Chapter Four

Fundamental Static Positions

Fundamental Static Positions

Gymnastically speaking, static strength is the ability to hold or maintain the body motionless in an often mechanically disadvantaged position. L-sits, front levers and planches are all examples of static strength elements. I have found static strength training to be invaluable in building the ligament and tendon strength of the joints, as well as having a profound effect on core strength development. The static exercises help to build amazing strength which quite frankly cannot be developed any other way.

A caveat is required here; training the support static strength positions can be quite taxing on the wrists; especially without an adequate developmental foundation. The wrists will consequently require special physical preparation to be able to adequately handle the new training load. As mentioned previously, the wrist specific preparation series that I use with my athletes is quite extensive and is covered in great detail in the Gymnastics Bodies volume, Liquid Steel.

Following are the basic static strength positions in men's gymnastics. Complete descriptions as well as progressions for developing all of the basic positions are provided.

L-sit

The L-sit, or half lever as it is sometimes called, is one of the most basic gymnastics elements and, seemingly, the simplest of all abdominal exercises. How hard can it be to simply stay in one position? It must be the easiest thing in the world, right? Wrong. Correctly done, the L-sit will make most other conventional abdominal exercise seem like child's play.

Way back when, when I was a beginning gymnast, my first coach had us do no specific abdominal exercises; only lots and lots of regular L-sits. A 60 second L was the expected standard.

One day, one of the senior gymnasts challenged me to a hanging leg lift contest on the stall bars (These bars are directly anchored to the wall and do not allow you to lean back at all or to pull down with your lats - all pure core strength). I cranked out ten repetitions without ever having done the exercise before.

The Progressions

Center yourself on a set of parallel bars (PB), parallets or pushup bars. If your abdominal strength is very low, you may also begin on two chairs, as this will allow you to start with you feet much lower and make the exercise more accessible.

Tuck your legs and attempt to lift them until they are parallel with the floor. At first it may not be possible for you to lift your legs up to a completely parallel position. That is fine, simply work with your knees at the height that you are comfortable. Sit up straight and be sure to keep your elbows locked (straight).

Difficulty rating: L-sit - PB low

The primary difference on this variation is that the knees will now be straight. As the leverage is much less on this exercise and the difficulty is higher, you will probably find that you cannot hold your legs as high as you did in the tuck L and that you need to work on two chairs or elevated bars. In the beginning, it is perfectly acceptable for your feet to be far below horizontal.

Be prepared for some exceptional cramps in both your hip flexors and the rectus femoris (the muscle in the upper middle of your quadriceps). If the cramps become too intense, stop the exercise for some stretching and massage before again continuing the day's workout.

Once you can hold the Low Straight Leg L comfortably, it is time to progress to the Horizontal L. The difference between this and the prior version is simply that your legs are now high enough during the static hold to be parallel to the floor.

As you will now be holding your legs horizontal and parallel to the floor you will have enough height and clearance to, if you wish, work this exercise on the floor as well as on the bars. Work hard and persevere in the pursuit of excellence with this position. Achieving the horizontal L-sit for substantial time will be a major milestone in your athletic development.

Difficulty rating:

L-sit - PB advanced

For more advanced athletes, the regular L -sit may be made much more difficult by transitioning to the Advanced L-sit. In the advanced L-sit the legs are still straight and level and the arms are locked, however now the back is held flat with no hunching or curvature allowed. Do not allow your chest to cave in. Now while maintaining this "flat backed" position, attempt to push your hips forward in front of your hands while continuing to hold the legs straight and level.

Be prepared, this is an extremely difficult variation even for advanced athletes. Even as small an adjustment as one inch forward of the hips in front of the hands will cause most athletes to fail at this version.

The L-sit on the Xtreme Rings is everything that the PB L-sit is - squared. Due to the tremendous instability of the rings, you will probably find it exceedingly difficult to maintain the same good body position that you have developed on the PBs. Be patient. Generally your stabilizers will adjust to the new demands being placed on them over the course of a few weeks.

The normal performance criteria that you developed on the PBs for your L-sit still apply here. Performed correctly, the back should be flat, the elbows locked and the chest up with the back flat.

In addition, you will also now be working on correctly turning out the rings during a support for the first time. For information on executing a correct support position on the rings, see the XR support entry in the section on dip variations.

Difficulty rating:

Difficulty rating:

L-sit - XR advanced

To adjust your regular XR L-sit, push the hips forward until they are next to the hands. Do this while continuing to maintain the flat back with chest out, arms locked and the rings turned out that you mastered during the regular XR L-sit.

The straddle L is a graceful and elegant movement. It is an excellent combination of abdominal strength and active flexibility; which develops a great deal of stability within the hip joint. I injured my left hip some years ago and I have found that training straddle Ls several times a week greatly relieves the discomfort within the joint.

Straddle Ls, as well as L sits, are also easily integrated in the training of other skills. This simplifies your training and increasing the effectiveness of your conditioning program. Press handstands, pull-ups and dips are especially amenable to its inclusion.

The Progressions Straddle L - PB bent

For the beginner, this exercise will need to be done on the PBs, high parallets, or even in-between two chairs as they will probably not as yet have developed the appropriate hip strength necessary to perform it on the floor. Unfortunately pushup bars will not work for most beginners, as the height of the bars is simply too low.

Place yourself, so that you are standing or sitting in a straddle with your hands in-between your legs. With your hands comfortably spaced apart, lift your buttocks up and attempt to bring your legs up in front of you. Be sure to keep your legs bent in this first variation of the straddle L. Unlike the regular L, the straddle L should have a forward lean while in support; the higher the straddle L, the more substantial will be the forward lean.

It is a grave error to allow the legs to rest on the arms during this element. While it will greatly reduce the intensity of this movement, it will also greatly reduce the very strength gains that you were seeking in the first place.

Difficulty rating:

Straddle L - PB low

With this variation it is perfectly fine to continue to allow your legs to hang below parallel; our major change will now be the straightening of the knees. Do not be overly concerned if your now straight legs are far below horizontal. Your strength will continue to improve with consistent practice.

Difficulty rating:

Straddle L - one hand center

This variation requires vastly less flexibility than both hands in the center and yet allows you to continue building hip and leg extension strength.

Sitting on the floor in a straddle, place one hand in the center and the other hand outside of your leg just in front of the hips. Push up and attempt to hold the straddle L. Lower to the ground, switch hands and repeat.

Straddle L - partial roll

Technically this is not a pure static strength element, but rather an embedded static strength element. However it is not uncommon for a beginning trainee to have a great deal of difficulty initially with lifting into the horizontal straddle L. This rolling version helps to alleviate that problem by utilizing momentum. For additional information on utilizing the excellent technique of embedded statics in your training, they are discussed thoroughly in the Program Design section.

Begin from a straddle sit on the floor. Partially roll backward then quickly roll forward while simultaneously attempting to push up into the straddle L with both hands in the center. There will be a momentary hold of the straddle L at best. Adjust the intensity of this movement by increasing or decreasing the speed of the roll forward.

Straddle L - PB

For a correct straddle L position, the legs should be parallel to the floor with the feet slightly above the knees. The hips in height should be somewhere in-between the wrists and elbows. The legs should not be touching the arms. The shoulders should be slightly leaning forward. It may be performed either on the floor, parallets or parallel bars.

Straddle L - XR

Like regular L-sits, straddle Ls are much more difficult when performed on the Xtreme Rings; the inherent instability of the rings themselves greatly increases the muscular demands of this movement. For beginners on the rings, it is often easiest to begin from a bent leg straddle L and then extend out to the straight leg position.

When performing a straddle L on the rings always attempt to lift the legs above the rings. Do not bend the elbows, you should feel the biceps pressing forward strongly. Also strive to keep the thumbs turned out during the support. Remember that unlike L seats, straddle Ls must lean forward in order to preserve balance. This of course causes the hip flexors and rectus femoris to cramp strongly during the maintenance of the position, especially for new trainees.

Straddle L - high

The high straddle L is exceptionally difficult and very few athletes will ever possess the combined strength and flexibility of the back, hip and shoulder girdle to be able to successfully perform it. Out of the thousands of athletes I have trained, only two were able to execute this element. Once in a regular straddle L, now attempt to lift your hips to shoulder high by pressing your hips back and up. Your forward lean will increase as your hips go higher. Upon reaching the correct position, your knees will be higher than your elbows.

Be sure to maintain the correct position for your legs, if you feet start to drop below the level of your knees, you are attempting to go too high for your current level of strength.

do not allow the legs to touch the arms

During Straddle L Work

Manna

Watching someone perform a manna seems to blur the boundaries of what we had thought was physically possible. In fact, in most gymnastics programs around the country the manna is a relatively rare skill and considered somewhat exotic. Even among our U.S. Olympic level athletes there are only a few who can do the manna correctly.

As I mentioned, the manna is generally a rare skill; except in my program. About 75% of my senior athletes can perform a manna; with several of those also working on developing a solid high manna. Are they all exceptional athletes? Unquestionably some of my athletes are incredibly talented, however most are simply persistent with average talent and, most importantly, a solid work ethic.

Rather than all exceptional athletes, what I have developed is an efficient and effective method of building mannas. The best way that I have found over the years to build a manna also happens to be the simplest and most straightforward. It does however require great dedication; for most people 1-2 years of consistent practice will be required to develop the manna. However, with patience and a lot of sweat, many of the people who follow my program diligently will indeed succeed in developing a manna.

The reason most people fail to develop a manna is due to a flawed understanding of the actual movement itself. The common belief is that a V-

sit is a preliminary step along the road to a manna. As such, they build up the strength necessary for the V-sit, which is essentially a leg lift on the hands and then subsequently fail to build up the extension strength necessary to succeed at the manna. In my experience, the correct primary focus for developing a manna is forward extension of the hips in front of the hands; or more simply stated - pushing the hips forward in front of the hands, not on lifting the legs.

Quality work on the various progressions is essential for being able to eventually build up to this skill; for a manna there are no shortcuts. You must go through the progressions patiently and thoroughly.

The Progressions Manna - MSH bent

The main developmental exercise for building a manna is the middle split hold (MSH) held in a horizontal position. However, for most people the HMSH is a very challenging position and will need to be built up to gradually. For that reason, we will begin our quest for the manna, with the bent leg middle split hold. At first you may not be able to move the hips forward off the hands and wrists, especially while maintaining straight legs. Therefore we will ignore the straight legs for now and focus solely on building our introductory support strength for this skill.

Using the end of the parallel bars, parallets or even two chairs sit with your hands directly behind your glutes. Now lift off of the bars while simultaneously attempting to push the hips forward off of your wrists. Do not allow the knees to lift above the hips, but keep them both parallel to the floor at all times. At this time, raising the knees may only be done with an accompanying lift of the hips. Constantly strive to push the hips further and further forward in front of the wrists while maintaining the parallel position of the knees and hips.

It is essential on this movement as with all of the progressions in the manna series, to keep the back as flat as possible at all times. Keeping the back flat allows the chest to remain elevated, which is essential in eventually achieving the top position of the manna.

Difficulty rating:

Manna - MSH low

Once you are able to press your hips forward off your wrists in the bent leg middle split hold, you may move on to the straight leg version.

Initially, do not be overly concerned about your feet being below horizontal (sometimes far below!) with this variation. You will find that straightening the knees greatly increases the strength demands on your hips. Accommodate this by allowing your legs to drop as low as necessary in order to succeed in your static hold. As your strength improves, gradually attempt to perform this static hold with higher and higher legs, until you achieve nearly horizontal legs.

Difficulty rating:

Manna - MSH horizontal

The horizontal middle split hold is the position that you will spend at least 90% of your developmental manna time in. Most people will fail in the development of a manna simply because they were too impatient to spend the requisite amount of time developing the HMSH.

For a Solid Manna The HMSH is Essential

Be sure to work in a clear area, where you have room to roll backward if necessary. Now simply sit on the ground with your legs straddled (apart), the wider the better. You should actually feel your hips actively pulling your legs as wide as possible and then striving to pull them wider still. Continue to feel this //pulling,, during the entire movement. Be prepared for major cramps in your hip flexors, however the wider and more stable your legs are, the easier and quicker the development of the manna will be.

Now from the straddle sit on the floor, place your hands behind your legs right next to your hips. With the arms straight, once again strive to push the hips forward off the wrists. When done correctly, your legs will lift off the ground as your hips move forward.

On lifting you will naturally want to allow the feet to lift above the hips. This is incorrect. It is essential on attempting to rise up into position that the hips and feet stay level with one another. Under no circumstances allow the feet to either raise above or drop beneath the hips, they should remain level in relation to each other at all times.

On lifting you will naturally want to allow the feet to lift above the hips. This is incorrect. It is essential on attempting to rise up into position that the hips and feet stay level with one another. Under no circumstances allow the feet to either raise above or drop beneath the hips, they should remain level in relation to each other at all times.

Difficulty rating

Manna

Now that a basic foundation has been laid, work on the Manna itself can begin. This is a very challenging position and can take years to develop. It is, however, worth the effort. The majority of the champions I have developed over the years have had solid mannas. The strength that this position develops is transferable to a wide range of gymnastics skills.

Allan Bower in a Manna at 7yrs old

Allan is now 13 years old and a 5 year veteran member of the US Jr. National Team

In appearance, the manna resembles an inverted L- sit. To execute a manna correctly requires tremendous triceps and shoulder strength as well as excellent lower back strength and flexibility.

Start with a HMSM on the floor. Emphasize hips in front of the hands. A common misconception on the manna is to think that the position is achieved by leaning backwards while attempting to lift the legs. Actually the main focus should be keeping the hips pressed forward. Great pressure will be felt on the triceps and back of the shoulders; initially severe cramping of the triceps is not at all unusual.

As your strength improves, continue to press your hips further in front of your hands. This will result in your hips gradually rising higher and higher. Attempting to raise the hips by leaning back rather than pressing the hips forward will result in a total lack of progress on this skill

Do not lean back, nor should you allow your head to fall back. This is ineffective and will result in a great deal of wasted time and effort. To increase the height of your manna, simply push your hips forward. Keep your legs pulled as wide apart as possible.

Do not try to lift your legs at the expense of pressing the hips forward; this will simply stop your motion at a V-sit. As you continue pushing forward and your strength increases, your legs will naturally rise higher.

As time passes, you will achieve a straddled 1/2 V position and then finally a vertical straddled V. Do not give in to the temptation to focus on lifting the legs, continue to focus on pressing the hips forward; this is essential. Do not bring your legs together until you have reached a horizontal manna position. Bringing your legs together prematurely increases the difficulty of the element and will greatly increase the time required to master this position.

Manna - high

If the manna is a rare skill, the high manna is nearly non-existent. In fact, other than my own athletes, I have personally only seen one other in competition.

An extremely stable manna is a mandatory requirement for even attempting the high manna. To proceed to the high manna from the manna, focus on lifting the legs while also simultaneously lifting the hips. The tendency is to concentrate on the leg lift only and, while it is true that the legs do travel farther than the hips, the hips must rise also in order to enable the manna to lift higher than horizontal. The higher the legs and hips lift, the farther forward the shoulders must press in order to compensate for the change in the center of gravity.

Difficulty rating:

Back Lever

The back lever is usually one of the first "real" gymnastics strength positions that most people are exposed to. It is a little bit exotic and forces your body to exert strength in a position that most people didn't even know they could get into. It is very good for building shoulder girdle strength and will absolutely crush the core and lower back of the beginning gymnastics strength trainee.

The back lever is also a necessary stepping-stone toward building the straight leg front lever and eventually the straight leg planche. In fact, in my opinion the back lever needs to be established before a planche will be successful. Once a strong back lever is developed, the planche progression will proceed much more rapidly.

The following progressions may be performed on the Xtreme Rings, a single rail of the parallel bars or even any overhead single bar. Just be careful that the area you are working in is safe and appropriate for this training.

The Progressions Back Lever - tuck

From an inverted hang, while keeping your back rounded with your knees held tightly into your chest, attempt to lower your hips behind you to a horizontal position. In all probability, at first, you will only be able to drop down slightly before being at the basic of your strength. Attempting to lean forward during the back lever variations will greatly aid you in maintaining the back lever.

In the beginning, squeezing inward with the arms into your lats will also be of great assistance to you. This practice however should only be used in the beginning when necessary and should be discontinued as soon as possible. A common mistake by beginners is to squeeze one lat harder than the other resulting in a body position that is skewed sideways.

As for the grip, this is a personal choice, however I recommend palms down rather than palms up; unless there is an injury that needs to be taken into account. It is true that palms up will place less stress on the biceps, but the palms down will build greater biceps strength in addition to allowing the athlete to transition into and out of the back lever from other positions more efficiently. And more importantly, this palms down grip also helps to prepare the biceps for the strain later on of XR planches and iron crosses.

Difficulty rating: Back Lever - flat tuck

To initiate the flat back, from the tuck back lever extend the hips back while simultaneously lifting the shoulders and pushing backward with the hands. Be careful to maintain a horizontal position.

Back Lever - straddle

There are several options for entering a straddle back lever. Probably the easiest for beginners is from the flat tuck back lever simply extend the legs out and to the side. Make sure to continue to lean forward strongly when extending the legs behind. Keeping the head neutral (neither tucked down nor lifted up) will aid in maintaining a flat back during the straddle back lever.

As progressing to the tuck back lever substantially increased the intensity of the load on the back, the straddle back lever will once again be a quantum jump in intensity of load. Do not under any circumstances, allow yourself to train the SB with less than a totally flat back. If at anytime, the flat back position is lost, immediately return back to the 1/2BL to prepare for the next attempt.

Back Lever - half

From the straddle back lever, bend the knees while simultaneously bringing the legs together. In the final position, a half back lever will continue to maintain a flat back and hips, but now the calves will be vertical with the feet pointing at the ceiling. The tendency here is to allow the hips to close, thereby reducing the strain on the lower back, but also greatly lessening the strength gains from this movement. Focus on maintaining a flat back with completely open hips.

Back Lever

From the half back lever begin to gradually extend and straighten the knees. Once again the hips will struggle to close during the extension, do not allow this to happen. There is no need to immediately go to a fully extended position. Build up to this over time as small shifts of even a few inches greater decrease the leverage of the movement, subsequently greatly increasing the training load on the shoulder girdle and lower back.

proficiency at back levers will greatly accelerate future

Planche Development.

Front Lever

Becoming proficient at front levers will have a strong carryover effect to many bodyweight skills; especially skills involving core and pull-up strength. The reverse is however not true.

One evening I had a static L-sit contest with my some of my athletes. Allan held a 60-second L that night; despite our never working extended hold L-sits by themselves. We do however focus strongly on front levers. Allan is quite proficient at them and can hold a 10-second front lever. Another athlete, Josh, has a strong straddle planche (19 seconds), but not a strong front lever, and the attempt at the 60-second L-sit crushed him.

For the front lever series make sure to use a shoulder width overhand grip (fingers pointing away) as this will increase the amount of lat power you can exert during these exercises. Also, as with the upcoming planche series, it is very important to keep the elbows straight, as bending the elbows will greatly lessen the intensity of these exercises and thereby dramatically lower the subsequent strength gains.

Cool Carryover from Front Levers

Fire Up Your Core

Fire Up Your Core

If you weaken the center of any freestanding structure it becomes unstable. Eventually, everyday wear-and-tear takes its toll, causing the structure to buckle under pressure. This is exactly what happens when the core muscles are weak – it compromises your body’s ability to support the frame properly. In recent years, there has been a lot of buzz about the importance of a strong core – and there is a valid reason for this. The core is where all of the powerful movements in the body originate – so it can essentially be thought of as your “center of power.”

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