Who says you need to fork out a small fortune on a monthly gym membership to make yourself look like The Rock? Calisthenics is the latest craze taking the fitness world by storm, and these exercises rely on your own body weight rather than iron bars. This means it’s accessible to all – from seasoned pros to beginners looking to bulk up.
In this article:
- Learn the origins of calisthenics
- The benefits to your body
- The best exercises to get you started
The origins of calisthenics
Though its popularity has surged in recent years, the origins of calisthenics actually lie thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. Its name derives from “kallos“, which means “beauty“, and “sthenos“, meaning strength.
If you were a soldier during the reign of the Spartans between 600 and 400 BC, calisthenics would have been a regular part of your workout routine. Young men being groomed for this elite army mastered the javelin, wrestling, boxing and other combat sports. Exercises like lunges, sit-ups, crunches, and planks were all part of their daily training.
A staple of Greco-Roman culture, it is said that calisthenics were a huge part of gladiator training, and Shaolin monks protected their monasteries from robbers and looters by using bodyweight exercises to develop remarkable strength, power and speed.
Calisthenics came to New York in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that it reached wider popularity amongst fitness fanatics, spawning the street workout movement and a number of specially-created training parks have popped up worldwide.
Muscle mass isn’t necessarily the key to effective street workout training; with good coordination, agility and body tension all equally important elements. These traits are essential to coping with the relentlessness of the exercises. The beauty of calisthenics is that it can take place almost anywhere – from a park bench to your bedroom.
Benefits of calisthenics
Calisthenics exercises work multiple muscle groups at once, as well as the tendons and nervous system. They promote inter-muscular coordination, balance, full body coordination and body tension. Basic exercises - think pull-ups, push-ups, lunges and squats - are easy to learn and can be trained in a number of ways.
The ability to train anywhere and anytime for the majority of exercises offers participants more freedom than traditional gym-based routines. Some of the routines look pretty spectacular – with the Human Flag a particular eye-catcher in the fitness scene.
So you’ve made the (literal) plunge into calisthenics exercises. Where best to start? The key is smoothness of movement, and lowering yourself gently to the ground. At this point it’s a good idea to put yourself in the mindset of a motivational movie character. Let’s say Rocky Balboa. Now prepare for the first push-up nice and slowly. Depending on your training schedule, you can repeat this and attempt to connect it to some of the other exercises. Training should take place two-to-three times per week initially, with two or three sets per exercise. For extra motivation, consider training in pairs or a small group.
In the meantime, check out Frank Medrano’s guide to calisthenics for beginners.