The term calisthenics might sound old-fashioned and conjure up images of black and white movies of people doing strange exercises. The truth is calisthenics are a very valuable part of a fitness routine and something you should consider adding in.
What is calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a form of training that include using minimal equipment or your own bodyweight to exercise your largest muscles through a variety of different movements.
You do calisthenics every day in the form of running, standing, pushing things, or lifting. This is recruiting your gross motor movements as most of your large muscles need to work together.
When it comes to fitness, calisthenics movements become more intense and can help build muscle, overall strength, and improve your cardiovascular function.
Depending on the routine you do, calisthenics also helps improve flexibility, increase stamina, mobility, and improve muscle control.
How to start calisthenics
Calisthenics can be easy to incorporate into your workout. They don’t even need equipment and can be done in your own home. Start by including the simplest movements that you are already familiar with.
Some of these can include:
- Leg lifts
- Bodyweight squats
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain climbers
Even without equipment, these exercises can be extremely taxing to perform and will develop those increases in strength and fitness. An easy way to start all this is to do 3 sets per exercise and as many reps as you can do for each set.
Rest around 60-90 seconds in between sets. You don’t have to worry about the danger of dropping weights so you can go to muscular failure on each set.
The exercises listed can always be at the cornerstone of a good calisthenics program. Once you have mastered the simple exercises and can perform an extended amount of reps, you can progress a few different ways.
A few things you can do is add in another set to each exercise, shorten the rest time, or do supersets of two exercises back to back. You may want to progress to more advanced movements to give yourself a new challenge and create a new stimulus for the body.
More challenging movements you can include can be:
- Bear crawls
- Spider walks
- 30-second sprints
- Holding a handstand for 30 seconds
- Jumping lunges
You can also make things more challenging with the simple exercises by slowing down the repetition speed. Do this on movements such as dips and pull-ups to get more muscle activation and build more strength and muscle.
Both forms of exercise can, and should, have a place in your workout routine. The big difference with free weights is that they recruit smaller stabiliser muscles throughout the exercise.
They can also toughen the tendons and ligaments. The act of balancing and keeping the weight in position helps to strengthen these smaller stabiliser muscles and build more well-rounded strength. With weights, you are also able to provide more resistance and always progress through an exercise.
Calisthenics is still a valuable exercise choice. All you have to do is look at a gymnast to see the results of calisthenics training. Their workouts involve pulling and lowering their body weight along with balancing and total body control.
These are some of the fittest athletes on earth with amazing functional strength and athleticism.
Frequent asked questions
Calisthenics could be better than weight training because the exercises are easier on the joints, tendons, and ligaments. There is resistance, but it is more controlled.
Calisthenics can have times when they may be a superior choice to weight training. There is also less risk from calisthenics compared to the injuries that can happen while lifting free weights.
Calisthenics will also provide more of a cardiovascular workout as it takes a full-body effort to perform them,
You may not develop the deeper levels of muscle development that come with long-term weight training, but that’s not to say you can’t develop a great physique using calisthenics.
You just need to look back at the example of a gymnast: These athletes have some of the best physiques there is and some look as they could step right onto a bodybuilding stage. This, again, comes down to the fact they are performing full-body movements like dips and pull-ups that recruit and develop a lot of muscle.
If you are performing them intense enough, calisthenics can burn body fat. Training to failure on each set, while using a large amount of muscle, requires a lot of energy to perform. This will burn a lot of calories, and if you’re staying on top of your diet, you can burn fat while building muscle.
Calisthenics may be better for your joints as long as you don’t have any debilitating joint issues beforehand. The act of calisthenics can not only help to strengthen your joints, but they receive less impact.
Performing push-ups will be easier on the joints than doing dumbbell chest presses. As long as you are choosing exercises you can do at least 15-20 reps for, your joints should be protected.
You always want to make sure you perform a proper warm-up with 5-10 minutes of cardio followed by some dynamic stretching. This will help to get the heart rate up and increase blood flow to the working muscles and joints.
Again, if you have existing joint problems, any form of exercise could cause issues.
Most of this will be determined by how much effort and consistency you put in. But if you are dedicated to regularly performing calisthenics it shouldn’t take long to see results. If you are doing them 2-3 times a week you can notice improvements in strength, muscle, and fitness in 6 to 8 weeks. After 3 to 4 months you could see some significant overall improvements to all areas of your fitness and physique.
Everyone is different but you get out of workouts the effort that you put into them. Like anything, it takes time, discipline, and consistency to achieve results.