Mike Fitch Hand Balancing Cinque Terre
Traveling provides an awesome opportunity to work out with a new view! (Here: Cinque Terre, Italy)

The Reverse Hyperextension Elbow Lever is another great bodyweight training exercise that can be performed anywhere without any equipment, which is why I chose it for this week’s tutorial to post while I’m traveling. The exercise itself is a great combination move that increases the intensity and complexity of each individual component when they are put together. For example, we take a common lower back conditioning exercise, the basic Reverse Hyperextension, and make it more challenging by performing it from the Elbow Lever position. At the same time, we take the skill-based Elbow Lever exercise, usually performed in a static or isometric hand balancing form, and increase its range of motion by incorporating the Reverse Hyperextension. In this video tutorial, I’ll show you some lead-up conditioning moves and variations for this exercises, that can all be done while making great use of outdoor areas.

Training While You Travel

Mike Fitch Bodyweight Training
Morning bodyweight workout with a view!

One of the best parts of being a Bodyweight Athlete is the options it gives you for finding places to work out. This past year has taken me all over the world while I’ve been teaching Animal Flow workshops and movement programs to fitness professionals in all kinds of great places. Of course, I’m a real wimp about cold weather, and that means that sometimes my workouts have been relegated to hotel gyms, or, in less favorable circumstances, to hotel hallways. Sometimes I make it work within the confines of my room. As I’ve mentioned many times before, when you’re on the road, any few square feet of open space is a gym, and having some sort of hanging bar makes it a 5-star fitness center.

On the other hand, when the weather is nice, I love to get outside and check out my surroundings. I can almost always find somewhere interesting to work out. And when my travels take me somewhere as beautiful as Italy’s Cinque Terre, where I spent the past week, it’s almost impossible not to find a perfect spot to take in the scenery while breaking a sweat. Those are some of the best moments to be a Bodyweight Athlete.

Benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension Elbow Lever

Besides the awesomeness of being able to work out outdoors, there are multiple benefits to training with movements like the Reverse Hyperextension Elbow Lever:

Mike Fitch Hand Balancing Cinque Terre
The synergy of the Elbow Lever with the Reverse Hyperextension makes for an awesome exercise

The Elbow Lever

With just the Elbow Lever portion of the movement, we are building incredible static strength and endurance in the stabilizers of the shoulder joint, shoulder girdle, elbows and wrists, and especially in the abdominal wall which has to maximally contract in order to protect the internal organs from the pressure of the body balancing on the elbows. With all of this internal tension going on in the upper body, it makes a perfectly stable structure for the erectors of the spine to lift the legs from.

The Reverse Hyperextension

Typically, when we think of the back extension we picture someone locking their feet into that machine at the gym and flopping up and down. While that IS a back extension, so is bending down to pick up a shoe or a bag and then coming back up to a standing position. Usually the pelvis is the anchor and the spine is being pulled back up into extension after being flexed. The thing is, it can work both ways, so if we fix the upper body, the spine can lift the lower. This is actually a great movement because we can get a lot of Glute and Hamstring activation while working the erectors of the spine.

Conditioning and Progressing

In the Reverse Hyperextension Elbow Lever we are taking these two very beneficial exercises and combining them, creating a synergistic connection throughout the entire body. We are lifting and lowering the legs by hinging at the hips while holding upper body in a fixed position balanced on the elbows. Because we are on a ledge, the legs can be lowered below the body’s horizontal position, thereby providing a greatly increased range of motion and increasing the challenge of the exercise. Of course, we have to crawl before we can walk – or in this case, we have to make sure we have the Elbow Lever down before we attempt to start moving the legs. There are several ways to condition for and then progress this movement:

Mike Fitch Hand Balancing
Alternating bent knee raises are great conditioning for the elbow lever

Elbow Lever Progressions

Practicing with Bent Knee Alternating Leg Raises, as shown in the video, can help you develop the balance and stability you need to master the Elbow Lever. Once you are able to balance on your elbows with your knees bent, you can progress to the straight leg version. And once you can balance with your legs straight, you can progress toward raising them higher off the ground each time. It is easier to start with the straddle (legs open) version and then progress to keeping the legs held tight together and knees completely straight.

Mike Fitch Hand Balancing
When progressing to the elbow lever, start with your body parallel to the ground

Mike Fitch Hand Balancing
Try to gain more height as your elbow lever improves

Reverse Hyperextension Progression

Mike Fitch Hand Balancing
Use of a ledge allows for a full Range of Motion

By taking the Elbow Lever off of flat ground and performing it on some type of ledge, we add a whole new dimension to the movement, creating both extension and flexion as the hips move the legs up and down. This Range of Motion makes the exercise more functional and beneficial.

As always, take time with your progressions and don’t feel like you have to jump into the leg raise until you feel very comfortable and confident with the Elbow Lever. And I definitely recommend placing a pillow or a pad down in case you over balance and take a face plant!

No gym? No worries! We are Bodyweight Athletes, and there are no excuses for not working out, just a lack of imagination. No matter where in your training you are, you can get out there somewhere and start working toward your Reverse Hyperextension Elbow Lever.

Want to see more? Check out these other tutorials on hand balancing and back extensions:

Published by Mike Fitch

Mike is the founder of Global Bodyweight Training. He has more than 12 years as a fitness professional encompassing a wide range of disciplines which he draws upon to create the GBT system.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Mike,

    Once again, a nice video. I discovered your website a few weeks ago, and I really want to thank you for your videos, always nice moves!
    It took me a while te check them all, and I’m still looking them again and again!
    Greeting from France!

  2. Great video! Thanks for all you’ve done. Your site has been a great resource.

    I’m working on just holding the straddle lever at this point. I can hold my body straight, but I’ve noticed that my face comes down towards the floor and my body position is at a slight diagonal with feet higher than head rather than completely horizontal. Is there a correction for this? Should I work on correcting this prior to moving on to the hyperextension?

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