One Arm Elbow Lever
The one arm elbow lever (OAEL) is self-describing – it’s an elbow lever on only one arm. It takes as much balance as strength and while not the easiest skill, it is not as daunting as it may seem.
Before you start…
Now of course the first step to this skill is to learn the regular two armed elbow lever. Please go back and learn it if you haven’t already.
The most important thing that carries over from the two armer to the one armer is the elbow stab. Make sure you have it under control before moving onto the one arm elbow lever.
While your wrists will certain get stronger from practice and grow accustomed to the stress of the skill, a basic amount of wrist strengthening exercises for several weeks can only help things. I’d recommend working wrist curls and reverse wrist curls for around 6-10 reps for 3 sets. I also strongly recommend trying some sledgehammer levering. Work in 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. In particular, exercises 1 and 3 are fantastic for building wrist strength and they are much harder than they look! Start with them to get the hang of sledgehammer work before you progress to the other two exercises. I don’t want somebody putting a hole through their floor or their face because they rushed things!
A Look at the OAEL
In this tutorial I’ve decided to include several interesting pictures I came across over the past few years while I was researching the lever. I think it’s astounding to see the age and popularity of the skill.
The first picture is dated 1965 and appears to be part of an award to David O’Connell for “outstanding __?__ in the field of Gymnastics”. As you can see, the skill is easily adapted to the parallel bars.
The next picture is one Fred Samson performing a one arm elbow lever at the young age of 74. What’s your excuse???
This next picture is a drawing of one Christian Muller Kamin(?) and appears to be from Nuremberg, Germany in 1647! Could this be the oldest trick in the book??
The last picture is from the site (note: site currently down) of a Japanese hand balancer and performer. I can’t read a word of Japanese, so I don’t exactly know his site’s content (perhaps someone could help translate?). While some things might be lost in translation, his pictures are great! I think he’s done a handstand on everything in Japan!
Legal note – I grabbed the first three photos quite some time ago and have since forgotten their source. If anyone has any problems with me posting them, please contact me. Thanks.
Alright, let’s begin…
Arm and Hand Placement
The white X’s represent the spots on your torso where you want to stab in your elbows for the two arm elbow lever. Simply take away an X, and you’ve got the placement of the arm for the OAEL.
As you can see from the picture above, I like to point my fingers down and to the side. This gives me balance control in both the side to side and front to back direction. You may prefer your hand turned slightly different. Play around with it and find what works for you.
This next picture is pretty much what my elbow lever looks like from above. The white arrow is indicating the direction that the fingers of my bottom hand are pointing. When I have my free arm out, I like to put it off at about a 45 degree angle to my body, give or take a degree. This free arm will instinctually help you balance. Again, this is something you can play around with to find the arm position that’s most comfortable for you.
I put this next photo in to show you how variable the hand and arm placement can be. This acrobat has her bottom hand pointing forward and her free arm pointing backwards. Pretty much the exact opposite of how I do it! So again, play around with things and find out where YOU are comfortable.
In a two arm elbow lever it’s obvious that the body is level, as your weight is resting equally over two arms. Take away an arm and you’re going to have to shift some of your weight over. I find leaning over to be the easiest way. In the pictures below, the white lines are drawn through my shoulders so you can see that my body is in fact leaning towards my base arm.
The lean comes fairly natural as you attempt to balance in the position. Lifting the free arm also helps facilitate the lean.
This skill involves putting your entire bodyweight on one arm, so needless to say it’s a bit stressful on the hand and wrist. I’ve found that stretching and warming up is crucial in preventing injury during the skill while also getting the blood flowing and preparing the arm for balancing.
You can stretch the wrists as shown in the pictures above. Straighten out your arm and grab your hand with the palm down, pull GENTLY and hold for 15-20 seconds, then repeat for the palm up position.
You can also flex the wrists inside and out. In the pictures above, I am flexing my forearms for a couple seconds as far as I can in both directions then I’ll give the wrists a quick shake as well. Simple pushups or just a two arm elbow lever are also good warm-up exercises.
You’ll soon find out how much warm-up you need before you practice the lever, but I’d recommend you start with something, anything.
The first position for learning this skill is to bring your body inwards so that your body and limbs don’t have as much leverage to knock you off balance. This is simply done by:
1. splitting your legs slightly, bending your legs, and bringing your knees in closer to your base.
2. not arching.
3. bringing the free arm in closer to your body and putting it on the ground.
So start off by warming up your wrists. Then get on your knees and two hands. Stab the base hand in position as described above. Flex that base arm as well!!! If it’s relaxed then it’s going to do nothing but flop around underneath you. Not a very effective base at all! When you flex that base arm, it “glues” your arm to your side and takes away extra wobble between your arm and body.
Next raise your knees up off the ground first, then slowly try to raise your hand up. Hover your fingers right above the ground to catch you if you start to lose balance. You can topple over pretty quickly and hurt your wrist, so never hesitate to bring your legs and second hand back down. This is good advice for any of the lever positions in this tutorial. This is a hard skill to “save”.
Again, go slow and really try to find your balance. Just like the handstand, you’ll find that you can control things if you keep your weight more over your fingers. Make sure you keep the fingers pressed hard into the ground the whole time though, as relaxing them opens you up to falling to the outside and really cranking your wrist badly.
I mentioned this in a training update, but I’ve found that a hard surface helps tremendously for balancing the skill. In the right picture above, I’m practicing on a cheap piece of plywood so that my hand doesn’t sink down into the carpet.
After you get comfortable balancing in the first position, you’ll want to start extending your body. This in turn puts more leverage on your wrist and make balancing slightly harder. Straighten your legs out, but keep them in the split position. Arching the body isn’t absolutely necessary at this point, although it does look good, just try to extend yourself so you look something like the picture below.
Below is a picture of my friend performing the straddled one arm elbow lever. You can see the straddled legs, bottom arm, and top arm from another angle.
The next logical step is to put your legs together. This takes away some side to side stability that the straddle provided. The body lean is absolutely essential here, but as I mentioned before, it comes naturally as you learn to balance the skill.
At this point, arching the body makes the skill look better, in my opinion, as it really accentuates the fact that you’re balancing on one arm. Although it does put your weight slightly higher and makes balancing slightly more difficult. Not to mention the fact that it’s more fatiguing to arch up like that.
For all you supermen out there who’ve breezed through this tutorial so far, give this last variation a try. Simply bring your free arm into your side. Move your arm slowly into position to maintain balance.
I definitely need practice on this variation, not to mention I had to press the camera button and get into position in 10 seconds (so much for slowly!), but the pictures below should give you the idea.
Opening up the angle of the bottom arm can help you balance by shifting some weight forward as your bring the arm back. Splitting the legs slightly can help with side to side balance as well.
There you go, the one arm elbow lever in all its glory. Whichever place in the tutorial you find yourself, may sure to be careful when you practice. This is a skill that should be practiced for short durations in order to keep your wrists in healthy shape. If you start feeling pain in your hands and/or wrists at all, then STOP training and give yourself time to recuperate. If it hurts, don’t do it. Take a step back and rest, get back into training with the general wrist strengthening exercises for a while, then get back into the skill slowly and carefully.
Good luck and watch your wrists!