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Calisthenics is one of those activities or hobbies that is on the rise now. Sometimes, it is almost unbelievable what feats can some people do with their own body. Just take a look at groups like Barstarzz. These guys will literally blow your mind! In this post I will share with you bits of its history along with pretty good reasons to start with it. And, in the end of this post you will find couple of rules or commandments to make your progression faster and training more interesting. So, without further ado, let’s begin.
The What, When and Why of Calisthenics
Let’s start with something simpler. The word calisthenics comes from ancient Greek. It was created by putting together “kálos”, which means “beauty”, and “sthénos”, which means “strength”. It can be loosely translated as a beauty of strength. In basic terms, calisthenics is the art of developing strength, flexibility and endurance. This is done by using your own bodyweight through basic fundamental exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, planks, dips, leg raises and so on. In other words, your are focusing on pressing, pulling, and squatting movements.
More recently calisthenics gained more momentum thanks to growing interest in street workout. Some people just started to realize that it is much more interesting to train outdoor instead of in the gym. Just think about it … Would you rather get your routine done between four walls or somewhere in the park surrounded by nature? Let’s face it. There is something attractive on being on the fresh air, feel the wind on your skin and let your body interact with nature.
Another reason why calisthenics got so popular these days can also be credited to minimalism movement. Many people are pursuing this idea of living simpler life with less possessions. What’s better sport to support this goal than throwing away all that fancy equipment and exercising with your own body? The reason that calisthenics is so popular is the pursue of lean and ripped body. Who would not like to have perfectly developed lean and muscular body without any excess body fat? Let’s be honest, this is what are people really talking about and what gets attention.
This is also the place where calisthenics comes into play. Stroke your ego, fire up your Instagram app and get ready for some cool photos if you are into that kind of stuff. Otherwise, let’s just take a look at couple reason why you should consider taking a new hobby.
7 Reasons Why Calisthenics Is the Best Hobby You Can Find
In this part, you will be presented with seven reasons by which I will try to convince you to give calisthenics at least a try. These reasons will vary from money to psychology to health and also getting to new and interesting people.
No.1: Calisthenics is Cheap
Calisthenics is not dependent on how much money do you have at your disposal. This is probably one of the strongest lures – if you want to start with calisthenics training, you don’t need to buy any expensive equipment. You already have everything you need with you, wherever you go. You just have to decide and make the first step – start. Yes, money are no longer an excuse!
No.2: Calisthenics is Portable
Have you ever tried to travel with couple dumbbells in your bag or suitcase? Well, I did. And, let me tell you that it was not a lot of fun. Although I had only one dumbbell weighing twelve kilos (around 26 pounds) carrying it was pretty annoying and although exhausting. If you have to travel at a large distance, it gets even worse. In case you are traveling on foot, when you finally arrive at the goal destination, you are almost dead. At least this was true for me. When I arrived, my hands were unable to do any more complex move.
The best part is that the same “adventure” was waiting for me on the way back home. Trust me, I was very happy about that. Do you have any similar experiences with traveling with your exercise equipment? If yes, then you know what am I talking about. And, why to stop just there? Think about all these situations when something happens and you have less time than you expected or planned. In that case, carrying any additional weight is slowing you down and increase the chance you will not arrive at all. And, if you do arrive on time, you will definitely remember that travel with big smile on your face. You will rather do your best to forget it as soon as possible.
Now, imagine that all the exercise equipment you have to carry is only your own body, or pull-up bar at worst. The whole experience takes completely different direction. It’s almost like a miracle! It’s no longer the harsh fact that you have to drag a heavy dumbbell with you everywhere you move. When you are practicing calisthenics, you have the fundamental equipment with you all the time. If you will find yourself in temptation to do couple pull-ups or chin-ups, you might not even need to carry a pull-up I mentioned earlier. I’m pretty sure you will be able to find something useful in almost any environment.
No.3: Calisthenics Will Do Miracles with Your Confidence
Committing to basically any kind of training or exercise will have a great impact on your confidence. There is no doubt about it. In case of calisthenics, this impact is even greater. Why? You may feel great lifting dumbbells bigger than your leg. You may feel even better lifting barbell loaded with so much weight they will start to bend. On the other hand, imagine if you could achieve feats such as one-arm chin-up, one-arm push-up, muscle up or famous human flag. Imagine entering the gym and doing all of these exercises as your regular workout, with handstand push-ups on top.
The majority of guys there, playing with weights, will stay like frozen, starting at you unable to say anything. I guess that just visualizing such a scenery kicks your self-esteem through the roof. Truth to be told, many guys lifting weights are not able to do these exercises. Although they may look jacked, their strength can might not be as great as you would think. Don’t get me wrong. Lifting weights is not bad at all. It is better than doing nothing. However, the game reaches whole new level when you are able to control your body with absolute precision. Take a minute and watch few videos by Russian guys doing street workout in the park.
I promise that the feats these guys are doing will leave you breathless with jaw on the floor. Again, just imagine if you would be able to control your body in this degree. How great would you feel? I guess pretty awesome, almost like a super human. Now, let’s get back to your real life … Can you do some of these less difficult exercises such as plank, chin up, pull-up, push-up, squat, dip and bridge with a perfect form? Sadly, for many people (me as well) the answer will be “no.” I have to make a confession. At this moment, I cannot do a single pull-up or chin-up.
If there would be a tiger and the only way to survive would be to do one perfect pull-up or chin-up, I’m dead. Seriously. However, I’m actively working on my form every day (using GTG technique). Anyway, the problem is that all these movements are natural for us humans. If you don’t believe me, go to park and find couple of kids. Then, ask them to do these exercises. I will bet that they will nail all of them in a second. Well, unless those kids are raised on crappy “food” from McDonald’s and other companies and are fat.
For the kids fed with normal and healthy food, these exercises will even be fun. On the other hand, ask couple adult guys or girls to do the same. Result? Many of them, if not all, will need a minute or two for stretching and warming up. Then, the majority of them will probably fail anyways. By the way, you should ask the male participants somewhere in private. You don’t want to make them look bad in front of girls. What’s interesting, these people don’t have to be obese. They may even look pretty fit and agile, but these exercises will still be too difficult for them.
This is when calisthenics can offer you a helping hand. Instead of being embarrassed every time you enter the gym, you can use your body weight and start your journey to better version of yourself at home, or wherever you want. As you will gradually progress, our confidence will grow as well. Then, when you will feel ready, you can hit the gym without any doubts.
No.4: Calisthenics Can Fix Muscle Imbalances
If there is something that can seriously damage your self-esteem, it is muscle imbalance. There are many people who have to deal with such issues on a daily basis. I am one of those people. Since I lost about 99 pounds couple years ago, my left side of upper body is significantly weaker than the right side. The first thing I did after loosing the weight was turning to bodybuilding using free weights (dumbbells). Although it helped me a bit, I still had problems with estimating the right weights to train with. And, yes. My ego also played role.
To make long story short, my motivation reached the bottom and the only thing that kept me on a track was my will and sheer perseverance. It is about four or five months since I discovered calisthenics. The books that introduced me this kind of training and sport was Convict Conditioning 1 and Convict Conditioning 2 by Paul Wade. I felt in love with calisthenics almost immediately. Soon after finishing Convict Conditioning I moved to books by brothers Danny and Al Kavadlo.
Anyway, why can calisthenics help you fix muscle imbalances? The reason is actually very simple. When you do some bodyweight exercise, you are using your whole body rather than isolating small body parts one at a time. Sure, you will use some muscles more than others depending on the movement you choose. However, you will still use these muscles as well. If you need more convincing, take a look at some practitioners of calisthenics. The first thing you will see is how balanced their muscles are. It is because they are engaging muscles on both sides equally.
Another benefit of using calisthenics to solve muscle imbalances is that all of these movements are completely natural for your body. This might be also the reason why it is easier for your body to adapt to these movements. However, that doesn’t mean you should jump in right ahead. You still have to go slowly and gradually put your body under the pressure. Otherwise, You might do yourself more harm than good.
No.5: Calisthenics Can Improve Your Posture
Another heath related reason to get started with calisthenics is that it can improve your posture. This is truth even if you don’t actually think your posture is bad. Why to be quiet about this. Many of us spend the majority of the day sitting or standing in front of computer screen. With this on mind, it is no wonder that our muscles are getting weaker and weaker. Soon, our backs will become more rounded and our stance less straightened. Then, the back and neck pain will follow.
And, even if you try to monitor yourself, soon you will lose yourself in the moment and forget to watch your posture. It is almost inevitable. The more you enjoy some activity and the more you are immersed in it, the less you pay attention to what’s happening around you or to you. Your concentration and focus is fully devoted to that activity. This is also known as a flow state. Simply put, the activity will absorb you. Will calisthenics prevent you from getting into this state? No. Actually, it can rather help you reach this state faster.
So how can calisthenics help you? When you commit to regular practice of bodyweight training, those weaker muscles will be stretched and exercised. This will prevent them from deteriorating. Also, as those muscles will get stronger, it will be much easier for you to sustain healthy posture. I understand that this whole “regular training” thing might be so interesting for you. Just keep in mind that all of this is you are doing will have great and long lasting benefits. For example, if you have to regularly watch and remind yourself to keep healthy and straightened posture, with time, this will no longer be necessary.
As your muscles will get stronger (I’m not talking about bulking up and looking like Schwarzenegger), their function will get better as well. Meaning, these muscles will keep your body in the posture that is the most natural without your conscious effort. This is the reason why the majority of people practicing some kind of physical training, be it a calisthenics, bodybuilding, yoga or martial arts, also have great posture and minimum health problems related to it. Through training, their muscles will get stronger and maintaining healthy posture will become automatic.
No.6: Calisthenics is Safe
Let’s make something clear right in the beginning … You can injure yourself by doing almost any activity. When you practice bodyweight training, however, this risk is much lower. Also, the probability of dropping dumbbell or barbell on your foot is virtually non-existing. On the other hand, you can harm yourself while doing some of the more difficult exercises mentioned in the beginning. The brighter side is that you are not manipulating with object heavier than your own body. Thanks to this, it is much safer to try to tackle advanced exercises.
On other words, if you will overestimate your abilities and something go wrong, you will probably not tear some muscle or kill yourself. Still, in case you have some health or medical limitations you should definitely consult this training (and any more physically demanding activity) with your doctor or professional trainer. Remember, it is your health, your body and you have only one.
No.7: Large Community of Enthusiasts
So you want one more reason to start with calisthenics? You can practice a hobby with many healthy benefits while having a chance to get to know new people. In the recent couple of years the community around calisthenics grew in size significantly and its growth is rather accelerating. There is also a high number of videos, articles and other resources created every day to help virtually anyone get started with this sport. So, if you like to be around other people with common interests calisthenics will become handy here as well.
On the other hand, if you are more interested in being with yourself, your own thoughts, while training (like I do), that’s okay. Nobody says that you have to train with other people or participate in competitions. Calisthenics can be a way to create new social bonds while also a way to strengthen the connection between your body and your mind (little bit of philosophy and spirituality will not hurt you). Also, whether you like to train with other people or not, you can still benefit from online resources and wisdom of the more seasoned people.
Remember, learning from your mistakes and successes is great and necessary. Learning from mistakes and successes of others is even better. Does that mean you have to find some calisthenics expert to train with? No. All it means is that you should not hesitate to reach out when you will be in doubt. Asking question is for free and you have nothing to lose.
How to Get Started with Calisthenics
Okay, let’s suppose you found certain affection in calisthenics. How can you get started the right way? Just like with everything else in life, when you ask ten people for you will get ten less or more differing advices. Luckily for you, calisthenics has couple pretty well-tested rules or commandments introduced by Paul “Coach” Wade. Following these commandments will help you make your training more progressive and be able to do more advanced exercises faster.
The first thing you should remember if you are looking for a way to gain couple kilos of muscles, is are tough, continuous reps (number of times you perform a specific exercise). The rep range to focus on starts between six to eight. If you want to go higher, twelve to fifteen reps is another range considered great for building muscles. Two, get used to work very hard, but avoid going to total failure. Make sure to always leave a bit of energy in the tank. Meaning, stop when you are about one or two reps before failure – you can’t do any more rep.
Three, your sets (the number of cycles of reps) should be in range of four or five at max. Do you remember that part about working hard? Well, if you are able to do more than five sets of any exercise, you are not working hard enough. Your fifth set should be the last one, you should almost grit your teeth to get through. It is a simple as that. Four, remember to rest between sets. A good rule of thumb is to always give your muscles about three minutes to allow recovery. I follow this rule in every training – no rest between exercises in a set and three minutes between sets.
Five, apply progressive overload. Again, you have to work hard and challenge your body every time you train. Muscles grow only when you challenge them by overloading – cause microscopic muscular damage – and then give your muscles some time to recover and heal. This is basically what muscle-building process is about. Six, avoid using momentum. Meaning, always do the whole exercise consciously and slowly. One good way to ensure you are not using momentum is to stop at the bottom of each exercise for second or two and then finish it.
Seven, eat. Believe it or not, this is often considered the hard part of gaining muscles. In order to allow your muscles to grow, you have to give them necessary building material. Meaning, make sure you are eating enough proteins and healthy fats. Remember, your body needs this building blocks and energy to heal and recover. Without it, you will either stop your progress or injure yourself. As some people like to say, muscle is mainly built in the kitchen.
Eight, rest and sleep. Short and simple. You have to give your body some time to recover. Meaning, rest hard, avoid stress and sleep like a champion.
Closing Thoughts on Calisthenics
This is all I have for you on the topic of calisthenics. If this post convinced you to try this sport, remember to go rather slowly. This will help you avoid unnecessary injuries and loss of motivation. If you found no interest whatsoever, at least I tried it. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this unusual digression from business and web development. If not, don’t worry. In the next post we will immerse ourselves in code again.
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