The pump in the gym while lifting weights feels good and that’s a given, but whether you want to admit it or not, at one point, muscle contractions under the resistance of a weight, simply get boring.
You start feeling like your body is made to be doing more than that, you’re looking for something dynamic, besides lifting weights.
If that’s the case, then you are in the right place, because we’re about to discuss one of the more interesting muscle building sports, namely calisthenics.
What are calisthenics?
If you know the fundamentals of muscle and strength building, then we wouldn’t even need to tell you that you need a progressively challenging load, in order to make substantial progress.
While achieving such a load through weights is a good way to go to developing an aesthetic physique, it is far from the only way to do so.
Calisthenics is a way of progressively challenging your musculature, by only using gravity and your own bodyweight.
The word is derived from the Greek words “Kalos” and “Stenos” which mean beauty and strength, respectively.
Generally, this is a great way to achieve fitness, increase strength levels, stamina and explosiveness, while also building your body and making it functional and mobile.
Calisthenics are a bit similar to gymnastics, however, you won’t need a gymnastics gym to practice it, as for the most part, it only takes a parallel bar, a pull-up bar and a Swedish wall.
Furthermore, you can use rings, narrow pull-up bars and any other thing you can improvise on in your local street fitness park
Should you do weights or calisthenics?
We often see people who praise lifting weights and deny any other form of physical training.
And while that may be your best choice if you are a competitive bodybuilder, powerlifter or physique athlete, it is certainly not the best when it comes to optimal overall physical performance.
In our humble opinion, combining weight lifting with calisthenics, general street workouts, sprints, cross running and any other natural motor pattern movements is your go-to choice.
In doing so, you will be feeling better, more functional and capable in the physical world.
Calisthenics are the perfect choice for people who are looking to get into lifting weights, as it develops pushing and pulling strength, as well as explosiveness.
So, before adding any additional resistance via weights, make sure you are able to easily push and pull your own bodyweight against the force of gravity.
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Beginner calisthenics workout
Much like training in the gym, getting better in using your bodyweight is a matter of progressive adaptation, meaning that if you can’t do a muscle up yet, you shouldn’t rush into it.
Instead, you will start with the basic movements that will help you develop baseline levels of strength and strength endurance, along with explosiveness.
Ultimately, the more complex movements like muscle ups or swinging dips, will come naturally.
Note that the given exercises in the workout below are done in the exact order of listing. Sets and rep ranges will be explained after that.
So, let’s start off with the fundamental exercises.
As mentioned, before doing anything crazy, you need to master the basic movements, starting off with push-ups.
This exercise works on your chest, triceps and front shoulders, as well as the core, which contracts when we are trying to keep our body straight.
The exercise may sound simple, but in fact, it develops your pushing strength and balance pretty well.
- Place your hands on the ground at or wider than shoulder width
- Keep your body and legs straight, heels together and head looking forward
- Without letting your hips hang down, start going down slowly, until your chest touches the ground
- Push up explosively to the initial position, without locking out the elbow
Note- To bring diversity, you can switch grips. A closer grip (placing of the hands), will put more emphasis on the triceps, where the elbow can also be locked out up top. A wider grip, will stretch out and place more tension on the chest and front part of the shoulders
Close grip chin-ups
This is a basic pulling exercise, that works on both the biceps and the back musculature, a perfect start of pulling strength development.
- Grab the pull-up bar closer than shoulder width with an underhand grip and hang on it freely
- Pull yourself up, until your chin is over the bar
- Go down slowly to the initial position
Note- You can switch grips, to wide overhand grip to do a regular pull-up.
In doing so, you will put more emphasis on the forearms and back musculature, as well as different zones of the biceps.
Furthermore, to gain more explosiveness on the chin-up movement with an underhand grip, you can try pulling up more explosively and bringing your chest over the bar.
Handstands (& handstand push-up)
This exercise is your perfect starter for developing more shoulder strength and balance overall. For starters, it can be done on a wall.
- Stand against a wall and place your hands on the ground, a feet before the wall
- Push with your legs into a straight position, where you’re upside down, balancing on your hands
- Touch the wall with your heels slightly
- Hold for some time, starting from 5 seconds and increasing the duration progressively
- Go down slowly when you are done
Note- To give yourself more of a challenge, you can start trying to push your heels off the wall and balance without help. Eventually, you will find a good balance point.
Once you master it on the ground, you can start balancing on parallel bars or other structures. Furthermore, you can do handstand push-ups.
This pulling exercise helps strengthen the biceps, forearms and the lower part of the back musculature.
The exercise can be done on a barbell, low rings or a low-placed bar
- Get under the bar and grab it with an overhand grip at shoulder width
- Keep your body and legs straight and feet together
- Look up and pull yourself up until the bar reaches your chest
- Go down slowly, keeping the tension on the back
Hanging leg raises
This basic abdominal exercise is one of your best choices when it comes to developing strength and balance in the abdominal area and it also has a good amount of variations.
- Hang on the pull-up bar, grabbing it at shoulder width
- Keep legs straight and slightly raise them to tense the abdominals
- Lift the legs up slowly, contracting the abdominals
- Let your legs go down slowly, keeping the tension on the abs
Note- To challenge the abs & core more, you can add twists to the leg raises, as well as doing them slowly and holding the contraction up top for a couple of seconds.
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For the most part, street fitness trainees skip legs, but this is not the case here! We want full body functionality. That’s why the workout ends with an explosive lower body movement
- Place your feet at shoulder width with toes slightly opened out
- Keep your body straight, knees slightly bent and head looking forward
- Place your arms comfortably in a position of choice
- Squat down to at least parallel depth, where your legs are parallel to the ground
- Squat up and jump explosively through your toes and land stably
Note- To further challenge the lower body, you can do single leg, pistol squats (non-jumping squats)
Lower body explosiveness
We would highly recommend adding sprints to your bodyweight workouts or doing them on off days, as they are the single best lower body exercise that also accounts for substantial explosiveness gains.
It is recommended that you do sprints on a good running surface and not asphalt or concrete. That may be too tough for the joints.
- 5-10 minutes of light jogging
- 200-300 meters of progressively increasing speed running, reaching 70% of your top speed with gradual acceleration
- First sprint lap- In the first 3-5 seconds, reach 90% speed gradually and maintain it for 6-8 seconds
- Second sprint lap- In the first 3-5 seconds, reach 100% speed gradually and maintain for 6 seconds
- Further laps- Reach 100% speed as quickly as possible and maintain for 6 or more seconds
Numbers of laps and rest times
It is recommended to start off with a baseline 3-5 working lengths and progressively increase the number as you adapt.
Rest times between the separate sprint lengths is 50-90 seconds, depending on exhaustion. Body should remain warm before the beginning of every following lap.
The rest times between sets and exercises are the same as the rest times between sprint laps.
Sets and repetitions
For the most part, you can start off from 3 working sets on each exercise, done with 10-15 repetitions each, after which, you can start applying the progressive overload principle, just like in the gym.
That means that the number of sets and repetitions will progressively increase. However, keep in mind those are not the only increases you will be making.
You can start applying more effort to each exercise to develop more prominent muscle explosiveness.
We know for a fact that muscles take some time to recover after working out, meaning that this workout should not be done every day.
Doing this every other day will have just the right benefits, if it is the only type of intense resistance training that you do frequently.
On off days, you can include cardio, such as running, biking, inline skating, swimming and rope jumping, as well as stretching and mobility work to keep the musculature toned and functional.
Before you jump into lifting heavy weights, make sure you utilize what you have- Gravity and your own bodyweight!
Doing calisthenics will boost your strength, strength endurance and explosiveness, and when combined with other natural movements, it will make for a pretty good fitness workout.
If you still love the weight lifting workouts, make sure you combine both in a smart manner, without overworking/under-recovering your body, to ultimately stay healthy, fit and full of energy.
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