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    Articles | Back lever

    What does it take to get started?

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    The only impossible journey is the one you never begin – Tony Robins

    While Tony Robbins wasn’t talking about calisthenics with this iconic quote, it couldn’t ring any more true for mine and Tim’s calisthenics journey. Five years ago we made the biggest step in our calisthenics story… we started it!

    Back then we didn’t have it all figured out; we had lots of questions and not many answers. But, as a couple of old, broken rugby players with no experience we started. We experimented with principles of Strength & Conditioning and exercise science that had served us well to train multiple Paralympic champions over the years, to try and formulate theories as to what might work when you try to learn a handstand and a human flag for the very first time.

    And then, we had to test it out. To this day, we are still learning, experimenting, and refining the learning process as we continue to learn. That’s one of the exciting things about calisthenics to us as coaches.

    I’ll be honest though, it wasn’t always that easy at the start, and I understand why so many people stay on the ‘fringes’ looking in at calisthenics, being inspired and impressed by the things people can do, but finding it difficult to make a commitment to themselves and actually getting started.

    Last week a lady in the gym, who was having a PT session at the time, looked at me working on my handstand and interrupted her PT session to say,

    Sorry to interrupt you, but love what you’re doing it looks so much fun

    I wasn’t really sure what to do. I wanted to say “Yes it is fun and you can do it too,” but before I gathered my thoughts she kindly smiled at me and then duly went back to her tricep push downs on the cable machine under the careful watch of her PT!

    The reality is, she could have started. She could be having more fun with her training but she is choosing not to. Likely for her, like lots of you on the fringes, it’s safe to watch but to join in and start is a little nerve wracking at times.

    That’s why we’ve always placed a huge emphasis of our content on helping beginners get started. Your first frogstand, your first pull up and your first skin-the-cat are all huge steps along your calisthenics journey.

    Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already engaged with us and started your journey, playing around with a frogstand or skin-the-cat.

    Compared to push-ups or sit-ups, skin the cat really feels like ‘calisthenics’ (see tutorial below – from new back lever course in the virtual classroom).  It might not be ‘beautiful strength’ at your first attempt, but you’re learning to move in a new way, going upside down, learning to control your body and explore the end ranges of your movement and strength, which is what calisthenics is all about in our opinion… and having fun whilst you do it. Let’s face it, it feels like you’re messing around rather than training when you’re learning to skin the cat. It was one of the first things we played around with at the gym, and we actually had someone come over to us and say, “What are you doing? It looks like you’re just messing about?!” At that stage, that’s exactly what we were doing.

    However, it lead to learning our first impossible… the Back Lever!

    Suspending our bodies out horizontally, laughing in the face of gravity, we felt like superman. I’ll never forget the first time Tim held it long enough for a photo, grabbing my phone to take a picture, thinking this is going to be epic on Facebook – it was all Facebook not Instagram back then!

    That’s how it started. The back lever was our first impossible, and yes we were excited by a cool picture. It wasn’t the greatest back lever photo, but it didn’t matter — we’d redefined our impossible, and we soon started to realise that it means so much more than just a ‘cool picture’!

    It led us to believe in other things we could we do with our bodies that we thought impossible… and the journey to redefine our impossible started all over again with human flags and handstands. We were focused on what we could achieve, not how we looked, which was a huge shift from the aesthetics of traditional gym and fitness training, and we both found this mentally freeing.

    Want to Redefine Your Own Impossible of the Back Lever?

    You’ve seen how it starts from the ‘skin the cat’ tutorial already; now it’s its time to get upside down again and start to have some fun. Controlling your body and the rings in an inverted position is not only a great start towards your back lever, but also really great for learning spatial and kinaesthetic awareness as well as trunk alignment whilst upside down for your handstand too – so a two in one!

    I hope you are encouraged to take your calisthenics training past push-ups and sit-ups, and that you are able to enjoy your training and have fun with things like skin the cat and inverted hangs that let you explore how to move in new ways and get strong!

    Class dismissed.


    The two video tutorials are from our brand new Back Lever Classroom now available to all members of the Virtual Classroom. It’s a full course to follow, broken down into easy-to-learn modules, with assessments along the way to help you track progress and know when to move forward.

    Start following the week by week training programmes to help you redefine the impossible of your back lever with the help of a supportive community of hundreds of other people just like you.

    Starting Your Back Lever Journey


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