Callisthenics – ordinary people doing extraordinary things...
Let's face it when it comes to going to the gym its usually the same routine most people stick to, running, weights maybe a class, but do you really enjoy what you are doing or is it just getting a bit boring? This was certainly me 5 years ago and I knew something had to change.
Yes, that’s usually the response I get when I say the words Calisthenics. Most people haven’t heard of it, but the bottom line is this area of fitness is growing rapidly. Callisthenics is defined in Wikipedia as “exercises consisting of a variety of gross motor movements; often rhythmical and generally without equipment or apparatus. They are, in essence, body-weight training”. “Calisthenics” comes from the ancient Greek word “Kallos” which means beauty and “Sthenos” which means strength. From my perspective, I see it as any type of exercise that involves little equipment but requires a high degree of strength and coordination from your body. By this, you could perform the exercise in a park, in a room, in your garden but the motions themselves can be complex and recruit multiple muscle groups. This simplicity is the beauty of callisthenics - you don’t require any sophisticated equipment, expensive gym membership or someone to spot you – it can be done anywhere, by anyone who just has the mindset of giving something new ago and the result can defy gravity.
The poor man’s gymnastics
It would seem that the callisthenics world in some respects butchers the art of gymnastics by opening up what would be deemed to be highly skilled moves to people that have office jobs and have never been to a gymnastics class in their life. Again, I love that! Calisthenics can be performed with grace and complete control, or the same move can be achieved by throwing yourself into it and just experiencing how it feels. You might not be pointing your toes gracefully like a gymnast or have the perfect posture and shoulder alignment, but what matters is how you feel when you come close to achieving something you never thought possible.
I like many others started off my fitness journey in the gym. I didn’t know what I was doing, but thought I was within six months an expert as I had read Men's Health and was taking my body weight in protein to get hench! Well, at 18 is easy to do this and I don’t have any regrets as I learnt so much by making mistakes and finding my way to get stronger.
Firstly I had noticed that from all the years of training with weights I had created some imbalances in my body and injuries. Don’t get me wrong I love training with weights. However, I didn’t like what I saw around the gym – people would seem to be in a trance just doing the same old thing on repeat – it’s like groundhog day. After years of this, it was getting boring, and I remember feeling that I was getting sucked into what I call “ego lifting”. Yep, I think as a man it’s a common path, but ego lifting is what I would define as simply lifting heavy weight as it makes you feel good and look good in front of other testosterone-fuelled guys. I hated this. This isn’t why I was at the gym, and I started to think that training like this and throwing weights around just didn’t sit right with me anymore.
So, I joined a new Health Club, and within a very small section of this facility, they had a TRX workout frame. I was immediately drawn towards this and started playing around with it and noticed nobody was using it. I didn’t have a routine, so I just started to play and make up moves and use all sections of the frame as well as the TRX. I loved the freedom of doing something new and not being locked down by a bench or resistance machine. I noticed I was getting some strange looks from people, but never the less carried on training in that way experimenting to see how far I could push myself.
What was interesting for me was that I felt like a kid and training was now fun. A played around with going upside down, pulling and pushing motions and even tried to balance more on one leg, headstands, handstand that kind of thing. A few people pointed out to me “Hey Mark are you doing some of that Ninja stuff today?” . Over time, I realised that doing this stuff at a Health Club wasn’t the best as it was making me feel quite self-conscious, but eventually found a gym that I could train at that had some basic equipment to allow me to explore more areas or my body. Even though I hadn’t realised it, I had been doing Calisthenics and fortunately met many like-minded people like myself that loved this style of training and had the same passion and drive as me. What was great was ego didn’t come into it. It was about supporting each other and finding out what works, but importantly having a goal to achieve something new. I found that callisthenics has not only helped me focus on pushing myself but has created a unique mind set and flow that I didn’t get with standard gym training.
Should you give it a go?
YES! I think everyone should give it a go. Here are my top reasons:
A visual goal - As I said earlier, training in this method gives you a goal. You can see body shapes, positions and holds that inspire you and through a constructive training approach, you will see the results.
Open your body - more and more people suffer from back pain, shoulder and neck ache and this is due to our 9 to 5 jobs spending hours sitting and not moving around. Training at a gym has many benefits, but one of the issues with weight training in many cases it causes restrictions and tightness in your body. By training with Calisthenics methods, you open areas of your body and stretch those tight muscles giving you fantastic posture and strengthening of the core muscles. This is because many of the moves in callisthenics involve your core. On stationary weight machines, your muscles are isolated, so although you are maybe building muscle for example on your shoulders, you are not working your core muscles as they can relax. The Planche, human flag and levers in callisthenics require strength and resilience in your core muscles among many others, so you end up with very balanced muscles, and a strong foundation which I have found has helped me immensely with other disciplines.
The Bottom Line:
Adding callisthenics to any workout will provide many benefits. The key is to persevere, enjoy the challenge and above all have fun. If you are interested in learning more I would highly recommend checking out the School of Calisthenics website as this will give you the foundations and a fantastic place to start and in the words of the school "redefine your impossible".
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LIFE DOESN’T GET EASIER OR MORE FORGIVING – WE GET STRONGER AND MORE RESILIENT