daniel vadnal DISCLAIMER 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. INTRODUCTION 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. WHAT ARE 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. CALISTHENICS BIOMECHANICS 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. WHICH IS EASIER? 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. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 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. FACTORS INFLUENCING PROGRESS 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 enthusiast. STRAIGHT-ARM SCAPULAR STRENGTH (SASS) 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. SCAPULA POSITIONS 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. LEVER ANATOMY 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. BACK AND FRONT LEVER ANATOMY The following areas and movements use similar muscle groups for both levers. Grip Wrist/finger flexors and forearm pronators are working to hold on. A strong grip is needed to radiate tension throughout the entire body. Elbows 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 stability. 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. BACK LEVER ANATOMY Neck 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. BACK LEVER TECHNIQUE 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. FRONT LEVER ANATOMY Neck 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 shoulders. 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. FRONT LEVER TECHNIQUE 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. LEVER PROGRESSIONS 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. TUCK 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. ADV TUCK 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. PIKE FROG 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. HIP EXT FROG 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. PIKE STRADDLE 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. HIP EXT STRADDLE 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. ONE LEG 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. HALF LAY 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. FULL 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. LEVER TRAINING METHODS ISOMETRICS 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. DYNAMICS 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. ECCENTRICS 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. WHICH PROGRAM TO CHOOSE? 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. TRAIN BOTH BL & FL? YES NO HOW MANY DAYS PER WEEK? BL or FL? 3X PER WEEK 4X PER WEEK BL FL LEVER PRO 3X PER WEEK BL & FL LEVER PRO 4X PER WEEK BL / FL LEVER PRO 3X PER WEEK BL LEVER PRO 3X PER WEEK FL TRAINING FREQUENCY AND WEEKLY STRUCTURE Lever Pro requires either three or four days per week. Below is the recommended way of structuring the training week depending on the routine. 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. LEVER PRO—3X PER WEEK—BL & FL Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Session LEVERS 1 REST LEVERS 2 REST LEVERS 3 REST REST 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. LEVER PRO—4X PER WEEK—BL/FL Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Session BL 1 FL 1 REST BL 2 FL 2 REST REST LEVER PRO—4X PER WEEK—BL/FL Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Session BL 1 FL 1 REST BL 2 REST FL 2 REST 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. LEVER PRO—3X PER WEEK—BL Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Session REST BL 1 REST BL 2 REST BL 3 REST LEVER PRO—3X PER WEEK—FL Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Session FL 1 REST FL 2 REST FL 3 REST REST UNDERSTANDING THE PROGRAM 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. Letter A1 B1 Exercise Front Lever Front Lever Eccentric Rest (Mins) 3 3 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. Letter C1 Exercise Dragon Flag Tricep Kickback C2 Rest (Mins) 1 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. Exercise Back Lever Back Lever Pull Band Back Lever Back Lever Eccentric Intensity Straddle, Rings 2.0, Advanced Tuck, Bar Yellow Band @ Waist, Rings Piked Frog, Rings Exercise Front Lever Front Lever Pull Band Front Lever Front Lever Eccentric Intensity Pike Straddle, Rings 1.0, Advanced Tuck, Bar Red Band @ Waist, Dip Bars Piked Frog, Rings For core training, write down the progression and weight if used. Exercise Dragon Flag Dragon Flag Dragon Flag Dragon Flag Intensity Leg Raise, 2.5kg Tuck to Extend, Straddle Reps, Straddle Reps, Full Reps, Full, 2.5kg Exercise Reverse Hyper Reverse Hyper Reverse Hyper Intensity Straddle Full Full, 5kg Dragon Flag For pull-downs, note the band colour, anchor point, estimate the band tension and setup. Exercise Front Lever Pull-Down Intensity 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. Exercise Bicep Curl Bicep Curl Bicep Curl Bicep Curl Tricep Kickback Tricep Kickback Tricep Kickback Intensity 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 5kg For Horizontal Pulling SASS, note the variation and exercise setup. Exercise Horizontal Scap Pull Horizontal Scap Pull Horizontal Scap Pull Horizontal Scap Pull Intensity 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. Exercise Scap Push-Up Scap Push-Up Scap Push-Up Intensity 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. Exercise Front Lever Front Lever Pull Reps 8–15s 3–6 After all the dynamic reps are done, some exercises include an isometric hold at the hardest part of the exercise. Exercise Reverse Hyper Dragon Flag Horizontal Scap Pull Scap Push-Up Reps 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. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD 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. DO: 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. DON’T: 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. TRAINING TO FAILURE? 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. LEVER PRO AND OTHER TRAINING 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. DELOADING 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 training. 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. RESISTANCE BANDS 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. BAND LEVERS VS UNASSISTED LEVERS 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 fatigued. 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. TRACKING BAND ASSISTANCE 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. MYTHS BODYBUILDING FOR CALISTHENICS 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 process? LEVERS & CORE STRENGTH 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. FITNESSFAQS TOP 10 LEVER TIPS #1 QUALITY > QUANTITY 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. #2 MARATHON MINDSET > SPRINTING MINDSET 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. #3 BE HONEST AND RATIONAL 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. #4 AVOID THE COMFORT ZONE 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. #5 DON’T THINK, JUST LEVER 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. #6 HUMBLE AND HONEST 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. #7 TECHNIQUE AND RANGE OF MOTION 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. #8 WHAT GETS MEASURED, GETS MANAGED 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. #9 CONCENTRATED CORE, INTENTIONAL ISOLATION AND STRENUOUS SCAPULA 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. #10 RESPECT THE REST PERIODS 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. FINAL WORDS 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 EMAIL LIST Join our weekly newsletter for calisthenics tips exclusive to email subscribers. You’ll never miss important FitnessFAQs updates, offers and news. FITNESSFAQS.COM Calisthenics workshops, member login, contact and support. TRAINING PROGRAMS Begin Bodyweight - Start Your Journey. Body By Rings - Transform Your Physique Planche Pro - Master the Planche. Limitless Legs - Grow Big Legs, No Weights. INSTAGRAM Looking to be motivated and educated? Follow for daily videos, photos and behind the scenes content. YOUTUBE Our weekly videos teach you how to master calisthenics. Subscribe for free and never miss a new upload. Copyright © 2019 by FitnessFAQs Pty Ltd All rights reserved. You may not reproduce or communciate any of the content on this website, including files downloadable from this website, without the permission of the copyright owner.