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How Long Does It Take To Get To A ‘Good’ Level In Calisthenics?

Image result for top planche on rings

The Summer of 2018 has to be one of my all time favourites for many reasons. As one of calisthenic’s biggest fans, show me sun and heat and I’ll show you a permanent smile. When the weather is nice and the days are long, you can train whenever and wherever. 

Throughout the spring/summer of 2018 (from May – pretty much the present) I trained with a group of friends out in Hadleigh Park, in Essex (UK). We met up each Sunday like clockwork and did evenings when we could as well. All in all we were probably averaging 3 sessions per week, using rings, bars and our bodyweight – with the exception of some rare ankle weighted work.

Under my guidance these guys achieved loads and this post isn’t to big me up at all. What I want to do here is show you guys just what’s possible with diligent training and consistency. I know you hear all the BS about ‘just be consistent’ and ‘if you want it bad enough it will happen’, but consistency without intelligent thinking is like thinking you’ll win the lottery without buying a ticket.

What is ‘intelligent thinking’ in this context?

It’s as simple as the right cues and knowing what not to do. When you’re aware of the classic pitfalls you save yourself a cart full of time and don’t train bad/wrong patterns. This in itself separates you as you don’t have to undo all the bad habits. Why do you think children progress so much faster? Because although they have to learn, they don’t have to unlearn all the things they shouldn’t have learned in the first place!

Anyone that’s interested in, or knows anything about calisthenics, knows the difficulty involved when looking to reach advanced standards. I now work with a handful of solely calisthenics clients and one of the things I’m most often asked is: How long until I can get X, Y or Z move?

I believe it’s absolutely normal to want to have some idea of what roads may lie ahead before you commit to a journey; therefore I always try to find a logical answer to a question that in theory, has a thousand answers. The only way to do this is to go off 1) your own experience. 2) The experiences of others you’ve worked with. 3) The general law of averages to said endeavour.

How quick or long your progress is really depends on a vast amount of factors. Some people just have good structures for certain moves. For example, I’m an atrocious overhead presser, always have been. But, when it comes to pulling moves I’m above average for sure. So muscle up, front lever and pull up prowess comes OK to me. Handstand push ups, planches and the like? Erm, let’s change the subject.

Nutrition, desire, recovery and how often you train are the other key factors. The better you eat, the better you perform. The more you want it, the more you enjoy it. The better your recovery, the more often you can train. And, the more often you train, the faster you gain.

With all this in mind, let’s attempt to lay down some common ground for getting some of claisthenics’ cooler moves. The timeframes I will give are based on the assumption that the person trying to learn them has some level of strength and mobility (i.e. they can do good form push ups for reps and maybe a few dips and the odd pull/chin up). If you cannot do any of those, you’ll be best served working on your foundation before worrying about more advanced skills.

The Handstand

Approximate time to be able to hold for 10-30 seconds = 3-9 months.

This is a skill that’s best learnt through very regular practice but practice that’s kept away from fatigue. The handstand is very neurological, which means it takes a lot of brain power. In layman’s terms: it’s very easy to overtrain the handstand and see your strength and energy everywhere else suffer. I remember training handstand holds in a park on a hot summer’s day in 2017. We trained for nearly 2 hours. I was dead for almost a week after. Neurologically FRIED.

Handstand (Hadleigh)

The L-Sit

Approximate time to be able to hold for 10-20 seconds = 3-6 months.

Probably the greatest core exercise there is, the L-Sit isn’t the hardest move to learn – especially if you’re doing it on dip bars or parallettes. Assuming you have the requisite hamstring mobility, you can achieve this maybe even within 3 months by working on your hanging and supported (dip bars) knee raises. This move loves frequent practice and responds well to it.

Note: the rings and floor L-sit are significantly harder in my opinion. If you want to read a comparison between the floor L-sit and the bars L-sit, READ THIS.

L-Sit on rings with turnout

The Muscle up (a STRICT one)

Approximate time needed for mastery = 6 months – 1 year + 

If I haven’t reiterated enough, we’re talking about STRICT muscle ups here. Bar or rings is irrelevant as both are strict, OK? Incidentally, in my opinion a strict muscle up on the rings is easier than a strict bar muscle up. Simply because you have more ‘transitional leeway’; meaning there’s no bar to go around, and you can allow your chest to move between the rings.

For the bar muscle up, vertical pulling power will be the key to success and with the rings, it’s a combo of power and false grip proficiency. While dip strength is important, you’ll rarely – if ever – see anyone who has enough raw pulling power for a muscle up, but doesn’t have the dip strength to press it out. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean mythical creatures don’t exist just because we’ve not seen them.

(RELATED READING: You Can’t Muscle Up – Are You Lacking Technique Or Power?)


Front/Back Levers

Approximate time needed for mastery = 9 months – 2 years +

The back lever is by far the easier of the 2 here. Assuming one has a good foundation within calisthenics, a back lever can be achieved within a year. The determining factors here will be the strength of your bicep tendons and the mobility/strength of your shoulders while in extension. As I’ve written about before, dynamic exercises work better than static ones in my anecdotal opinion.

While ‘simpler’ than the back lever in terms of body positioning, the front lever is a whole universe harder to obtain. Exceptional lat and upper back strength is required here. All the core training in the world will be a waste if your scapula strength isn’t up to par. The key for anyone close to a front lever will almost never be some more core work. Pure pulling power is needed. One thing I’ve found is working your strict muscle up strength seems to carry over incredibly well to the front lever.

Some also say one arm chin/pull up work has a similar effect. I can see the theory but haven’t got enough real life experience with one arm chin/pull ups to truly comment.

(RECOMMENDED READING: Tips For Faster Gains With Front Levers, Back Levers, Planches & Human Flags)

Front lever

Does time really matter?

It takes as long as it takes and while there are fast tracks like proper programming and intelligent coaching, the journey can only be cut so much and you have to accept it. The great thing about advanced level calisthenics is anyone who gets to those standards has clearly had to call on patience, love, tenacity, failure and above all they’ve had to be dedicated and committed.

Enjoy the process…….the learning, the mixing with like minded people, the strength you gain along the way and even the aesthetic changes you’ll see in your body as a result.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

2 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take To Get To A ‘Good’ Level In Calisthenics? Leave a comment

  1. Great post. I think another factor in achieving these more advanced moves is realizing that you can’t achieve all of them in parallel, at least not for most mortals. I’ve found cycling goals (say, hammering planche and strict MU for a couple months, then prioritizing front lever and press-to-handstand, and so on) has been the most efficient way to make significant progress on these movements, vs. trying to train all of them constantly. Low’s Overcoming Gravity really stresses this point and I’ve found it to be spot on, especially as I’m getting older (late 30s) and recovery/adaptation takes a little longer.

    Also, just to add another n of 1 datapoint to your observation that “working your strict muscle up strength seems to carry over incredibly well to the front lever” — I’ve been prioritizing strict ring MUs the past couple months and only playing around with front lever between sets or on recovery days, and I’ve found that my front lever raises are feeling a lot stronger even though I’m not specifically training that movement right now. It’s always a nice surprise when that happens.

    • Hey Kurt,

      How’s it going? Not heard from you in a while! Always love it when you comment 🙂

      I think those mini-goals, as we could call them, are crucial when you’re well into the intermediate stage and even beyond. I tend to only have one or two goals at the most nowadays. I find it’s more fun this way as well, as opposed to training everything and making snail’s pace progress. I think injury prevention becomes even more paramount as strength goes up too but few actually give it the true respect and credit it deserves.

      That’s amazing you’ve seen a similar pattern! I hadn’t even tried much front lever for a good while but I had worked the crap out of my strict muscle ups…….went on holiday and gave one a go just for a cool photo and……BANG, stuck it for a good 5 seconds, clean! Since then my holds have been better and even on days where the full lever is saggy, my straddle is as straight as you like!

      Have you ever worked on weighted muscle ups at all?

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