8 December 2022

Training Front lever: from a climbers perspective

Do you want to learn front levers, and improve your strength as a climber? Thinking about the ultimate core strength, often we think about those that can do frontlevers, is this actually true? As a professional climber that could do front levers since I can remember, I will tell you everything you need to know about front levers.

Can everyone accomplish front lever?

The short answer is: ‘Yes!’ While some might be able to perform front levers without much effort, for others it feels like an never ending road. How your front lever journey works out may be more or less difficult depending on your unique situation and body type. It is a little physics, but we won’t dive in too deep. There are three genetic body factors that determine the difficulty for learning this skill:

  1. Body weight
  2. Ape factor (how long your arms/compared to your height)
  3. Muscle composition

Your body weight affects how easy/difficult it is for you to learn front lever. The heavier you are, the more force is being pulled down by gravity, the more strength you need in keeping the horizontal form.

The second factor which may help/hinder your ability to do so, is your ape factor. Your ape factor is determined by how long your arms are compared to your height. For example, my ape factor is (168cm arm span / 165cm height = around 3cm ape index.)

Your ape index matters, because the shorter your arms are. the more of an angle there needs to be between your arms and your torso, the harder it is to do front lever. Imagine for a second your arms are approaching infinity length, this means your arms can almost be verticale and would make it much easier performing a vertical position with your body.

The third factor which will affect your ability to do front lever has of course to do with your composition of your muscles. For some it is easier to develop strength, where it is for others maybe easier to improve in endurance based activities. This is determined by the type of muscles fibres that are dominant in your muscles. You can break your muscle fibers down into two main types: slow-twitch (type 1) and fast-twitch fibers that can be further categorised into (type 2a) and (type 2b). To do front lever, most need to put in an maximum effort. Therefore having more fast-twitch muscles fibres will make it easier for you to learn any strength skill like front lever.

So are you genetically gifted for the front lever? These factors will have an affect on your improvements. However, you shouldn’t let any of this discourage you. Know that with consistency and a solid plan, nothing can stop you from doing so.

How to Perform Front Lever

Front lever raises are a complex gymnastic skill. As strength is needed, technique is almost as important. When training front lever, your form is really important. So often, I see an incorrect form, and therefore you are training different muscles than you actually want to train. The longer you are train with a bad form, the harder it will be to later change to the actual position. So a correct form at the beginning will benefit in the long term.

When performing a front lever, you start hanging on something like a bar, than you raise your body till it is completely horizontal. Checkpoints to go through are:

  1. Straight arms
  2. Make sure your back is straight
  3. Legs are straight
  4. Activate your core.
  5. Point your toes in line with your legs.
  6. Body parallel to floor.

What muscles are involved when performing front lever?

Since it a front lever is a complex skill, almost all muscles are involved. Still, there are particular muscles that ask for more strength then others. The main muscles involved in front levers are:

  1. Latissimus DorsiLocated on the back, these large muscles are responsible for shoulder abduction and extension. Strong last are a must for front lever raises.
  2. TricepsLocated on the back of your upper arm, the triceps extend your elbows and your shoulders.
  3. CoreA collective name for all muscles around the abdominal era. Your core holds the midsection straight.
  4. QuadricepsBecause you need to maintain straight legs, the quadriceps located around the upper legs are the main muscles for doing so.

Training Front Lever

Generally, when watching a tutorial on front lever progressions, you will be told to go through a list of different positions what will look something like this:

  1. Tuck front lever
  2. Advanced tuck front lever
  3. One leg front lever
  4. Straddle front lever
  5. Full front lever

When you can steadily perform one of the progressions, you are told to move on to an harder form. Even though I recommend you training these positions when trying to improve your strength it won’t get you there the fastest. The increase in difficulty between these positions is far too large!

How do we put steps between each main progression to make it easier? The short answer: do not jump from one position straight to the next. Rather apply more steps and add alto of diverse exercises into your training plan. To add more diversity into your front lever, you can apply resistance bands, and dynamic motions. But, for getting the best results, I recommend eccentric training. In multiple studies it is proven that training strength through eccentric exercises is one of the best ways to improve. Eccentric training focuses on the lengthening phase of any particular exercise, which makes it killer for building strength. Eccentric contraction causes more muscle damage in a good way.

For applying an eccentric motion to front lever, you are starting vertically with one of the 6 positions mentioned above, and than lowering the weight of your body with control. While doing so, you're able to create a great stimulus for growth even while the gravitational force of the weight is greater than the force the muscle is producing. This will be one of the best exercises to reach a more difficult position.

Does it improve your climbing?

Core is one of the key elements to perform well on the climbing wall. Often, it is important to keep your feet while climbing. The abdominal muscles play a vital role in doing so, but in my opinion front lever is not the exercise in improving tension between footholds.

First, whether you are able to keep tension or not is often determined on your technique and foot placement. Make sure to precisely place your toe on the era that will be best suited in the particular position. When moving, it is very important to stay aware of the tension and keep pulling with your toe. So often I see people moving, me included, with just jumping from the foothold when it is not actually necessary.

Secondly, a front lever is one particular motion, on the climbing wall every position requires slightly different muscles and coordination and therefore much more diverse. For this reason, it is much better to practise with complex situations like you face while climbing. As a climber, if you really want to do an exercise for the core I would recommend one together with a partner. Here someone points out different positions in the air or on the climbing wall, you need to touch each position with your toe as controlled as possible. This one is more related to climbing, and in my opinion more useful for climbers.

All that being said, front lever is a very cool skill. I can totally understand why you are excited in training it. Who doesn’t want to be that strong right? But when your want to improve your climbing, in my opinion you can better put effort in different exercises. When wanting to become a better climber, the best exercise still stays climbing itself. I wish you the best on your journey, whether front lever is added to your training or not! If you have any question, feel free to leave a comment or ask me a direct question.

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