Uploaded by Johannes W.

LP 2019

daniel vadnal
The information in this book is presented with good intentions, but no warranty is given nor results guaranteed.
We have no control over physical conditions surrounding the application of the information in this book and
FitnessFAQs disclaims any liability for untoward results
including any injuries or damages arising from a person’s
attempt to rely upon any information contained herein.
The exercises shown and training program described in
Lever Pro are for information purposes and may be too
strenuous or even dangerous for some people. Use this
information at your own risk. When buying Lever Pro, the
customer understands the risks associated with using
this type of product and agrees not to hold FitnessFAQs
or its representatives responsible for injuries or damages
resulting from use without proper supervision. Perform
a safety check prior to each session. This should include
checking resistance bands for fraying and the sturdiness
of any equipment used. FitnessFAQs is not responsible for
problems related to the equipment used to perform the
exercises described. As with all eBooks, this one contains
opinions and ideas presented by FitnessFAQs. The content
of this eBook, by its very nature, is general, where each
reader’s situation is unique. Therefore, the purpose is to
provide general information rather than address individual situations. Prior to starting Lever Pro, please consult a
licensed health practitioner for an assessment and clearance. If you experience acute or chronic pain, discontinue
training and consult a medical professional for guidance.
The back and front lever are two popular calisthenics strength skills inspired by gymnastics.
Lever Pro has one mission: show and tell an
optimal and fun method to lever mastery. Calisthenics levers serve an introduction to the
world of straight-arm scapular strength and
isometric training. Progress is much easier with
standard bent-arm pulling and pushing exercises such as pull-ups and dips. For the average
person, the full back and front lever require a
smart, systematic and patient approach. The
complexity associated with levers concerns technique, progression and overloading principles.
Expect to train the levers with a variety of techniques including isometrics, dynamic pulls and
eccentrics. When, how and why to use bands
will be outlined with our effective guidelines for
success. Reducing the risk of sudden or chronic
aches and pains should be the goal for everyone.
The supplementary exercises will not only keep
the body healthy but improve performance
and progress with levers—win-win. It doesn’t
matter whether you’re at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level, Lever Pro can be followed
by everyone. Levers aren’t reserved for the
youth, those with flamingo legs or five-foot-tall
gymnasts. It’s time to discover a realistic way for
everyone to progress with the calisthenics levers.
In Lever Pro, we’re going to cover the back
and front lever. Both strength skills are commonplace in gymnastics and calisthenics,
generally performed on the rings or a bar.
The back and front lever are accomplished by
doing an isometric hold with the body parallel to
the ground. The difference between a back and
front lever is the orientation of the body. During
a back lever, the chest is facing down towards
the ground and the arms are behind the body.
The back lever is classified as a ‘push’ because the
shoulders are motioning from extension to flexion.
During a front lever, the chest is facing up towards
the sky with the arms in front of the body. The front
lever is classified as a ‘pull’ because the shoulders
are motioning from flexion towards extension.
With the back and front lever, decreasing
body leverage leads to increased intensity.
To accomplish this we will be progressing
from a tucked to an extended body position.
As the body elongates, the centre of mass is
progressively shifted away from the fulcrum,
increasing the rotational force or torque at the
shoulder. Decreased leverage accomplishes the
same goal as adding weight to gym exercises.
With calisthenics, we’re gradually extending
the body to increase intensity, build strength,
build muscle and master the final progressions.
Back and front levers are pulling and pushing
exercises respectively. Everyone has different
prime mover, scapula and core attributes.
Anatomical variations such as height, limb
length and muscle insertions will also determine
whether someone is a better puller or pusher.
Each person is going to have different strengths
and weaknesses; it’s impossible to say one is
universally easier or harder. The key difference
between the levers relates to shoulder mobility.
The back lever will be difficult for someone
lacking shoulder extension. The process of
developing connective tissue resilience and
increasing mobility for back levers is going to
take time and patience. Rather, it’s easy to lift
the arms to 90 degrees, making the front lever
a mission of pure strength development.
Technique wise, the back lever ‘intensity’ can be
decreased by resting the arms on the lats. With
front levers, the arms have to support the entire
body weight, making the horizontal hold harder.
The best approach is to be patient with training,
use perfect form and work on the edge of maximum
effort. For fast, safe and sustainable progress,
aim for linear progress workout to workout.
The following timelines are based on FitnessFAQs’ anecdotal evidence. This comprises Daniel
Vadnal’s observations over the past 10 years as a
calisthenics coach and physiotherapist.
Full Pronated Back Lever 10s —> 3–6 Months
Full Front Lever 5s —> 6–18 Months
There will always be outliers to the range of time
periods provided. For example, some people
can hold a full back lever on their first try (albeit
with questionable form). Those with a physical
structure geared towards pulling can unlock the
full front lever impressively fast also.
11 Height
11 Weight
11 Body Composition
11 Gender
11 Chronological Age
11 Training Age
11 Previous Injury
11 Current Injury
11 Consistency
11 Sleep
11 Nutrition
11 Hydration
11 Lifestyle
11 Shoulder Mobility
11 Pushing Strength
11 Pulling Strength
11 Straight-Arm Scapula Strength
The above factors explain why everyone progresses differently with the back and front lever.
Although it’s nice to have rough guidelines to
strive for, always be realistic with your individual
circumstances and be content with steady gains.
It should be stressed that trying to rush and
progress faster than possible isn’t wise. Acute
injuries such as bicep tears happen to people
who think the back lever process can be rushed.
A classic example is a bodybuilder with plenty
of muscle tearing a bicep during a back lever attempt. Just because the bodybuilder has enough
pushing strength doesn’t mean the connective
tissues are ready for the back lever. Conversely,
overuse injuries can happen to those who do not
follow a progressive, comprehensive plan such
as Lever Pro. Golfer’s elbow is common with calisthenics levers in the overzealous, uninformed
As the name suggests, exercises are performed
using locked elbows at all times. This unconventional style of training develops arguably the
most important area for bodyweight mastery,
the scapula. The scapula is a bone which forms
the shoulder joint in the human body. Control,
mobility, stability and strength of the scapula
is paramount for upper body feats of strength.
Ever wondered why someone big and strong
at weightlifting often can’t hold a back and
front lever? Despite having muscle and general
bent-arm strength, their scapula foundation
doesn’t support bodyweight strength. An easy
analogy to understand the importance of the
scapula is building a house. If we want to build a
house on a foundation of mud and twigs, the size
of the building will be limited as the house will
move and eventually collapse. A strong foundation will support a bigger and stronger building.
Our shoulders, when it comes to calisthenics,
are no different. A shaky foundation (scapula)
increases injury risk and also reduces how much
torque can be generated at the shoulder. Holding
back and front levers will be impossible without
first developing SASS. With Lever Pro, the exercises will address every component of the body
for success. This includes the rotator cuff, axioscapular and prime mover muscles in the back,
trunk and arms.
If there was any hidden secret for levers, it’s
SASS. Training the lever exercises themselves
will undoubtedly improve scapula strength, but
not to the maximum extent. If someone only
trains levers while neglecting SASS exercises,
untapped strength potential is being left behind.
The scapula stabilisers for back and front levers
tend to be the limiting factor in holds and rep work.
Isolating the scapula with exercises such as the
horizontal scap pull, scap push-up, and lever pulldowns are perfect accessory work. The scapula
exercises in Lever Pro are done seriously at the
end of a workout. We want to fatigue, stress and
stimulate our scapula stabilisers to be stronger
in protraction, retraction and depression. The
combination of progressive lever training and
relevant SASS is what makes Lever Pro effective.
The scapula is capable of creating many movements; we only need to understand how to apply
the relevant ones for lever training. Correct positioning of the scapula will maximise torque and
strength at the shoulder. The outcome is longer
lever holds and being able to move on faster
towards the full lever progressions.
In a back lever, the scapula needs to be protracted and depressed. The mental imagery during
training is to spread the shoulder blades apart
and down towards the waist.
In a front lever, the scapula needs to be retracted
and depressed. This can be thought of as pulling
the shoulder blades towards the spine and down
towards the waist.
When the average person sees a calisthenics
lever, the most common question is “What
muscles does that train bro?”. In this upcoming
section, basic muscle function and anatomy will
be described.
Muscles have the potential to serve many
complicated functions including that of
antagonists, synergists, stabilisers, neutralisers
and fixators. Don’t worry, Lever Pro isn’t intended
to be an anatomy and physiology textbook.
Congruent with the Pareto principle, let’s keep
things simple and understand the most important
stuff: agonists involved in levers, aka prime
movers. A muscle responsible for the majority of
the force in an exercise is called a prime mover. Due
to the full-body nature of the calisthenics levers,
many muscles are contracting simultaneously to
maintain holds or create movement. It’s time to
demystify lever training.
The following areas and movements use similar
muscle groups for both levers.
Wrist/finger flexors and forearm pronators are
working to hold on. A strong grip is needed to
radiate tension throughout the entire body.
Co-contraction of the biceps and triceps.
Scapula Depression
Latissimus dorsi, lower fibres of the trapezius,
pec major, pec minor and serratus anterior.
These muscles are responsible for pulling
the shoulder blades down, increasing shoulder
Core Position
Anterior core muscles such as the superficial
rectus abdominis and obliques. These
muscles are responsible for preventing an
incorrect, excessively arched back lever
or hips-piked front lever.
Leg and Foot Position
The muscles on the inside of the legs are active to
keep the knees together; these muscles include
the adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor
magnus, sartorius and pectineus.
The muscles on the front of the legs keep
the knees straight in extended levers.
The quadricep muscles include the rectus
femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and
vastus medialis.
The plantar flexors point the ankle forward, which
helps to incorporate the entire kinetic chain,
contributing to full body tension.
Cervical extensors contract to keep the neck in
neutral alignment. This is important for resisting
gravity and the weight of the head.
Back Position
The paraspinal muscles help keep the back
extended in a horizontal back lever.
Shoulder Flexion
The arms are behind the body and the relative
motion is towards shoulder flexion. The anterior
deltoid, biceps brachii, pec major, pec minor and
serratus anterior are working during a back lever.
Scapula Protraction
Serratus anterior, pec minor and pec major. These
are important muscles which spread the shoulder
blades away from the spine.
Hip and Extension
To keep the hips level with the shoulders, the main
hip extensors need to be active. These include the
gluteus maximus and the hamstrings—comprising
the long head of biceps femoris, semitendinosus,
semimembranosus and, to a lesser extent, the
adductor magnus.
The back lever is categorised as a pushing
exercise. The hands are fixed and the shoulders
are motioning from extension to flexion relative
to the torso. Pronation and supination are the
two types of grip to decide between.
Pronation is a pull-up grip where the palms face
away from the body. It’s the most accommodating
grip during the shoulders extended, arms behind
body position.
Supination is using a chin-up grip where the
palms face towards the body.
This technique is reserved for people who
have spent time training with straight arms
or beginners willing to be extremely patient.
Supination places the biceps under considerable
stretch and strain. Without progressive shoulder
extension and straight-arm conditioning,
connective tissue such as ligaments, muscles and
tendons are at risk. Supinated back levers need
to be approached progressively to condition the
connective tissues of the shoulder and elbow.
FitnessFAQs advises those following Lever Pro
to unlock the back lever first with a pronated
grip, then start at the tuck with supination and
working patiently towards the full supinated back
lever. Heed the warning! Moving to the elbow, be
aware of co-contracting the biceps and triceps
to maintain locked arms. Retracting the neck will
neutralise alignment relative to the shoulders,
fighting against gravity and the weight of one’s
head. Gaze towards the horizon as this will
promote a correct back lever alignment. To ensure
the body is parallel to the ground, do a quick
reference check by looking towards the knees or
feet (depending on progression). This visual cue
will increase awareness of body position. Due
to the pushing motion at the shoulders for back
levers, the scapula cueing involves protraction
and depression. This position forms a stable
scapula base, increasing contribution from the
relevant upper body muscles.
To create a textbook, horizontal back lever, be
mindful of core and leg tension. Brace the abs
like in a front plank, drawing the ribs down to
the hips. Anterior core tension prevents the
dreaded banana back lever.
Lastly, squeezing the legs and pointing the toes
should be done consistently regardless of the
progression used.
Cervical flexors on the front of the neck contract
to maintain a double chin. These muscles make
it possible for the neck to stay neutral with the
Shoulder Extension
The arms are in front of the body and the relative
motion is towards shoulder extension. The major
muscles working are the latissimus dorsi, long
head of triceps, posterior deltoid, teres major
and sternal head of pec major.
Scapula Retraction
Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and middle fibres of
the trapezius. These are important muscles which
draw the shoulder blades towards the spine.
Hip Position
The muscles on the front of the thigh and hip are
responsible for preventing folding at the midline.
The main hip flexors include the iliopsoas and
rectus femoris.
The front lever is categorised as a pulling exercise. The hands are fixed and the shoulders motion from flexion to extension relative to the torso.
A conventional grip with the thumbs over or under
is generally used. Neither variation is inherently
superior to the other because force is simply being directed downwards.
A third variation involves using a false grip, assuming a wrist-flexed technique. A false grip is a
mechanically advantageous technique because
the length of the lever arm is reduced from bar
to body. Using a false grip in front levers means
longer hold times and an increased capacity for
tolerating harder progressions.
Choose the grip style which suits personal
preference and allows maximum output during
training. Demonstrating a textbook front lever
requires the development of SASS. Consequently,
training must involve locked elbows at all times.
Co-contracting the triceps and biceps prevents
the temptation for incorrect elbow bending.
For an aesthetic-looking front lever, we need to
take care of what’s happening at the head and
neck. Creating a double chin shifts the head into
a neutral position, activating the neck flexors
to resist gravity. Looking towards the horizon
is helpful for understanding where the body
is positioned relative to space, allowing for
instant form corrections. Intentional shoulder
mechanics during a front lever is required for
generating maximal scapula stability. Forcefully
retracting and depressing the scapula is optimal
for increasing force output from the prime mover,
synergist and stabiliser muscles involved. Despite
most of the demands happening at the scapula
region in a front lever, it requires strength in the
entire posterior and anterior chain of the body.
Aim to brace the anterior core like in a hollow
body hold.
For a horizontal alignment from head to toe, don’t
forget to squeeze the legs and point the toes.
Rings or Bar?
Choosing between rings or a bar depends on
circumstances and access. Keep in mind that
strength is exercise specific and apparatus
specific—we get good at what we train with
the setup used. If deciding between both,
here’s some further insight to help you decide.
Concerning the back lever, rings are more
comfortable for those with restricted shoulder
extension mobility. This is because the rings are
able to move wider, conforming to the available
range of motion. For the front lever, the inherent
instability of the rings increases difficulty.
Further muscular effort is required from the
pecs, lats and rotator cuff to prevent the rings
drifting away in ring front levers.
For dynamics such as the 360° pull, the value
of rings transcends the bar. At the inverted
hang transition, the chosen body shape can
remain unchanged. Additionally, it’s possible
to seamlessly switch grips with rings during a
360° pull; the potential for transitioning from a
pronated front lever to a supinated back lever is
no problem.
There’s nothing wrong with using a bar for lever
training either. Whether using a doorway pullup bar, outdoor fitness parks, public scaffolding
or a commercial gym, a bar is always available.
The beauty of calisthenics is versatility—we can
master our levers anywhere, anytime.
Now that we’ve covered technique and lever
anatomy, it’s time to learn the progressions.
The following can be used for both the back and
front lever, starting easy and getting harder.
The tuck is the starting point for unassisted lever
training. The body is heavily compressed into a
ball. Keep the lower back rounded, flex the knees
to the chest and draw the heels to the bum.
To progressively increase the difficulty, transition from a tuck to an advanced tuck. Do this by
flattening the lower back. The knees will now be
aligned vertically above the hips.
To develop active hip mobility, the frog lever is
the next important progression. Spread the legs
while keeping the knees bent. The knees-bent
frog lever is easiest with the hips piked. A piked
frog is when the knees are orientated above
the hips. The demands at the upper body are
comparable to the advanced tuck position.
The frog becomes harder with increased hip
extension. A hip extended frog is when the knees
move further from the chest. Shifting the knees
lengthens the lever, increasing the difficulty and,
eventually, strength.
Working towards a straddle lever won’t happen
by accident. A pike straddle is a necessary
progression. Straighten the knees and spread
the legs apart. A piked straddle is when the legs
are orientated vertically above the hips. As the
legs move further from the chest towards the
horizon, the difficulty increases.
A hip extended straddle is when the ankles, knees,
hips and shoulders are aligned when viewed from
the side. It’s important to squeeze the glutes to
promote hip extension and to prevent the hips
from sagging. The further apart the legs are
straddled, the lever becomes easier to hold.
Flex one hip to 90° and extend the other leg
parallel to the ground. Be sure to swap sides
each set for symmetrical hip and core strength.
The one-leg lever has a comparable upper body
intensity to the straddle.
The penultimate progression is a flat back and
fully hip extended lever. The legs are bent to
90° and the ankles point towards the ground. To
eliminate incorrect folding in the middle of the
body, squeeze the glutes to flatten out.
The iconic back and front lever are when the body
is fully extended. The back is flat, the hips are
extended, the legs are locked straight and the
toes are pointed. When viewed from the side, the
body is completely parallel to the ground, aligned
from head to toe.
An isometric hold is when muscles contract to
hold the body and its joint angles motionless. This
method of training is perfect for getting strong
in a very specific range of motion. Generally
speaking, isometrics improve strength in the
position held and approximately 10–20° above
and below. By practising horizontal holds, the
parallel back and front lever pattern will improve.
Training science is limited for calisthenics, especially concerning isometric holds. Consequently, most public information avoids critical
thinking and simply recommends training to
failure. It’s understandable why people new to
levers can be confused and lack concrete principles to follow. The Lever Pro guidelines clarify
the purpose behind different hold durations.
The intensity of isometrics can be compared to
dynamic reps at a basic level. Short-duration
holds are equivalent to low reps, high-intensity training. Long duration holds are similar to
higher reps, lower-intensity training. Intensity refers to effort from a neurological perspective. Compare the feeling after a short-duration
hold to a long-duration hold, both to failure.
Chances are the feeling afterwards is different
despite both conditions being taken to the max.
Here’s what the science-based calisthenics community hypotheses:
2s isometric = 1 dynamic rep.
8–12s = 4–6 reps
15–30s = 8–15 reps
To develop maximal strength, shorter duration
holds are best, training within the 8–12s hold
range. To increase lever volume and improve
endurance, longer duration holds between 15
and 30s are valuable. Both short- and longduration holds serve a purpose in lever training.
Combining both develops top-end strength,
improves endurance, and builds muscle and
connective tissue resilience. Short and long
isometrics create an outcome where the whole
is greater than the sum of its parts.
Lever Pro training begins with isometrics followed by dynamic levers. A dynamic exercise is
when muscles contract to create movement. The
dynamics in Lever Pro include the 1.0 pull, 2.0
pull, and 360° pull. These exercises stress both
the concentric and eccentric phases.
Isometrics increase strength towards the end
goal: a full back and front lever. Dynamics stress
the involved muscles through a large range of
motion. The combination of both training styles
is a recipe for strength and size.
To master calisthenics levers, eccentric training
is a potent progression method. Eccentrics are
dynamic because the prime mover muscles
are contracting as they lengthen. A nice way
to understand eccentrics is the lowering or
braking phase of a movement. The human body
is naturally stronger during an eccentric—
approximately 120%, depending on the research
paper. Eccentrics make it possible to work a
lever progression which would otherwise be
impossible. Time under tension (TUT) is stressed,
strengthening the movement pattern in reverse.
The goal with Lever Pro is maximal strength development; eccentric training applies this principle in practice. Eccentric sets are best done in
the 3–5 rep range. Each rep should last between
five and eight seconds from the top down. This
is a good balance between TUT, volume, intensity and conventional strength training dosage.
Eccentrics are highly effective but must be used
and progressed intelligently. The training stress
is high and heavily taxes the central nervous
system. Be patient when progressing the lever
shape, adding reps and gradually increasing TUT
with eccentrics.
We understand that everyone has different
preferences, time available and goals. FitnessFAQs
has included four training structures to choose
from with Lever Pro. Due to a high volume and
intensity, 2–3x per week is an optimal blend of
stress and recovery. Use the below diagram to
help decide which one is right for you.
BL & FL?
BL or FL?
Lever Pro requires either three or four days
per week. Below is the recommended way of
structuring the training week depending on the
When training both the front and back lever
concurrently in a session, it’s recommended
to have 24 hours of rest between days for full
recovery. Consecutive sessions must be avoided.
With the 4x per week structure, the back and front
lever are being trained in separate sessions. The
back lever trains pushing muscles and the front
lever trains pulling muscles. The pulling muscles
are resting on the back lever day and the pushing
muscles are resting on the front lever day. Both
areas of the body will be recuperating on the rest
day. To avoid excessive fatigue, do not train the
BL/FL four days in a row without rest.
BL 1
FL 1
BL 2
FL 2
BL 1
FL 1
BL 2
FL 2
When training only the back lever or front lever,
the concept of weekly structure is the same. It’s
recommended to have 24 hours of rest between
sessions to allow full recovery. Consecutive
sessions must be avoided.
BL 1
BL 2
BL 3
FL 1
FL 2
FL 3
Letter System
The letters and corresponding numbers state the
exercise order and rest structure. Two situations
are used in Lever Pro: straight sets or supersets.
Straight sets are when one exercise is done by
itself. They involve resting for the time written
and repeating all sets of the same exercise before
continuing. With the following example, A1, do
one set of the front lever, rest three minutes
and repeat the remaining sets. Once all sets are
complete for A1, proceed to B1 and follow the
same process.
Front Lever
Front Lever
Rest (Mins)
A superset is when one exercise is immediately
followed by another, and involves resting after
the superset is complete. For C1 and C2, do one
set of the dragon flag and then immediately do a
set of tricep kickbacks. Rest for one minute and
repeat in an alternating manner.
Dragon Flag
Rest (Mins)
Intensity Column
The Lever Pro system was created for all levels,
beginners through to advanced. The intensity
column in Lever Pro is one of the most important
sections for honest, objective training. This is
where the specifics of exercise progression
and loading parameters such as bands and
weights are noted. For the back and front levers,
write down the progression, band type and the
specific setup.
The below are examples for a variety of
exercises and strength levels.
Back Lever
Back Lever Pull
Band Back Lever
Back Lever Eccentric
Straddle, Rings
2.0, Advanced Tuck,
Yellow Band @ Waist,
Piked Frog, Rings
Front Lever
Front Lever Pull
Band Front Lever
Front Lever Eccentric
Pike Straddle, Rings
1.0, Advanced Tuck,
Red Band @ Waist,
Dip Bars
Piked Frog, Rings
For core training, write down the progression
and weight if used.
Dragon Flag
Dragon Flag
Dragon Flag
Dragon Flag
Leg Raise, 2.5kg
Tuck to Extend,
Reps, Straddle
Reps, Full
Reps, Full, 2.5kg
Reverse Hyper
Reverse Hyper
Reverse Hyper
Full, 5kg
Dragon Flag
For pull-downs, note the band colour, anchor
point, estimate the band tension and setup.
Front Lever Pull-Down
Red Tubing, Head
Height, 3 steps tension
Red Tubing, Head
Back Lever Pull-Down
Height, 2 steps tension
For arm isolation, note the variation, band colour,
anchor point and rough band tension. If dumbbells, note the weight and setup.
Bicep Curl
Bicep Curl
Bicep Curl
Bicep Curl
Tricep Kickback
Tricep Kickback
Tricep Kickback
Shoulder Extension,
Red Tubing, Shin
Height, 3 steps tension
Shoulder Flexion, Red
Tubing, Shin Height, 2
steps tension
Red Tubing, Under Feet
Incline bench, 10kg
Pronated, Red Tubing,
Under Feet
Supinated, Red Tubing,
Under Feet
For Horizontal Pulling SASS, note the variation
and exercise setup.
Horizontal Scap Pull
Horizontal Scap Pull
Horizontal Scap Pull
Horizontal Scap Pull
Two Arms, Body 45°
Two Arms, Body
Parallel, Feet Elevated
One Arm, Body 45°
Advanced Tuck
For horizontal pushing SASS, note the variation,
exercise setup and band if used.
Scap Push-Up
Scap Push-Up
Scap Push-Up
Two Arms
Two Arms, Red Band
One Arm
A few of the exercises are in both the warm-up
and training programs. These include bicep curls,
tricep kickbacks, scapula push-ups, the horizontal
scap pull and the levers themselves. The key
difference between warming up and training is
the effort and level of exertion. During a warmup, use light bands, easy levers and low effort.
The workout itself is the time to raise the intensity
and train close to the limits of your capacity.
Reps Column
Isometrics are given a hold range in seconds.
Dynamic exercises are given a rep range. The
goal is to be challenged in the range provided,
selecting an appropriate exercise intensity.
Front Lever
Front Lever Pull
After all the dynamic reps are done, some
exercises include an isometric hold at the
hardest part of the exercise.
Reverse Hyper
Dragon Flag
Horizontal Scap Pull
Scap Push-Up
10–15 + 10s
5–10 + 10s
8–10 + 10s
8–12 + 15s
The hold for the reverse hyper is at full hip and
knee extension. With a dragon flag, hold the
isometric as close to the ground as possible. In
the horizontal scap pull strive for maximal, end
range retraction and depression for time. After
the scap push-up reps, finish with a maximum
protracted and depressed isometric.
It’s a tough way to train but it addresses two
important aspects of the exercise: working
through a full range of motion and also stressing
the weakest range. Coach FitnessFAQs is firm
but fair.
Lever Pro provides a sound structure to be
followed for best results. This includes exercise
order, number of sets and reps, and a productive
weekly split. FitnessFAQs recommends the
following Do’s & Dont’s relating to increasing
intensity and making progress.
11 ↑Reps within prescribed range
11 ↑Hold time within prescribed range
11 ↑Lever progression or body shape
11 ↑Band resistance for isolation
11 ↑Weight for isolation
11 ↑TUT with eccentrics
11 ↓Momentum on dynamic levers
11 ↑Weight on core exercises
11 ↓Band assist for levers
11 ↑Single-arm scapula strength
Forcing growth with Lever Pro is simple but not
easy. We keep things simple at FitnessFAQs to
focus on the only thing that matters: progression.
Incremental progress over time should be
the priority at all costs. You have a training
structure and you understand how to progress
correctly. Don’t intentionally or unintentionally
seek comfort with variety. The below is a list of
tempting decisions which do not serve optimal
lever training.
11 Change exercise order
11 Replace exercises
11 Add more exercises
11 Add another lever training session
11 Add more sets beyond prescribed range
11 Add more reps beyond prescribed range
11 Add longer holds beyond prescribed range
11 Decrease rest times
The structure of the Lever Pro sessions has been
meticulously designed for optimal performance
and results. Changing, replacing or adding
more exercises is foolish. Variety for the sake
of entertainment won’t produce more results.
Adding additional exercises is under the false
assumption that more is better. Adding more reps
or longer hold times beyond the prescription may
seem like a good idea but it isn’t. People often do
this to avoid genuine effort within the provided
range. The set/rep/hold range is designed to
produce a specific strength, hypertrophy or
endurance response and must be followed. Don’t
substitute focused, honest intensity within the
prescribed range by deviating from the plan.
If it’s too easy, up the intensity through
modifications in the “Do” section. Lastly, stick
to the rest periods in the program. Recovery and
minimising fatigue are important for optimal
performance in the upcoming work set. If three
minutes of rest feels excessive after a set of pulls,
eccentrics or short-duration isometric levers,
you need to work harder. Decreasing rest periods
isn’t an overloading tool which is conducive for
strength training.
For lever-based exercises including isometrics
and dynamics, do not train to failure. Leave
around 15–20% in reserve for isometrics. For
short-duration holds this will be a second or
two spared, for longer holds it may be several
seconds depending on the time. For pulls and
eccentrics, aim to finish each set with a rep to
spare, or at worst, struggle through the final
rep. This approach to strength training creates
productive stress which is recoverable, making
continual progress over many weeks possible.
Reaching failure on a lever means major technique
breakdown or being unable to finish the rep
or maintain the hold. Failure training on upper
body strength skills doesn’t create a sustainable
context for long-term gains. The risk of injury is
higher and constantly striving for 100% output
isn’t feasible for levers.
For core and isolation exercises, FitnessFAQs
recommends a self-directed approach to
training. Because the core is fatigue resistant,
failure training is less taxing. Taking the dragon
flag or reverse hyper to the limit won’t be a cause
for concern and is often necessary for enough
stress to change. The same is true for armbased isolation and scapula exercises. Don’t be
afraid of training to failure because we’re only
targeting small muscle groups or stabilisers. This
will not negatively impact our levers because the
accessory work comes at the end of a training
session. When addressing weaknesses, strive for
objective increases in sets, reps and intensity.
Some people may want to follow Lever Pro
while training other exercises. The capacity for
concurrent training during a week depends on
the Lever Pro program. Working both the back and
front lever doesn’t allow much room for other upper
body goals. We know this because the pushing
and pulling muscles are being trained 2–3x per
week. Training just the back lever or only the front
lever in a weekly format affords more leniency.
For example, if training only the back lever, rest
days can be reserved for pulling goals. If training
only the front lever, rest days can be dedicated
to pushing goals. Pursuing high-volume, highintensity, unrelated pulling and pushing goals
isn’t advisable for optimal lever progress. This
mistake won’t allow enough recovery for the
lever muscles to perform well; the result is always
training in a state of fatigue. Most people want
to improve too many things at once in addition
to the levers and this is not possible. Attempting
to do so leads to stagnation, frustration, burnout
and increased injury. You’ve invested in Lever
Pro; invest full effort into the plan, prioritise the
levers and, secondarily, consider other exercises.
Legs, flexibility, mobility, handstands and cardio
are all acceptable, non-lever-fatiguing options
on rest days.
Additional upper body work beyond Lever
Pro needs to be carefully considered and
implemented. Training is both an art and a
science; individual factors need to be considered
as there is no formula for all. The best way to
get personal feedback is to submit your training
questions to the FitnessFAQs Forum. Our smart,
strong and passionate members will discuss the
optimal way to incorporate Lever Pro alongside
other goals.
As Lever Pro is the fifth instalment in the FitnessFAQs program library, the topic of deloading has
been covered before. We discussed deloading
extensively in Body By Rings concerning muscle
building and also in Planche Pro for strength
One of the biggest mistakes in the calisthenics
community is a general lack of respect for
recovery. It’s understandable people want to
progress quickly and frequently. The common
error is always trying to improve, going several
months without a planned recovery week.
Progressing in a linear fashion can’t continue
indefinitely, especially when training several
times per week at a high intensity. Most people
who refuse to take a break are forced to by their
body eventually. They will either experience
overuse injuries, or training will plateau or
regress, but most commonly people experience
mental exhaustion and apathy. A deload is
needed to give the body time to recover, adapt
and be ready for more hard training. It’s best
to choose when to take it easy instead of being
forced to by external means. Taking a step back
to take two steps forward is wise. There’s a
classic proverb which suggests “If it aint broke,
don’t fix it”. Our simple and effective approach
to deloading has worked successfully for
thousands of FitnessFAQs students. Deloading
happens in week eight of Lever Pro.
To Deload correctly, keep the reps, hold time and
intensity the same as the previous week. The only
difference is that just two sets of each exercise
are completed. By reducing the sets and keeping
the intensity high, technique is practised and
recovery made possible due to lower volume and
less training stress. A max lever hold is included
during the deload week. This is a chance to test
your maximum effort on the lever. Max testing is
useful for gauging progress and basing training
for the upcoming eight-week Lever Pro cycle. Be
sure to film and share your personal best with
the FitnessFAQs Forum. If uploading progress to
social media, use #fitnessfaqs and #leverpro to
keep us all connected.
Band levers are an effective adjunct to unassisted lever training. Bands offer simplicity, intensity
management and volume accruement. Bands
afford the luxury of modifying exercise intensity by offloading the weight of the body. When
using bands for isometrics, only one position is
practised—the full. All you need to worry about
is choosing the right band for what the program
asks. This is possible by having a wide range of
bands from light–heavy assistance. Short or
long duration, high or low intensity—both training styles are possible with bands.
The most important principle is to always choose
a setup which is challenging for the sets and hold
times in Lever Pro. The colour and band tension
is what determines exercise difficulty.
Let’s look at two examples leading
to different results:
Person A: Band Front Lever 3 x 15s (Red Band)
Person B: Band Front Lever 3 x 15s (Black Band)
Person A completes each set with only a few
seconds to spare, working close to their capacity.
Person B completes each set and can comfortably
hold the front lever for another 10s.
Person A’s work sets are stressful and will
stimulate an adaptive response. Person B was
working at too low of an intensity, getting a false
sense of strength from the bands. Person A will
progress and person B is wasting their time.
Band training must obey the basic principles of
strength training science to be effective. Person
B needs less assistance and more effort for Lever
Pro to work.
Training with and without bands both have value
and are incorporated into Lever Pro. FitnessFAQs
recommends that the best way to progress levers
is to start unassisted and finish with bands.
Unassisted levers are best used at the start of
a training session when the body is fresh. Band
training is arguably easier and features later
on. This statement depends on the progression
used compared to the amount of band tension.
Unassisted difficulty is managed by altering
lever length by progressing from a tucked to an
extended body. The full range of motion pulls and
eccentrics are best used unassisted. Subtleties
in core tension and scapula mechanics also
mimic the real deal without assistance.
If training at an honest level of effort (which you
must be to progress), fatigue is normal after the
first exercise or two. We still need to do more
high-quality sets with good form to get stronger.
To increase lever volume, bands make it possible
to continue training the full lever even when
Calisthenics intensity is nuanced for levers
depending on the progression and band setup
used. For success, simply fatigue in the set/rep/
hold range written in Lever Pro.
With band levers, it’s important to write down the
intensity conditions. Note the band colour and
tension—is the band taught or loose at the top?
Write this down in a way which is meaningful,
memorable and repeatable. Progressing exercise
intensity by modifying band tension will be clear
if previous parameters are clearly documented.
Isolating muscle groups isn’t just for the gym
meathead training for looks (each to their own).
Bodybuilding exercises such as bicep curls and
tricep kickbacks have many benefits for the
bodyweight athlete. Connective tissue health at
the elbow and shoulder is important for levers.
Doing the back and front lever is the best way
to strengthen the position. However, as you’ve
come to appreciate with Lever Pro, a complete
training approach assists with optimal progress
and longevity.
The bicep curl has a direct benefit for back levers. A bigger, stronger bicep will be able to
generate more shoulder
flexion force, aiding in
longer holds and harder
progressions. Injury risk
will be reduced at the
musculotendinous junction by incorporating bicep isolation.
The tricep kickback has
a direct benefit for front
levers. The tricep assists
in shoulder extension, the
same motion needed for a
strong front lever. To mitigate excessive force and
subsequent injury to the
elbows, tricep conditioning
is key.
Yes, the biceps and triceps get trained when
working levers themselves, but it’s not enough.
We need extra volume directed specifically
towards the arms to get full performance and
injury prevention benefits.
There’s now a legitimate excuse to train arms.
FitnessFAQs gives you permission to work the
biceps and triceps. Who doesn’t want to look
better, get stronger and decrease injury in the
The most common misconception is that a full
back or front lever requires incredible core
strength to hold—this is incorrect. People new to
calisthenics and even beginners generally have
enough strength in their core for the full holds.
Can you do a 20-second hollow body hold and
20-second arch body hold? You have enough
strength in the anterior and posterior core to keep
the trunk and legs parallel to the ground. Why then
can’t you hold a full back and front lever for 5–10
seconds? The pulling and pushing prime movers
and SASS is lacking. When a back lever fails, the
lower back arches or the hips drop below shoulder
level. When a front lever fails, the body tends to
pike at the hips or lose parallel alignment. On
the surface it would appear that the core is the
limiting factor, but this is just a symptom. The
real cause of failure takes place in the following
order: firstly, the failure of SASS; secondly, prime
mover fatigue; and lastly, the core.
You may be wondering if the lever is all about
the scapula and major upper body muscles,
why do any core exercises at all? The answer is
training supplementary technique refinement
and lumbopelvic awareness. As the levers are
full-body exercises, core exercises develop
kinaesthetic awareness. This creates the ability
to disassociate between the upper and lower
half of the body during a lever, teaching you
how to brace and find parallel, increasing body
awareness in space.
The reverse hyper teaches the body how to extend
the legs and hips while keeping a locked core.
The dragon flag ingrains leg and core tension for
extended lever shapes.
A common misbelief is that more is better for
strength. More sets, more reps and longer
holds. This approach generally involves a lack
of intensity and diminished returns. Anyone
can train longer with lacklustre intensity, it
gives the false sense of quantity equals effort.
A quantity approach often rushes people ahead
of the process and they end up plateauing. On
paper, Lever Pro doesn’t seem insurmountable—
this is no mistake. By only training the crucial
exercises with science-based dosages, intent is
guaranteed. Making small improvements is going
to be challenging but manageable from workout
to workout. Stick to the parameters of the plan,
prioritise quality technique and quality of effort,
and don’t compensate quantity for quality.
It’s natural when starting a new training program
such as Lever Pro to be highly motivated. Progress
is going to come quickly in the first few weeks,
the novelty and enjoyment will be at its peak. This
creates a positive feedback loop which naturally
sparks the urge to train even harder. Some people
will be thinking that two to three workouts isn’t
enough, wanting to add more to the week—
don’t. The initial gaining phase will soon slow and
progress will be harder to come by. The monotony
of levers and drilling the fundamentals becomes
real after a few months. Be patient from the start
and celebrate the small victories of gradual gains.
Take pride in the process and lever enjoyment
and adherence will remain high. Consistency is a
major principle for a successful journey towards
the full levers. The best fulfilment mindset is that
lever training is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pay attention to how the body is feeling and
tolerating Lever Pro. If doing too much too soon,
alarm bells will sound. Poor technique, short hold
times or missed reps are clear signs. Experiencing
acute or chronic pain at the shoulders or elbows
is another indicator of excess. Conversely, if the
training is too easy, slap yourself and get back
to business. The key concept is identical in both
situations: observe how the body is tolerating
Lever Pro and make rational changes. This selfassessment should be happening every workout.
Nobody knows their body better than you. Be the
driver of decision-making, not an idle passenger.
It’s human nature to get stuck in our ways and
prefer a certain approach. We are forever drawn
to our inherent biases, which can limit growth.
For example, most people have a preferred way
of training. Some people like short holds, others
long holds. Some people prefer banded levers over
unassisted levers, others dynamics instead of
isometrics. In order to unlock full strength, identify
your personal preference and acknowledge it.
This isn’t comfortable and resistance to change
is normal. Some of the strategies incorporated
in Lever Pro may seem inefficient, ineffective
or unenjoyable. Clearly, you purchased Lever
Pro to try something new and see improvement.
Hopefully the frustration of previous stagnation
should be a sign to consider the merit of Lever
Pro. The progress from Lever Pro should ignite
the fire to continue identifying and overcoming
the comfort zone.
The full back and front lever are not going
to happen by accident. The average person
requires direct, consistent focus to unlock these
calisthenics feats of strength. If mastering the
levers is important, do the lever program, be
consistent and do not get distracted. Nothing
improves levers like levers. Strength is highly
specific and requires strong prime movers and
well developed SASS. The lever journey is going
to be gradual and is generally slower than we
like. Trust the process, trust in your ability and
train the levers to get the levers. Most of you
reading are currently training other calisthenics
or weighted exercises for the upper body. It’s
okay to turn down the volume, intensity and
frequency of these movements and primarily
do levers. The key message in this section
concerns switching focus. Only include pulling
and pushing exercises external to Lever Pro
which do not negatively impact recovery. Too
much non-lever pulling/pushing on rest days is
counterproductive. Besides, bent-arm pulling
and pushing for our purposes is more effort
and fatigue without a worthwhile carryover. The
financial and emotional investment has been
made to follow Lever Pro. We can only do one thing
at a time effectively—might as well go hard.
Many people use a lever progression which is too
advanced for their level of strength. Bent elbows,
poor scapula positioning and losing horizontal
alignment are common errors in the calisthenics
community. Checking the ego and choosing the
correct intensity with Lever Pro leads to optimal
results. After reading and watching the resources
provided, ignorance can’t be used as an excuse
for not making the right decision. Regardless
whether it’s incorrect form, failed isometrics or
rushed eccentrics, pay attention. Identify and
acknowledge reality and choose the right training
intensity. This may mean selecting an easier
progression or using a thicker band. Stay humble,
aware and honestly select a training intensity
which allows room for long-term progress.
Correct technique and full range of motion is
priority number one. Increasing intensity, volume
and exercise progression comes secondary.
Building strength involves patiently repeating
exercises correctly over and over. Build success
in the isometrics and dynamics by using the form
taught in Lever Pro. The person who controls and
stays challenged through a full range of motion
will experience superior strength gains. Anyone
can fake strength with lots of momentum or half
reps to cheat their way into harder progressions.
Set high standards for yourself and dominate
every exercise in Lever Pro.
The calisthenics community is still discovering the best way to apply science-based
principles to training. As of 2019, the culture
at large still doesn’t pay enough respect to
objective variables concerning training. A lack
of attention to detail is the reason most doing
calisthenics progress slow or don’t see results.
Measuring and recording absolutely nothing and
training by feel is a huge mistake. Conversely,
going the opposite way and measuring every
detail down to the trivial is excessive. Bodyweight exercises are easy to cheat, ambiguous
to measure and tricky to overload. FitnessFAQs assumes a happy medium with tracking.
Here’s the best approach for Levers:
Counting an isometric hold in our heads during
a lever doesn’t work in practice. Everyone
counts faster mentally under exertion to end
the suffering sooner. Juggling concentrating on
form and counting during a lever is too much of
a cognitive load. Use a phone timer to keep the
hold time real and objective. The timer begins
counting down once the lever is horizontal. The
mind is now 100% focused on the physical task
until the alarm sounds.
As eccentric reps can be up to eight seconds, our
perception of TUT and reality is skewed under
effort. As above, it’s best to use an external
pacer to keep training objective. Download any
metronome app on your phone and set it to
60bpm. It’s easier to have a consistent eccentric
TUT with a metronome keeping track.
Lastly, write down the specific progression,
band colour or weight added. Success isn’t
going to come easy—tracking training is the
answer for long-term gains. Knowing what was
done previously will give an objective baseline to
overcome in the present.
Reaching the advanced lever progressions
requires a smart approach. Don’t be like everyone
else who simply trains levers over and over
without addressing weak links. People never
reach the full levers because they miss workouts,
don’t have a program and avoid training isolated
strength and technique bottlenecks. A complete
lever program has components which address
technique mastery, injury prevention and optimal
scapula function. FitnessFAQs advises applying a
progressive approach to core, arm isolation and
scapula exercises. This supplementary training
is often deemed a waste by calisthenics purists,
often because of improper application. Of course,
when core exercises aren’t challenged they
won’t create change. Elbow pain isn’t a surprise
if resiliency isn’t developed with correct arm
isolation. Hold times and progress with levers
will slow or plateau without concurrent progress
with SASS. Treat supplementary core, arm and
scapula exercises with the same respect as levers
for optimal outcomes.
Mainstream calisthenics is often taught in an
endurance and circuit-style format with minimal
rest periods. Those new to strength training
will often rest shorter than recommended
due to previous experience or ill-informed
guidance. A major sign of insufficient rest is not
completing straight sets. If the program asks
for 3 x 15s and all three sets can’t be completed
with full time, chances are that extra rest will
help. The same is true if there is a major drop in
dynamic reps from set to set. Consider timing
rest periods strictly and following Lever Pro
as intended. If performance still isn’t optimal
between sets, consider longer rest periods if
scheduling allows. Elite strength athletes share
one success trait for high-intensity training:
long inter-set rest periods. The rest times in
Lever Pro aim to balance adequate recovery and
efficient total workout time. If in doubt, rest a
bit longer than what’s advised, especially for
the lever-specific sets.
No one is perfect and there will be times when
the lessons taught in Lever Pro are neglected or
forgotten. When progress slows or motivation
wanes, revisit the Lever Pro eBook and videos. A
few small tweaks to mindset and technique may
be all that’s needed.
That’s all the essential information needed to
understand calisthenics lever principles. The
Lever Pro videos are ready to watch and the
training program started. Information, facts and
theory are meaningless without application. It’s
finally time to begin serious lever training and
stay the course. Mastering the full back and front
lever should be the end goal for everyone reading.
Don’t forget to enjoy the process along the way
as fulfilment comes from facing challenges, not
only accomplishing goals.
Train Hard.
Daniel Vadnal
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