You’ve probably heard about calisthenics. It’s gained huge popularity recently. But what exactly is calisthenics?
The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalos (κάλος), which means “beauty” or “beautiful”, and sthenos (σθένος), meaning “strength”. Put together it would mean “beautiful strength”.
When you hear the word calisthenics, the first thing that comes to mind are crazy moves performed on a bar or on the floor. These moves are generally compound exercises requiring strength, coordination, balance, agility, endurance and power. Due to the nature of these movements you will not only be working the main muscle groups but your core and stabilising muscles too.
One of the biggest reasons of it’s rise to fame is that it can be performed pretty much anywhere, only minimal equipment is required. Rather than using heavier weights you play with your body position. Manipulating the lever (angles, how “long” your body is) will make an exercise harder or easier. You’ve already done it when doing push ups on your knees vs your feet. If you further want to increase difficulty you can add extra weights in the form of a weight belt, weight vest, resistance bands, etc.
Gymnastics, cross fit, poledancing and street workout is based on calisthenics principals. The main components are pushing and pulling and plyometrics. Bigger focus is normally placed on upper body development, however a well rounded athlete will perform lower body exercises too. The reason for this is that there are less lower body exercises and after a while you will need to incorporate some heavy weights in order to keep improving.
Due to the compound nature of the exercises it’s not possible to perform split training like with conventional gym exercises. You can either break it into pull and push days or upper body and lower body. Adequate rest periods between training sessions is necessary.
Calisthenics requires a great deal of skill development. As most exercises are compound, it takes time to learn how to use your body as a whole unit. Learning the basics of pushing and pulling is extremely important. All other upper body exercises build on these two fundamental principles. Only after you’ve built strong basics can you progress to the next level of moves. This desire to progress is another reason why calisthenics is so popular. Whilst in a gym environment if you want to progress you’d just increase the weight you lift, here you’d learn something new which keeps things interesting and fun.
A lot of calisthenics moves can be well translated into our everyday life too, for example carrying your shopping will become a breeze. Each progression requires correct muscle engagement. To achieve that a huge focus is placed on injury prevention by stretching and strengthening key muscles. Correct movement patterns will not only help you become a lot more efficient and get that new move a lot quicker but will reduce your risk of injuries and improve your posture. Greater recruitment of stabilising and core muscles will have a great carry over to the unpredictable every day movements.
Communities are another big part of calisthenics. Likeminded individuals get together to achieve their goals. There are also several competitions where based on specific scoring systems a winner is chosen. Most competitions require participants to put a short routine together (street workout). This will challenge your endurance even more as you’ll be performing moves back to back. There are several calisthenics parks being built all over the world. These are very popular due to being outdoor, easily accessible and free. Street workout comes from here.
So calisthenics is basically compound bodyweight exercises with the aim of getting stronger and learning new skills whilst having fun often in a group environment.