Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Elbow Lever

I've been making good progress with the one arm elbow lever -

So I figured it was about time to write up something on the two arm elbow lever, more commonly referred to as simply 'the elbow lever'.

For those unfamiliar, the elbow lever is a position where the body is held up horizontal to the ground. But unlike the planche (where there is NO support along the length of the body), the elbow lever uses one's elbows as a resting and balancing point for the body. This makes the skill much easier than a planche.

An elbow lever -

It's a fairly simple skill really. There's just several key points in order to find the correct position.

The Hands

You'll want to put your hands down on the ground about shoulder width apart, with the fingers pointing to the side, or even slightly backwards. This hand orientation is essential in balancing the skill correctly.

The Elbow Stab

What's this about stabbing? Well, as I mentioned before, your body is resting and balancing ON your elbows. In order to do this, you need to learn the correct place to put your elbows. This placement is called "stabbing".

As you can see from the picture above, you'll be placing your elbows to either side of the middle. The placement of the elbows is fairly intuitive, as your elbows aren't going to be able to meet in the middle of your body, and if they are placed any farther out, then your body is not resting on them.

The picture below shows a single elbow stab into the correct position. Your elbow should rest right at the edge of your six pack.

If you were to take one arm and stretch it across your body like so, then you can easily find the correct position. It should feel like your elbow is sitting into a groove.

Of course, this is also a good stretch to do if you find inflexibility is making the elbow stab difficult.

You can also work the traditional shoulder stretch to help any flexibility problems.

When your elbows are stabbed, your arms will be parallel or turned slightly outwards. If you try this skill on a set of parallettes or rings, your arms will definitely turn outwards, forming a trapezoid in the empty space.

The Start

With the correct hand orientation, hands about shoulder width apart, you'll want to lean forward and "stab" both your elbows in at the same time.

You should start to feel the support that your elbows will be giving you.

If you are having problems getting your elbows into position. Beside stretching during each practice session to increase flexibility, you can also hunch your back over. I find this helps in getting the elbows into the right position.

Whether you start with your body in a straighter position, or hunched over is unimportant if you can extend into the elbow lever in the end.

The End

After you stab in your elbows, you'll want to arch your body to make it more horizontal. This will lift you off the ground and into position.

There are three main points to remember when extending into the elbow lever. You'll be doing these all at the same time -
1. look upwards - the spine follows the head, so looking up will flatten things out.
2. lift up your legs - you'll feel this in your lower back, as you'll essentially do a reverse hyper extension of the back.
3. lean forward - you'll have to lean forward and open the angle of your arms to balance correctly. Elaboration of this point follows.

oh yeah . . . and don't forget to breathe. I know it's hard, what with your arms stuck in your gut, but it helps to cut down on the red face.

The Arms and Balancing

The most common mistake regarding the arms and balancing that I see is keeping the arms at a 90 degree angle. This is simply because that arm angle feels more natural when you are pressing something away from you (in this case, the ground).

Doing this will put your body off balance, and your legs will generally rise upwards as you fight to stay up.

So if you find your face heading toward the ground, like the picture, then it's often a matter of the angle of your arms.

Instead of a 90 degree angle, lean forward as you straighten your body. Your arms should be at more of a 135 degree angle, like so.

This will shift your weight and balance you out quite nicely. This is also why your hands are placed with your fingers facing to the side or slightly back, as it's not really possible to get your arms to this angle if your fingers are facing forward. You'd have to fold your wrists over top your hands.

Supplemental Exercises

Working the elbow lever itself will build the necessary strength to hold the position, but if you're having a bit of trouble straightening things out, then the best exercise I can recommend is Supermans.

Lay down on your belly, then lift your upper body and legs upwards, so that you look like some delusional superman trying to take off from the floor. This is a great exercise, regardless of whether you're training for an elbow lever or not, but working this will help strengthen the back.


The elbow lever is something that should be practiced in short sessions fairly regularly in order to learn the correct balancing and placement. Each time you get into an elbow lever, it'll feel a bit easier.

Here's another picture of an elbow lever I had, so you can see things from another angle.

You're levering your body on your elbows. Simple enough, eh?

Where to do this. . .

Once you figure out the elbow lever, it's quite a simple move to do just about anywhere you can get your hands down.

For a platform that's a bit above your hips, you can put your hands down, then hop up and land into the elbow stab.

After you've landed in the stab, then it's just a matter of extending yourself and straightening out. Of course, make sure you have this skill on the ground before you start taking it to new heights.


So you've gotten the elbow lever down, and you're looking for the next step. Well, take your newfound skill and try to press up into a handstand from it. Or start in a handstand and lower yourself down into an elbow lever.

I've already given you a hint as to how you'd start to press up into a handstand, but I want everyone to kick some ideas around in their head before I describe any solution or post any pictures. Good luck to everyone.


Anonymous Petr Ruzicka said...

Hi Jim, I just want to thank you for your work ! It is an inspiration and great motivation for me and I'm pretty sure that for other as well.
So, thanks again from Czech Republic !

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, you are the shiznit.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Fran├žois said...

It seems I'll work on this position for my planche progression!
I really like the complete descriptions you've made for each position or movement. Your superman picture would look far better if you had the adequate suit, though...

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article. Managing quite well with the elbow lever. Sort of reminds me of the breakdance Jackhammer freeze. Hope you will post how to press up to a handstand, because whatever I do I just don't manage. Although I can do 10 handstand pushups I feel like a weak babe when I try it.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Matt K said...

Great tutorial!!

I've been playing a little with this move to help strengthen my "arch" muscle group but I like how you've decribed this position as a feat in it's own right and your pics performing these in public do make it look very cool.

I'll definitely be adding the "Elbow Lever" to my list of cool isometric holds worth practicing. Once again, great article!

3:22 PM  
Blogger Raphael said...

Hey! I love the elbow levers, and I'd like to throw out an idea on how to get up to the handstand from it;
You could let your legs bob a bit down, then try to reverse the movement and thrust them upwards (thats how I first learned how to do it.) also, it seems if you lean forward from the 2 armed one, and just try to lift your heels it could work.
Just a few thoughts

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome Jim! Thank you so much for spending the time to write this stuff I appreciate it so much.

- Tim Scarfe

6:41 AM  
Blogger nahir said...

Hey, I was wondering if you have any tips for females trying to do the elbow lever as i have trouble getting my elbows in tight enough due to anatomcial differences :(.

If I have to just learn to grin and bear it then i will but i thought maybe you had some ideas as this is by far the best tutorial i have found.


7:57 PM  
Blogger endy smith said...

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12:55 AM  

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