Front Lever Progression Guide In 8 Step

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
June 11, 2014

*This is a guest post written by Ryan Hurst, from GMB Fitness, as part of our 12 Week Summer Calisthenics Trick Challenge which starts June 16th.

The Front Lever is a skill that, once achieved, shows just how much hard work you’ve put into developing great strength throughout your shoulders, back, and core.

It’s also not a skill you just jump into without a proper understanding of how to approach it.

ryan hurst Front Lever progression

In this article and accompanying video, I’ll show you my method for developing the strength necessary for the Front Lever. I’ll also explain the details of how to get started and what to expect when you set this goal for yourself.

There are so many different progressions and variations on working the Front Lever from good (and not so good) coaching resources. What I’ll show you now is not “the only way” to get to this skill, but it’s a method that has consistently worked well for both my in-person and correspondence clients.

But as I’ll say again and again, it’s not the particular “magical” progressions that are the key. Those can be tweaked and adjusted as needed for people. What’s key are the fundamental concepts underlying those progressions. The basics never go out of style and you’ll gain so much by always returning to the fundamentals.

Front Lever Progressions

Many front lever programs and tutorials say to “start with the front tuck lever”, which seems reasonable as it is a way for you to decrease the leverage disadvantage while still being close to what the front lever looks like

But there are a couple of details and exercises that you should familiarize yourself with first.

In this video, I’ll show you the progressions I like to have my students follow.

1. Pulling Prep

Pulling Prep front lever progressionThe first progression is the “Pulling Prep,” which is an exercise we emphasize a lot in the GMB Method. The pulling prep highlights scapular strength in a straight arm position. It can be a very difficult movement for those unused to this motion, but it is so incredibly important for progressing in all sorts of strength skills.

For the front lever, the goal will be a straight arm pulling motion, keeping your body horizontal, but it is still quite helpful to do the standard vertical pull as well. We recommend incorporating both into your practice.

2. Pulling Prep with Chest Pull

Once you’ve got the hang of the straight arm pulling motion, you’ll work on pulling the chest up toward the rings. The key point in this exercise is to lead with the chest up, while actively pulling down into the rings and bracing the core to compress and bring your entire body up in one solid piece.

This action of keeping everything braced together is so important, and will jump start you toward the front lever.

3. Pulling Prep with Knees Up

Pulling Prep with Knees front level progressionAfter that, you’ll work on pulling your knees up while strongly pulling your shoulders and elbows down and back. This is as strong a core movement as it gets before the rest of the front lever progressions.

These moves are the fundamental exercises to master BEFORE the front tuck lever. Get these down pat and you are more than ready to go on to the tuck.

4. Front Tuck

For this next progression, you’ll use the pulling prep with knees up to bring you into an inverted hang, with your knees still bent.

From the tucked position, perform the pulling prep again, then lower your butt, so you’re in a front tuck lever.

Hold the front tuck lever if possible, then lower fully to the ground. If you can’t hold it, that’s fine, work your repetitions then try again the next time.

You’ll have to be patient, this is not an easy skill, even at this progression.

5. Open Front Tuck

Open Front Tuck front lever progressionNext up is the “open tuck”, and this is a stage where you can practice for a long time and receive a tremendous amount of benefit. This is because you can make so many adjustments from a tight tuck, to a looser, more open tuck, and then back again.

This is another key point that I stress, you can start at a harder level, then adjust on the fly and then take it down a notch to continue on in your workout. For example, you may start with as open a tuck as you can, and when your form deteriorates, then start pulling knees in closer for a tighter tuck.

You’ll then work on more repetitions or a greater hold time in that set. In this way you can make all the adjustments you need based on how you are performing that day and get a lot of good quality reps in.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with intensities, hold times, and rep counts. This kind of auto-regulation is crucial for long term consistency and progress.

6. Tuck Repeats

With the tuck repeats, you’ll move between an inverted hang and the tucked position for repetitions. Focus on where your shoulders are, so that you’re keeping them pulled back as you pull down into the rings.

This progression will solidify the front tuck, and the lowering necessary for the front lever.

7. Tuck with Leg Extension (AKA “Can Opener”)

Can Opener front lever progressionThis next exercise is a great one for beginning that fully straight leg position for the front lever.

Just as for the front tuck levers, you begin in an inverted hang. Keep one leg straight and the other bent, and lower slowly and hold in position. You’ll likely need to start the holding position at a higher angle and then you’ll be able to lower as you improve. Go back to the inverted hang and switch bent and straight legs.

Alternate at each successive repetition. Play with hold times and angles, but get those good quality repetitions in. That’s how you’ll get stronger.

8. Full Front Lever

This is the final step, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to bust this out and hold for a solid 5 seconds right away! Though you’ve developed a good amount of strength through the previous progressions, the body positioning and leverage of this skill takes some practice on its own.

Remember to emphasize quality form and technique versus how many repetitions or how long you can hold. It’s better to do less but keep your technique level high, this will protect you from overstrain and ingraining bad habits.

Training for the Front Lever the Right Way

Do NOT get caught up with improving your numbers in terms of sets and repetitions and hold times.

Yes, you want to progress with those numbers, but not at the expense of good form. If you do that, it’s actually a false progress, and continuing to practice like that will eventually backfire and cause you grief, either in the form of an injury or simply not getting any better.

In training for the front lever with these progressions above, I’d recommend giving yourself a set amount of time in your workout. Let’s say you set 20 minutes. Do what you can to get as many quality sets and repetitions in that time period, rest as needed, and stop when your form goes south. Then get back at it again the next workout session.

Ideally, you’ll want to train as frequently as you can.

Every day is an option if you are careful and decrease your intensity as needed. 3 to 4 times a week is a more common schedule, but again, that doesn’t mean that you’ll go all out each day. See what each day brings, keep your quality high and stop when your form deteriorates.

It’s hard to beat Front Lever training for core and back strength. It also transfers well to your strength in a lot of other activities.

The ability to tighten everything down and be one solid piece is a great skill to have. Give my methods a good try for the next few weeks and I know you’ll be pleased with the results.


Ryan Bio PicRyan Hurst is a co-founder of GMB Fitness and has taught his techniques and methods all over the world. As Program Director, it’s his job to personally develop and test each of our programs before releasing them into the wild. With his many years of experience in strength and movement coaching, Ryan makes sure that everything we do puts health first to get the best results.

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3 Comments
  1. Henrique Paulo

    Gostaria de ganhar seu livro de calistenia!!! Ou vídeos!!!

    Reply
  2. smart player

    Can you update your progressed photo (on the baseline introduction)? Thanks

    Reply
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