THE PISTOL SQUAT PROGRESSION LADDER

EXERCISE BREAKDOWN: STRAIGHT-ARM PLANCHE STRENGTH
HOW TO DO IT
One simple but very tough exercise. Yes it’s beginner friendly, but you must pick the right level. Let’s go through it easiest to hardest.

PROGRESSION 1: TOES DUG IN

KNEEL DOWN. KNEES TOGETHER — otherwise you’re legs will get in the way.

HANDS ON THE FLOOR — otherwise you’ll have next to no chance of lifting yourself up! Place your hands just outside your knees. Your hands ideally will be pointing straight ahead (if you have the wrist flexibility). Turn them out slightly if you don’t or if you want to ease the pressure on your wrists.

LOCK OUT THE ARMS — just like any of these gymnastic drills. We want biceps spun forward, arms totally straight.

PROTRACT THE SHOULDER BLADES — spread them apart, feel the upper back stretch and hold that feeling throughout.

TURN ON THE POWER — then, without letting the arm position change at all, start to press into the floor.

LIFT THE KNEES — Make sure your knees are in line with your hands when you start though, we want to be ‘crunched up’ or tucked in body position, not spread out like a push-up or a plank. If it’s still too tough, keep extra weight back in your feet. If you’re getting the hang of it, shift more weight forwards to your arms.

PROGRESSION 2: TOES TAKEN AWAY

The next level (which sounds more gruesome than it is), is exactly as above, except we no longer dig the toes into the floor, rather, the toes are taken away and the top of the foot should be resting on the floor.

This automatically forces more weight into your hands (and remember the ultimate goal is to have 100% of the weight on your hands.

If your ankle hurts, your not ready for this yet. Otherwise do it like this from now on. This is of course what we describe in the original description above, but there’s uno-other thing…

PROGRESSION 3: ONE FOOT UP

For the next progression, lift one foot off the floor and suck the knee as close to the stomach as possible.

This does two things:

Firstly, it shifts more weight forward — so your arms have a sterner test.

Secondly, it makes your abs works harder and simulates the position you need to be able to hold with both legs if you want to get airborn.

Now, in theory, these are best done in this order 1) toes dug in 2) toes taken away 3) toes taken away with one leg up.

However, in practice it’s not so cut-and-dry, and the best position–where we get the most neat work, depends on the individual.

The important thing is that you find the position that works you hardest — with perfect form — while generally progressing through the moves. I can often be found making my torturees hold these with one leg up to get more abdominal work, but with toes dug in on the leg still grounded.

Play around to find the best style for you.

PROGRESSION 4: TAKEOFF / THE REAL THING…

KNEEL DOWN. KNEES TOGETHER — otherwise you’re legs will get in the way.

HANDS ON THE FLOOR — otherwise you’ll have next to no chance of lifting yourself up! Place your hands just outside your knees. Your hands ideally will be pointing straight ahead (if you have the wrist flexibility). Turn them out slightly if you don’t or if you want to ease the pressure on your wrists.

LOCK OUT THE ARMS — just like any of these gymnastic drills. We want biceps spun forward, arms totally straight.

PROTRACT THE SHOULDER BLADES — spread them apart, feel the upper back stretch and hold that feeling throughout.

TURN ON THE POWER — then, without letting the arm position change at all, start to press into the floor.

SUCK THE KNEES UP — as close to your stomach as you can using your abdominal and hip-flexor strength.

LIFT OFF — keep pressing into the floor with your arms and suck your knees up as close to your stomach as you can. If you’re good enough, you will be able to lift your feet of the floor too. If not, make sure your feet are resting down, but only as much as required. The goal is to get airborn.

HOLD! – now you’re here, hold! You must be able to do 10-20 seconds consistently, before you move to the next progressions of these.

MORE NOTES ON SCALING THESE
These can be really easy, really beginner friendly and god for you. The trick — as ever — is to be patient, humble and practice the progression that allows you to absoultely nail good mechanics before progressing. As in the Tuck Planche Progression Ladder, the choice of progressions goes roughly like this (it’s not an exact science):

Shoulders behind hands –> Shoulders level with hands –> Shoulders ahead of hands

Two feet down –> One foot down –> No feet down.

Play around with the combinations until you find the perfect one for your strength level!

HOW IT GOES WRONG AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
YOU BEND YOUR ARMS — if you’re not strong enough, or not used to straight arm strength training, your arms will rotate and bend–biceps spin inwards, elbows bend. To fix it: be mindful, watch your elbows so you can see that they don’t budge even a centimeter, and back off slightly. If you can’t come off the floor without your arms bending, don’t (not often, you might want to do it occasionally to have a good time). Try only putting 80% of your body weight into the drill for now, then ease closer to the real thing when you are stronger.

YOUR ARSE TRIES TO ESCAPE — When prompted to lean forward and get your shoulders past your hands, you’ll find you need a helluva-lot-a shoulder and tricep strength. If you’re not blessed with such strength just yet, you might find that as you attempt to lean, you won’t get much lean at all, meanwhile, your arse will have tried to escape upwards and away. Naughty. The fix: get stronger, check your wrist flexibility and find a special friend willing to keep an eye on your arse. Oh, and be patient, these moves are hard and take time to master.

YOUR WRISTS HURT — this is common. Try turning your hands out. If that still hurts, both work carefully on your wrist strength and flexibility and perhaps practice on some parrallettes. Then, just be patient and build up slowly.

YOU CAN’T GET IT UP — this is the challenge, and it’s tough. So don’t underestimate it. If you’re heavy (good or bad heavy) the Tuck Planche is still a good exercise but you may well find it harder to get airborne. Keep working at it and respect the challenge. Some people will master these quickly, others will take months or years. Keep it as a long-term goal and don’t injure yourself being too ambitious too quickly.

YOU FALL FORWARD — as you get good at these, you’ll probably progress to leaning forwards a little. If you lose focus or strength though, you’re going to fall forward. Especially if your hands aren’t straight. If this happens to you when you’re just learning, accept that you need to develop more strength. At first, it’s not about leaning, it’s about sucking the knees up and pushing the floor away.

YOU JUMP INTO IT — this happens all the time. You don’t seem to be able to ‘suck’ your feet off the floor. So you sort-of jump into it, hoping you have the strength to hold it once you get there. It ain’t happening though. Sadly. Don’t let ‘you’ be you. Be patient, respect the challenge and earn the right to do it with strength.

YOUR SHOULDER BLADES DON’T PROTRACT / YOU CAN’T HOLD THEM THERE — this takes a lot of practice at first to learn this feeling. Then it takes strength, where you won’t have strength if you don’t have a gymnastics background. It took me two years to learn to hold this position on a Tuck Planche. If you can’t hold position, the fix is simple. Practice without as much weight (don’t lean forwards or try to come off the floor), learn the feel of it, then spend time building strength in a perfect position before you try to leave the floor.

YOUR ANKLE/S HURTS — if you cannot put a high percentage of your body-weight on your hands with this drill, you might feel your ankles hurting–especially if you’re a little tight down the front of the shin. It’s no problem. The Fix: get stronger so you can put more weight forward, in the meantime, dig your toes in to keep your feet in a stronger, more comfortable position.

IT’S ALL LEGS! — not sure what’s working, what’s supposed to be working, but bloomin’ eck the front of your thighs are killing? Well, sadly my friend, you just completed one hell of a squat session or you’re tot strong enough in the upper body so your legs are having to work too hard to help. The Fix: either leave your knees down and focus on your upper body, or use other exercises until you are ready, OR just ignore it, but practice dilligently until you no longer feel this and can shift more weight forwards.

WICKED CUES
GET AWAY FROM THE FLOOR! – if it goes wrong, you’re arms are bent or you haven’t protracted enough, your breast plate will be too close to the floor. With your arms in position, trying to get it as far away from the floor as you can is a great cue.

TURTLE BACK – picture it. It helps.

FEEL THE STRETCH IN THE BICEP TENDON – a sure fire sign that your arms are locked for many.

THE FLOOR UNDER YOUR FEET IS ON FIRE! – that’s a technique cue, not a literal statement. Try imagining the floor under your feat being on fire if you’re starting to get lazy and keep too much weight in your feet. Most likely you’ll edge forward and load more weight in your arms (unless you just get up and walk off, in which case you took the cue too literally).

LONG ARMS – Might stop you sinking and bending them.

ABS. SHOULDERS. CHEST. TRICEPS! – You should feel these muscles controlling proceedings. try and feel them contracting. It will help.

ALTERNATIVES
Depending on why you can’t do them, you can work on any of these (in order of preference) for best carry over.

–> Extra Push Up work

–> Extra L-Sit work

–> Extra Handstand Strength Work

If they don’t work, don’t worry about it, just concentrate on other areas of the programme.

WHY DO IT
SHOULDER & TRICEP & FOREARM & ABDOMINAL & CHEST STRENGTH & MUSCLE – it’s not bodybuilding but it takes serious strength and can be used to build serious muscle if you so choose. It’s a demanding exercise that builds real strength.

START THE (LONG) JOURNEY TO THE PLANCHE
The Planche is preserve of the seriously strong only. But man does it look good when it’s done well. Almost superhuman. At the time of writing I’m nearly at a decent straddle Planche, and have a long way to go if I’m to master the real thing. You won’t get me talking about the advanced ones until I can do it. But the journey — seeing it is inspiring.

GET REAL STRENGTH TRAINING ANYWHERE WITH NO KIT
Not only is it great, but it’s practical. That’s why there is so much body weight stuff in The Strength Sessions Programme. We don’t want any barriers to training. Just get down and get stuck in.

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