Maltese Calisthenics: How To Learn the Maltese Exercise with Calisthenics

Yunis Kaan Is Doing Maltese Exercise

The Maltese in Calisthenics is a pinnacle of excellence and strength. Many Calisthenics practitioners have the ambition to achieve the Maltese, whether that be in the rings or on the floor. I’ll show you everything you need to know about the Maltese in Calisthenics and how you can learn the Maltese exercise in a Calisthenics setting. I’ll also share some things I learned about the Maltese in Calisthenics and other exercise techniques on my Calisthenics Podcast.

Yunis Kaan: “How to Maltese in Calisthenics” | Podcast #3

What is the Maltese in Calisthenics?

The Maltese is a static skill in Calisthenics where the practitioner holds two fixture points (usually Parallettes or Gymnastic Rings) with their arms spread and their body completely suspended, straight and parallel to the ground. The body creates a cross-shape laid flat. Another name for the Maltese is the Swallow, as the body appears reminiscent of a gliding swallow with its wings fully unfurled. 

The Maltese came to Calisthenics through gymnastics, where it is a ring exercise first introduced at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona by the Italian gymnast Ruggero Rossato.

Ruggero ROSSATO (ITA) rings – 1992 Olympics Barcelona Team Optionals

How to do the Maltese

The Maltese is a very advanced Calisthenics exercise and not for beginners to start Calisthenics with. I’ll go over the requirements to attempt the Maltese, show you a good warm-up exercise for the attempt itself and the proper form and execution of the Maltese in Calisthenics using Gymnastic Rings and Parallettes. Later, I’ll show you a path to progress toward the Maltese also with some things I learned from physiotherapist and Calisthenics heavy weight champion, Yunis Kaan on our Calisthenics Worldwide podcast. This podcast delves deeply into the Maltese and how to prepare for it.

Prerequisites for the Maltese

I advise to first make the following benchmarks:

That should give you the core, arm, shoulder and back strength required to start the Maltese.

Warm-Up Before the Maltese

Follow a full warm-up routine to activate your whole body, focusing on mobility. Wrist mobility is a key concern with the Maltese. Just before doing the Maltese, activating your scapula is very important. Start with a set of Scapula Pull-Ups

Maltese Execution with Proper Form

This is how you perform the Maltese in Calisthenics with proper form:

  1. Kneel on the floor with both knees next to each other (Karate “seiza” position).
  2. Bend forward, lifting your butt and place both hands on either side of your shoulder, arms spread and fingers pointing to the side away from your shoulders.
  3. Push your weight off the floor (feet included), stretch your legs by pushing them backwards until your body is completely straight. 
  4. Your height should be so that your nose is just barely not touching the floor. The lower, the better.
  5. Hold for 8 seconds or longer.

Your whole body needs to be tensed to keep a perfectly straight and level posture.

Muscles Worked with The Maltese 

The Maltese works all the muscles in your body. There is not a single muscle that isn’t utilized to perform the Maltese except for your toes. The level of resistance is also very high all throughout your body, but with some significant deviations (even harder) for the following muscles:

  • Shoulders (Trapezius, Rhomboids and Deltoids)
  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Arms (Biceps, Triceps and Forearms)
  • Side muscles (Serratus Anterior)
  • Your Core

Maltese Progressions 

Traditionally, people will ease into the Maltese through various exercises which look like the Maltese but aren’t. Yunis Kaan, however, shared his path to the full Maltese and which won him the 2023 Calisthenics Heavy Weight Championship in Germany. He suggests starting with the Maltese immediately, but with a narrower stance.

Widen your Hold in Steps

This is how Yunis Kaan progressed to the Maltese: “Basically, I did some attempts. I went wider and wider every time and that’s the main thing”. He also said that he could already do Pike Push-Ups and Handstand Push-Ups which helped him a lot. If you’re already an advanced Calisthenics athlete like Yunis Kaan, your Maltese progression could be as “easy” as simply starting narrow and widening slightly with every workout. It’s then a matter of engraining the move into your brains.

This method starts with what almost looks like a Planche, but your fingers point sideways and out. You increase the width by a couple of centimeters (an inch) with every workout.

Maltese Lean Hold

The Maltese Lean Hold is a good way to learn proper activation of all the muscles involved in the full Maltese. Perform the Maltese Lean Hold as follows:

  1. Get in a Straight Arm Plank Position (Push-Up position).
  2. Move your hands back to the height of your sides and rotate your hands outward.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.

Alternatively,

  1. Get into a Planche Lean position.
  2. Rotate your hands outward and push up until your arms are stretched.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds.

Work up until you can hold this for 60 seconds.

Archer Push-Ups

Archer Push-Ups can help stabilize your pose and strengthen the shoulder muscles in preparation for the Maltese. Work up until you can do 3 sets of 12.

Maltese Lean Hold Push-Ups

From the Maltese Lean Hold:

  • Lower slowly until your chest barely touches the floor.
  • Raise up until your Scapula are fully stretched (an extended Push-Up)
  • Hold for 1 second and repeat

Work up to 3 sets of 12. Do these alongside Archer Push-Ups in a staggered routine.

Wall Handstand Maltese 

From a Wall Handstand position, move your hands sideways until they are in the Maltese position. This activates the same arm muscles as the regular Maltese. Hold the Wall Handstand Maltese for 15 seconds.

No Resistance Bands for The Maltese

It is better to forego the Resistance Bands for this exercise as they almost always teach you the wrong technique when it comes to the Maltese, so Yunis Kaan explains: “I’m not a fan of banded holds, because I think it doesn’t feel natural. It felt odd, because if you want to learn a skill you have to understand the skill first. A lot of beginners make the mistake of really poor activation (red.: with resistance bands). You cannot implement it in a real hold because the (learned) activation is so bad that it is not mimicking the real skill.”

For an advanced skill like the Maltese in Calisthenics I can certainly understand. If you need Resistance Bands to learn this skill, you’re mostly likely getting ahead of yourself. You should first focus on other core skills like Pull-Ups, Push-Ups and the Planche. There is no shortcut to the Maltese that makes sense.

The Maltese on the Rings

In gymnastics, the Maltese is done on the rings. The position is largely the same, with the key differences lying with the instability of the Gymnastic Rings and that you start from a lower position. If you do use the Gymnastic Rings, the process is as follows:

  • Start from the Dead Hang position.
  • Perform a Ring Muscle-Up and stay at the top position.
  • Push the rings outward while leveling your body.
  • Keep your body straight.
  • Hold for 8 seconds.

The initial need to get your body above the rings makes this exercise harder.

The Maltese versus The Planche 

Outwardly, the Maltese bears similarities with the full Planche, however, the techniques are different in muscle activation, or according to Yunis Kaan: “they are not the same pattern of push.” With the Planche, you keep your arms and shoulders more compact and closer to your core. This puts more weight directly on the bones of your arms and they act as support. 

The Maltese is wider, putting much more strain on your biceps, triceps and forearms and your bodyweight travels diagonally into the floor, instead of straight down through the bones.

Common Maltese Mistakes

Many people overextend their wrist by bending it too far forward. Your fist should be straight. According to Yunis Kaan “There is a certain way you should not grip in the Maltese. You should not overextend the wrist with dorsal flexion (red.: bending the wrist). Especially when you try to expand your grip, for instance Maltese presses, it can really injure your wrist.” 

Another common mistake is that practitioners strive for a 45-degree angle of their arms. This is not a necessity for a Planche to become a Maltese. The only thing that matters is shoulder height. If the height of the shoulders is (nearly) flat in relations to the holding points (rings, parallettes, the floor), it is a Maltese. If the shoulders are above the holding points, it is (still) a Planche. 

This usually means that a proper Maltese is performed with an arm angle exceeding 45 degrees by a fair margin. For a floor Maltese, this means your nose is barely not touching the floor.

Conclusions About the Maltese in Calisthenics

The Maltese is a hard Calisthenics skill that isn’t on the beginner repertoire. Even a hardcore Calisthenics champion like Yunis Kaan had to incrementally progress toward the Maltese before he could pull it off. That means patience and diligence are the key ingredients in your Maltese progression. First work on your core skills until you can do:

  • 1 Handstand Push-Up
  • 15 second Straddle Planche
  • 12 Pike Push-ups

From there, you can isolate individual parts of your body by doing Maltese Lean Holds, Archer Push-ups, and Wall Handstand Maltese holds. These all prepare your body for the skill. You can then start with the technique itself, using a narrow stance which mimics a Planche but with the hand position of a Maltese. Steadily widen your stance until you are in a full Maltese hold.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Maltese in Calisthenics

A few more questions about the Maltese in Calisthenics.

How hard is Maltese compared to Planche?

The Maltese is a much harder exercise than the Planche. They might look similar, but with the Planche your shoulders and arms are held very compactly with your body. Most to all your bodyweight goes straight down into the ground through the bones in your forearm. With the Maltese you hold your arms stretched to the side, putting almost all your bodyweight on your shoulder, triceps and forearms at a low angle.

What muscles do the Maltese raise work?

The Maltese work all your muscles except for the toes. Your whole body is activated to perform the Maltese to a very high degree. Even more emphasis is put on the following muscles when doing the Maltese:

  • Shoulders (the whole shoulder chain)
  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Arms (all arm muscles)
  • Sides (Serratus Anterior)
  • The core
How hard is the Maltese in gymnastics?

In gymnastics, the Maltese is performed on the Gymnastic Rings. It is a very hard exercise that requires years of prior training to do it right. The Maltese is preceded by a Muscle-Up to get above the rings, before the arms can be lowered and pushed out sideways.

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