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Back Lever

In the ranking of strength skills on rings, on a scale from A to E, the back lever sits at the A level. This means it is one of the easiest strength skills to perform. That being said, it should also be one of the first skills you master. Especially if you are working towards higher level skills like the front lever (B level) and planche (C level). The back lever builds upper body strength and teaches the important skills of total body tension and coordination.

Alright, square one . . .

First, you’ll grab the bar (or rings), get into a tuck, and invert yourself. Simple enough.

(Need equipment? Grab a bar or rings here.)


Continue bringing your feet over your head until you can get in the position shown above. For those who never did this as a kid, this exercise is called “skin the cat”.

You’ll want to then bring your feet and legs back up over your head to get back to the start. When you first start this exercise, you will want to stay tucked as you bring your legs up and down. As you get stronger, work on keeping your legs straight and moving your piked body back and forth.


Soon you’ll get strong enough to start trying some positions. Whichever position you choose to work on, I find it helpful to straighten my body as soon as possible. On the rings, this is simply achieved by getting into an inverted straight hang. With a pullup bar, you have a bar and doorframe to contend with, so simply straighten like in the picture above.


If you feel ready, try lowering down into a one-legged back lever. Having one leg tucked-in will take some of the weight off the skill. This position feels a bit odd in comparison to a regular back lever, but it is easier.


If the one-legger gets too easy, just straighten yourself out and lower down into a back lever. I find it easiest when I look at my feet as I lower down, so I can see when I’m horizontal. After you level out, just pick up your head and look forward.

In performing any of these exercises or skills, make sure you land on your feet when you drop off the bar or rings. Smashing into the ground face-first isn’t fun for anybody except the people watching. So don’t do it. Land safe.

Other that that, the most important tip I can give you for performing the back lever, is to lock your back and arms together. Below, anatomy man will show you the muscles that you should be fusing together.


By keeping things tight, you will create tension in your upper body and recruit the large muscles in your back, instead of just your arm muscles.

I’ve tried to demonstrate the difference in muscle tension in the following pictures.


In this picture above, I am using my arm muscles when holding the bar, but I’m am not using my back muscles as greatly as I can.


Here, I have flexed my arms and back muscles to create tension in my entire upper body. As I said, it should feel like your arms are locked to your lats (your latissimus dorsi). So in the end, this is what your back lever should look like if shot from above. Use as many muscles as you can. Why make it difficult by only using your arms?

The back lever really isn’t that hard to get down. If you already have a bit of pull up and dip strength, you might even be able to pull off this skill at first go.

Good luck!

Aug 18, 2010 | Category: The Levers, Tutorial | Comments: 34


34 Responses to “Back Lever”

  1. ben

    which way should hands face for a back lever on rings?


  2. admin


    For the rings, the hands will rotate the opposite direction. (Facing down toward your feet at the end). This allows one to move into other skills if needed.


  3. Nedd

    I have pain in my left shoulder from doing “skin the cat”.
    I think it’s because i used to go deep and didn’t keep my arms and my lats locked. (just a though)
    Do you have any idea about the pain i’m talking about or ways to heal it?

    Thank you

  4. admin


    Roll out with a lacrosse ball and stretch your pec minor, traps, and levator scapulae (google it for anatomy and stretches). You may have had an inflexible shoulder and were putting it to its end range – putting strain on tight muscles.

    Roll and stretch the muscles I described, and avoid any range of motion that causes pain.


  5. Nedd


    “You may have had an inflexible shoulder and were putting it to its end range – putting strain on tight muscles.” – This is what happened.

    I am a beginner in the bar-hitting and i start to fear that injuries might not go away restraining me from realizing the Purpose of my whole workouts, which is realizing planche and other figures.

    I just hope that the pain will go away.

    Much appreciated the tips.
    Thanks Jim


  6. Dan

    I was trying out both the Backlever and Frontlever to see what my body accepted as an easier skill, and reading your Frontlever tutorial it stated that after the Backlever I should work on the Frontlever skill, but though it seemed like the Frontlever was more for me to master rather the Back, but I don’t undertand because I believe I have good upperbody stregth to do the Backlever, I just cant seem to straighten out my legs and uncurl the other way, my body naturaly just goes to a fetal position after I “skin the cat.” help? tips on what to stregthen? I will still try to do the Back before I do the Front lever, in the mids of all your tutorials I am currently working on the Handstand (so far the most success), Backlever (not so much), and Frontlever (better than the Backlever).


  7. admin

    Lower yourself down in more and more open positions while you’re doing the skin the cat. The strength will come.

  8. Nedd

    Shoulder feeling way better thanks to you and i’m not far from holding the Backlever :)
    The tension at elbows joints while holding the Backlever is huge. Is this normal or am I doing something wrong?

    Thank you


  9. admin


    Pick an easier progression if the elbows are hurting. This is a sign that something is tight and/or you are pushing the skill too hard. It should not be painful.


  10. Nedd

    Last time i got injured in the shoulder, i was using pronated grip so the elbows were pointing towards the floor. At this stage there was no tension at the elbow joints.

    However, while i was thinking that doing it in pronated grip stresses the shoulders more i tried the supinated grip. Now the elbows are pointing towards the sky and that’s when i felt the tension at the elbow joints.

    I don’t know if you grasped what i mean with this.

    But i feel that my core is ready, that’s why i’m happy and want to solve this tension problem quickly :)

  11. Alex

    A: Back Lever
    B: Front Lever
    C: Planche

    What are D and E? O_O’

  12. Dude

    I can do a inverted straight hold but i can barely hold it when i lowering my body.. even tucked ! Also i find myself is kinda slipping from the bar when i was trying to progress.. is it because of my weak forearms? i find myself can not hold a dead hang for long .. can u suggest me some exercises to strengthen my forearms. thanks :)

    • Mitch

      Strengthening the forearms is incredibly easy to do. You literally need to just hang from a straight bar. Try doing 4 reps of 30 second hangs to begin with, and then build up to 4 reps of 60 second hangs. When doing dead hang work, make sure to keep your shoulders tight. Do this by pulling down with your last and trying to get your shoulders as high as possible.

    • Victor

      If you are having trouble with grip, you should probably do more pull ups.

  13. Khensu


    Thank you for this fantastic site!

    I was wondering, will the back lever make it easier for me to achieve the front lever? Also I was doing back lever with hands facing each other and developed moderate right forearm pain now for several weeks that actually gets better when I work out. Ever heard of this?



  14. May

    Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your post seem to be running off
    the screen in Chrome. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d
    post to let you know. The style and design look great though!
    Hope you get the issue fixed soon. Thanks

  15. Jarrod

    I worked the 2 skills the other way round and found I could hold a front lever for 20 seconds or so after only 3 or 4 weeks of practace. Whereas it took months to go from the front lever to the back lever so it may be worth training them in tandem. Because as was the case with me you may find the front lever easier especially if you have done a lot of hanging leg raises etc.

  16. Rifat

    Is ‘skin the cat’ an absolute necessary to do a back lever. Why not set the bar low, then do a tuck back lever , then straddle, then full back lever.

  17. Justin Kerns

    Hey Jim just wanted to ask if u will put up a planche tuturial. I seen a video of you doing but I would like to read a tuturial. Also I ust wanted to know ur opinion on this alot of ppl say that gymnast strength transfers to weightlifting but not the other way around but I totally disagree. I have been weightlifting for years and never trained for any gymnastic movement and have no problem holding a frontlever or backlever and I can hold a advanced tuch planche on rings only for like two seconds but my point is I have never trained this stuff only trained n the weight room to get strong.

  18. Santiago Sanchez

    What are some easier progressions to this ? when i flipped over i almost tore my shoulder because i wasnt able to level myself back up

  19. The ability you mention is called ‘sight-reading,’ playing music at first sight of the printed score..

    . Your teacher should be teaching you this skill. . It is a skill that needs practice apart from actual piano practice..
    . Your teacher can explain how to work on that, and work
    on it with you from time to time.. . Your sight reading should
    develop along with your playing level.. . Be sure and ask the teacher about this; many who study piano get
    more advanced with the playing but end up almost at beginning level in their sight reading.
    . . That makes me think many teachers aren’t paying as much attention to it as they should..
    . You asked an important question. Ask your teacher about it.
    They can train you.. . . Best regards.

  20. Toby

    How do you get upside down to start with? Do you jump up, swing, or just lift your legs up somehow? So far I have only been able to do it by grabbing onto the bar and then walking up a wall.

  21. Love this information!

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