The Merriam-Webster defines calisthenics as “systematic rhythmic bodily exercises performed usually without apparatus,” but I prefer Google’s definition:
“gymnastics exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement”
In short, calisthenics are bodyweight exercises. No equipment, just you. Who doesn’t love minimalism like that? Calisthenics include everything from push ups and pull ups to jumping jacks to pikes to pistol squats to tuck jumps to handstands and pretty much any other kind of movement you might imagine. Calisthenics (in the old-school sense) are where I started, way back when I was learning to do pull ups on my dad’s pull up bar in the garage and practicing sit ups and push ups with my siblings on the floor of our parents’ bedroom. Over the past six months or so, I’ve begun utilizing calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) quite a bit more frequently – perhaps half of my resistance trainingworkouts involve weights and traditional lifts, and the other half are bodyweight based exercises (not counting running or conditioning, because 1) I’m a terrible runner, and 2) I can’t run too much these days anyway). This is partly because of some chronic and acute joint issues that are aggravated by heavy lifts, and partly because…well, I just needed a change. It’s not that I grew tired of lifting – although I was tired of being told I’d look like a man if I lifted heavy weights – but that I was no longer excited by it. Frankly, life is too damn short not to exercise in a way that you love. And I love to play. It’s the fun factor, the balls-out joy that comes from doing something physical, the way that some forms of movement (or activity or exercise or whatever the hell you want to call it) just light up your soul.
Maybe that’s too “poetic” for fitness, but I think that’s life. Yall know me (actually, most of you don’t…like whoever the bunch of yall are in Sweden that always show up in my stat tracking. Don’t know a one of you from Adam…but, you know, bless yall for reading!) – I’m a firm believer that as holistic beings (physical/emotional/spiritual), our health is a holistic pursuit wherein the various parts work in synergy. What benefits one part of your health should benefit the others as well, and when one part suffers, it becomes even more of a challenge to keep the others in peak condition.
All that to say, calisthenic workouts are my jam these days. They’re engaging, they’re challenging, and they’re damn fun.
Seriously, go ahead and try to tell me this doesn’t look fun. And badass. And fun:
I can’t even. And I know people say that a lot, but I mean it – I literally can’t even, because I’m not physically capable of that kind of tom foolery…yet.
Watch the full video and be amazed (and then mildly depressed when you try to imitate one of those movements and realize that you are not nearly as strong as you thought you were).
(If you’re interested, you can see the full article on this guy – who happens to be a professional breakdancer – HERE.)
If you’re interested in getting into calisthenics of any kind, I would highly encourage you give it a shot! I enjoy working out so much more now that I’ve incorporated plenty of bodyweight workouts, and I’ve found myself getting stronger for it. THIS bodyweight ladder workout (courtesy of Jen Sinkler) is a great one that will test your strength and conditioning. One of my favorite training books is You Are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren.
He has more bodyweight exercises in that book than most people could probably imagine (including progressions for working up to those more challenging), and it’s a fantastic resource for anyone getting into calisthenics. There’s also the corresponding “You Are Your Own Gym” app, which I’ve not yet downloaded can see being very helpful, especially for those who workout primarily in a gym setting where it might feel cumbersome to bring a book along.
This Progressive Calisthenics page from Bodyweight Training Arena is a great one to bookmark. They share a number of different progressions for achieving “benchmark” calisthenic movements, such as pistol squats, muscle ups, handstand push ups, front levers, and the like. Convict Conditioning is another excellent resource to have in your arsenal, especially if you like some guidance when putting together calisthenic movements into a full workout.
The Gymnastic Bodies programs are something that I would love to try when I can afford it. The various programs (Foundations I, II, II, Handstands, etc.) look incredible, and they appear to be very thorough so that even if you are starting at square one, you come away equipped with everything you need to master the various calisthenic movements at hand.
And finally, when it comes to sources for motivation, inspiration, or just jaw-dropping feats of strength and coordination, I’d suggest following Kenneth Gallarzo of World Calisthenics Organization and Jen Esquer. Fantastically talented humans doing some fantastic (and fun-looking stuff).
…Don’t know about yall, but I’m heading off to do some handstands now.
When it comes to strength training, do you prefer calisthenics, lifting, or both?
If you could wake up tomorrow with exceptional talent in either gymnastics (i.e. calisthenics) or something like strongman/powerlifting (i.e. weight-lifting-based sports), which would you pick and why?