Let’s Planche – The Mega Meta review

Overview

  • Meta review of a number of Planche tutorials and articles
  • 30 different sources in total for a variety of the movements
  • Approximate word count is 6200 words
  • Covers prep work, progression schemes, coaching cues, some common trouble
    shooting and advanced movements.

You see a move, it looks incredible, a guy or girl is balancing themselves on their hands with their body parallel to the ground in a straight line. You say holy fuck, I want to do that. You have no idea how to go about it but you’re pretty sure it goes something like this:

  1. Place hands on floor
  2. ?????
  3. Planche

Simple right? I mean, if you can’t get it with that level of instruction it obviously isn’t for you. In this article I want to go through the ????? part of that strategy. There are a huge number of how to instructions out there along with all kinds of videos, motivational instagram posts and other similar photos.

Before we begin I want to cover one very important thing.

Planche training takes months if not years

If you don’t want to dedicate the time needed to master the skill you won’t get it. There is very little middle ground on a planche. It isn’t a squat which you can incrementally overload in order to work up to huge weights. Instead Planche training has a difficult entry position, you need to have the sufficient strength, flexibility and tendon  reparation before you can even begin a particular move.

I’ve gone though a phenomenal number of tutorials from a huge range of sources. I’m going to list these best five I’ve found as well as the remainder which whilst not incredible are still useful.

This is not an entirely unbiased article. What I have tried to present is an overview of my sources which I’ve used to write it as well as collect all of the general wisdom I’ve been able to find. The end result in this case is a large compilation of information which has been organised.

In particular most of the sources follow what may be termed the “Coach Sommers” method as originally espoused on dragondoor and later continued through series such as Gymnastic Bodies. There are alternative methods of training which I have included in a general overview in a later section. The Sommer method follows a series of clear progressions between moves which may be an easier indicator of progress especially if training without the supervision of a coach.

Sources

First, this is significantly larger than my Front Lever tutorial so I’m going to be arranging the sources differently. I’ve tried to be as comprehensive with the sources as possible and I’m going to mention them all up front in the interests of clarity. I’ve gone through all of them at least once, a couple more than once where I felt they were appropriate. As there are a huge number of sources and they all cover similar content I may not cite them
all directly within the text except where appropriate (e.g. coaching cues).

Best Sources

These are the best I’ve found, if you’re looking for progressions and assistance beyond what I’ve shown here then here are the places to go. I’ve included the original dragon door article as although it isn’t the best it has a bit of historical significance. If you’re a visual learner watch all of the David Durante video. Yes it’s Crossfit, I don’t care. It’s awesome. The Ido Portal link has a couple good tips as well which I’ve included.

Video Tutorials

These are a range of tutorials and progress videos from others demonstrating various steps in the Planche movement. The great thing about human bodies is that they’re all different and will go into movements in slightly different ways. By getting a view as to how different people have gone about it you can gradually refine your own technique.

I’ve linked to the websites not the direct youtube links as credit where credit
is due

Supporting Articles

These are not primary sources but have aided the writing of the article in some way. This can range from the work by Antranik to breaking down the movements of the isometric holds in a generalised setting to a couple smaller articles which didn’t merit a place in the best sources.

Forum Posts

The final category of sources is the humble forum post. Forums lack the structure and rigour of a full article but there are some small tips and tricks which can make delving through them worth it.

Sources with Preparatory Work

These preparatory are not directly related to the Planche but can help you with some of the smaller things if you’re not even getting the basics. I will highly recommend going through the wrist preparation videos and doing them every time you practice the planche.

Preparatory Work

Let’s break down a planche into the three areas which will most likely need the most work.

  1. Core strength – You are holding your body in a straight line, the entire weight of your lower extremities must be supported through the core. If you find yourself piking a lot on Front Lever training or sagging on back levers you don’t have the core strength to hold the full planche.

  2. Straight arm strength – You must support your bodyweight in a disadvantaged position through the tension in your arms. This is fundamentally different to other forms of strength training, straight arm strength is a pain in the ass to develop since a significant portion is tendon strength.

  3. Wrist strength and flexibility – All of that tension and weight needs to go somewhere and lucky for us in the planche it goes straight through the wrist. This sucks. Seriously. If you’re an adult beginning gymnastic training then you are going to feel a huge amount of discomfort in your wrists. If you also practice handstands as well as other inversions (cartwheels etc) then your wrists are going to take an absolute hammering.

So let’s break down some preparation guidelines before we begin the planche training itself. The most basic movements you need to be able to master before you attempt any planche training are:

Frog Stand

The humble frog stand, beloved by yoga practitioners all over the world as crow pose from memory. It’s often erroneously placed as the first step in the planche progression. In my view this is wrong, being able to do a frog stand teaches you nothing about holding the tuck planche. Two very different movements with different training protocols.

Instead the Frog Stand teaches you how to balance on your wrists and helps to get them used to bearing and supporting your weight in an environment where the core strength doesn’t matter. So use them as such. If you can hold 20-30s here then your wrists and balance are sufficiently good to move on to the next stage. If you’re an active individual with a bit of training under your belt you may be able to do this first try, I think I managed about 40s or so on my first attempt before getting bored.

In the example below from Bodbot, you notice how the weight of his knees is being  directly transferred to the arms. Bodbot also calls this as advanced frog stand which it isn’t, the advanced frog stand typically has straight arms and the knees press into the back of the triceps.

advanced-frog-stand

The advanced frogstand is also a good version to get into. I’ve personally found this variant to depend with your specific body dimensions. For example if you have short arms but long legs you can end up doing all sorts of weird things in order to get into the position. The difficulty is substantially increased compared to the bent arm variant. str-frog

Planche Lean

The second preparatory exercise to do is to train our wrists to accept load at awkward angles. I’d recommend introducing these into the training regime at an early stage as conditioning the wrists takes a long time. What you’re going to be doing is setting up in a press up type position but moving the weight forward past the hands. This creates a natural imbalance which you must resist through the lean itself.

This will feel incredibly awkward. As far as I can tell most gymnastics movements are just awkward all around. Be careful that it’s awkward not painful if that makes sense.

planche-lean

You can also train this dynamically as shown by the author of My Planche Training. This helps to build up the wrist and shoulder strength considerably and should be one of the major elements of your training.

Hollow Body

This along with the Arch Body Hold are the two most basic positions you learn. There is a  plethora of information out there on this and I’m not going to repeat it here as it is a  little out of scope. I mention it because you need to work on it if you want to hold the planche (and handstand).

Wrist Drills

Pick up your hand and hold it in front of your face. Look at the little bit that is supporting it all. The wrist. Our hands are very very delicate instruments, if you’ve ever done any soldering or needle work you’ll be aware of this fact. Now, look down once more. Look at your legs, your gut, your chest. All of that mass which is contained in your body.

All of that weight is going to go through those itty bitty wrists

Now, wrists are strong. They take a lot of punishment over the years. We also mistreat the ever living shit out of them by typing on computers all day every day and just generally not paying them enough attention.

If you’re serious about the planche (or handstands or any form of explosive movement where you place a huge amount of load on your wrists) then you need to be taking care of them. I’m personally a fan of the Gold Medal Bodies warm up, mainly because it is relatively simple and can be implemented nicely.

Do it (or an equivalent) daily.

If you don’t like this approach you can either find your own or try out this tutorial from All Things Gym
which has two youtube videos. It appears as though these are heavily influenced by Kelly Starret’s work so going through a copy of Becoming a Supple Leopard probably isn’t a bad idea. I’m not a huge huge fan of Starret’s approach but he has made a huge contribution to the mobility and flexibility space in general. An alternative approach is to follow the work of Kit Laughlin:

Look through all of these resources and start strengthening and stretching our your wrists daily. Before you’ve instilled this habit do not even think about beginning serious planche training.

Wrist Press Ups

I first learned about these bastards via the David Durante tutorial for Crossfit. These are just like a normal press up, except you’re doing them on the back of your hands, not the front. You can find the movement at
around the 2 minute mark in the video linked above. This is what the movement
itself looks like. Feels as horrible as it looks.

wrist-pressup

Floor Or Parallel Bars?

This is a question which I’ve heard a few times, should I begin my planche’s on the floor or on the parallel bars. Once again, it depends upon your circumstances. If you’re young, have healthy wrists and do not have a hugely typing intensive job then the parallel bars may be a good option.

If you look at the planche tutorials you’ll typically see people take three different hand positions:

Fingers Forward

Planche

Fingers Sideways

straddle-planche

Fingers Behind (Note bent Arms)

planche-2

Fingers Behind without Bent Arm

Each of these positions will place a different stress upon the wrists. The parallel bars naturally falls into the Fingers Sideways position as you can see from the photo below

hands-back-planche

Note, look at how his hands are positioned in the image.

This position gives the wrist greater space to move in. As a general tip place your fingers on the ground with the tips spread. Try and lean over them. Now, actively work on screwing your hand into the ground. You’ll notice that as you rotate inwards you get a little bit more space in the wrists. This can help you to get a little bit more of a forward lean on. The parallel bar and sideways fingers variants take this to the natural conclusion.

mainspl1

My recommendation is to begin planche training on the parallel bars

It will help you condition your elbows without your wrists being the limiting factor

Progressions

Contrary to popular belief the planche progression does not begin with the frog stand. The frog stand is an exercise in balance and wrist control which I include in the preparatory work. Being able to do a 60s frog stand may not mean anything in moving towards the tuck planche.

Thus, our progression begins with the most leveraged position and transitions to the least leveraged.

Assisted Full Tuck Planche

Let’s be frank, getting into the full tuck planche on our first attempt is often too difficult for most of us. The planche has what I will call a high entry point to the movement. That is you need to be at a reasonably advanced level (in particular with respect to wrist strength, flexibility and shoulder strength) to event attempt the movement.

Enter the assisted full tuck planche originally suggested by Ido Portal

ido-portal-tuck-planche

Here is the simple way of doing in a step by step process. Refer to the original article if what I’m saying isn’t clear.

  1. Attach a band to a single ring above you
  2. Place your body through the band until it sits on your hips
  3. Step back a little bit to create tension in the band
  4. Assume the tuck position, feet on ground, hands in appropriate place
  5. Begin the lean into the planche raising your feet off the ground and using
    the band to help support your mass.

This is what it looks like (Image is via Antranik via Ido Portal (I love citation trains))

There are different ways to progress from here but the most important is to get some time in the movement. The nature of having a band wrapped around you is that your balance will be thrown off slightly. Just be aware of this fact when you go to progress to the full tuck planche. You can either hold this position for more time, or go for lighter bands in order to progress.

Once you’ve got a reasonable solid position and you’re used to the movement then you can move on to the next progression.

Side Note: This technique can also be used to practice the straddle press as it will provide you with a bit of additional assistance in order to press up into the handstand fully.

 

Full Tuck Planche

Beginning the full tuck planche is the point where we start to move into the realm of the big boys. To begin we place our hands on the ground and lean into them to take all of the weight on the movement.

Actively think about crunching your body up into your chest on this movement. Think about having a rounded spin (like the top position in the cat-cow sequence from yoga) and you’ll have the right idea. The more space you can create in this position the less effort you’ll need to exert from your core. This is good, we want to make everything as easy as we possibly can at this stage.

Let’s go through this image below

hqdefault

  1. The first thing to note is that he is not leaning his knees on his elbows. They go in between. If you’re still leaning these knees on the arms you’re not doing the tuck planche. That’s a frog stand.

  2. The second point is that his arms are straight. This is not a bent arm variant and we’re not going to go through those today as they’re not as applicable.

  3. Thirdly let’s look at the position of his hips relative to his shoulders. They are below them. By dropping them slightly you can increase the level of flex and decrease the torques in the movement (smaller lever arm). This takes some of the strain off the arms and shoulders.
  4. Look at his fingers and the position they’re in. Notice how they’re slightly bunched up as though they’re tensed? This leads me to believe he’s had at least some gymnastics training of some form. He’s placing the weight through his fingers not his wrists, this is a safer position and will afford you much more control in the balance.
  5. His shoulders are protracted as well which is good.

Side Note: This finger placement is also beneficial for the handstand as it gives you significantly more control.

Advanced Tuck Planche

Moving on from the tuck planche we get to the first of the real movements. Once you get to this point you can begin to become confident that the planche is within your grasp. It will however take a lot of time to get to this point.

In the advanced tuck we’re going to be getting our hips up so that a straight line is formed between our shoulders and the hips. In this step the leverage increases as our legs will be further away from the fulcrum of our wrists.

Let’s go through another example in order to see what the position looks like:

advanced-tuck-planche

This is a pretty decent example all around so let’s break it down on a step by step basis:

  1. The hips are above the shoulders in this example and a straight line is formed, to get to this point you need to actively create the tension necessary in the movement.

  2. His head and neck are neutral. He’s looking at a point just in front of him but isn’t flailing around or straining it up. It’s natural.

  3. The knees are still tucked in this position

  4. In some cases because the line formed by the shoulders with the hips is not parallel to the ground this may be able to be improved. In truth almost all of the examples I’ve seen including those given by the guys at GMB or Gymnastic Bodies have the hips above the shoulders.

So now that we know what it looks like we also need to figure out how to get into the actual position itself. Here we can draw inspiration from the back lever and note that it is a very similar movement when we extend from the different positions. The difference is that the arms are no longer locked in the position behind us and instead we have a lot of weight going through our shoulders.

If you’re having trouble getting into this point go and work on the back lever for a bit, see if it helps.

One Leg Tuck Planche

A number of tutorials will miss out this step entirely and have you jumping straight to the straddle planche. I’m going to include it as I feel it is a useful assistance movement. In this position you extend one leg out to increase the torques placed on the movement. Not that much else to say here. If you can get into the advanced tuck this position shoulder come naturally. Makes sure to alternate the legs for reps.

This image is from Beast Skills

one-leg-extension

  1. Notice how his hips are still higher than his shoulders
  2. Spine is still straight
  3. Large forward lean to counterbalance the weight
  4. Using Parallel bars which enables a greater forward lean

Straddle Planche

We’re finally here, the straddle planche. This is the first step in the movement where you’d be happy showing off on the beach to the boys (or girls, but let’s be honest, guys appreciate it more).

Okay, let’s get into the advanced tuck position and begin to extend your legs out as evenly as possible. Now, try to make this position as wide as you can possibly make it. The wider you can straddle the easier the movement will be. Leverage, it’s a bitch. Let’s break down an example again.

mainspl1

  1. His shoulders are protracted and in a strong position
  2. Neutral head.
  3. There is still a slight up lean of the body, he is not purely flat.
  4. Straddle is nice and wide
  5. ** His toes are pointed.** This is very important as it helps to create a lot
    of tension in the movement. If you’re not pointing your toes at this point you
    are doing it wrong. Make sure you point them!
  6. Toes are slightly below the hips, this is natural as it makes it slightly
    easier to hold the full straddle position. The slight bend at the hips helps
    to relieve some of the tension through the hips.

Full Planche

The grand daddy of the exercise itself, the Full Planche

Planche

n this movement you’re going to transition from the straddle by bringing your legs in hard towards each other. Thing about creating tension at this point between them, imagine that you are squeezing a tennis ball between your legs to really get the mental image.

Breaking down the above image we see the following:

  1. Neutral head and neck

  2. Body has a very slight upwards tilt (each person will do this differently)

  3. Toes are pointed

  4. Fingers are engaged

  5. Wrists are off the ground, this is a nice little tweak which requires greater finger strength but in turn it helps to relieve some of the pressure on the wrists. You can build up towards it but be aware the level of finger strength needed is phenomenal.

  6. There is no tilt at the hips. Shoulders, hips and feet now form a single straight line.

Hopefully by this point you should have a fairly decent idea as to how to get into the  planche itself. The next sections will cover some basic programming as well as coaching cues and where to after mastering the movement. These are included as they may be of assistance to some people and I recommend personalised experimentation.

Programming Schemes

The bulk of the tutorials I’ve covered have used a number of sets of isometric holds. Here the goal is traditionally seen as to build up to a “good enough” level in each of the progressions before moving on to the next one.

The goals are often stated to be 30s or 60s depending upon how hardcore the source is proclaiming to be. Realistically you need to have a good solid base and practising the beginning movements for time will help you to get there. But you don’t need to be as religious with the progressions as some would have you believe.

If you feel comfortable beginning with a new movement in the progression, even if it is just for a couple of seconds then go for it with a single caveat. Be aware you might not be able to hold it and take notes as to how you fail. Are your wrists not strong enough yet? Shoulderss? Core? Build up the weaknesses.

Also, remember that your tendons are significantly slower to regenerate, just 1-2% per day. I’d recommend a slower progression in order to give yourself time to recover and to strengthen these tendons even if the core/shoulders can hold the weight. We don’t want to fuck around with our wrists.

Try to train more than once per week, but probably not more than four times. Give yourself a bit of time to recover between each of the days as well.  As always, don’t be an idiot here. Training it once every two weeks probably won’t be effective. Training it daily to extremes will place you in the physio therapists office getting a talking to about the damage you’ve done to your wrists.

Coaching Cues

Rough Strength Q & A

via source

  • Yuri Marmerstein – It is all about placing the shoulders, this can be different for everyone but you should feel like your shoulders are in place and solid.

  • Alessio – Avoid the shape of a banana in your arms, straight arms only

  • Max – Work it from multiple angles, e.g. from handstand as well as from the floor. Back levers and skin the cats are good accessory work

  • Alex – The planche is all about leaning forward

Ido Portal

via source

  • Maintain full scapula protraction where possible

  • The body responds very well to repeated isometric holds, frequency is key

Coach Sommer

via source

  • Almost straight is not straight

  • Keep hips level with shoulders

  • Hand position doesn’t matter, find what is comfortable

Steven Low

via source

  • Negatives can be used to help bridge the gap between progressions

Ross Training Forums

via source

  • Flex your pecs and pull your shoulder blades apart – will help to make your hips feel weightless

David Durante

via source

  • Balance is all in the shoulders

  • Lean forward to balance the center of mass

  • Less straddle = more lean forward via wrist flexibility

  • Build the wrist strength up

  • The balance is just as important as the strength component.

Advanced Movements

Once you’ve got a planche you can begin to move into advanced movements. The irony of planche training is that these movements are actually easier than the straight arm planche hold itself. In many of these movements you can cheat and avoid the full lock out which makes the movement significantly easier. E.g. bent arm planche vs straight arm planche.

Planche Press Up

Planche Press ups are simply a press up while holding the planche position. Some of my sources have claimed that there is only a one way carry over between the planche push up and the planche itself (e.g. Planche -> Planche Push Up). This has to do with the difference in bent arm and straight arm strength.

Planch Push ups are hypothetically easier as the bent arm position is easier to hold. Consider the following video, note how the individual is not actually locking out at the top and is instead just dynamically pushing hiimself up and then letting himself fall. He is still at an excellent level of strength but he is not holding the planche itself. He is also kicking up with the legs a little in order to get some momentum and reach the top of the movement, this breaks the foot – hip – shoulder line.

Planche Press to Handstand

Probably one of the coolest movements around. You begin in a planche (or a handstand) and lower/raise the body until the opposite state is reached. The difficulty in this movement comes through the element of control necessary since you need to actively stop yourself at both the descent and accent. As the handstand is typically easier to hold some find it easier to push through the movement than it is to descend into it.

To see the ascension only aspect of this movement see this video. Note, you should be training both sides in order to fully master it.

Trouble Shooting the Movement

This section is for some of the common queries that come up regarding planche. If you have another question or something which is troubling you send me a message and I’ll do my best to update the section with your query.

Advanced Tuck to Straddle

Via Alex of Rough Strength

This is probably the most difficult of the transitions to make as it can be very unforgiving. In this case you can try to decrease the leverage by decreasing the lever arm. Do this by bend at the knees in the straddle and bringing your feet together in order to form a diamond shape. In this case the progression changes from:

  1. Advanced Tuck

  2. Advanced Tuck with knees out

  3. “Piked” Straddle Planche

  4. Straddle Planche

Insufficient Back and Glute Strength

Like back levers you need a significant amount of back and glute strength in order to reach the straddle position from the tuck. To train this you can either supplement additional back levers into your training (you’ll probably need a decent back lever in order to get a proper planche) or you can train it dynamically using bands. The method below comes via Gymnastics WOD and All Things Gym

Weak Wrists

If you’re having issues with the wrists then you need to take it slowly. Period. Do not try to train this too heavily or you can end up setting yourself back months while you wait for the tendons to heal. For additional wrist assistance work you can check out this video from Yuri Marmerstein:

I don’t have enough upper body strength

You can try Planche Dips

The lean position is too difficult.

If you have a training partner you can try the wheelbarrow lean as demonstrated by David Durante. In this position you use a partner to give you some help with the planche position by dynamically moving you in and out of the lean position. Communication is key here or potential injury is a possibility. If you’re the spotter don’t hurt your training partner and go slowly.

I can’t dynamically move myself into the position

Try beginning from a tuck L sit on parallel bars, with straight arms extend yourself back to the tuck planche, get used to keeping the arms completely locked out and you’ll train the straight arm strength sufficiently. Only go to the position where you can keep your arms completely locked out.

This movement is analogous to the lowers into the front and back levers to dynamically train the movement.

You can also try slowly leaning forward into the position as shown by David Durante.

You can also look into supplementing the training with some weighted exercises as shown here

Elbow Issues

You can check out this article on elbow positioning and elbow hyperflexion

An Alternative Training Regime

The progression scheme illustrated here is not the only method of training the planche. An alternative approach has a strong focus upon the planche lean in order to build the requisite shoulder strength and the back lever to build the back and core strength.

As the back lever is considerably easier than the planche and many athletes can perform it with a small degree of focussed training it is an excellent method of building strength. The alternative name for the back lever is also the back planche, even in the naming conventions parallels arise.

This moves the wrist and shoulder focus to the planche lean. The planche has a very strong balance component inherent in the movement. By introducing dynamic bouncing movements (e.g. popping into the straddle planche and back down) the wrist and shoulder strength can be trained progressively.

Additionally straight arm pressing should be supplemented into the movement, e.g. straddle press to handstand. I haven’t been able to find as much reference to this style of training but supplementing planche training with additional leans and back levers may be beneficial.

Conclusions

All of the articles I have gone through have recommended a slow consistent approach to planche training. In particular it is best to train it frequently but to low volume. In this case it becomes more of a habit forming exercise as opposed to one where you are  actively “working it out”.

Don’t try to rush the exercise, the risk of injury is high in particular to the delicate wrists and around the forearms and elbows. The best way to make progress in all situations is to avoid injury. Take your time, train it at four times a week in order to make good progress.

If you’ve found this helpful drop me a comment.

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