Built Like a Gymnast - Part 2Tweet
JJ Gregory above is a former pupil of Coach Sommer who below outlines the Front Lever progressions which he uses to condition athletes like JJ at the very top level. Part 1 of his article featured the Planche progressions and can be found here. As they work complementary muscle groups, working these two exercises together will actually increase the speed of your overall improvement as well as providing you with balanced development and strength in your shoulder girdle and core.
Feel free to scroll down to the exercise descriptions and dive straight into the training!! But if you can bear with us for a moment let’s first regress and consider the question of why to do bodyweight conditioning in the first place?
A common misconception is that bodyweight exercises do not build substantial strength but are rather more suited for building endurance. For most people this conjures images of endless pushups, sit-ups or for the strong, perhaps pull-ups and dips. Great maybe for general fitness or endurance, but of little value in building real strength.
Why does correct bodyweight conditioning work so well? There are several, the first is contraction. Basically, the harder the contraction over a greater part of the body during an exercise, the more effective the exercise. For maximum improvements training to failure is not necessary, but maximum contraction is. One of the main advantages to these advanced bodyweight exercises is that they require a complete full body contraction. In fact, at advanced levels, they are so demanding that it is simply not possible to complete them any other way.
As before, we will begin our training progression with various static positions and from there progress to the more difficult pulling movements. For the front lever series be sure to use a shoulder width overhand grip (fingers pointing away) as this will increase the amount of power you can exert during these exercises. Also, as with the planche series, it is very important to keep the elbows straight as bending the elbow will lesson the intensity and possible gains of these exercises.
Using any kind of comfortable support (chin-up bar, tree branch, rings etc.), hang using an overhand grip. Bring your knees to your chest and then strive to lift your hips in front of you while at the same time leaning back with your shoulders. At this time it is fine to allow your back to curve as you learn and build strength in the movement. Your goal is to eventually be able to pull your hips up to horizontal or level with your shoulders with an approximately 45 degree angle between the arms and torso. This is however, a very difficult position for beginners and you will probably need to build up to it gradually. At first, simply lift your hips as high as you can and begin timing your sets. As before, combine your sets until reaching a total time of 60 seconds. Upon reaching a 60-second hold in a single set, it is time to once again move on to the next progression.
Once the tuck front lever feels firmly in control, it is time to move on to the advanced tuck front lever. As with the advanced tuck planche, the main difference here is the “flat” back. This position will cause all of the muscle fibers in your back to fire as they struggle to handle the load of your bodyweight. The contraction will be intense. Your goal is to eventually be able to pull your hips up to horizontal or level with your shoulders with an approximately 45 degree angle between the arms and torso while maintaining your “flattened” back. To achieve this position, think of pulling your shoulders back away from your hands while at the same time pressing your hands down towards your hips. Be sure to remember to keep hips shoulder high and elbows tight and straight. Continue combing sets to your usual 60 second total and striving for that 60 second single set static hold.
From the advanced tuck front lever position, begin to carefully and slowly extend your legs out from your chest. As with the planche, the wider your legs are spread, the easier the transition from the advanced tuck front lever to the straddle front lever will be. Strive to maintain your “flat” back position. If you are unable to do so, you are too far extended forward and need to pull your legs back a bit. Don’t forget to keep the shoulders pulling back and the hands pressing down. While working on the straddle front lever, it is also fine to begin learning the tuck front lever pullup.
From the advanced tuck front lever you may now attempt to pull yourself up. Basically this is a horizontal pullup. It is incredibly difficult to hold the hip level with the shoulders during the pull. As you pull up, your hips will want to drop down and as you lower, your hips will want to stay elevated. These changes occur as your body struggles to find an easier way to complete the movement. Maintaining the horizontal position here is the key for exceptional back development.
Straddle front lever pull-ups are essentially a full body weight row and will make you incredibly sore from head to toe. Do not attempt this movement until you are proficient at both the straddle front lever and the tuck front lever pull-ups. Doing so anyway will not injure you, you simply will not be strong enough to complete the exercise correctly. This movement is an especially good overall conditioner for the back, as this one exercise alone will work the back completely from the traps to the lats to the mid back down to and including the lower back. Biceps, forearms and shoulders are obviously also heavily worked. Core strength is once again extremely taxed as the entire mid section struggles to maintain the stretched (body) position. From the straddle front lever position, begin to pull your upper stomach to your hands. Be careful to keep the hips level with the shoulders as you rise, as it is very easy to simply let the hips and legs drag and turn this movement into a simple pull-up. Pause at the top and extend back down to the straddle front lever.
Well, there you have it. A simple and effective set of progressions for learning and benefiting from at least part of the training of Olympic Gymnastic Champions. With patience and consistency you can have extreme strength, a great build, and a lot of fun -all done in minutes per day. What more could one ask for from a workout?
Take a look here to learn more about Coach Sommer and his gymastic conditioning training.