In our day and age, there is a long-held belief that to become strong, lean and fit, you must go to the gym. I certainly thought that this was the case several years ago, signing up to all the latest memberships. However, since then I’ve learnt that there are alternative ways to obtain the body and fitness that you’ve dreamt of without breaking the bank. And one of the most natural, effective ways is calisthenic training.
Originating in ancient Greece (“kallos” means beauty and “thenos” means strength), calisthenic training includes any exercise that does not require machines or additional weight. An effective way to build muscle stamina, strength and flexibility, calisthenic training is widely used in athletics, the military and law enforcement. Even though calisthenics has risen in popularity in recent times, it is still one of the most under-rated strength training tools around.
How strength and calisthenic training works
Strength training is grounded upon the principle that your muscles will work to overcome a resistant force when they are required to do so. As you repeat certain movements and increase resistance, your muscles will strengthen over time. In terms of weight training in the gym, the resistance is the amount of weight that you lift (e.g. a 10kg dumbbell). What makes calisthenic training different is that the resistance is your own bodyweight, which can be increased or decreased by how you position and angle your body.
Ok, so now you know the basic mechanics behind calisthenic training. Here’s why you should add it to your next workout.
Benefit #1: It’s convenient
There’s no need to sign up to a gym, or go looking for one every time you want to work out. All you need is your body, knowledge of how to do calisthenic exercises and a positive attitude. That’s it. Ultimately, you are your own gym, which is perfect if you’re a student, or a frequent traveller. Some exercises such as pull ups will require you to find something to hang on to, or lean against. This shouldn’t be a problem though as playgrounds, tree branches, steps and walls should do the trick.
Benefit #2: It’s great for weight loss
Along with cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is an extremely effective way to burn fat. If you decide to integrate HIIT into your training schedule, calisthenic exercises are perfect as they can be safely performed at high intensities.
Benefit #3: It’s safer for your body
What sounds more dangerous - lifting a 60 kg iron bar, or lifting your own bodyweight? Calisthenic training puts less strain on your joints and thus, helps to prevent injuries. It’s also great for those who are easing themselves back into an exercise regime after returning from injury.
Benefit #4: It works out your whole body
While weight training generally isolates specific muscles (e.g. the bicep curl targets the bicep), calisthenic training incorporates compound exercises, which engage more than one muscle group. For example, even though a push up primarily works out your chest, you will still need to brace your quads, glutes, core and abs to perform it properly. This gives you a more thorough, full body workout, which is important as in real life, muscle groups don’t work in isolation - they work together.
Benefit #5: It builds coordination
As mentioned previously, calisthenic training requires several muscle groups to all work together in harmony. Through focussed practice, your mind and body is forced to connect in a way that improves your motor skills. This comes in handy if you want to actually apply your strength in real-life physical activities such as sports.
Progressing your calisthenic workouts
“Push ups? That sounds way too easy!” you say. Well, you’d be surprised how many people do push ups with poor technique. It’s always better to do lower reps and get it right, than higher reps and injure yourself. Or even worse - shortchange all of your hard work. Once you’ve conquered all the basic exercises, you may feel that you are hitting your plateau. It’s ok though, as calisthenic training offers enough advanced variations to challenge you from now, all the way until your later years. For example, once you’ve mastered normal push ups, try close-grip push ups. After that, try handstand push ups, jumping push ups and even one-handed push ups. The options for advancing your calisthenic workouts are both endless, and fun, as it requires you to be creative.