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Coach Sommer

Body Levers - A Simultaneous Abdominal & Lower Back Work

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Coach Sommer

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Body levers are one of my favorite core strength movements. I find them especially useful for integrating abdominal work and lower back work within a single exercise. It is always surprises me how many athletes with very strong abs and very strong lower backs, when they are able to work those areas independently, struggle to correctly execute this exercise. It is worth the effort however, as this movement develops a unified core strength that is broadly applicable across a wide range of athletic endeavors.

For many of you, it will be necessary to learn a new gymnastics position, the candlestick, in order to perform body levers. To perform a candlestick, lay down upon your back (supine) while anchoring your hands overhead to something strong and immobile; such as parallel bars or a smith machine or a power rack etc. Be cautious here and make sure that you use something that will not fall over or slide in the middle of a repetition. For your grip, you may interlace your fingers or place one hand above the other. Experiment to find the degree of elbow bend that you find the most comfortable.

Now keeping your weight firmly upon the back of your shoulders, pull your body up overhead into an inverted position. This will require you to tuck your chin strongly into your chest. Ideally a candlestick should be completely vertical, however this may not initially be attainable depending on the flexibility of your neck and upper traps.

As a side note, candlesticks are also very good for alleviating shoulder/neck tension brought about by too much desk work.

Once you have an adequate candlestick, the following progression will help you to move onward and develop a body lever.

1) Tuck up into a candlestick and tuck back down to supine.

2) Pike up into a candlestick and pike back down to supine.

3) Pike up into a candlestick and, now with a straight body, perform a slow negative down to a supine position.

4) Pike up into a candlestick and, with a straight body, lower to 45 degrees and then pull back up to the candle stand. During this variation, be careful to not allow the your support position to "roll" down your back; this will greatly reduce the intensity of this movement. You should remain firmly planted on the back of your shoulders, with your mid-back clear of the floor and your back straight at all times.

5) Pike up into a candlestick, lower with a straight body to approximately 90 degrees and then pull back to the candlestick; all without allowing your lower back to arch or your upper back to curl whatsoever. With this variation, do not lower further than you can keep a completely extended body with the mid-back clear of the floor.

6) Elevate the shoulders up onto a mat or bench and then pull yourself up into a candlestick. Be sure that the elevated surface that you are working on is stable. Maintaining a completely straight body, lower the body until it is horizontal to the floor, pause and then pull back to a candlestick. Elevating the shoulders removes the possibility of unconsciously rolling your support point down to the mid-back and greatly lessening the effectiveness of this movement. Even those who swear that they have been extremely conscientious in maintaining their form will find this variation substantially more challenging.

Do not allow the lower back to arch at any time during any of the body lever variations. This is much more challenging that it would appear at first glance; as it is quite possible to keep the abs flat and tight and fail to roll the hips under. To gain a feel for rolling the hips under, first lie prone (stomach down) upon the floor. Now, keeping your chest and quads on the floor, arch your lower back so that your glutes only rise into the air. This is not our sought after position, however it is useful as a point of comparison while you are learning the position to come. Now to discover how to flatten the arch in the lower back, simply roll your hips in the exact opposite direction. Executed correctly, this will result in your chest and quads remaining firmly pressed to the floor, but the arch will have be removed from your lower back and the hips will now be slightly above the floor. This is the correct lower back position that is sought during a body lever; as well as many other gymnastics strength elements to come.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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jeninja

Coach-

What is that bolster device that the athlete is resting his shoulders on? It would seem that it makes one more aware of the levering process.

Thanks, Jeninja

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Blairbob

Jeninja, I want to say it's an EGE pommel horse trainer. I've also seen similar ones that are spring loaded that act like a miniature vault surface ( I think this contraption was really old ).

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kbryk

Sorry Coach this one already has been name tagged the "dragon flag" I've been fulling around with these and they are great, help you a lot when it came to testing my front lever. A tough exercise for the core.

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Coach Sommer

Actually, no these are not dragon flags. Dragon flags, while quite similar, are performed with an arch througout the back which makes their performance significantly easier, as well as less functional for developing gymnastics strength. It should always be remembered that many times the "magic", or overall effectiveness, of an exercise lies not in the broad general parameters of a movement, but in the specific details of how it is performed. Body levers and dragon flags are one such example.

That being said, it should also be pointed out that body levers are an elementary to an intermediate level skill depending on the variation employed. I will be providing a wide range of exercise difficulty levels in order to provide suitable progressions for the wide range of ability levels which peruse GymnasticBodies.com

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Ricky Dawson

...and there is was thinking i was performing dragon flags where as i was doing body levers! :lol: woo hoo!

One of my favorite exercise to perform at the my local gym, luckily they have stall bars which obviously being a 'gym rat' gym no one every uses.

I had some guy tell me that leg lifts should only be performed to horizontal and with the forearms supported on the station provided!! ha ha!!

And some other guy just shook his head and walk away while i did a set of what i now know to be 'body levers'. I can imagine him thinking 'these kids... too much Rocky'

This site is a constant inspiration Coach and like everyone else i cant wait for the books and dvds. You've added so much to my routine and physique already... and this has all been for FREE. Cant wait to give you my money!!

regards,

Ricky

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Raizen

That's weird, I alway thought the exact exercise you described and demonsrated in the video was a dragon flag. I was always taught to avoid the arch in my back when performing them. I guess my coach must have confused the two exercises as well.

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kbryk

Yea I never really do my "body levers" with an arch, unless there is something under me and I need the arch so my feet won't touch the floor or the bench.

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sghetti

Thank you Coach for posting this information.

I've been following your articles for maybe around 5 years and have always been a fan. You might not remember, but I got the chance to show you my advance tuck progression about 2 years ago. More recently, I finally held a front lever.

I never got to show you my accomplishment, so here's a video taken about a year ago:

I have made it a goal of mine to hold a planche by the end of this summer. With this in mind, I was very excited to see an exercise for the core. I don't have the equipment shown on the video, but I looked up the "dragon flags" and was able to do them. They're very challenging.

If possible, are there any other core exercises that you could post that would help with extending and holding one's legs in a planche?

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Blairbob

Personally, I have yet to find any details to training the dragon flag. I've always trained them with a hollow from a candlestick. Training them on an incline/decline bench will allow for a horizontal hollow position while training them on a flat bunch will have a slight angle if hollow.

One of the biggest differences is the difference between straight arms and bent arms ( since dragon flags all seem to use bent arms ). Then again, there are not very many bench-like surfaces in many gyms I've been in that will also support body weight. I like to have the kids use the base of beams or parallel bars or pommel horse. We also have trained the bent arm body lever at times for beginners.

Personally, I was taught these as body levers, but dragon flag is a far cooler name for little boys as many have heard of Bruce Lee ( because of their fathers ).

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Edward Smith

sorry I'm a little confused :oops: so dragon flags and body levers are virtually identical except for in body levers your in a hollow body position (rounded back)?

and coach I don't see how these really work your back? and finally are you supposed to pivot (move) from the shoulders or chest?

Thanks,

Ed

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kbryk

Yes, in body levers your try to keep hollow, and it works your whole core, your back stabilizes while you lower your body and bring it up, I would really consider it maybe a dynamic lower back skill; of course it doesn't work your back like a dead lift.

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Blairbob

Take for instance this Coach. Yes, I'm reviving this but I've been wondering about this lately.

Right now I can hold a bent arm body lever forever as well as do body lifts in double digits. While I can hold a straight arm body lever very flat to the ground ( I hold a base of the balance beam ), I cannot do a body lift in this position.

I'm wondering if I'm not yet strong enough in the position through my middle or if somehow my poor pull strength is effecting my ability to do body lever lifts with straight arms.

While I was around a dozen pullups last fall, I'm currently anywhere from 5-9 on a given day. Last week I tested myself at 23 explosive V-ups in a row, 20 KTE, and I was only doing sets of 10 in explosive leg lifts. My strength and capacity is fairly poor anymore and I think my L sit is anywhere from 30s-60s depending how fresh I am. While I had regained my muscle-up for awhile last fall, it isn't around anymore. Doing an icecream-maker with a nice hollow instead of slight pike is tough for me nowadays and I generally do about a 30-40 second tuck lever.

I ask this because I felt some shoulder engagement while trying the body lever lifts last week but it the day after either Isometric or Isokinetic pull work the night before. It also could have been my current shoulder problems ( quite a few shoulder tears on rings, a shoulder seperation and not a lot of working out since last spring due to life and a new job coaching men's team at the gym I was at formally till recently )

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long1468

what should be the tempo for the body levers?

also do you keep a straight body when going into a candlestick because in the video the boy doesn't go up with a straight body

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Hivoyer

I have a problem-i seem to instinctively tense my lats and arms and i'm actualy assisting my core muscles,so it takes away the stress from the abs.

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Blairbob

Long1468. If you are strong enough you can do a straight body lift into the candlestick and lower down or you can pike up and lower down ( which is what most of our girls and kids do. Only Macho-Man and I can do the straight body versions ). Eventually we wear out though. Sometimes I prefer to lower down to horizontal and pull from there instead of off the floor. A bit easier.

Body levers still must engage the shoulders and lats to a minor degree. Bent arms is easier than straight arms. If your palms face each other on whatever you are holding with your knuckles facing out to the sides, you can engage more upper body strength to pull. It's a bit different if you are in something like a dorsal grip. Not really a big deal.

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Nick Van Bockxmeer

im currently working on the full negative and I can hold at about 45 degrees. Throughout the lower portion my body begins to fall a bit and pike at the hips, but then i checked some videos of dragon flags on youtube and realized my form is actually really good compared...

Ive maybe been working these for 2 or 3 weeks, but Im not really feeling it in my lower back only in the abdominals and front core muscles...am i doing something wrong?

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Spanyard

Hi all, I got a question about the step that u low until your body is at 45º angle and then u go up. Yesterday I started doing that and I felt that I had to use a lot more my arms, also lowerback and abs but I felt much more my arms, is it normal at first or I have to concentrate using less arm and more core? Thanks all :)

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Hayden Whealing

I've tried the progressions for body levers coach sommer posted. i have also tried doing body levers with the progressions used for planches and front levers (tuck, advanced tuck, straddle etc.) and found that it works quite well. just thought I'd let you know.

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Blairbob

Spanyard, how bent are your arms? If my elbows are sigificantly flexed, I can engage your bi's and tri's to help the body lever significantly.

When I do straight arms, I can only feel it in my delts and lats. It's not as intense or near so as FL, but it's somewhat there. It can also be uncomfortable if those areas are not WU and loose.

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Spanyard

Ups I didnt notice u answer me Blairboob, thanks so much. My elbows are more or less in a 90º degree angle, I think as u said, it engage biceps and triceps a lil bit, even also felt much more load in lower back and abs. Thanks again : )

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Syrenz

How would I do this without the equipment the person is using? Anything that can be found in my house?

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klops3style

Does it exercises I can do on the flat surface? If yes as it to do it? That a same?

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Blairbob

I think we're unclear about what you are trying to say due to a language barrier.

You can do these on a flat surface if you can find something heavy enough to anchor yourself and hold onto.

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Spartan300

This looks a great exercise, can you do it at home by positioning your chin up bar close to the ground and using it as your anchor? Also can you do it directly from the floor? or do you need one of those things to rest the shoulders/upper back on?

If i start practicing the exercise i want to do it right. :D

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