The Importance of Calisthenics
By: Alex Mazzella
We all know by now that all bodybuilders give credence for their impressive gains in the gym to various pieces of weight training equipment, such as machines, dumbbells, and barbells. However, what most overlook is the simplest aspect of all, bodyweight training. Bodyweight training, or calisthenics (as it is more formally called), is the act of completing exercises with only your body weight as the form of resistance in order to produce strength gains. While avoided by too many avid lifters with the peculiar belief that only metal produces strength increases, calisthenics are arguably one of the most effective ways to not only increase muscular volume, yet shape the body into a more natural and “fitter” figure. Although I strongly encourage one to continue incorporating weight training into your routine as the benefits are bountiful, adding some calisthenics to each day’s specific workout for a muscle group, or for days you can’t make it to the gym will bestow great results. Here are five reasons you should drop down and give yourself twenty next time you’re in the zone:
1. You can virtually do them anywhere
You want to do some bicep curls? Grab a pair of dumbbells. Want to squat a couple ofpounds? Hit up the power rack. Want to do some one armed push-ups? The floor is always inviting! With calisthenics, you are not limited to the confinements of your local gym or household, as the workouts you can do require little to minimal equipment. In all honesty, what you can spend hundreds of dollars a year for gym access and gym equipment, you can spend less than a hundred in total for a simple pull-up bar and/or a pair of Olympic Rings (in all honesty, a railing, tree branch, or beam is an excellent substitute to a pull-up bar). Furthermore, for potentially dangerous exercises such as bench pressing or heavy squatting, a spotter or power rack is not necessary as the movement does not usually come with many risks, saving you the space and privacy. Thus, you can easily perform a myriad of calisthenics in such a restraining setting and see strength gains that equate to one who endlessly pumps iron in a spacious gym. Accessibility rules.
2. You will always keep your brain on its toes
Unlike weight training where a squat is a squat and there’s very few ways to switch the exercise up, calisthenics have an infinite amount of variations and alterations that can safely make the exercise a new threat to your nervous system, thus effectively avoiding *the dreaded* plateau. Can you do a lot of push ups? Good, now try with one arm. Can do a lot of those? Well, try with one arm and one foot. Can do a lot of those? Well, try that with your fingertips! Mastering the numerous variations of functional movements that we know, such as squat becoming pistol squats and and dips becoming ring dips, will allow for change in one’s routine, and forces the muscular system to readjust to the new form of resistance: consequently causing micro traumas and tears that lead to the muscle being built back bigger and stronger. In English, this means that by being able to switch up what you’re doing when it becomes easy for you and forcing the brain to readapt, you’re forcing your muscles to be beaten up, and ultimately allowing them to grow back stronger than before, as your body has to add more muscle mass in response to the harder challenge you demand it to complete. With calisthenics, the options are infinite!
3.It will make weight lifting easier
One of the hidden benefits of calisthenics for veteran muscle heads is that it will allow for greater numbers on lifts they deem to be important, such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. The reason for this is due to the fact that calisthenics are highly functional movements, and they force your muscles to learn how work together better and accomplish the task of moving forces over distances more effectively. Contrary to the belief, your body is a lost soul: it’s forgotten many things it’s supposed to be hard wired to do. Take a deep breath. Did your chest flare up right away? If so, you are chest breathing instead of the ideal belly breathing that the body first learned, which produces more oxygen-rich breath. This is a prime example of breathing gone astray, as with time the human body stops doing things the correct way (belly breathing) and instead takes the “easier” way over time (chest breathing). Your body does the same thing with muscle interactions, and just like breathing, you need to relearn and re-hardwire your brain to be able to let your muscles work together effectively. Movements like muscle ups, planks, and handstands force your muscles to learn how to work together and maintain a different position, balance yourself, or generate explosive power, causing the body to work more in unison. By building these “bridges” between your muscles, compound weight lifting movements will become significantly easier as your body will finally begin to agree with itself more readily, and your numbers and strength gains from these compounds movements will skyrocket like never before! A win win!
4.Anyone can do them
Whether you’ve been lifting for all your life, or started last Thursday, it is fairly simple to do a push-up or a pull-up, and learning how to do so does not come with great risk of injury, compared to learning how to clean a weight or do dumbbell flies properly. What this ultimately alots to is the increase of your rate of progression, as you don’t have to take days out of your training schedule to learn how to complete even the most complex movements, which can be learned in minutes. Furthermore, in respect to the dramatically reduced chance of injury for most calisthenics, you do not have to worry about the thought of being out of the gym for months due to grave injuries such as broken bones or ruptured ligaments, as the body was MADE to perform these workouts; it’s called “body weight” for a reason! When was the last time somebody broke their arm doing a pull-up?
5.It will produce an optimal physique
Last and not least, and quite possibly my favorite reason, doing calisthenics will make you look shredded and have the optimal figure that the body was meant to have. If you don’t believe me, look at guys like Hannibal or Al Kavaldo who rely heavily on calisthenics in their programs and have monstrous figures. Calisthenics, due to placing great emphasis on stabilizing muscles and smaller muscles groups that are overlooked by machine workouts, shape the muscles in ways that look more proportionate and appealing to the human eye, as it sticks to the original blueprints the body is supposed to abide by. Therefore, “freaky” disproportionate builds and structures no longer become a subject of concern as your body will filter out the unnecessarymuscle growths, and instead, dramatically increase the volume and strength of useful and appealing muscles. Prime muscle group examples are the shoulders, and the back; there’s more muscles that exist in these areas than you’ve ever known! Moreover, calisthenics create great tension and demand on the body’s “belt” or “core”-your lower back and abs- and will naturally begin to shave off pesky belly and back fat and slap on slabs of pure muscle. This miracle occurs since not only are calisthenics demanding to these trouble zones, yet they require a great deal of energy to accomplish and are efficient fat burners as well. By performing calisthenics, not only will the emphasized muscle groups exponentially begin to increase in size, yet your body will be molded into the most optimal physique it was meant to maintain visually and physically.
Overall, it is quite blatant that calisthenics should become incorporated as a staple for anybody achieving virtually any goals, whether it be a competitive bodybuilder or an individual who just wants to stay in tune with their own self. It is fairly common to see somebody performing a heavy bench press in the gym, but it is extremely rare to acknowledge somebody stringing together a set of strict muscle ups; thus not only proving that calisthenics are a treasure becoming neglected in an age of machinery workouts, yet also validating the amount of difficulty and patience that is required in order to master these movements. With hard work and dedication, anyone can learn to incorporate and master these workouts and become in sync with their body, and reap the many benefits these workouts entail. So, next time you have the opportunity, a couple of pull-ups wouldn’t kill you, would they?