The art of calisthenics: what it is, how it works and how to get started?

With the sedentary lifestyles of modern society, we all need to move more. This is where calisthenics comes in.

The human body is a complicated machine consisting of bones, joints and muscles designed for movement. In our ancestral past, human beings moved considerably more, and while society has changed, our bodies haven’t and still require more exercise than most people can manage to fit in. Calisthenics is a type of workout that involves different exercises and movements using your own body weight for resistance. Its appeal is that you can do it yourself, at home with minimal equipment. So how can you get started with calisthenics?

What is calisthenics?

The ruling principles of calisthenics can be worked out from its etymology; the term comes from the Greek words ‘Kàlos’, meaning beauty, and “Sthénos”, meaning strength. Calisthenics earns its name as it is effective both for aesthetic development as well as building strength. It combines strength and conditioning training, while also borrowing movements from gymnastics and acrobatics, sometimes using equipment like bars and rings. First developed by ancient Greek armies, calisthenics is popular with modern-day soldiers [1].

While many gym-goers can be intimidated by the testosterone-fulled weight-lifting sections of gyms, calisthenics has a slightly more artistic flair. Typical movements include pull ups, push ups and bar work and also floor movements like squats and lunges combined with stretching.

Unlike most art forms, calisthenics is accessible.  Using your own body weight and minimal equipment means that you can do it anywhere; in your home, the gym, or the local park. A popular form of calisthenics is ‘urban’ or ‘street’ calisthenics, which is performed in the outdoor calisthenic parks that are cropping up in city spaces. It can be done in as little as 20-minute sessions. With calisthenics, not having the time, space, money, or equipment to do exercise is no longer an excuse.

Benefits to fitness, health and longevity

We all know how effective exercise is in improving health and longevity. Not only does moving improve our mood and mental health, it also makes us feel better physically, aids weight loss, and reduces risk of disease. Regular physical activity is associated with an increase of life expectancy of 0.4 to 6.9 years! Considering that the major cause of death in industrialised countries is cardiovascular disease, exercise should be a priority in everyone’s lifestyle [2].

It helps both the strength and hypertrophy of muscles, if you are more concerned about the aesthetic aspects of working out

The main goal of calisthenics is to improve your muscle and aerobic endurance. It helps both the strength and hypertrophy of muscles, if you are more concerned about the aesthetic aspects of working out. When the resistance created through calisthenics training is high enough, hypertrophy begins and muscle mass can be built. Calisthenics also improves cardiovascular fitness, which is associated with long term health benefits.

Calisthenics has also been shown to improve posture, strength and fat loss, even in those just starting out, benefiting physical fitness and wellbeing [1]. Calisthenics can burn more calories than cardio workouts, due to the greater amount of muscle engagement required. Movements like push ups and pull ups work multiple muscle groups, meaning you work out more of your body in a shorter period of time. As well as increasing muscle, performing continuous calisthenics can be a form of cardiovascular exercise, which is one of the most effective ways to burn fat.

Calisthenics also improves your proprioception, your body’s internal sense of knowing where its different parts are without looking at them. This sense relies on receptors in your joints, muscles and connective tissues, which receive information when your muscles move as well as when your body is still. Calisthenics can also be more effective at improving body coordination than even Pilates!

Because calisthenics uses body weight, there is less risk of injury compared to lifting weights. It is easier on the tendons, joints and muscles of the body, meaning that recovery is faster and you are ready for your next workout quicker. Building the strength of these parts also gives them longer durability and lifespan [3].

Beginners guide to calisthenics

Here is a helpful list of classic calisthenic moves, ranging from beginner to intermediate:

  • 60 seconds of skipping. Using a skipping rope will help cardiovascular health and get your body started.
  • 20 squats. As your fitness improves, upgrade to jump squats. Adding a jump to a humble squat includes a cardio component, aiding aerobic health and weight loss.
  • 20 dips. Using a dip bar, or a lowly park bench, use your arms and shoulders to push your body weight up and down.
  • 20 crunches or sit ups, the bane of many gym goers, these are effective at engaging your core and improving the appearance of abs.
  • 20 push ups. A staple of any calisthenic routine. Push ups can be simplified for beginners by doing half push ups by resting your knees on the floor.
  • 20 pull ups and chin ups. Once you’ve built up strength and endurance, you can try these extreme movements using an exercise bar, swapping the direction of your grasped hands to work on different muscle groups.

It is important to limit rest periods in between sets to no more than one minute to keep your heart rate up. Given the variety of movements included in the broad discipline, it’s possible to mix up your calisthenics routine to keep it an interesting and effective workout.

References:

[1] https://rb.gy/kgm8kw
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3395188/
[3] https://rb.gy/sm9hbf

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