A Guide To Calisthenics Skills: All the progressions you need to know!

The journey of learning calisthenics skills is both challenging and rewarding, learning them requires significant effort and dedication. It showcases your hard work, and progress in developing strength, coordination, and body control. Here are some of the most common calisthenics skills and progressions, as well as accessory and flexibility exercises, that can help you learn them:

Planche
Progressions

1. Static progressions
Static planche progressions involve a series of increasingly challenging exercises aimed at developing the strength, balance, and body control necessary for achieving and holding the static planche position. Starting with the tuck planche, where the knees are tucked close to the chest, and progressing through variations such as the advanced tuck planche, straddle planche, and full planche lean, gradually increasing the demand on shoulder and arm muscles.


2. Planche lean
Planche leans serve as a foundational exercise for learning the correct posture and technique for the full planche, while also allowing for progressive overload by gradually increasing the duration and intensity of the lean. The exercises can be scaled from beginners all the way to advanced athletes.


3. Pseudo planche push up
Pseudo Planche Push-ups are indeed an excellent exercise for building the strength and body control required for learning the planche. As you build strength and body control with Pseudo Planche Push-ups, you’ll be better equipped to advance to more challenging planche variations.


4. Planche negatives
Planche negatives are an effective way to build the strength and control necessary for achieving the full planche position. You can do them with all planche progressions from tuck to full, just remember to focus on a slow and controlled descent, and try to pause for a bit once you reach the planche position.


5. Asissted planche
Using resistance bands for assisted planche exercises can provide targeted support and assistance, helping you gradually build the strength and technique necessary for the full position. When performing assisted planche exercises with bands, it’s essential to choose a progression that is close to one you can perform, or one you can hold for a short amount of time without bands. Choosing a too thick band and too hard progression isn’t going to have much carryover to unassisted planche.

Accessory

1. Maltese press
The maltese press is great for conditioning the the bicep and elbow joint for the planche, the key is to do the exercise in a planche body position.

Flexibility

1. Middle split
The middle split are great for improving your straddle in the straddle planche, actually making the straddle planche easier. So if you want a “hack” to make your straddle planche easier then start splitting.

Back lever
Progressions

1. Skin the cat
Skin the Cat is an excellent exercise for developing the strength, mobility, and body control needed to start training for the back lever.


2. Static progressions
Static progressions for the back lever are great for building the strength, stability, and body control required to hold the full back lever. Starting with the tuck back lever, gradually extend their legs to achieve the advanced tuck and eventually the one-legged variation, then transitioning to the half lay and then straddle back lever.


3. Back lever raise
The back lever raise is a great dynamic exercise for building back lever specific strength, if you feel stuck with the static progressions you might want to give this exercise a try. You can do this exercise with all the progressions from tuck to full.


4. Assisted back lever
Using bands for assisted back lever training is an effective way to build strength and technique, allowing you to gradually progress towards the full back lever. Choose a light resistance band with appropriate tension to provide a small level of assistance, too much is counterproductive.

Accessory

1. Maltese press
The maltese press also targets the back lever postion in the bottom of the exercise, and helps conditiong the elbow and bicep for the back lever.


2. Reverse hyperextension
The reverse hyperextension works the posterior part of the core, which also play a important part in holding a back lever with proper form. So if you have trouble with the lower body in the back lever, you might want to try this exercise out.

Flexibility

1. German hang
The german hang is a great stretch for the shoulders, chest and biceps. You can use this exercises to gain the neccesary flexibility to get into the back lever postion safely.

Front lever
Progressions

1. Front lever progressions
Front lever progressions are a series of exercises designed to develop the strength and control necessary to achieve the full front lever position. Starting with the tuck front lever, where the knees are tucked tightly to the chest, gradually progress to more challenging variations by extending the legs, like the advanced tuck, one-legged, half-lay, and straddle front lever.


2. Front lever raise
The front lever raise is an excellent exercise for building front lever specific pulling strength through a full range of motion. This is a great complementary exercise to your static training and also looks quite badass.


3. Front lever pull ups/rows

Performing front lever pull-ups requires significant upper body and core strength. It targets muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, biceps, and core muscles, helping to develop functional strength and muscular hypertrophy in these areas. You can do this exercise with any front lever progression even on the ground such as in “arc rows“.


4. Asisted front lever
Using resistance bands to assist in front lever training helps to gradually build strength and technique, and help bridge the gap between the different static progressions. Pick a band that is pretty light and a progression you can hold for a short amount of time or a close to the one you are currently working on.


5. Weighted pull ups
Weighted pull-ups are an effective way to build the strength and muscle mass needed to progress towards advanced calisthenics skills like the front lever. Some people even claim to have mastered the front lever just by doing weighted pulls ups, for the best results a combination of front lever specific exercises and weighted pull ups is properly ideal.

Accessory

1. Dragon flag
Dragon Flags are an intense core exercise that primarily targets the rectus abdominis (front of the core), as well as the obliques and deeper core muscles. Having decent core strength is required for maintaining the straight body position in the front Lever.

Human flag
Progressions

1. Low flag
The low human flag is an excellent progression towards mastering the full human flag exercise. This is a good exercise to get a feel for the human flag and to get started on your journey.


2. 45-degree flag

The 45-degree flag is another great beginner exercise for getting started working towards the full flag. This exercise is even easier than the low flag, so this is another great place to start!


3. Static progressions

Static progressions work for building strength and control. Starting with the tucked human flag, gradually extend the legs to achieve the advanced tuck, eventually the one-legged variation, and then the straddle before the full.


4. Assisted human flag

Resistance bands works great for assisting in learning the human flag is a beneficial method for gradually building range specific strength and control necessary for the full hold.


5. Human flag negatives

Human flag negatives provide an effective way to build strength and familiarity with the movement pattern of the human flag.

Accessory

1. Weighted pull ups
The human flag requires significant pulling strength, weighted pull-ups target the muscles of the back and arms, these are the same muscle groups heavily involved in stabilizing and holding the body during a human flag.


2. Handstand push up
Handstand push-ups are excellent for developing shoulder strength, particularly in the deltoids and upper traps, which are important when performing the human flag.

Bar muscle ups

1. Pull ups
Pull-ups are an excellent foundational exercise for developing the strength and power needed to perform bar muscle-ups, work up to 10 reps, and then add extra weight. Weighted pull ups develop explosive power and help pull higher.


2. Straight bar dips

Straight bar dip are necessary to complete the muscle up, if you are already training for the muscle up chances are you are strong enough to do these pretty easily.


3. High pull ups

High pull-ups are a valuable exercise to help build the strength and explosive power necessary for performing muscle-ups. Gradually increase the height of your pulls until you can pull yourself up to abdomen level, then you should be able to do muscle ups, no problem.


4. Band assisted muscle ups

Using resistance bands for assistance during muscle-up training can be a helpful for practicing the technique needed to perform unassisted muscle-ups. While these may not have the best strength curve (too much assistance at the bottom part) they do allow for performing full range muscle ups, which is very motivating and also helps you practice the transition part.


5. Muscle up negatives

Muscle-up negatives, also known as eccentric muscle-ups, are a valuable exercise for building strength and technique to eventually perform full muscle-ups. As you become more comfortable with muscle-up negatives, aim to increase the difficulty by slowing down the descent even further or increasing the number of repetitions.

Ring muscle ups

1. Pull ups (with false grip)
Pull-ups with a false grip are a great way to specifically target the muscles and technique needed for ring muscle-ups, aim to pull the ring to your chest like you would in the ring muscle up.


2. Ring dips
(deep)
Deep ring dips require you to lower yourself further down between the rings, which closely mimics the bottom position of the transition phase in a ring muscle-up. By practicing deep ring dips, you develop the strength and flexibility needed to get through this challenging part of the movement. Slower work on getting lower over time, to stay safe and avoid injuries.


3. False grip training

Training the false grip is crucial for mastering ring muscle-ups, as it allows for the transition from the pull-up phase to the dip phase.


4. Baby muscle ups

The baby muscle up is a variation of the muscle up where you assist yourself with your feet to practice the transition part of the muscle up, which is the hardest part of the muscle up. You can use less assistance by taking one foot off the ground and/or elevating your feets.


5. Band assisted muscle up

Using resistance bands for assistance during ring muscle-up training is a valuable strategy for building the technique to eventually perform unassisted ring muscle-ups. Select a resistance band that provides enough assistance to help you through the transition phase of the ring muscle-up while still allowing you to challenge yourself.

Prilepin tables for isometrics
Prilepin’s tables, initially made for weightlifting, and serve as a guide for determining optimal sets and reps to optimize strength gains. However, these principles can be applied to isometric exercises as well. Here’s Prilepin’s tables adapted for isometric exercises:

Credit to Steven Low for making the chart

Max hold = Test your max hold for a given position -> perform holds in the “hold time range” & sets that match with your max hold. When you can hold a position for around 16-20 seconds, then you are ready to move on to a harder progression.

Frequently asked questions:

When should you do strength skill work?
The short answer is together with your other strength work, if it is a priority for you then at the start of your workout when you are most fresh. If you are just maintaining the you can do a few sets at the end of your workout instead.

How long does it take to learn calisthenics skills?
The time it takes to learn calisthenics skills varies depending on individual factors such as fitness level, genetics, and consistency of training. Some skills may take weeks or months to master, while others may require years of dedicated practice.

Are there any prerequisites for learning specific calisthenics skills?
Yes, having a foundation of basic strength is essential for learning specific calisthenics skills. Before attempting advanced movements like the front lever, back lever, planche, or human flag, you should focus on developing strength in key muscle groups through basic exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, and rows.

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