Banish the banana Back Lever

Just Eat Bananas don’t look like them!

The Back lever is a staple isometric static in the world of calisthenics and believe it or not one of the easiest to master of all the levers.

With this exercise a lot of people get over excited and try to perform full levers before fully strengthening the right muscles to perform this static properly. This often leads to bad habits and the inevitable banana lever as they think lifting their feel up will hold their core up.

Now with the banana you will find the majority of people think they are perfectly straight and are completely unaware of the positioning of the body. Some times to the extent where they are completely vertical and thing they are horizontal. This is due to body and special awareness. When people decide to pursue a goal such as back lever a lot of them have never been upside down in their life so this completely new element in their life can often cause the brain a bit of confusion. But don’t worry this can be corrected with a bit of persistence and guidance by a professional.

Straight body/hollow body

Now this might be going into a bit for most of you but there is a straight hollow argument that goes about the calisthenics/gymnastics communities about the correct position for levers and planche.

So to define what a “Straight body” is; it is a locked body position with no piking of the hips with a retracted or neutral scapular, meaning it’s what a good hollow body looks like but not many people can achieve so all in all it doesn’t really exist as everyone is doing good to bad variations of a hollow body position, so there is no retraction of the scapular it is just the muscular support of a well-developed athlete that doesn’t have to over curve his upper back.

Now to the main event the Hollow body. The hollow body is the body positioning to perform levers and planche, really the only way to do a good form planche. This position involves a rounded top of the back which helps with engagement of the upper back and shoulders also helping the lower lumbar of the back to become flat, either is good as long as there is no pike in the hips and the body is straight and you are able to hold it with perfect form.

Here are a few exercises to help with your hollow body positioning and strengthening:




With these all being statics it is best to find your max hold and vary your sets and times to help best assist your progression e.g.: 10 sets of 50% of your max time.

The conditioning

So to help strengthen the right muscles the following exercises are suggestions that should help override the banana:

  • Shoulder rotations with staff 30×3
  • Hang knee/leg raises 10×10
  • German Hang extensions 5×5

  • German Hang max holdx5

  • Skin the catch 3×8

This is a great little workout that will strengthen the right muscles to help you engage and straighten up as you learn the back lever properly.

Focused workouts & Grease the groove

So we are going to ensure a full body workout, creating a mind, body connection and enabling you to be able to perform conscious contractions and full body engagements during the back lever and its digressions. So to achieve all these links within the body you will have to use the above workout to help gain the right body positions and muscular engagement.

The following workout will help with the positioning of the actual back lever, getting your body used to the strain it will be under and using digressions to help with your progression.

Grease the groove is a system where you allocate an active point. For example a door way you pass through regularly in the day. Then set your intention for that active point, in this case you would need to set a door way pull up bar and perform 2 skin the catch every time you pass through. This will allow your body to get used to the position and the muscle engagement through continuous muscle conditioning. This will assist you to achieve a target much quicker than just hitting it in set sessions.

The back lever has 4 digressions: tucked, extended tuck, one leg and straddle. With this taken into account I want you to see your furthest ability as you current progression and the digression lower as your 1st digression, next as second digression and so on. If you are at a basic level you are better to work on the conditioning levels and if you are able use the tucked back lever as your starting point to progress in any suggested digression in the workout below.

The Workout

Current progression Max hold x 5 with 2 min rest

1st Digression, EFFORT – 50-70% max time, SETS – 10, REST – 60secs

20-30 body weight rows in as little sets as possible

2nd Digression, EFFORT – 80% max time, SETS – 6, Rest 90secs

20-30 body weight rows in as little sets as possible

3rd Digression, EFFORT – MAX HOLD, SETS – 10, Rest 60secs

20-30 body weight rows in as little sets as possible

Hope this helps you on your Calisthenics journey. For more information or details on calisthenics just get in touch:

Best of Luck!


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