The first question I get when the word calisthenics rolls off my tongue is, “What is that?” with a hint of skepticism. I do not blame people for being skeptical because calisthenics is pretty mysterious in its nature. The word itself is of Greek origin and is a combination of two words. ‘Kalos’ which means aesthetic beauty and ‘Sthenos’ which means strength.
Calisthenics is beautiful strength.
It is what the Spartans practiced to be the best warriors in all of Greece. If you need an idea of Spartans and their combat abilities be sure to watch the movie ‘300’. What makes it so mysterious though? It is probably the fact that when advanced versions of calisthenics moves are being done they look unreal and make the doer seem super human.
Handstand on an sunny day 🙂
What is even more interesting is that everyone has done something that resides in the realm of calisthenics at least once. Whether it be a push up, pull up, bridge, handstand, jumping jack or a cartwheel it’s all calisthenics. When you use your body to workout you are practicing calisthenics.
I came upon calisthenics by accident in 2015 and I have been practicing it ever since.
My practice has revealed quite a number of things to me while also correcting so many misconceptions I had about strength and fitness. Calisthenics has many secrets to share but today I’ll share these three:
- The Body Works As A Unit
The Front Lever is an advanced compound isometric exercise
Weightlifting generally focuses on isolating muscle in order to make it grow. That is the reason you will notice people doing 3 to 5 exercises for the chest, arms, legs or any other muscle group. The only drawback is that in the real world the body works as a unit. You may lift amazing weight with your biceps but you will fail to do a single pull up because your biceps are strong enough to carry you but your forearms, fingers and lat muscles aren’t.
Calisthenics movements are always compound movements that work more than one muscle group at any given time. This means that they not only make you stronger, they make you stronger proportionally. When you do a pull up your biceps, forearms and lat muscles will grow together in proportion leading to the type of body structure that lands on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. To reap the benefits of your body’s potential start doing more compound exercises. Burpees are an excellent example because they are a full body exercise that aids in weight loss and gaining strength at the same time. Other compound exercises include mountain climbers and jumping jacks to name a few.
2. Intensity Is Key
A 1 arm lever is Intense!
Intensity by my definition is the time spent while your muscle/s are under tension. If you squat and you hold it at the bottom it gets intense. If you run at full speed you’ll find it more intense than jogging. Intense exercises burn way more calories and tone muscle. If fitness is the goal upping the intensity is the key that opens that door. Calisthenics moves are compounded so it is a given that they will be intense if done right. Intensity depends on form very much. In weight lifting, the heavier you go the more likely you are to affect your form. In calisthenics, form depends on how strong you are. If you try a 1 arm push-up before having mastered the narrow/diamond push-up you may go down but you won’t come up and your body will tell you why. How can you make your exercises more intense? Slow down the rate at which you do them. That engages more muscle.
Decreasing rest periods also increases intensity because the muscle won’t have time to replenish its chemical reserves or Adenosine triphosphate if we are getting technical. That means aim to have shorter workouts with less rest and more work. However, intensity does not mean doing 10 or even 20 sets. Nor does it mean running 8 kilometers often. 2 kilometers covered using sprints and jogs is way more intense than 8km done jogging. push the body hard for a short time then let it rest and recover. Do not push it too hard because it will push back.
Intensity is the key to fitness no matter the discipline.
3. The Only Supplement You Need Is Your Focus
I have used supplements. When I did weight training I took supplements and I believed they made me grow although I never quite saw the results I wanted to see. When I started calisthenics I stopped using supplements and focused on working out, resting and eating. I gained weight all the same but this time it was actually muscle mass because I could see the muscle. I got a gift of supplements earlier this year and decided to give them a go again. I gained weight but my muscle definition went down and I couldn’t do the more challenging moves I had become accustom to doing. I got fat. That incident brought me to the conclusion that supplements make me fat. I speak for myself there. Perhaps they make everyone fat then people work hard to burn off the fat and attain muscle but, can’t food do the same thing? Calisthenics taught me that I just have to eat right, put in the work and the results will come. I have nothing against supplements but I believe they are unnecessary if your goal is fitness.
I would advise you focus on eating clean and regularly. That will give your body the caloric intake it needs to grow. Workout intensely till you feel yourself trembling. That will send the signal to your brain that your body needs to grow. The most important part is resting. Muscle only grows when you sleep and you have to sleep adequately. The recommended amount of sleep for real muscle growth is ten hours but nobody has that much time so aim for seven to eight hours of sleep. The rest is clock work.
A Calisthenics Body
Your discipline may be different from mine and that’s alright but these 3 lessons are not etched only in calisthenics. Calisthenics just taught them to me and if you can apply them in what you do you will be amazed at the results you achieve.
Cheers to your fitness and well being.
Paul T. Bako