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Back Levers with Xorbars

back levers tutorial

How to do the Back Lever exercise, muscles worked, and a video tutorial.

Often performed in Calisthenics, Street Workout, and CrossFit, the Back Lever is one of the fundamental static strength holds in Gymnastics. It can be performed on rings, or a pull-up bar.

This was one of the first impressive gymnastic holds that I managed to attain. I remember feeling such a sense of accomplishment when I could do the straight-leg (“Full”) version.

Muscles Worked

Where do I start? This is a total body exercise!

The Back Lever is a static strength exercise. I find it works my Lats, Upper Back and Posterior Deltoids (Shoulders) very hard.

Surprisingly, one of the weakest links is the lower back.  Most people aren’t used to lifting their hips up like this in any gym based exercises—so you may find that you’re strong enough in the upper body to hold the position, but too weak in the lower back to extend your legs.

Other supporting muscles worked to a lesser extent are the Abs, Glutes, Pectorals and Quadriceps.

Prerequisites for the Back Lever

  • Must be able to do Skin the Cat [Here] for 15-30 seconds continuously, otherwise you might rip your shoulders off. ? Preferably you can also roll back up in a tucked position
  • 6 Pull-ups or Chin-ups

Back Lever Exercise Technique

Always begin exercise with a dynamic stretching warm up [Click Here].

Then do a few reps of Skin the Cat in a not very taxing manner, to further warm up the area and avoid injury.

The Back Lever puts a lot of strain on your shoulders, biceps and elbows, so it’s best to really take your time moving from one progression to the next, otherwise you can end up with an injury thattakes months to recover from. 

  • Progression 1: Tuck Back Lever
  • Progression 2: Advanced Tuck (similar to the shape of a dining room chair)
  • Progression 3: One-leg straight
  • Progression 4: Alternating one-leg straight (like bicycling)
  • Progression 5: Full Back Lever (straight legs)

After this you can progress to Back Lever Pullouts, which is doing the Back Lever down to Skin the Cat, and then pulling your body back up to an Inverted Hang.

Pullouts are a lot harder than lowering! Once you’ve mastered the Full Back Lever as a static hold, you may find you’re only able to do Pullouts with a tucked body (rather than straight legs). It’ll take time to build the strength to do it with straight legs.

Watch the video tutorial


Technique faults to look out for

  • Body not horizontal — you’ll make quicker progress when you practice this exercise with a Calisthenics Instructor, rather than on your own, as you think you’re horizontal, but you’re probably slightly above it
  • Hand width — don’t make the grip too close, otherwise you won’t be able to do pullouts

George Choy (Certified Calisthenics Instructor)

For more information on George Choy or to visit his excellent website for more workouts and healthy eating tips and recipes, please visit

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