Skill Spotlight: The Planche
Within calisthenics, there are many exercises known as skill movements, which are usually the main aim of a calisthenics athlete to achieve. Some examples of these movements could be the front or back levers, the handstand, the muscle-up, the human flag etc. In this post we will be looking at the planche – arguably the most impressive and also one of the hardest movements to perform requiring massive amounts of core and straight arm strength. The planche involves suspending your entire body above the ground with only your hands making contact with the floor. Your arms must be locked out and perfectly straight, with a straight line in your body from shoulders to toes. Below is a few examples of different athletes performing the planche:
- Andrea Larosa Maltese Planche
- Osvaldo Lugones and Chris Heria Parallettes Full Planche
- Eryc Ortiz Floor Full Planche
Looking at these pictures, you may think that performing something like this is impossible, and it certainly does look that way. However, if you commit enough time and effort into training the relevant components such as straight arm strength (see previous blog post for more information https://jlpt.co.uk/calisthenics/straight-arm-strength-what-is-it/ ), core strength and muscular endurance, then you can and will be able to perform these movements.
Also mentioned in the picture captions above are different variations of the planche exercise. For example, you would most commonly see the full planche when referring to the ‘planche’ in general, although there are many variations. The first picture shows a ‘Maltese Planche’, which involves supinating or placing the palms facing forwards. This variation will utilise less grip strength and place more pressure on the elbow joint and the biceps tendon. This makes this variation more advanced due to the higher levels of straight arm strength required. You may also see variations such as the dead planche (performed below by Yordan Stanchev):
This variation requires a greater degree of both core and straight arm strength, making this much more advanced than the normal planche. As you can see, the body is in a completely straight line, very close to the floor and the wrists will be under extreme pressure here. Years of conditioning and strengthening will be required to achieve a move of this level.
Other variations of the planche may include:
- The floor planche
- The parallettes planche
- Straight bar planche
- One-arm planche
- Straddle planche
- Dragon Maltese planche
You may be reading this thinking, ‘How on Earth am I going to train for that?’. Well let me tell you. The planche can be broken down into multiple easier progressions, allowing you to gradually build up strength in the required areas and increase your hold times. The planche progressions are:
- Planche Lean
- Tuck Planche
- Advanced Tuck Planche
- Straddle Advanced Tuck Planche
- Single Leg Planche
- Straddle Half-lay Planche
- Half-lay Planche
- Straddle Planche
- Full Planche
This list is not comprehensive, and others may argue the ordering of difficulty, but in my opinion these are the best progression exercises in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest. In next weeks blog we will be looking at a different skill movement and diving in to the variations and progressions of another great calisthenics skill movement, see you then!
Straight Arm Strength: What is it?
Straight arm strength is a specific strength element that is most commonly found and used in calisthenics. It is the foundation that nearly every static skill is built on. When loading your joints such as the shoulders and wrists, the arms will be locked out straight and force will be applied throughout the whole arm. When performing this type of strength, there is a lot of pressure exerted on the elbow joints and the biceps tendon, so lots of warm-up, conditioning and care is required. Building your straight arm strength will not happen overnight, but in fact months and years of careful preparation and progression to ensure the joints and tendons can fully support the pressure and load you will be placing on them.
In calisthenics, you would find that movements such as the planche, front lever, and handstand all require a great deal of straight arm strength, as you will be supporting your entire bodyweight in mechanically disadvantaged positions using straight arms.
The Planche performed by Chris Heria of THENX
The Front Lever performed by Osvaldo Lugones of THENX
The Handstand performed by Nile Wilson of Team GB
Working With Straight Arm Strength
In order to build up straight arm strength, you should be preparing your joints such as your wrists, elbows and shoulders and the surrounding muscles with accessory strengthening exercises alongside your main exercises to ensure you’re safe and protected from injury. Some examples of great accessory exercises could be:
- Scapula Pull/Push-Ups – Building the strength in the muscles surrounding the scapula (shoulderblades) to increase straight arm strength
- Straight Arm Band Pulls – Builds the scapula retractor muscles and also the lats which contribute massively to straight arm pulling strength (used for the front lever, planche etc.)
- Straight Arm Dumbbell Raises – Builds the anterior deltoid muscles and strengthens the pectoralis minor (scapula protractor) and the biceps tendons (used for the planche, handstand etc.)
Straight arm strength is a highly specialised and useful skill, necessary for achieving advanced calisthenics movements such as the planche, front lever, back lever, handstand, iron cross etc. and will only serve to increase your overall strength as it’s highly transferrable, and also makes it easier to pack on some serious muscle mass – just look at any gymnast who specialises in rings. If you have any questions about straight arm strength or want to leave some feedback just comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible, see you next week for more calisthenics content!
The Importance of Recovery
So you’ve been training hard, consistently and you’re seeing real results. Great! However, what happens when you train too hard? This is called over-training, and can be the downfall of many great athletes. To avoid this, you should be giving yourself adequate rest periods between your sessions. Recovery can be done in many forms, ranging from passive recovery where you can just avoid all physical exercise to allow your muscles and joints time to recover and regain strength, to active recovery where you’re doing light physical exercise such as casual swimming or going for a long walk, which will help to circulate blood around the body and aid in flushing out lactic acid build-up or any other products of exercise. Recovery is absolutely crucial – and I can’t stress this enough – to ensure your body stays healthy and injury free when progressing into more advanced exercises.
If you want a real life example of why recovery is important, take me. I used to think (like many people who exercise) that training harder and more often meant quicker and better results, and taking some recovery and rest time would only make me lose any gains or progressions I had been working so hard for. I was wrong. What happened is that I ended up straining multiple muscles in my legs, namely both my adductor longus (groin) muscles and both my gastrocnemius (calf) muscles at the same time. I was bed bound for two weeks as I physically couldn’t walk, because placing any pressure on them would send horrendous shooting pains throughout my legs. This is a prime example of over-training and the negative effects it can have on your body. By the time I had healed, I’d lost a big portion of the strength in my legs, and my upper body strength and mass were also affected as I wasn’t able to train at all during the healing period.
You’ve now seen what over-training can look like, now I’m going to tell you how to avoid it. As mentioned before, you can choose between passive and active recovery to help with rest and healing.
Passive recovery is when you take a complete break from physical exercise and just let the body’s natural mechanisms repair the muscles and joints. This could be lying in bed, on the sofa, at work etc. just basically avoiding any sort of physical activity that would place strain on the muscles. This allows the body to heal itself, but often takes longer for the full process to be completed. Some great methods of passive recovery could be getting a hot bath with epsom or magnesium salts mixed in. The hot water helps to relax the muscles and stimulates blood circulation throughout the body, and the salts are absorbed through the skin to act as muscle relaxants and aid in recovery. Another great hot water recovery method is using something like a hot tub. Now they aren’t exactly readily accessible or the cheapest option, but they can help massively especially with joint recovery. In calisthenics, lots of pressure is placed on your joints, namely your spine, wrists, shoulders, hips, elbows etc. and a hot tub can be an extremely useful tool in recovery for your joints. Finally, you can also use cryotherapy methods, which utilise cold rather than heat. This is an increasingly popular method throughout the fitness and sporting worlds and is used and endorsed by athletes from all different walks of life. Cryotherapy involves exposing the body to very low temperatures to stimulate the healing and recovery very quickly. You can either go to a specialist cryotherapist who will have proper equipment and chambers for the best experience, or you can try at home by having cold showers or baths. Be careful with baths though, as you shouldn’t stay in too long or have them absolutely freezing as this can be dangerous.
Active recovery is a great way of allowing the body to heal by helping it along with some light physical exercise to stimulate blood flow around around the body, helping toxins and lactic acid be removed from the bloodstream and for protein synthesis and delivery to the muscles for growth and repair. Some examples of active recovery include going for a long walk, casual swimming (one of the best partial weight-bearing exercises) or even a light jog. Active recovery tends to allow for quicker recovery times and is useful for people who like to train most days of the week. If you’re not keen on waiting days between your training sessions, then active recovery is probably going to be for you. This will allow you to keep on top of your training and stay consistent with your programming, whilst still feeling the benefits of taking the intensity down a level every so often. Recovery is a key part of training and progressing can become almost impossible if you do not let your body rest and repair. If you want to achieve the front lever, the planche, the iron cross, whatever it might be, you need to take time to rest and allow your body to heal and become stronger so you can actually physically sustain such extreme movements.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the importance of recovery in your training. Try out some of the methods I have told you about, experiment with both active and passive recovery and find which one works best for you! New blog will be released next Monday, see you then!
The Difference Between Strength, Mass and Endurance
When in the gym and training, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do with the dumbbell or the machine. How many times should you lift it to get what you want? How long should you wait between each rep, each set etc.
In Calisthenics, the numbers are the same. When you want to train your muscular endurance, so you can rep out the same movement endlessly, you want to choose a progression that allows you to get 15-18 reps in a single set, or if performing static movements you’d want to achieve 45-60s +. This will challenge the smaller, less powerful muscle fibres known as type 1 to act as the main power source, as these muscle fibres can take load for longer, but they can’t take higher loads. These fibres have the least growth potential, therefore endurance training is not going to be the quickest way to get bigger. A perfect example of Calisthenics endurance training is performing sets of 20+ push-ups!
If you were training to increase your muscle mass and get bigger, you’d be looking to use a progression that only allows you to perform 8-12 reps, or if doing static movements you’d aim for 20-45s. This will force the bigger and more powerful type 2a muscle fibres, which have the greatest potential for growth out of the 3 types. These fibres can handle greater loads, but will fatigue much quicker than type 1 fibres. When you look at a pro body builder, they will have accumulated a great amount of type 2a muscle fibres, which is the reason they can bulk out to such an extent. An example of this in Calisthenics would be performing sets of 12 pull-ups.
Finally, if you wanted to train for strength, you’d want to choose harder progressions that only allow 3-5 reps to be performed in a single set, or static movements that can only be held for 5-20s. These movements will challenge the final fibre type, type 2b. These fibres also have great growth potential, but not as much as type 2a. These fibres can handle the most amount of load and can be strained to extreme levels, however they do not last for very long and will fatigue very quickly. This is where you will find most of the Calisthenics skills belong. Due to the massive amounts of strength required to achieve the elite level skills, you would spend lots of time training for strength and using these muscle fibres. An example could be performing a 5-second straddle planche.
So, now you know about the major differences between endurance, strength and mass training. What do you prefer? Let me know by leaving a comment below! New post will be up next Monday, so stay tuned for more Calisthenics content!
Introduction to Calisthenics
So you want to know about Calisthenics? Calisthenics is a form of strength and endurance training using just your bodyweight. It’s a safe and effective way to increase your strength and muscle mass without needing a gym or using extra weights. The word Calisthenics comes from two Greek words, ‘Kallos’ and ‘Sthenos’, meaning beautiful strength. There are many similarities to Gymnastics, with movements such as the Planche, Iron Cross, Handstand, and the various levers.
You may think that because of this, you need to already have elite gymnast level strength to be able to start Calisthenics, but you’d be wrong. Calisthenics is open to anyone and everyone, no matter your age or ability level. Each movement has it’s own respective progressions to make training fun and unique. Want to be able to do a human flag? Calisthenics. Want to be able to do one-arm pull-ups and push-ups? Calisthenics. Want to walk on your hands everywhere just for the sake of saying you can do that?! Calisthenics.
Calisthenics for many athletes who train it is not just a form of exercise, but a whole lifestyle. There are countless communities and organisations all over the globe who commit to Calisthenics as a way of life. How and what you eat, when you sleep, where you go, who you meet; these can all be influenced by the Calisthenics lifestyle. Some people may focus on learning the strength skills such as the Planche, Front Lever, Muscle-Up etc., others may focus on learning flexibility and mobility for ease of movement, with many Calisthenics athletes also keen yogi’s, or some may focus on doing high intensity bodyweight circuits, building muscle and burning fat to become ripped and get a god-like physique. The possibilities are endless, and all you need is your own body to get started. I could easily bang on for hours about the benefits of bodyweight training over weight training, but I’ll leave that for another time. For now, check out some of these videos I’ll link below to get an idea of what you can achieve with Calisthenics!
- Calisthenics Motivation Compilation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dUqjCYHZ1s
- Top 10 Calisthenics Athletes 2018 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNgj9qwAXHo
- 5 Year Calisthenics Transformation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtO6QfZsPlo