So you want to learn about calisthenics, what they are and what they can do for you?
Quite simply, calisthenics are exercises that can be done using just your own bodyweight to build muscle and strength.
That means that they require no special equipment and can be done anywhere.
Of course, quite a few exercises fall in that category – from beginner level like simple push ups to the pinnacle of human strength with advanced exercises like the iron cross.
This means that no matter what your current level is, there are calisthenics exercises suited to your needs.
Some common examples of calisthenic exercises are:
- push ups
- pull ups
- chin ups
- and many more
You’re probably familiar with many of these – they are what you’ve done as a kid in PE class! And if you weren’t too athletics and you don’t remember those days fondly, don’t worry: with the right progressions, you will quickly be much stronger than any kid back then.
You can find more ideas on my complete list of calisthenics exercises.
Should You Choose Calisthenics Or Weight Training?
Ah, the eternal debate: calisthenics vs weights.
Even though I love calisthenics and the ability to do a workout almost anywhere, I am not married to any one training approach – and neither should you be.
Both calisthenics and weight training will build an exceptional physique capable of many feats. They are both great, but they have a slightly different focus.
With weights, it is easier to build bigger, bodybuilder-like muscles. It is also easier to isolate specific muscles like the biceps.
On the other hand, calisthenics build a more lean physique, not unlike Brad Pitt in Fight Club (but don’t worry, your biceps won’t be left alone).
They are also great for developing relative strength. A 150 pound person will always be able to lift less than a 200 pound one- if training time, genetics, and other factors are similar – but he or she can have greater relative strength.
A one arm pull up (OAP) is a goal for many people and an impressive feat of strength. Let’s take the two people from before: the smaller can do a lat pulldown with 120 lbs, while the bigger can do them with 160.
While the bigger person is still stronger on an absolute level, the smaller person is actually lifting a bigger percentage of their body weight, making them the winner in relative strength.
Being able to do an OAP indicated very high levels of relative strength. This kind of strength is especially important for weight class athletes like fighters, as it allows them to be stronger than other people of similar size.
In the end, the choice is up to you. Ask yourself: does this fit into my life situation (do I have time to go to a gym etc.) and do I enjoy this?
Enjoyment is a critical part of any training routine. If you enjoy doing something, chances are you will stick to it long enough to get the results you want. What are calisthenics good for if you don’t enjoy the workout?
Benefits Of Calisthenics
They can be done anywhere
Want to do a few push ups? Just drop to the floor and give me 50. Fancy a few pull ups? All you need is a tree branch.
Don’t like going to the gym? With calisthenics, you can work out anywhere: at the gym, in nature or in the comfort of your own home.
Minimal equipment is required
Forget all the fancy contraptions that you don’t really know what to do with.
Calisthenics is based on simplicity. With just the floor and a few bars, you can train your body in an (almost) unlimited number of ways. Add a pair of rings and you’ll be set for a lifetime of training.
Recommended by the US army
Army and special forces training has been based on calisthenics since the dawn of time. In addition to building their physical capacities, it also strengthens the team spirit.
The US army physical test consists of push ups, sit ups and a 2 mile run. To reach a perfect score, you need to do 75 push ups in two minutes, 80 sit ups in the same time and finish the run under 13:00. Can you do that?
Appropriate for a complete beginner
I doesn’t matter how out of shape you may be. With calisthenics, there’s always a harder and, more importantly, an easier version of an exercise. If you have problems performing full push ups, you can do them on your knees or with your hands on an elevated surface.
Lower risk of injury
Heavy weights used with squats and deadlifts are one of the most common causes of injury in weightlifting. Calisthenics strengthen the lower back, but they never put it under as much stress.
You can certainly keep doing it well into your 50’s:
You get to do awesome moves
While can certainly get strong as an ox in the gym, your bench press probably won’t impress anyone but gym bros.
Calisthenics exercises like the pistol squat, front lever, dragon flag, planche and many others are not only great for building strength and muscle, they are also fun to train and a great party trick for those times you might want to show off.
Here’s a video listing some of the pros and cons of calisthenics.
Where Calisthenics Fall Short
Calisthenics are pretty awesome, but they are a tool in a toolbelt – and not every tool is right for the job.
For example, while calisthenics includes exercises that are meant for isolation of certain muscles, weights certainly do it better.
Weight training is also much better for developing your lower body.
No amount of pistol squats will substitute heavy weighted squats and deadlifts. Unless you want chicken legs and the question “Do you skip leg day?” to be a daily occurrence, including these two in your training is recommended.
Unfortunately no amount of one legged squats will help you build a powerful lower body!
When it comes to building pure muscle mass, weights outperform calisthenics.
Generations of bodybuilders are the proof: all of them used heavy weights to build their incredible muscle. That doesn’t mean that calisthenics won’t build muscle: it will give you a lean, muscular look without much bulk.
Despite the fact that each discipline has its pros and cons, some people like to glorify their own and put down anyone else. Please don’t do that.
There is no need to turn calisthenics, or any other method of training, into a cult. Enjoy it and use what you want, but remember, don’t take anything too seriously.