What is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a form of training in which you use your bodyweight as resistance to build strength and muscle.
By utilising increasingly difficult exercises, we can progress from basic exercises to super-human feats of bodyweight strength.
Calisthenics has exploded in popularity and is one of the biggest growing trends in fitness, but what is calisthenics and why should you take it up?
You’ve come to the best place for answers to your questions!
We’ve got the history, as well as modern-day popularity information.
We’re throwing in common (and uncommon) questions with answers so that you feel as informed as possible about what we believe is the best form of exercise out there for ultimate overall strength.
History of Calisthenics
The calisthenics name is derived from the Ancient Greek language, where kalios means beautiful and sthenics means strength.
It was originally invented as a way for the Ancient Greeks to train their military in strength and stamina, and judging by the physiques depicted in history books it shows that calisthenics is a superior method of training.
Weights and fancy machines had been far from invented at that point in history, so the reliance upon their bodyweight was high on the list of priorities.
What better way to know how to achieve maximum strength within yourself than to train using calisthenics techniques.
Old School Calisthenics
In more recent times, it was used by strongmen to demonstrate their strength.
Jasper Benincasa was probably one of the most famous old-school calisthenics strongmen. He was known for his one-arm pull-up feats, recording his last ever one-arm pull-up at 89, just two weeks before moving to a retirement home.
He is also the only recorded person in history to perform the Close To Impossible, a move that he invented where his shoulder and arms were straight and parallel to the bar with his body hanging down. Legend has it he could do this for 3 seconds!
For further reading, check out Jim Bathhurt’s excellent memorial page on Jasper Benincasa.
Modern Day Calisthenics
The popularity of calisthenics took a step back in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the invention of pin-loaded weight machines, as well as the surge in the marketability of bodybuilding partially to some insanely impressive guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, in the last ten years, calisthenics has exploded in popularity again. This can be attributed, to a limited extent, to the growth of YouTube and Instagram.
Street Workout and Calisthenics competitions are popping up all over the globe, and a growing number of people are switching from weights to calisthenics for many reasons, such as injury recovery and prevention, strength, the convenience of needing little-to-no equipment, and aesthetics.
Pushing Your Limits To Discover Your Body's Potential
The human body is an amazing thing!
We are lucky enough to have the most advanced intellect on the planet and have used this to make groundbreaking technological advances.
However, a side effect of our success is that most people can go by in their lives without physically exerting themselves to survive.
This has led to generations of people who may never see what their body is capable of, never pushing their physical limitations to achieve moves that would normally seem impossible!
Calisthenics is here to change that!
Using little more than your body weight, you can push your body and see a different side to yourself that you may never have seen before.
Eye Catching Moves
Let’s get this straight out there, calisthenics looks cool!
Muscle-ups, front levers, back levers and the human flag are all moves that require high levels of strength, but they also look pretty awesome.
At times, you’ll challenge and defy gravity!
Resistance Training to Avoid Injury
Day-to-day soreness, whether in our shoulders, back or knees, is caused mainly by a lack of strength.
Your shoulder is only as strong as the scapula muscles and the rotator cuff, neglect these, and you’re in for a world of pain.
Your back and knees rely on strength in the glutes to avoid injury.
Focus on Mobility
Another common cause of injury is a lack of mobility.
This is especially important as we get older.
A lot of calisthenics moves require decent levels of mobility to pull off.
You Can Train Indoors or Outdoors
Unless you’re somewhere that has outdoor lifting facilities, it can be very difficult to train outdoors whilst weight-lifting.
Calisthenics, on the other hand, encourages an outdoor lifestyle, especially if you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate that has lots of outdoor gyms, such as Sydney.
That’s not to say you have to do it outdoors, calisthenics gyms are popping up worldwide now.
A specialised indoor facility can offer extra perks such as foam pits to practise your freestyle.
Does calisthenics build muscle? Hell yes, it does!
Your muscle cells don’t know the difference between internal and external resistance.
Calisthenics also encourages a low body fat percentage as this makes it a little easier.
Pull-ups build big lats, if you have big lats then you have a big back.
Want a six-pack?
With calisthenics, you are the weight you’re lifting; this means you have to stabilise yourself using your core with almost every exercise.
With weight training, whether you’re lifting 10kg or 100kg, the move remains the same.
Calisthenics is different in that when you’re ready to make it more difficult, we adjust the exercise.
This means you have to refine your skills regularly.
Moreover, throw in calisthenics skills such as a muscle-up, handstand or a 360 muscle-up, and these are skills that require hours of practice to master.
This keeps your training fresh and ensures you constantly challenge yourself to improve your skills.
Bodyweight Strength Training Built on Progression
At Maximum Potential Calisthenics, our programs are built around progressive bodyweight strength training.
Using simple progressions, gradually making the exercise harder and harder, you progress from beginner exercises such as incline push-ups to advanced exercises like one-arm push-ups, handstand push-ups and many more.
Using this art of progression, we can build all the muscle and strength required for any of the advanced exercises without lifting any external weight.
Is Calisthenics Suitable For Me?
The short answer is yes.
Calisthenics attracts a wide range of people due to its levels of progression.
Whether you’re young or old, short or tall, big or small, there is something you’ll be able to do in your first session and every one after that.
Something we take pride in at MP Calisthenics is seeing the confidence increase in our clients as they move through a progression that they would never have thought possible before they worked with us.
It’s a great feeling knowing what our bodies can do.
Can Women Do Calisthenics?
Of course, women can do calisthenics.
At MP Calisthenics, we’ve helped many women achieve their calisthenics goals.
Are There Any Limitations For Woman Doing Calisthenics?
Women tend to have less upper body strength than men, but if you train hard and consistently, you can progress just as well as the men.
Handstands, bridging, and pistol squats are all the ultimate equalisers for women, there is little to no advantage to men for all these.
In fact, for a straight arm press-to-handstand, women tend to progress through this easier, as generally, they have more mobile hips, less weight and more hip strength as a proportion of their body weight.
Every one of us is built differently, and there may be some things that you are limited on, but this comes down to each person individually instead of being male or female.
Confidence can be a limitation, but this is why we work with progressions so you can start at your current level of ability and lower the risks of burnout or injury.
This means you’ll see progress more often, resulting in increased confidence and a great reason to keep it up!
I'm Tall, Is Calisthenics Suitable For Me?
If you’re tall then the levers will be harder as your lever (your body) will be longer.
This means you will have to be a bit stronger than someone with the same build as you but shorter to perform those same levers.
At MP Calisthenics we’ve taught many tall students to make progress through the levers.
Are My Muscles Too Big For Calisthenics?
If you are asking whether the size of your body will affect your training, then it can.
You’re lifting your body weight for things like pull-ups and chin-ups, and the variations can involve your full weight at different stages.
Therefore the more weight there is for you to lift, the harder it can be.
However, like most healthy lifestyle programs, you will become leaner over time.
With calisthenics there is minimal need for “bulking” programs so as you progress, the leaner you become, and of course, the stronger you become, and it all comes together.
If you are asking specifically about your muscles being too big, then that is a little different.
If you have big muscles, it is a good indication that they are strong.
The nervous system will simply have to make some adaptations to the new exercises you are doing, just like if you squat for the first time or change your style of the deadlift.
It’s hitting the same muscles but in a slightly different way, and this is what our bodies need to adapt to.
Sometimes you may feel that your muscles are quite tight, so we recommend focusing extra on mobility in your training.
Will I Lose Size?
If you ditch the weights and take up calisthenics, your training will be different, so your body composition may change.
This is also largely dependent on how much food you eat, if you reduce your calories, then you will undoubtedly lose size.
If you maintain the same calories, it will be more of a case to grow in some areas and reduce size in others.
Am I Too Old to Do Calisthenics?
Let’s answer this by saying, I’m getting older; I need to do calisthenics!
As we get older, muscle dystrophy accelerates, and our muscles will get tighter quicker.
To keep on top of this, you need to stretch and train strength training.
There is less risk of injuring yourself with calisthenics, so as you get older, it is vital to do calisthenics.
Am I Too Weak For Calisthenics?
No matter your strength level, calisthenics has exercises that you can get started on.
Furthermore, starting at a low level, you can ride the newbie gains train.
This essentially means you will see faster improvement than someone who has been working out for a while.
I Can Already Do Pull-ups, Do I Need to Add External Weight to Progress?
This is a question we get a lot.
Without the understanding of progressive calisthenics, it may seem that your strength gains will be limited without adding weight.
This isn’t the case, there are so many long-term advanced moves that you can keep progressing without ever adding weight.
A one-arm pull-up is a great long-term goal for many.
There are even people pulling off one-arm muscle-ups out there, and the overall level of strength is getting better all the time!
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t do weighted pull-ups; they can make a nice alternative progression to add to your calisthenics training.
Where Do I Start?
If you’ve never done any resistance training before, then you’ll need to start on the basics.
Our free beginner calisthenics guide will get you started if you want to train independently.
Live in the Sydney area?
If you’re not based in Sydney, then there are still many ways we can help you.