Should Calisthenics Be Implemented Into Your Workout Regime?

Body weight exercises, known as calisthenics, are an old form of strength training that is gradually gaining more momentum. Convenience, spontaneity, and aesthetic appeal are just a few of the reasons why people are now choosing calisthenics.
Calisthenics is a form of strength training
Image Source: Wallpaper Safari

Calisthenics is a form of strength training that utilizes only the weight of the body through the motions of pushing, pulling, bending, and jumping.

Before you make any assumptions about calisthenics solely being exercises like burpees and jumping jacks, stay with me. While those are both considered exercises within calisthenics, it is a very broad form of strength training that includes many different exercises. For example, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges are all common calisthenics movements that are incorporated into workout regimes today.

Now you might be thinking, 'Why would anyone train with only their bodyweight when machines and gym equipment exist?', As valid of a point as that is, it's actually quite simple. For some people they just enjoy it, for others it gives them some variety, but as you can imagine, just like for weight lifting, everyone has their own reasons to train and calisthenics is no different. 

By incorporating only the weight of the body as the resistance for strength training the workout dramatically changes. It transitions from the isolated workout of lifting weights to movements that involve many muscles working together simultaneously.

Calisthenics were originally used in Ancient Greece
Image Source: Britannica

Calisthenics was originally used in Ancient Greece and comes from the Greek words kallos, meaning beauty, and sthenos, meaning strength. 

The Progression Involved in Calisthenics

The best way to describe this form of training is to say that no weight is involved and only the body is used as the resistance for the exercises you do. So, if you weigh 175lbs then you will theoretically be using 175lbs in your calisthenics. Simple enough. The part that gets interesting is that calisthenics is not as linear as weight lifting. 

Let's think for a second. If you are weight lifting, what is your goal? Obviously, to rep more weight. If you are benching 150lbs, a reasonable goal would be to get to 160lbs and so forth. To steadily climb higher in terms of the amount of weight. On the other hand, calisthenics works slightly differently.

Having only your own body as the weight, it makes little sense to create goals based upon the amount of weight you can put up. It's your own body. Instead, what calisthenics provides are advanced movements that you can work into. For example, let's take the pull-up. It's an exercise where you hold onto a bar and pull yourself up to the point where your chin is higher than the bar. Simple enough right? I agree.

Nonetheless, if you continue doing pull-ups and begin to improve at them by completing more, the muscle-up will become available to you. This is an advanced pull-up where one pulls themselves all the way up and over the bar to the point where their arms are fully extended.

There are kinds of examples similar to this in calisthenics, which makes it vastly different from weight lifting. With calisthenics, you can upgrade to the next level by performing a more advanced movement. Sounds cool right? 

For that reason alone, calisthenics has become a very important part of my life. I started my journey by working out by lifting weights, but I was never consistent and could not keep any motivation to continue going to the gym. Once I switched to calisthenics I became addicted, because I could actually progress by unlocking harder movements. 

The handstand push-up was one that took some practice. Even now I struggle to get more than five in a row. In the beginning, I was unable to complete this movement. I couldn't even hold myself up without falling back down.

After trying handstand holds for a while and gradually increasing the height of my feet on the wall, I was able to complete my first handstand push-up. The accumulation of my effort finally paid off and because of that feeling of accomplishment, calisthenics became an addiction.

Calisthenics is not Limited to the Gym
Image Source: Urban Play

Calisthenics is not Limited to the Gym

With Calisthenics a gym isn't required. If you have your body, you can work out. Whether it's your house, your place of work, or even a park, calisthenics can always be done. Your body goes everywhere you go, so in other words, there are no excuses for calisthenics. The world becomes your gym. If that doesn't appeal to you, then let me make the deal even sweeter. 

In addition to the flexibility of calisthenics, it is also much easier on the bank account. With no expensive gym fees or a multitude of at-home gym equipment, calisthenics requires little to no expenses, making this an even more attractive form of strength training. 

For myself, the freeness of calisthenics was very helpful. When I attended Miami University I would go to the gym for my workouts, but I easily became frustrated because of how crowded it would be. So to avoid the gym I had to become innovative as to how and where I could work out.

I found a playground that wasn't too far from my apartment and began to complete my calisthenics routine there because it had everything I needed. That flexibility allowed me to continue to work out without the necessity of a gym. 

calisthenics playground
Image Source: Atemi Sports 

What does Calisthenics Improve?

Calisthenics utilizes the weight of the body as resistance to build strength, flexibility, coordination, and control. 

Since calisthenics is a form of strength training, obviously your strength will increase if practiced regularly. Now don't think that weight lifting is the only option when trying to get stronger and build muscle, calisthenics does this as well, just a little differently. Since it is a form of strength training, your strength will increase if practiced regularly.

What differentiates calisthenics is that all of the exercises are compound, whereas weight lifting focuses more on isolation. In other words, calisthenics uses a variety of muscles that work together to complete one movement. Taking the metaphor, to kill two birds with one stone, literally. In comparison, weight lifting targets one muscle group. Meaning that functional strength is increased with calisthenics.

By increasing an individual's functional strength, the body will have become used to the movements that calisthenics requires, resulting in an increase in one's flexibility. To complete the movements correct form is needed, and from that form comes an increase in the range of motion with one's body. 

Coordination is a strange idea to think about when talking about strength training. At least at first, it makes little sense as to how coordination would be impacted. By lifting weights, the muscles themselves solely grow bigger and stronger, but with calisthenics, coordination plays an important role.

The mind and body connection is important and becomes even more so during calisthenics. Advanced movements require the mind and body to work together to be able to perform. Meaning that the mind has to make sense of the motion and the body has to complete it. As a result, coordination improves because of how well and used the mind and body are at working together.

One's body can do amazing things and with calisthenics, controlling the body becomes easier. By performing the advanced movements within calisthenics it enables an individual to understand how to move their body in different ways correctly. Utilizing the correct form for exercises means that control is already being used. In other words, calisthenics teaches us how to move and control our bodies freely. 

What is Functional Strength?

Functional strength is defined by completing exercises that use multiple muscles working together simultaneously instead of exercises that target individual muscles, which increases an individual's ability to accomplish daily activities with less difficulty.

It differs from the growth and strength gained from the gym. As I mentioned earlier, weight lifting involves more isolation exercises, which are individual muscles being targeted each exercise. What this does is stimulate the growth of the muscles because it is straining one particular muscle group. While this form of training increases size and strength, calisthenics increases functional strength.

Results Found From Research on Calisthenics 

A study was done at the University of Palermo, Italy called, "The Effects of a Calisthenics Training Intervention on Posture, Strength, and Body Composition". 28 men were split into two groups.

The first, being the group that participated in an 8-week calisthenics program, and the second, being the control group who resumed their training routines with no changes.

The results showed that the group who participated in the calisthenics showed an increase in their pull-ups and push-ups tests. Compared to the second group who showed little to no improvements from before the study began. Proving that calisthenics is an effective way to train.

Why is Mental Strength Affected with Calisthenics?

As I mentioned at the top of this article, more advanced calisthenics movements can be unlocked with regular practice and effort? Through continuous practice, a pull-up, muscle-up, or even handstand push-up can be performed. Now how does this affect mental strength?

As a result of all of that time and effort is put towards the completion of a muscle-up, it helps you to understand the importance of hard work. Whether it takes weeks, a month, half a year, or even a year, the effort eventually pays off when performing the muscle-up for the first time. That feeling is unforgettable for me and many others. 

What it teaches you is that hard work and dedication lead to success. No matter bad you might've been at the beginning, you can proudly say, "look where I am now." That in itself teaches us a very important lesson about effort.

My experience with accomplishing the handstand push-up was exactly that. After continuous practice, I finally achieved what I was working towards. Of course, I felt happy, but it doesn't just stop there. I realized how all of my efforts accumulated into that one moment. I understood how I would not have been able to perform that movement without regular practice. 

Even now I remember that moment, but even more so I now have that mental strength to forge ahead over and over because I've proven to myself that I can do it. What calisthenics has shown me is that what seems impossible can become possible.

Variety in Calisthenics
Image Source: Redefining Strength

Why is There More Variety in Calisthenics?

Inside of calisthenics a lot of variety exists. There are so many ways to do one exercise that either makes it a little easier, harder or targets different muscles. Even if you are doing a pushup, putting your feet on an elevated surface it dramatically changes the intensity of the exercise. 

If an individual weighs 150lbs then by doing a push-up they are using around 60% of their weight, which results in pushing up 90lbs. If instead, that individual puts their feet on an elevated surface then it becomes more like 75% of their body weight. Effectively increasing the amount of weight to 112.5lbs. That means that by just moving the position of the feet, the difficulty level drastically increases. 

There is no one way to perform any movement. So many variations of each exercise are present that even if you do the same exercises, but change up a little in the execution and form, they turn into completely new movements that engage different muscles. 

Core Used in Calisthenics
Image Source: Muscle and Strength

How is Core Used in Calisthenics?

I know that the abs are, if not the, most painful exercise to perform. The burning sensation in the abdomen is not pleasant, yet the idea of hosting a six-pack is worth all of that pain. If you don't like 5-10 minute ab exercises you find online, I know I don't, I think calisthenics might intrigue you. 

The core is one of the muscle groups that is used in almost every exercise. Even though it is not the primary muscle group being targeted, it stills gets affected. Why is that?

Well to complete a pull-up, for example, core stabilization is necessary. The correct form for a pull-up is a vertically straight body hanging from the bar. How is that achieved? Through the use of the core. 

The abdomen is in effect to stabilize one's body while doing a calisthenics movement. Is the driving factor behind why your body is not flailing everywhere when performing a pull-up, so it can be said that calisthenics, by itself, is an indirect ab workout. 

Calisthenics has a Lower Risk of Injury

Since calisthenics only involves the weight of the body, there is less of a concern when it comes to injuring oneself. A person is used to their own body weight from moving and doing daily activities, so it transfers well. 

Think about this, by lifting weights you are isolating a muscle and moving what could be either half or more than one's entire body weight. That puts a lot of stress on the joints, ligaments, and muscles. Thus creating a bigger concern for injuries. Additionally, a lot of those weight lifting exercises require proper form otherwise injuries are common. 

Compared to calisthenics where only the weight of the body is being moved, a lot less stress is put on those joints and ligaments. Also, multiple muscles are working together to complete the action so it becomes more of sharing the work instead of letting one person, or muscle, do everything. 

The Reality of Calisthenics

Even though bodyweight exercises get overshadowed by lifting heavyweight, they should not be ignored. There are many benefits to this form of training and can accommodate anyone, whether it's beginner or expert.

Calisthenics is a great way to mix up your routine that delivers results. So if you are looking for something new and haven't tried out calisthenics, I'd put it at the top of your list. You won't regret it.

Hello everyone! My name is Ethan Oilar and I love to write. If you happen to read my articles and enjoy them I would love to hear about it!

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