Calisthenics will change you.

By on July 11, 2024

Calisthenics will CHANGE you.

I’ve often thought of calisthenics as the “thinking man’s resistance training.”

While you can learn an incredible amount from any form of training, calisthenics truly does represent a journey. You won’t make progress by simply banging your head against the wall: you need to be considered and deliberate in your approach.

Or, at least that’s the case for the more advanced and beautiful movements. Your handstand push ups, your planches, your muscle ups.

Red Hood Handstand

These are movements that appear to defy gravity. That look literally superhuman, in some cases.

I’m not talking about my own movements – I’m a long way from where I want to be. But look up a channel like Simonster Strength or Sondre Berg to see what’s really possible with mastery of your bodyweight.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where you can make easy progress is in the simple bodyweight movements. Like push ups, pull ups, sit ups, and bodyweight squats. And these will still CHANGE you.

They’ll let you take complete control of your bodyweight. And they’ll turn you into a gym: allowing you to train anywhere, any time. No gym membership required. No queuing for equipment.

The power of these movements when used for high repetitions to failure is seriously slept on by too many people.

Like many people, I began my training this way. By doing huge sets of hundreds of push ups at a time. Along with sit ups, pull ups, squats, and curls with light dumbbells.

Later I would play with tempo, going faster and slower and holding isometric positions. I would start doing explosive push ups. I started doing handsprings and basic hand balancing movements.

And the first time I tried the bench press – at the age of 15 – I managed to press over 75kg for reps.

All of this came from the simple bodyweight moves. Performed regularly and with an extremely high number of repetitions. I’ve been over this before, but this kind of training has the unique ability to fortify the tendons, to build strength endurance but ALSO a good amount of max strength. This is because going to failure forces the recruitment of the larger muscle fibres and because the build up of blood and metabolites causes hypoxia, forcing the recruitment of faster twitch muscle fibres.

It’s hard to injure yourself with this kind of training and recovery remains manageable.

Think you can’t build big muscle this way? There are plenty of examples that suggest otherwise: from Mike Tyson who built massive legs in prison, to athlete’s like Herschel Walker. The truth is that by maintaining tension on the muscles, you’ll cause a build up of metabolites that triggers hypertrophy.

The most simple training program of push ups, pull ups and air squats performed to failure will give you a chiselled physique, an increase in energy and endurance, stronger tendons, and decent explosive strength.

But when you want to take this even further, you unlock the real power of calisthenics.

Because in order to progress beyond this, you’re going to need to use far more challenging and technical movements. Movements like the one arm push up, the dragon flag, hand stand push ups, planche variations, pistol squats, dragon squats, sissy squats, cossack squats.

Each of these movements is a journey and an education. It will teach you more about yourself, and about programming, than nearly any other kind of training I can think of.

And you’ll even develop your brain as you progress.

That’s because these movements require a huge amount of body awareness. To perform any planche variation you need to lock your arms out completely straight – something many of us can’t even remember how to do! You need to push through your shoulder blades by protracting your scapula and you need to shift your weight over your hands, engaging the front belts. You need to contract your glutes in order to raise your legs behind you.

If you’re using the easier straddle planche variation, then you’ll need to work on your hip mobility, too.

The same goes for handstands. You might just about be able to muscle yourself up with brute force. But if you’re going to balance and then start performing impressive movements in this inverted position, then you’re going to need to develop shoulder mobility to keep your arms straight over your head. You’re going to need to control your centre of gravity with tiny micro-adjustments.

You’re going to need to grip the ground to keep yourself balanced. You’ll be contracting the core and the glutes. And you’ll be

The pistols squat requires not only leg strength… but balance and significant hip and ankle mobility.

Simply being aware of all of this places great demand on your working memory. Simply being in these unusual positions triggers brain plasticity and forces your focus.

But it’s the journey to get here that’s even more important. Many people, prior to starting calisthenics, won’t have ever heard of depressing their scapula or tilting their pelvis.

Learning to move the body in these subtle ways while developing the necessary strength and mobility, while managing injury and recovery…

Utilising strategies like greasing the groove, isometrics, and more…

It forces you to be patient. It forces you to learn.

And when you finally unlock one of the movements you’ve been working on? It’s an incredible feeling. Because you’ve been on that journey. Because you know what it took to get there.

And because you’ve meticulously rebuilt your body to achieve things that can legitimately draw a crowd.

And you’ll do all this using ONLY your own body. All the tools you already have.

Because you’re working with your own bodyweight you won’t become slow or overly large. You won’t need to massively increase your calories or “bulk.”

Because this strength is about control. About inter and intra-muscular coordination.

Look guys, I’m not telling you to become a calisthenics athlete: like any form of training it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t account for the full variety of amazing things the human body is capable of.

I’m just saying to incorporate calisthenics into your training. To give it a try.

Because calisthenics will change you.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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