One month from today will mark my 1.5 year anniversary from having begun experimenting with training calisthenics for both the upper and lower body. Throughout this time I have experienced the highs and lows of training with nothing but my own bodyweight and the leverage it offers.
For those of you that don’t know, Calisthenics describes a series of free body exercises that may or may not be done with equipment such as rings and still bars (http://www.britannica.com/sports/calisthenics). You start out with easy exercises and progress towards harder exercises. Manipulation of bodyweight in these movements result in varying degrees of leverage that the body is required to overcome – resulting in increases of strength, and yep you guessed it…. GAINS!!! (S. Low, 2011, Overcoming Gravity, a systematic approach to gymnastics and bodyweight strength).
Since this blog post is dedicated to my experience with Calisthenics I will attempt to provide my perspective by explaining my top Pros and Cons of Calisthenics compared to my previous experience with weightlifting (however small that experience was).
- Wherever you want, whenever you want
Bodyweight training does not require any specialised equipment for you to get started. Push ups can be done on the floor. Pull ups can be done on a tree branch, or goal post, or a wooden ceiling beam, or from the top of a door frame… the list is endless. Literally. There are no excuses for this! The bottom line is this: To be able to do calisthenics, all that is absolutely necessary is space of some sort and a minimum of 10 minutes to get a decent workout in.
- You develop strength by learning cool movements
Training Calisthenics means you improve your strength by doing movements with increased leverage or power. Some of these moves really look like they defy gravity. Of course this is my opinion, but I very much doubt you will disagree when you take a look at a couple of calisthenics videos on YouTube… these people truly do make me scratch my head! I’ve posted a video below of perhaps the most well known calisthenics athlete in the world: Hannibal for King.
- How I felt after each session
In a nutshell: a lot more explosive. Having done this kind of exercise has greatly improved my athletic capability. I feel lighter and more nimble when moving around, despite weighing the exact same for 2 years. Flashback 2 years ago when I did nothing but lift weights, I for the most part felt heavy and somewhat lethargic as a result of my training.
- Balance and coordination
Some Calisthenics moves such as hand balancing and the Planche require levels of balance and coordination just as much as they do strength. These skills are not really included in weightlifting movements because little balance is needed to move a barbell in the common trajectories known to many weightlifters. Balance and coordination are a big part of movement in general, and calisthenics training does its part to develop these traits, making it more functional.
- Progression is no easy task
This in my opinion has to be the number one disadvantage of calisthenics training. Without a comprehensive understanding of leverage and how to use the body’s leverage, progressing towards the next hardest exercise on your agenda can be a massive jump that the body is simply not ready for. But this is just the start of the matter…
As calisthenics practitioners and athletes become more advanced, they will find that they must be more and more creative with their training in order to progress. This means doing exercises that sometimes have never been heard of. Since the mainstream fitness industry is dominated by basic bitches and bro science ego lifters, quality content on calisthenics is difficult to come by. This makes finding beginner, intermediate and advanced progressions for calisthenics even more difficult. Many fresh faced calisthenics enthusiasts thus turn to motivational videos and try to copy the advanced moves seen in them only to be disappointed because they have failed to learn the progression.
In addition, strength programming for calisthenics is not linear. Improvement in my opinion comes in leaps and bounds from the outset as a result of the lack of information out there for strength based calisthenics programming.
- THOSE CHICKEN LEGS!!!
Earlier I mentioned how calisthenics resulted in a more nimble feeling. This was mainly because I did a lot of plyometric leg training, as well as mass training using only my bodyweight. Though this helped, I got to a point where I was unable to find enough stimuli to strengthen my legs with just bodyweight. Reading other sources of information (I’ll admit a google search was all it took) has led to my agreement that bodyweight training is insufficient if you intend on building leg strength… and definitely mass.
In fact, if you intend on using calisthenics to develop a bodybuilder’s physique, then join a gym and squat.
- Wherever and Whenever is not always good
For exactly one year now, I have been doing all my training outdoors. I live in England, which means that for roughly two thirds of a year I am subjected to cold rainy days whilst training. The truth is I could do it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke, but I wouldn’t want to. Fact. Of. Life.
Of course this is not a disadvantage if you train inside a gym, but that’s not a convenience I have. If you are in a similar situation and you live in a country with similar weather conditions, then be aware that discomfort will be the first thing racing through your body when you step outdoors for your calisthenics workout.
However there are some studies that suggest training outdoors in substandard weather actually makes you stronger… but I can’t be bothered to find them. Sorry guys.
Want to know how strong your back is as a weightlifter? Tell me how much you can deadlift. What about if you’re a calisthenics athlete…?
*BIG PAUSE FOLLOWED BY A MIC DROP*
The point being made here is that Calisthenics is not easy to quantify with objective measures except for maybe the number of reps you can do for a specific exercise. Overall those who are seriously motivated by wanting to get stronger wouldn’t be blamed for sticking to weight training because it allows them to find out exactly through a variety of numerical measures.
Neither of the pros and cons I’ve mentioned have made me favour one type of training over another. And that should be the case for everyone reading. Don’t be afraid to mix up your training to include both calisthenics and weightlifting, because a combination of both types of training will only result in a stronger body.
As for me, I will carry on with calisthenics training for the upper body, whilst my lower body benefits from both weight training and plyometric training. Currently I’m working on developing an upper body calisthenics strength program, which aims to develop pushing and pulling movements in both the horizontal and vertical plane of motion.
A final note to everyone reading: this post has only scratched the surface of what calisthenics is and the potential that can be achieved with such training. I hope to produce more content on calisthenics soon so the EHF reader base doesn’t have to sift through the bullshit that the fitness industry is shrouding us in.