There are certain maneuvers in the world of calisthenics that, despite your experience or understanding of bodyweight training, just make you raise your eyebrows and give a silent “whoa” to yourself when you see them. Calisthenics isn’t about looking cool, but sometimes, it just goes with the territory.
The planche maneuver is certainly one of those exercises. If you’re unfamiliar, picture yourself in push-up position. Pretty simple start, right? OK, now picture your feet are off the floor, your body is perfectly straight, and your full body weight is being supported by your hands and arms. Sounds a little tougher, right? You have no idea.
There’s a lot more to it than the description we just provided. It’s not as simple as picking your legs up from a push-up position. Your arms will be at an angle, your elbows must be completely locked, and your scapulae should be protracted as much as possible.
Basically, it looks like this:
Now, most people would have trouble with this move while under water, let alone in a room with all that pesky gravity. FitStream.com ranks its level of difficulty as ‘elite’. Some of our favorite calisthenics masters got together not too long ago and exclusively discussed how tough an exercise it is.
And they’re right, it is certainly one of the most difficult bodyweight exercises around. Athletes practice it for months and even years to get it right. Some never do.
So why even bother profiling this exercise?
For the same reason someone significantly overweight takes the first steps off the couch and decides to work to get healthier: because if you never try, you’ll never know. And we’re willing to bet that, at some point in your life, you have accomplished something you didn’t think you could before you started.
And pushing yourself to improve your fitness, your health and your overall self — that’s what calisthenics is about.
Aside from making friends’ and family members’ jaws drop, this immensely difficult exercise has immense benefits for you.
For one, as you may have guessed, mastering this maneuver will take your level of balance and stability to levels you probably never thought you could reach. And even though it’s a stationary maneuver, it still takes an enormous amount of coordination.
To get to a full planche, you’ll need to build up considerable shoulder and arm strength, since that’s what’s going to be supporting your whole body. But your back and glutes will benefit from learning this maneuver as well. And boy oh boy does it take a lot of core strength. After all, holding your entire lower body completely straight in this position is no walk in the park, and it takes a lot of muscles chipping in.
But don’t for a moment think you have to master the planche in order to see an improvement in your balance and strength. Since the planche is not something that can be conquered in a weekend, there are different progressions you will likely need to go through, which we’ll cover in a moment. And all of these will get you incrementally stronger and more advanced.
The major areas you’re going to strengthen with a planche (or its variations) are the abdominals, arms, shoulders, back and chest. BodBot.com lists all of the specific muscle groups activated as:
- Anterior Deltoid
- Biceps Brachii
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Rectus Abdominis
- Serratus Anterior
- Triceps Brachii
Now we’re going to get into the exercises that you’ll need to master in order to progress to the planche with proper technique. You may want to bookmark this page, because as we said, the planche is an exercise for the patient person.
Begin in a squatted position with your palms flat on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. Lean forward with your body so that your knees are resting on your elbow, thus placing the bulk of your bodyweight on your arms. Pick your feet up off the ground and try to balance completely on your hands for as long as you can.
There are a lot of variations to the L-sit (and it’s not easy to master, either). But in progressing to the planche, you want to be able to hold your body up in a right angle position, bending at the hips to look like a letter ‘L’. Your elbows should be locked.
L-sit with Tucked Legs
Once you feel comfortable with your L-sit, you can begin to work on retracting your legs into a tucked position:
Rotate Legs Behind (Can Rock Back and Forth)
OK, here’s where we start to get into the traditional planche position. Once you’re able to comfortably hold your L-sit with your legs tucked for at least five seconds, give your hips a quarter turn to the planche position. Now your back is in the air and you’re facing the ground.
You can rock back and forth as you begin with this position, but try to hold momentarily when you reach the point where your legs (still tucked) are behind you in the traditional planche position.
Extend One Leg out (Or With Straddle)
Once you can hold your legs behind you in a tucked planche position, it’s time to start working on extending your legs out. You can do this with one leg at a time or with a straddle.
Extend Both Legs Out
Finally, extend both legs out simultaneously and hold for as long as you can.
IMPORTANT: It’s essential to practice proper technique with this exercise. Make sure your elbows are locked and your shoulders rounded in what’s known as the “hollow body” position. This will raise your back and activate those muscles more.
So now you’re ready to go! If you do decide to take this challenge, we wish you the best of luck. Again, don’t be discouraged when you don’t have this down pat overnight. It’s a tough exercise — about as tough as they come in the world of calisthenics. But we love when people keep in touch with us about their progress, so please let us know! And of course, please comment below with any questions.