Elbow Levers For Superhero Strength

by Grace Kavadlo on August 5, 2014

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Grace Menendez One Arm Elbow Lever

Growing up, I was a scrawny, geeky kid who spent my free time reading comic books, fantasizing about having mutant powers and dreaming of looking shredded like my heroes in the stories. The first time I ever saw an elbow lever, the kid in me got excited. I’d always wanted to be a superhero, and this was the closest thing to flying that I’d ever seen. I had to try it myself!

Unfortunately on my first attempt, instead of flying I ended up face planting instead! After scarfing that slice of humble pie, I did what any intelligent athlete would do: I took a step back and started practicing foundational movements to help me earn my wings!

#1 – The Plank

As played out as this exercise may seem, it is the perfect place to start. The plank position puts you in the same plane of movement as a lever and helps you build the necessary core strength. Emphasize keeping an open chest while broadening through the collar and retracting the shoulder blades down and back. “Zip-up” your mid-section by squeezing your glutes, engaging your quads and evenly distributing the weight between the top and bottom of the body. Eventually when you can hold the pose for 2 minutes, experiment with gecko plank variations, which involve lifting a leg and/or arm.

Grace Menendez Gecko Plank

#2 – Back Bridge

In a culture where flexion is the norm (sitting for prolonged periods, driving, etc.) the bridge liberates the spine from excessive upper back arching, as well as from a variety of other back pathologies. How does this apply to levers? In order to hold the body upright, you need to have a flexible upper back and strong spinal muscles–and the bridge addresses both! Take your time with this movement as it can be very intense for beginners. There are less difficult variations you can practice like the straight or table bridge, neck bridge, etc.

Grace Menendez Bridge

#3 – Bound Eagle

One of the gnarliest sensations you need to get past when first practicing this move is getting used to having your elbows jammed in your guts! If you have never tried it before, go ahead and try! Not as easy or comfortable as you thought? No sweat! Master PCC Al Kavadlo, suggests in his book Stretching Your Boundaries (definitely a must-have for every regular calisthenics practitioner) a helpful preparatory pose could be the Bound Eagle. This pose can help you gradually develop the flexibility needed to turn your elbows inward.

Stretching Your Boundaries Bound Eagle

#4 – Midsection Holds

Speaking of jamming your elbows into your midsection, the L-Sit progressions are ideal to get your abdomen prepped to take all your bodyweight. These holds involve tensing almost every muscle in your body, specifically the abdominal region, much like you’ll need to in order to perform a successful elbow lever. Start with a tucked L-sit and progress from there. I also like to include the frog stand here as it emphasizes lifting the chest while balancing on the hands just like in the lever!

Grace Menendez L-Sit At Beach

Grace Menendez Fingertip Frog Stand

#5 – Elevate yourself

Start practicing your elbow lever on elevated surfaces like plyo boxes, tables, counters, park benches, paralletes, etc. Be creative; the sky’s the limit! Start by letting your legs hang over so your form will resemble less of a straight line and more of an arch. As you get stronger, just like in your midsection holds, you can work from a tuck to a straddle and eventually that perfect expression of the pose with long extended legs!

Grace Menendez Elevated Straddle Elbow Lever

Grace Menendez Elevated Elbow Lever

#6 – Get Grounded

If you’ve mastered step 5 and you’re ready to attempt the elbow lever on level ground, you may still find it difficult to completely clear your legs from the floor. It may be helpful at this point to use a wall-assisted regression, in which you press one or both feet into the wall to spot yourself. From there, it’s just a matter of taking a leap of faith and going for it. If you’ve done the work, it should come without too much of a struggle.

Grace Menendez Elbow Lever On Ground

#7 – Next Level Levers

What’s great about progressive calisthenics, is that even after you are finally able to perform the elbow lever, there are even more advanced variations to be conquered! You can try doing an elbow lever on your fingertips, or even just one arm. Be patient during the earlier steps and focus on form. It takes consistency and synergy for your body to learn this unique movement!

Elbow levers are truly the stuff of Superheroes. They take skill, courage, and strength to perform properly! Don’t be shy! Embrace your inner hero and get your lever on!


Grace Menendez, PCC, HKC is a personal trainer, group exercise instructor and massage therapist located in Los Angeles. For more information about Grace, check out her website, www.DieselGrace.com

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  • Halil Mutlu

    mannn ı think ı started to become addicted to pccblog articles :DD

  • Vasily

    Grace, you rock:) thank you for a fresh shot of motivation!:)

    • Thanks @Vasily, glad you dug!! Elbow levers are one of my favorite moves to practice, cos they look mightily impressive and take mad strength to perform! Hope you rock yours!

  • GREAT stuff, Grace! 🙂

  • Colin Mackay

    Cool post, I’m off to get my lever on.

  • Rodolfo Oliveira

    Great article Grace! I love the way you link calisthenic mastery with superhero power cos’ when I see the Kavadlo brothers doing what they do I have the exact same impression: these guys must have some kind of superpower! I love the fact that with consistent training everyone can also develop these superpowers!

    • Thank you Rodolfo! I am so happy you enjoyed reading it and you share the same sentiment about how with consistent practice anyone can eventually perform these superhuman feats! Yep, first time I saw the Bros do a human flag, I def felt like I was reading a comic hahaha

  • Karen Lee

    Killer article, Grace. (aka Superhero Grace). I love how you laid it all out for us, progressively, of course 🙂 A two minute Hardstyle Plank, that’s gonna be my new goal.

    • Get it, girl! Superhero Grace!! I could def get used to that! 😉 thanks for reading!

  • Awesome, haven’t done one in a while. Gonna give the one-arm version a try! Keep it up.

  • Thanks for this great post Grace! This has me inspired to practice even more for the Nov. PCC. I may be back at ‘ya with questions as it gets closer.

    • Right on, Lori! I bet you’ll be excited to know that Grace is going to be one of the assistant instructors for the Milwaukee PCC!

    • Hey there Lori! I am glad to hear you will be taking the PCC this fall AND that I will also be assisting! It was such a stellar experience! Please feel free to ask me any questions leading up to the cert! I would love to help you any way I can! Thanks for reading and enjoying the post! 🙂

  • Awesome article by the OFFICIAL calisthenics queen in Cali.

    • Whoa! Right on, thank you sir! Official?? Haha, that is most excellent! I appreciate you holding me in that esteem! I love representin for the PCC!!!

  • What a great article, it’s making me want to get back training for the one arm elbow lever

    • Thanks brotha! Now you have all the regressions to get you there! Elbow levers rule!!

  • fede

    great article! may I ask you something? When trying to hold an L sit I get muscle cramps in my anterior superior quadriceps (guess the psoas?) What could be the problem: lack of strength, lack of flexibility?

    • Hey there! Super stoked you liked my post! Now as far as the hip flexor muscle group goes, in movements like the L-Sit or the pistol, if it is tight it could definitely cause tension or “cramping” in the extended legs. Instead of focusing on lack of this or that, maybe save the L-Sit for the end of your workout when you’re nice and warmed up! Consider adding some lunges to your routine before practicing to help stretch out the psoas group. I would also consider practicing the easier midsection holds like the Tuck or N-Sit and gradually work to extending one leg then the other til you build up to the movement without any discomfort! Hope this helps!

  • Lindsey Dunn

    I’m determined to get to an awesome elbow lever – thanks grace! keep on motivating and inspiring 🙂 xoxo

    • Thank you, girl! You have already made so many improvements since the PCC! I am mad impressed! Keep representin for da Bodyweight Ninja Ladies! 😉

      • Lindsey Dunn

        When we get together I wanna be able to keep up with u!! <3

  • Gunpowder_Eyes

    Thank you for this amazingly informative article. I’m working on getting my Elbow Lever down to just my one arm and I found your advice here very valuable. I’m determined to get my Elbow Lever as amazing as yours is!!! Thank you for the inspiration. 🙂

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