The One Arm Elbow Lever is the first One Arm Handstand that you will learn and a great party trick.
Well, kind off. A one arm lever or how we call it in my performing industry the crocodile is pretty far from a regular one arm handstand. Whilst some technical details such as weight distribution on the hand and the fact that you need full body tension are similar the overall experience and especially difficulty level is drastically different.
A one arm elbow lever or crocodile is an acrobatic skill that falls into the categories of arm balances. The goal is to suspend the body parallel to the floor supported by one arm only. This arm is bent and applying pressure on the core as the elbow is placed in the belly button area.
Being in a mainly vertical position and close to the ground makes this position significantly easier than all other one arm handstands and therefore represents a great entry into the world of hand balancing.
Instead of being tall and thin you will be low and large giving you a significant advantage when balancing. In a one arm handstand the joint connecting your body to the floor is the shoulder. In the one arm lever this connection is at the elbow making your position less prone to tipping over.
There are basically 3 things that matter when performing the one arm elbow lever. If you miss one of them chances are high you won’t succeed!
Possibly the most important and most underrated detail of the elbow lever. You have to turn your supporting hand out. If you are on your right hand your fingers should point towards your the right side. Your thumb needs to be pointing in the direction of your head.
You need this to be able to balance properly but also because your shoulders has to lean quite a bit towards the front. If your hand would be in a “regular” position your wrist would be forced to bend too far and you would be in quite a bit of pain!
The better you get at this the less work you will have to do in the actual position. The goal is to get the elbow all the way towards your midline. Aim to get the elbow in front of your belly button.
Generally you should not feel like your tummy is sliding. If it does your elbow is not properly placed or you are not engaging enough. Worst case scenario you can also use chalk or liquid chalk between the skin of the bottom of your triceps and your core.
Just like with every handstand or arm balance you have to put your weight into your fingertips. Only that’s where you will have control. As soon as the weight drops towards the back of your hand you will lose control and struggle for your life with your free arm, legs and entire back!
Lean into the hand and into the fingertips. Spread your fingers wide or if you are training on a block grab this block hard. Taking control of your body begins at the fingers!!
Now I know we like to look at the one arm elbow lever as a beginner move but this does not mean you can chill through it. You have to engage your entire body! Push your hand into the floor. Engage your entire back. Tighten your legs and straighten your free arm.
If you are not right this won’t work! Not only will your lever be looking sloppy but you also won’t be able to hold it. Additionally it will hurt. Your shoulder and back will be sore afterwards and your wrist will most likely get inflamed. See your muscle engagement as insurance against injuries!!
Preparation is key. After all Rome wasn’t built over night! Depending on your current lever of experience with arm balances and training in general there is a variety of things I recommend you do before getting started with the actual one arm elbow lever training.
Before every training you have to warm up your wrists. Activation drills such as wrist curls against the elastic and gentle wrist push ups in combination with mobility work should take up a minimum of 5 min of each of your warm up.
Placing your body weight on your wrists is not what they signed up for and most likely you’ve gone your entire life without preparing them for this pressure. Now we want to do exactly this but on one hand. You have to start slowly. Increase time under tension slowly and don’t start with your entire weight. Prepare them with other progressions such as push up holds, wall handstands and L-Handstand Shrugs.
Start with skills like the frog and crow stand. Whilst both are still rather different than the regular crocodile they will both help you develop a general understand as to how balance actual works. Handstands will of course also help you but they are internal feeling and technique wise almost too far to have a direct impact to your one arm elbow lever balance.
Regular 2 arm levers will help you develop the exact feeling of balancing your body parallel to the floor yet you have to keep in mind that they are still quite a bit different!
Besides balance and strong wrists we also need strong muscles. The supporting arm and the back muscles are the main workers in the crocodile.
Start with regular push ups. If they are easy you can walk your feet slightly towards the front in the push up for lean push ups. Additionally you can practice slightly adapted archer push ups where you bring the bent elbow towards the midline of your body like you would in the one arm lever.
Traditional back or Superman lift laying on the stomach will do the trick for preparing your back muscles. You can do them on a box or bench to increase the range of motion or add ankle and wrist weights for more resistance.
The concept of training is wildly underrated when it comes to handstands and arm balances. Most people just rock up, look at the technique (or don’t even) try the position, most likely fail and basically leave it will: “better luck next time”.
This is no approach to anything physical. We need to make a plan with exercises and progressions that is scalable and will actually allow you to work towards anything at all!
The ultimate and really only technical drill you need in order to get your one arm lever is the block assisted floor lever.
Place your supporting hand on the floor and elevate your feet and free hand on 1 to 2 yoga blocks each. Star by simply holding this position. Build time under tension slowly. As discussed above this position is not easy on your wrist, shoulder and back so you want to build your practice slowly over time.
Once comfortable here start lifting 1 limb at the time off the blocks. For this you will have to shift your weight around slightly. This will help you get stronger, improve your full body coordination and feeling for balance and ultimately this will take you one step closer to the perfect elbow level.
Last but not leas here that both feet to even 1 foot and the arm off. If you find this final step very difficult you are clearly not ready to move on to the actual one arm lever just yet.
Whilst this might represent the final step of our crocodile progressions this does not mean that you should do the drill one time, tick the box and forget about it. The true meaning of the word training is to do something repeatedly over and over again! Incorporate these drills into your routine twice a week for at least 1 month. Build strength and coordination. It will go a long way!
1 – Turn your supporting hand out to the thumb faces in the direction of your head.
2 – Place the Elbow close to your mid line.
3 – Prepare your body with push ups, superman lifts and other arm balances such as frog and crow stands.
4 – Practice supported One Arm Elbow Levers.
5 – Practice the One Arm Elbow Lever with your supporting hand elevated.
The final step to take the crocodile off the floor is to practice it with your supporting hand elevated on a handstand cane, some handstand blocks, a table or really anything else that is stable and will create space between the hand and the floor.
Elevating the supporting hand will make take off significantly easier. You will basically be able to hold a “bad” crocodile before graduating and pulling all the way up past parallel into even an arched position.
Over a period of time work your way down towards the floor. Allow this to take time and do not rush. Life is long and training is not a race. Make small and consistent gains to avoid plateaus, unexpected setbacks or even injuries.
I was struggling with this myself a lot. When ever training the crocodile or one arm lever my wrist was in quite a bit of pain at first. Whilst this is obviously not great it is quite normal. You are placing a lot of pressure on your wrist in a rather unfavorable angle. The key here is to go slow and to allow your wrist to grow like you would allow your muscles.
Go to your closet, pop out one of the boards, grab a belt, edge of a carpet, piece of wood and really anything that you can find and place it under one side of the board. You now have a training surface that is slightly angled downwards. Place your supporting hand on the with the fingers pointing in the direction of the tilt. This will take pressure off your wrist and chances are high the discomfort is gone. Over time slowly work your way towards the flat floor.
Take care of your wrists. If you are serious about training chances are high you are serious about your diet as you are trying to treat you body like a temple and you want to feed your muscles what they need to grow and recover.
Well, include your wrists into your temple and learn to take care of them. Best thing that you can do for them after a heavy arm balance training is icing them. Place them in ice water for 8-12min with an additional session right before bed. This will help carry out inflammation and discomfort. You will not need this for ever but whilst your wrists are adapting to the new pressure this can make an enormous difference.
I shouldn’t have to say this but please make sure to train both sides. Naturally, one side will be much easier than the other. It is very common that this side becomes our favorite side and we stop training the other one entirely.
Now I am not saying that you must be able to perfectly hold both sides but your training volume should be the same on both sides. Problem with all one sided skills is that if you only work them on one side your back and really entire body will get sore unevenly which is extremely uncomfortable the days following your workout.
Additionally, in an extreme example your body will grow unevenly and you could potentially even develop scoliosis and other injuries.
The one arm elbow lever is the first one arm balance that you will learn. It is a beginner friendly skill that comes with its own challenges. Training for the one arm elbow lever will elevate your workouts and always serves as a great party trick!