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When Have You Truly Mastered A Move In Calisthenics?

Norwich 2019 front lever comparison

One of the classic sights in the calisthenics world is people running before they can walk. Just have a look at reddit forums and gymnastics bodies forums and you’ll see many many people paying the price in the form of wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries thanks to trying planche (and other straight arm moves) levels far beyond them.

Why the impatience?

Take your pick. Most are all tied into similar sentiments; usually we think our form is better than it is. I know back in the earlier days of my front lever journey I thought I was way ahead of where I actually was. Another possible (and common) reason is the ‘un-sexiness’ of training lower level progressions and dynamic drills. Nobody gets a boner over tuck planche swings or arched back scapula raises.

And if those aren’t enough, what about when you FINALLY get the hold, with good form, but it’s only for a couple of seconds and takes every fibre of your soul to execute? Do these count?

Front lever Gold's Gym CALI

Yes, they count. But don’t get too hasty, ‘mastery’ hasn’t been achieved yet. You need more than an all out hold on your best day, when the moon is at the right height in the sky and you finally laid the girl you’ve had your eye on for months the night before. I want you able to do it in far more mundane circumstances than those, sorry man!

The Checklist – Have these and you’re the master

#1 You can do it on a normal day 

Your sleep was average; you woke up twice to pee and kept being woken up by the neighbours leaving for work early……you know them kind of days. You get to the bars or rings and even hanging feels a little more strenuous than you anticipate. Can you still do the move though? When you can do it even on non-spectacular days you know the journey to mastery is very much on!

#2 The hold isn’t all out and can be repeated (even if you need 5 minutes rest)

We’ve all seen the guy who hits a muscle up once and never gets it again for months. Can you really claim you’ve got a move/skill in that position? I don’t want to piss on anyone’s bonfire but I really don’t think you can. But maybe you can do it every session, but only once…….does this count? Well, this tells me the move is a maximal effort and maximal efforts aren’t an everyday thing.

You don’t need a long hold or a lot of reps to be deemed able to repeat it, you just need to be able to replicate it more than once in a session.

#3 You can talk/you’re aware of being alive in the hold, dare I say it…..

I remember my first ever back lever. It took a monumental effort and one that wiped me out. It was the longest 4 seconds of my life! I couldn’t think, let alone talk. In other words, I had ZERO awareness in those moments. I trust you’re starting to see a pattern emerging now? I’m almost leading an anti-overexertion campaign; we want controlled exertion.

norwich january 19 workshop back lever

Nowadays I can hold a back lever for over 20 seconds and talk in the position. This is one of the surest signs a move is well below your limit. When you’re sweating, clenching your teeth, panting, growling, swearing and thanking your lucky stars you’re still alive when you stop, you damn well can’t say you’ve got *insert move/skill of choice*.

#4 The level fractionally beneath it is very comfortable and can be hit whenever, wherever

A good example I have here is the straddle front lever. I can hold this with good form almost always without having to kill myself. It’s the same for the half-lay version. This may not automatically equate to a solid standard at the level above (in this case a full front lever) but you know you’re on your way!

Straddle Front Lever throwback (hadleigh early 2018)

Again, it’s like the guy who ‘can muscle up’ yet can’t actually do strict chest to bar pull ups for reps. Your ego will have you believe the level below is useless but in actuality it’s an impeccable marker of your true strength level within a move/skill.

#5 The level fractionally above it isn’t some fairytale pipedream and is actually something you can get close to doing/can already do 

I think it’s a good sign when you’re already aware of what the next level or progression is. It may seem counter-intuitive or like you’re jumping the gun but having an idea of what’s next not only shows your ambition but tells me you don’t give too much respect to the current level you’re at. The key part there was too much respect. Which roughly translates to not bragging about it or telling everyone how hard it is for you.

Using the front lever as an example again, there are 2 scenarios I can envision: 1) you’re at the advanced tuck stage and the straddle is downright impossible – any extending of the legs beyond 90 degrees makes you look like a banana. OR……2) you have a shaky and all out full front lever hold but the idea of a straight body 360 degree pull is a straight up fantasy.

What’s the deep message here?

I guess this is a more relatable way of saying the game is never completely over; there’s always a reason to go back and collect all the collectables you missed. And even when the collectables are in your backpack, there’s things to learn from this level that you can apply to the next level.

Take whichever analogy you like, think of it as attending a refresher course but one where you actually respect the value of it. It’s all too easy to assume things are beneath you. Real success happens when you give as much energy and enthusiasm to the groundwork as well as the grandiose.

If you need help with your training, be it calisthenics specific or generally, shoot me an email: I can help you get to the next level.

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.

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