In this article we’ll show you three different ways to perform the shank lever, each offering a unique set of benefits.
Extra tip: You can also perform all of these variants face down on a bench. In that case, it’s better to elevate the bench in order to get the same range of motion.
The Barbell Shank Lever
Although this variation of the exercise provides less range of motion, it allows you to use more weight, which is vital for stimulating muscle growth.
How to perform it:
Stand up with the bar until it’s touching the back of your calves, then press up and back with straight arms. Hold the contraction for a few seconds, then slowly return the bar to the starting position.
The Dumbbell Shank Lever
To perform it, take a pair of dumbbells and position your body as you would in the bottom position of a deadlift. Keeping your torso parallel to the floor and the dumbbells hovering off the ground, set your shoulder blades back, squeeze your lats and push the dumbbells up and back with straight arms. Hold the contraction for a few seconds, then slowly return to the original position.
The Shank Lever Row
To perform it, start in the top position of a bent-over row. Fully straighten your arms backwards as you continue flexing the lats. The dumbbells will naturally tend to move closer to the ground, but try to maintain them as high as possible all throughout the movement. Return to the top position of the row and hold for a few seconds.
Improving your form
Here’s the thing – the shank lever won’t produce great results if your form is flawed, especially if you let your shoulders roll forward and collapse when you try to bring the weight upward. To correct this, you’ll need to improve your thoracic mobility and shoulder extension by performing thoracic bridges and similar exercises that open up your T-spine and shoulders. This video will show you exactly how to do that:
Then, you can pair up the shank lever with a lower body pushing movement such as a squat or lunge.
If you’d like to reap some great strength gains while fixing all of your posture issues as well, try to superset the shank lever with farmer’s walks at the end of your session – for optimal results, perform three rounds of 5 shank levers or shank lever rows followed by a farmer’s walk. If you’re not a really big fan of the farmer’s walk, you can substitute it with Romanian dumbbell deadlifts – without setting the dumbbells down, perform shank levers/shank lever rows and Romanian dumbbell deadlifts one after the other for a total of 10 reps (5 for each exercise).
Keep in mind that with these movements, it’s all about control, not the amount of weight. Regardless of how tempting it is to grab a set of heavy dumbbells, remember that in this case it’s best to keep things nice and light during the first few weeks.