greater the challenge. In the Front Lever, the core muscles that help the spine to flex and resist extension (rectus abdominis, internal, external obliques) have the incredibly difficult job of keeping the hips and spine parallel to the ground. The hip flexors and quads also have to be fully active in order to keep the legs up while extending the knees. Thus the Front Lever is a big Flexion Chain exercise that is essentially working all of these muscles on the front side of the body. The same holds true for the Back Lever, but now we are challenging the Extensor Chain.
The picture to the left shows my friend and bodyweight expert Al Kavadlo performing a Back Lever. Notice the similarities in the muscles used when comparing his picture with my picture of the Floor Conditioning version below. We are using the same muscles by pulling the stick into the body, rather than pulling the body up to the bar. (Note: The Back Lever can be performed with hands in the pronated or supinated position. You will get the same benefit from this conditioning exercise.)
Front Lever Variation
The Floor Conditioning for Front Lever is performed while lying on the back with arms above the body, simulating the position when performing a true Front Lever on a bar.
- Begin on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Fully extend your elbows and rest the stick on your thighs. The hands should be shoulder width or slightly wider. Be sure to have the lats slightly engaged and the inside of the elbows facing up towards the ceiling (in a corkscrew position).
- Engage by lifting the head and the feet simultaneously from the ground. Keeping the elbows completely straight press the bar into the legs with an amount of pressure equal to the amount pulling the knees towards the chest.
- Keep the eyes up towards the ceiling as you crunch the chest up towards the legs. The knees should be at 90 degrees or greater, and slightly behind the hip line.
- Continue to grip the bar forcefully and fully engage the lats as you imagine that you’re “bending” the bar around your waist.
- Try to maintain consistent tension throughout the entire set. As I always say – stop as soon as you can no longer maintain perfect form!
Back Lever Variations
The Floor Conditioning for Back Lever is performed while lying on the stomach with arms raised behind the back, simulating the position of the true Back Lever performed on a bar.
- Begin on your stomach with the stick placed below or on top of the glutes.
- The hands should be slightly shoulder width apart. Hold the bar lightly, with the palms facing down towards the ground.
- Engage the Lats, and pull the shoulders back and down towards the hips.
- Press the stick down into the legs as you lift the chest and feet from the ground.
- Think about every single muscle on the posterior side of the body being on and active. Keep the eyes towards the ground and the chin tucked.
The key to advancing in all of your Bodyweight Skills Practice is consistency. That is, after all, how the body works – consistent practice will help you progress in your workouts each and every day. And in bodyweight training, progress is extremely easy to track: since we’re not adding external loads, then it’s all about your performance. You either can do it or you can’t. Keep up the practice, and you’ll have more days of “cans” than “can’ts!”
Additional Lever Tutorials
For additional free tutorials to help you in your Lever training, check out these two articles with videos that we published last year: