Front lever

Front lever: the ultimate guide (2024)

The front lever is not only a fantastic exercise to behold, but training for it also makes you incredibly strong. It’s no wonder that this exercise is a goal for almost every calisthenics enthusiast. While it’s undoubtedly a challenging skill to acquire, with the right progressions, training structure, and unwavering determination, mastering the front lever is within reach.

The purpose of this blog is to provide beginners and semi-advanced practitioners with the tools to make systematic progress in achieving the front lever. Read this blog from start to finish, and I’m confident you’ll be ready to dive in.


What is a front lever

The front lever, an advanced calisthenics exercise, involves suspending yourself horizontally beneath a bar or rings. Achieving this position requires pulling your shoulders back, creating a straight, plank-like alignment of your body. Although it shares similarities with the back lever, the front variant presents a significantly greater challenge, demanding a heightened level of strength, stability, and control. Mastering the front lever is a notable accomplishment in the calisthenics realm, showcasing not only impressive aesthetics but also a high degree of functional strength.


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Which muscles are engaged during the front lever?

Sustaining an beautiful horizontal position beneath the bar demands the activation of almost every muscle in your body. Your core, glutes, and legs work in unison, while your feet maintain a pointed position, contributing to the overall stability of the front lever.

However, the real strength comes from your shoulders, triceps, and back muscles. where the pivotal point of leverage is situated, allowing you to uphold the challenging straight-line position beneath the bar.


What makes the front lever challenging?

The leverage effect arises because your arms are fully extended during the front lever, with your elbows locked and triceps engaged.

Most calisthenics exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, weighted dips, etc., involve bending your arms during each repetition. This places a different stress on your joints compared to exercises where the arms remain straight.

Other examples of exercises with extended arms include the back lever, human flag, and planche.

Given that most people have limited experience training exercises with extended arms, it’s crucial to gradually build up your training. It takes time for your body to adapt.

Executing a full front lever requires raw pulling strength. How much strength? That varies from person to person. There are three factors that significantly influence your leverage during front lever training: your weight, your height, and the “ape factor.”

APE factor

What is the “ape factor”? The ape factor is the ratio of the wingspan of your arms to the length of your entire body. You calculate this by dividing your arms’ wingspan by your body height.

For the front lever, a higher ape factor has a positive effect. This is because with relatively long arms, you have a smaller angle in your shoulders. This smaller angle reduces the lever’s weight, making the exercise lighter. Conversely, a negative ape factor makes the front lever more challenging.

APE Factor

Front lever - strength requirement

Okay, so now you know that executing a front lever requires an extreme amount of strength. But how much strength is considered “a lot”?

Given that it’s a pull exercise, with the most challenging part relying on your back muscles, it’s interesting to compare the strength from the perspective of weighted pull-ups.

The weighted pull-up is easily scalable and, therefore, the ideal exercise to gauge the necessary strength for other movements.

According to ‘Overcoming Gravity,’ the strength required for a full front lever is equivalent to a weighted pull-up with approximately 80 to 90% of your body weight.

It’s crucial to establish a strong foundation in weighted pull-ups before delving into the initial front lever progressions.

Set a goal to perform at least 5 pull-ups with an additional weight equal to 50% of your body weight.

This means that if you weigh 80kg, your aim is to perform 5 pull-ups with 40kg added weight.

If you haven’t achieved this yet, read this blog first on how to start training (weighted) pull-ups.

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Frontlever - technique

Below, we’ll first discuss the coaching cues for the front lever. These apply to all regressions/progressions as well.

It’s incredibly important to train with the correct posture right from the start. If you neglect this, you won’t be teaching your body to engage the right muscles.

Extended arms

In the front lever, your arms are always extended, meaning your elbows are locked. Additionally, rotate your elbows outward.

Properly extending your arms directs tension primarily to your triceps during training. If your arms are bent, you’ll feel the tension mostly in your biceps.

Shoulder position

The focus in the front lever is on pulling your shoulder blades down and back, a position often referred to as retraction and depression.

Pulling your shoulder blades backward is the most challenging aspect of the front lever. Achieving full retraction is hardly possible while training because you’re constantly battling gravity, leading to a more neutral shoulder position.

This isn’t an issue. The crucial point is to emphasize pulling your shoulder blades backward, preventing excessive forward movement.

Having your shoulders forward in the front lever increases the risk of a shoulder injury during training. You can recognize a front lever with shoulders pointing forward (protracted) by a rounded back.

Body positioning

Furthermore, it’s crucial that all muscles are engaged during training. Concentrate on activating your abdominal, gluteal, and leg muscles.

front lever trainining

To learn a full front lever, it’s important to incorporate regressions/progressions.

Progressions and regressions are easier and more challenging variations of the same exercise.

These are necessary to apply progressive overload since, unlike standard fitness exercises (e.g., squats), you can’t increase the difficulty of your exercise with extra weight every session.

By training front lever progressions, your body gradually adapts to the exercise. Think of them as intermediate steps toward your ultimate goal.

tucked front lever

tucked front lever

advanced tucked front lever

advanced tucked front lever

straddle front lever

Straddle front lever

Full front lever

Front lever

With the 4 progressions depicted above, you can make significant progress. However, if you crave more variety, there are many additional progressions available.

For instance, you can replace the straddle with a one-leg variation, and there are numerous progressions between these 4 as well.

Additional progressions

Programming front lever training

You start with the first progression: the tucked front lever.

To achieve maximum results, train the front lever 2 to 3 times per week. Include 4 – 5 sets of front lever holds in your routine.

Attempt to hold your current progression for at least 3 seconds and a maximum of 10 seconds for each set. Ensure a minimum of 3 minutes of rest between sets.

It’s crucial not to push yourself to the limit with every set. Instead, conserve your energy and distribute it across the sets. Training with constant maximum holds increases the risk of injuries. Therefore, always stop 1 to 2 seconds before complete exhaustion.

Example of Front lever training

In this example, we assume a 1 rep max on the tucked front lever of 7 seconds.

1st Training: 4 sets of 5 seconds hold (Reps in Reserve 2 seconds) 2nd Training: 2 sets of 6 seconds and 2 sets of 5 seconds.

This way, you systematically build up strength. Initially, you train the exercises, then your body recovers and becomes stronger.

Eventually, you reach 10 seconds per set. This is the perfect moment to introduce a more challenging progression into your workout.

Side work excercises oefeningen

In addition to training the front lever hold itself, there are several exercises that help build the strength needed to master this skill.

Essentially, any pull exercises emphasizing shoulder retraction and depression will aid you on your journey to the ultimate goal.

Below, I’ll discuss the 3 most commonly used calisthenics exercises.

weighted pull ups

It won’t come as a surprise that weighted pull-ups help you gain the necessary strength. As mentioned earlier, the front lever is equivalent to a one-rep max pull-up/chin-up with 80-90% of your body weight.

This is, therefore, the key exercise to incorporate into your workout (alongside the holds themselves, of course).

The beauty of weighted pull-ups lies in their easy scalability. You can simply add a bit of weight to your routine every workout.

Focus on the rep range of 4-6 reps per set to primarily build strength.

To add weight, I recommend using a pull up belt. It sits more comfortably on your body than a weighted vest, and you can add more weight.

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Dragon flag

The dragon flag bears a strong resemblance to the front lever. However, the significant difference lies in the fact that in the dragon flag, your shoulders are supported on the ground.

With the dragon flag, you learn the correct body position. It’s a killer exercise for your abdominal, back, and glute muscles.

Train the dragon flag with 3 sets of max holds at the end of your workout. Here, too, you can utilize various progressions such as the tucked, advanced tucked, and straddle to make the exercise lighter.

Front lever rows

Dynamic Progressions Front Lever Rows.

While training holds, you maintain a single position. It’s wise to incorporate rows into your training as well, allowing you to strengthen the entire range of motion.

Since rows are more challenging than holds, it’s advisable to regress to your best hold. For instance, if you’ve reached advanced tuck holds, perform rows with the tucked variant.

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Front lever touch

For some calisthenics practitioners, it takes months; for others, years. But eventually, you can master the front lever, as long as you remain structured and consistent in your training.

But what happens once you can do it? What’s the next step?

You can choose to make it more challenging by adding ankle weights, for example. Alternatively, you can work towards the next progression: the front lever touch, where your hips touch the bar.

This introduces a whole new dimension to your training.

Calisthenics oefening: Front lever touch
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