My name is Dean and I’m from Dublin, Ireland. This is the story of my journey into street workout/calisthenics and the way I have quickly progressed from beginner to some of the hardest static moves possible.
For reference I’m approximately 5 ft 8 inches tall and now weigh 64kg. When I began I was around 55kg so I have gained a lot of muscle along the way.
It began in April 2019. I had been training in the gym for a year, trying to gain muscle, but I wasn’t really enjoying typical weight lifting. That all changed when I purchased a weighted dip belt and started performing weighted pull ups. I became obsessed with getting stronger at this. Often people begin their journey by seeing a video of someone doing a planche or something, but my conversion from standard gym training came when I realised I was very good at weighted pull ups. I progressed very quickly over four months and soon got a pull up with 55kg of extra weight. It was at this point that I realised I probably wasn’t far off being able to get a one armed pull up (something I had dreamt of until then).
Getting the one armed pull up (OAP)
My dream skill came very quickly as a result of the weighted pull up strength I had built up. As I say, I could already do a +55kg weighted pull up and my bodyweight was only around 60kg at this point. I believe that in order to do a OAP you need to have the strength to do weighted pull ups with at least an additional 75% of your bodyweight and I already easily had this. With just two weeks specific OAP training I got my first rep with my left arm. It wasn’t the cleanest rep but I got it! It’s just my opinion but I believe a one arm pull up is achievable for most relatively athletic guys within a year if you i) control your bodyweight ii) get strong enough using weighted pulls or other alternative exercises as part of a good program. Often people are using poorly designed or overcomplicated programs after finding them on YouTube and it takes them a long time to get this skill if they achieve it at all. One exercise always recommended is the archer pull up but personally I don’t believe this is as beneficial as other exercises because it doesn’t bring the same intensity as a weighted pull up, or teach the correct technique required for a OAP whereby the shoulder of the free arm should be pulled to the bar.
Aside from weighted pull ups, the only other exercises that I used to help me were the assisted OAP (using resistance bands) as well as the ‘old school’ assisted OAP with one hand holding on to the wrist (like in the Rocky film). Holding onto the wrist make it not much more difficult than a normal pull up but it’s a good starting point and you can effectively track your progress by increasingly lowering your assisting arm further down your forearm from your wrist towards the bicep. Once you get to bicep you’re extremely close so don’t give up!
Further progress and the Front Lever
Fast forward a few months and we are now in November 2019. In that time since getting the OAP my weighted pull increased even more, to a personal best of 68.5 kg. I also trained dips in that time but wasn’t so strong at this as the dip bars in my gym were pretty wide thus making it more difficult. However, I still achieved a max of 60kg for 4 and 30kg for 24 reps. I was happy to just focus on endurance for weighted dips as I sometimes felt slight pain in my shoulder when going heavy.
Now that we’re more up to date let’s talk about November 2019.
I remember seeing a coach in my gym do a front lever with just two fingers on each hand and I was shocked. I believed that front lever was way out of my reach, but wanted to try.
It turns out that the front lever (for me at least) wasn’t a technically difficult move but was more about building up the required strength. I tried for it a few times and wasn’t able to perform either a front lever raise with straight arms or an ‘advanced tuck’ (a tuck is where the legs are slightly flexed to make the move easier). However, I knew I still had very good strength in my lats from the weighted pull up training and so one day I tried a different approach where I went into the front lever position from an ‘inverted hang’ and this time I was able to hold it! I hadn’t practiced much for the front lever but it’s clear that the strength I had built from weighted pull ups had carried over. My form was still far from perfect but it was almost there.
My advice for anyone wanting to get the front lever is of course to practice weighted pull ups but then also to work on ‘negative’ pull ups (lowering slowly from the bar), dragon flags, direct core and scapula training. Finally you can work through the progressions of various tucks until you get the full front lever. By shortening the length of your body (the lever) you can find your level of strength and from here you can move at your own rate to complete the move. From speaking to other people, the average time to get this move tends to be between 6 months to 1 year but everyone is different. I wanted it quickly and was able to get it.
On a mission to learn the most difficult of moves
Once I got the front lever I just started looking for harder skills like a front lever pull up, a ‘Victorian’ on parallel bars and a dragon press. I was training for 6 days a week and 3 hours a day and I just kept making progress, achieving all of these skills.
The dragon press, for me, was the hardest skill of all that I had learned up until this point. This is because it is basically a dragon flag but with the hands by your side and therefore doesn’t allow for any real engagement of the ‘lat’ muscles. The pressure is put on the rear deltoids and triceps as well as some of the smaller back muscles. While the Victorian on bars trains the same muscles, a lot of people perform this move with arms at waist level (rather than with hips above their arms) and this does allows for some lat engagement making it slightly easier in my opinion.
The Victorian Cross
The Victorian Cross on rings is one of the most difficult static moves in gymnastics and even among the most elite Olympic gymnasts, it is rarely achieved. It can be described as being like a front lever but with arms right by the side on the rings instead of out in front of the body. I trained for hours every day and of course at first wasn’t anywhere close but after many failures I was able to achieve this:
My form is not totally perfect and I can’t yet hold it more than around 4-5 seconds, but I know it will get better the more I practice. Within 6 months of specific skill training I had got to a point that should have taken over 3 years.
So, how did I get here? I believe that with a great deal of daily hard work and by working through progressions in a structured way, I was able to keep improving my strength so that I could keep achieving new skills. For the Victorian Cross on rings learning the front lever, dragon press and Victorian on PB bars were essential. I also included movements like the V-Sit and retracted scapula iron cross.
Lowering the difficulty of the move slightly by putting the rings horizontal to the floor helped to build up some of the strength to get the full version. I also got creative with my training by putting my hands above the rings and using a false grip, as well as shortening the lever but putting my arms through the straps of the rings. Creativity is really important when training for the really hard movements and using a false grip when approaching the full Victorian Cross is important. I also used towels to protect my forearms from the clips of the rings though this doesn’t really decrease the difficulty.
The last tip I can offer to anyone near this level is that the Victorian Cross is a move which should be lowered into rather than being pulled into. This allows you to get into the right position, with arms at hip level and not above.
I’ve also recently a achieved a ‘close to impossible’.
You can follow my progress on instagram.