For many people, the word calisthenics dredges up not too pleasant memories of jumping jacks and burpees in gym class back at school. As a result, the word has a negative connotation associated with archaic exercises and unsatisfying results.
In recent times, though, Calisthenics has cast off its old-fashioned image and shown the world what it can really do. Thanks to action movie stars such as Gerard Butler with the 300 workout program, the huge worldwide popularity of the CrossFit movement, and the unprecedented growth of Street Workout, calisthenics has become cool.
All of which is great news when you consider the myriad calisthenics benefits that exist. In this article, we’ll reveal the top 12 benefits of training with nothing but the body you were born with.
What is Calisthenics?
The word Calisthenics comes from the Greek kálos and sthénos, which literally translates as beauty and strength. Calisthenics can be defined as the training of the body for physical improvement and strength gain by using the body as the main training tool. Minimal equipment such as a pull-up bar can be used to perform bodyweight exercises.
Whereas many gym-based workout programs are primarily concerned with building larger muscles, a calisthenics workout program focuses on developing all 3 aspects of total fitness:
Benefit #1: Time Efficiency
Fitting in time to exercise is one of the biggest barriers to sustaining a regular workout routine. Driving to the gym, finding a park, then spending half your time waiting around for exercise equipment is a luxury that many people just can’t afford.
Contrast that with bodyweight training. You always have your gym with you. You don’t need any extra equipment and you can work out in a minimum of space. Those advantages are huge when it comes to getting your workout done – they add up to ‘no excuses’.
Benefit #2: It’s Easier on the Joints
One of the most common complaints among weight trainers revolves around joint pain. From shoulder pain, to hip ache, to wrist problems, joint troubles seem to come with the resistance training territory. After all, throwing heavy poundages around day after day can take its toll on a person’s body. This negative joint effect is made infinitely worse with the lack of warm up, sloppy form, and chronic overtraining which is commonplace in most gyms.
Want to discover a better way?
Make the switch to calisthenics. Bodyweight exercises do not place your joints under anywhere near the same resistance pressure as do barbells and dumbbells. As a result, they are far more forgiving of incorrect technique.
Because the amount of resistance that you are using is rarely more than your body weight, your joints, especially the wrists and shoulders, will be under way less pressure. That will make you far less prone to injury, allowing you to enjoy your new found strength and muscularity without having to hobble around like a cripple.
Benefit #3: Circuit Training
One unique benefit of no-equipment exercises is that they make it much more convenient to take advantage of a valuable workout technique called circuit training. In circuits, you do one set of each exercise in the routine before doing a second set of any exercise.
Moving quickly from exercise to exercise allows you to get more work done in less time - and this is an even more efficient process when there’s no weight to adjust or station to set up.
Circuit training is also a fantastic way to enhance the fat loss effects of resistance training. It boosts your metabolism to burn calories like crazy - all the while, allowing you to build, shape, and define every muscle group in your body.
Benefit #4: It Removes Barriers
We are very good at finding barriers to exercising: time, cost, intimidation of exercising in front of others... As long as gravity exists, your own body weight can provide a vigorous workout that does all the good things that any weights-based routine does - that is build muscle and promote fat loss.
But calisthenics does it by removing the common barriers.
You don’t have to join a gym.
That means that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get fit. Travel is never a problem because you are always carrying your workout equipment - your body - with you. A hotel room or a friend’s house is as good a location as your own home.
Benefit #5: It Works the Core More Effectively
When you exercise on gym equipment, your body usually gets locked into a position. One goal of this positioning is to allow you to isolate the working muscle group. For example, when you are doing a standing calf raise, you position yourself on a machine that very effectively isolates the gastrocnemius calf muscle.
But when you a do a calisthenic version of the same movement – in this case a standing one legged calf raise - your body will be having to work to balance itself as you perform the exercise. This brings the muscles of the core into play as they stabilize the lower body. Even exercises like push-ups activate the abdominals, turning every move into a core move.
Benefit #6: There is No Knowledge Barrier
Many exercises that you perform at the gym involve rather technical and precise body movements. For many people, learning the correct technique is extremely challenging. Of course, if you don’t get them right, you’ll not only be wasting your time – you’ll be courting injury.
Contrast this with calisthenics. Many of the moves are second nature to us. There are simple to perform without any specialized knowledge. This removes another barrier for many people.
According to research conducted at the London Newham General Hospital, lack of knowledge and the perception that they are unqualified to use an exercise machine is one of the biggest barriers people face in beginning an exercise program.
Benefit #7: It Burns a Lot of Calories
In contrast with most weight training exercises, many calisthenics movements combine resistance training with cardiovascular training. This allows you to work both your aerobic (with air) system and your anaerobic (without air) systems.
Exercises that combine the two systems allow you to burn fat while you are building muscle. Examples of bodyweight moves that combine resistance with cardio training are bear crawls, burpees, and power jumps.
The fact that you are constantly changing your body position when you do calisthenics training will keep the heart rate high while strengthening your muscles. One study showed that as little as 10 sets of 10 squat jumps improved muscle fiber strength in the quadriceps muscles.
Benefit #8: It is Accessible for Any Age and Ability
For people who are elderly, overweight or suffering from illness, using weight resistance training equipment just seems too daunting. Yet, doing some gentle bodyweight exercises is often seen as more ‘doable’.
Research conducted by Rebecca Seguin, CSCS and Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed that calisthenics exercises "have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences. Done regularly, these exercises build muscle strength and muscle mass and preserve bone density, independence, and vitality with age".
This makes calisthenics an ideal exercise selection for aged and infirm people.
Benefit #9: It Help You Improve Your Sports Performance.
Plyometrics is a type of calisthenics training that involves jumping vertically and horizontally. As well as providing you with a great fat burning workout, plyometrics will also simulate the actions required to perform many sports.
The quick lateral sprint changes required for basketball, football, and hockey can be trained for using plyometrics. In fact, any sport that requires explosive moves, where you utilize the body’s stretch shortening cycle to increase resistance and build muscle power, are ideal for this type of calisthenics training.
Benefit #10: They Are Shorter than Gym Workouts
When you exercise in the gym there is quite a lot of downtime, even if you don’t have to wait for equipment. Changing weight plates, walking from one side of the gym to the other to use the next piece of gear, and adjusting handles all eat into your time between exercises. This can quickly blow out your rest between sets. In turn, you’ll see a lessening of intensity as your muscles get more time to return to normal. Training like this is far from ideal when you are trying to maximally work your muscles.
When you train with calisthenics, however, there is no adjustment of weight or equipment between sets or having to walk to get to the next piece of training equipment. Because your body is your gym, you can go straight into your next set without any delays. This allows you to maintain – even increase – the intensity of your working sets.
Because there is far less downtime you will find that the overall length of your workout will be shorter than if you were exercising with weights. In fact, most people will find that their workouts will be cut in half when they make the transition from conventional weight training to calisthenics workouts.
Benefit #11: Improved Coordination and Functionality
Exercising using our body is the way we were designed to exercise. It is the most functional, practical of exercise formats that exist.
The human body was not made for body parts to work in isolation. Yet, this is precisely what most of the equipment down at your local gym is designed to achieve. The result is often people who have large muscles but who are stiff, lack flexibility, and have no coordination between their muscles.
Calisthenics training works the muscles together, as a functional unit. When you do a push-up, for example, you are involving your deltoids, triceps, pectorals, abdominals, lower back, thighs, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. Not only are all these muscle groups being worked but they are being worked together. This improves coordination and flexibility.
Benefit #12: Exercises are Customizable
When you work out with conventional weight training machines, you are limited by the settings of the machine. Often people of non average height and weight struggle to use the machines. And, even when they do manage to squeeze into the device, they find that its movement track is limited to a very defined plane of movement.
However, when you train with calisthenics exercises, you are not bound by the limitations of a machine. The fact that your body is your exercise machine provides you with the ultimate in freedom of movement.
Bodyweight exercises also allow for much greater adaptation of an exercise than a machine ever can. Take the push-up, for example. There are over 70 different versions of this exercise that cater to all ability levels. For the beginner, the push up on the knees allows them an entry-level move. Yet, for the advanced trainer, there are such moves as one-arm push-ups and clap behind the back push-ups.
Calisthenics will allow you to transcend the exercise rut that many gym goers find themselves stuck in. That’s because you will have learned to maximize the potential of the gym that you were born with. No more having to trek to the gym, hand over your hard earned cash, and compete with a room full of sweaty, stinky strangers for you. Rather you’ll have the freedom to train naturally anytime and anyplace you choose.
Have you ditched the gym in favor of the many calisthenics benefits? We’d love to know what your main motivation to make the switch was – and how it’s been working out for you. Share your story in the comments section below!
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