It’s a supercharged form of strength training
Calisthenics is an umbrella term for strength training that uses bodyweight and minimal external equipment. That’s pushing, pulling, balancing, jumping, bending and swinging which, depending on how it’s done, can lead to increased strength, fitness, balance and flexibility. In calisthenics, you use your body as weight, rather than a barbell, dumbbell or machine, and use angles and body position to make exercises harder or easier. So, rather than adding weight, you can change your body position as you get stronger, or advance to the next progression of an exercise.
There are two ways to build strength
The USP of calisthenics is that it can be done anywhere, with no equipment. There are two main forms of exercises that build strength – the bent arm (dynamic exercises) and straight arm (static exercises). Dynamic exercises are often performed for reps, while static exercises tend to be performed for time, holding a specific position. Static holds are seen as skills – the most well-known is the headstand. One of the best things about calisthenics is that you go from not being able to perform an exercise to being able to perform it. This isn’t the case with strength training, when you can perform a move from the get-go, albeit with a lighter weight. However, this also means that it’s trickier to gauge progress in calisthenics, as the progressions are far less obvious than simply picking up a heavier dumbbell.
It’s a mindful way to workout
Calisthenics will help you build an incredible physique – look at Olympic gymnasts – but it’s less known that it can also help build a strong mind-muscle connection and body control. The need to focus on specific movements, progressions and regressions means you must learn how to activate and target specific muscle groups. It’s also a seriously rewarding workout – mastering a handstand is a pretty great feeling.
Start with the basics
The most common mistake beginners make is performing exercises with poor form. Start with press-ups, rows and squats, and progress to pull-ups and dips. Start with some simple holds like hollow body holds, or a support hold. Ensure your form is spot on before building up the reps. Using a resistance band can make an exercise easier. If you’re struggling with a pull-up, place a resistance band over the bar and loop your feet into it so it supports you. Similarly, if you can’t do a press-up, try looping the band over the bar and then placing the band on your waist so it pulls your body up as you do the press-up.
Know your scapula
Your shoulder blades (scapula) have four positions: protraction, retraction, elevation and depression. Even people who can do the advanced skills often don’t have a clue which position they’re using. Take the perfect pull-up, for example, which is a calisthenics staple. Most people protract their shoulders, which doesn’t engage the back well. The scapula must be retracted throughout the movement. Ensure your chest is proud, shoulders are pulled back, and lower back is slightly arched to maximise lat, trap and rhomboid engagement.
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