Calisthenics is a relatively new style of bodyweight training. It originated in Eastern Europe, and since then has dispersed globally through the influence of social media. Initially it was just a way to stay fit. Practitioners would gather at calisthenics parks, a type of outdoor fitness station, to stay in shape.
Calisthenics parks typically provide athletes with equipment in the form of high bars and parallel bars. These are staple pieces of equipment adapted from those used in artistic men’s gymnastics. They are perfect for building muscle with bodyweight exercises.
Over the last decade, calisthenics has grown into an international movement that has a very specific goal: complete body mastery. This is no small feat and athletes train night and day to push their bodies to the limit.
Types of Training in Calisthenics
For strength training, calisthenics has two very different prescriptions: fundamentals and statics. Typically, they are done side by side, however statics are generally thought to be more advanced.
Fundamentals refers to traditional bodyweight exercises such as pull ups and push ups. These exercises are done for repetitions and can help build strength and muscular endurance. This is a great way for beginners to get into the sport without feeling too intimidated.
These types of exercises can easily be adjusted for anyone, irrespective of their level or ability. Unlike in weights training, where the weight you are lifting can be adjusted, in calisthenics exercise difficulty is adjusted by modifying angles, lever lengths and the height of hands/feet in various exercises. Resistance bands can also be used to make exercises easier.
Statics are largely based of gymnastics inspired isometric holds – although there are also many unique calisthenics ones such as the human flag! These types of exercises have practitioners suspend themselves against gravity for a certain duration of time.
Instead of physically lengthening and shortening muscles, the goal here is to maintain the same length without succumbing to gravity. This makes statics considerably harder as there is a longer time under tension when the muscle is exerting 100% effort.
What Muscles Can I work With Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is predominantly upper body and core, however legs can also be effectively worked given you spend enough time training them. The focus on upper body and core is influenced by the muscles needed to effectively work on the high bar and parallel bars – the main pieces of equipment in calisthenics.
Calisthenics practitioners are generally lean, with insane strength to weight ratios. Building muscle in calisthenics will require you to keep your reps between 8-12. Therefore, if the exercise becomes too easy where 12 reps is no longer difficult, you will need to adjust the exercise or add external weight via a weighted vest.
Advantages of Calisthenics over Weightlifting
Weightlifting is still the most popular way to build muscle, however there is a clear exodus of people from this type of training. As people discover calisthenics, they are infatuated by the limitless potential.
- Minimum requirements
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of calisthenics is that it doesn’t require very much. You don’t need a gym membership or a ton of fancy equipment – all you need is yourself and a few bars. This is hugely convenient, especially when traveling. This low barrier for entry means that a lot more people can become part of the movement.
- Functional strength
Functional training is king, and calisthenics is the king of functional training. Functional strength is defined as: training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities.
The reality is, weightlifting often is not functional at all. There are of course exceptions – for instance Olympic lifting heavily focuses on compound lifts. However, the average joe that just wants to build muscle typically sits on a machine just hammer curls a few sets and leaves.
Machines exercises and isolation exercises like hammer curls do very little good for functional strength. These are not exercises that mimic movements that you would ever do in real life. What’s great about calisthenics is, pretty much every exercise is relevant to real life.
There is no restricted range that is predetermined by the parameters of a machine; movements happen over several joints with natural range of motion and with the assistance of postural muscles.
- Reduced chance of injury
Building muscle with calisthenics is significantly less risky than weightlifting, especially when using heavy weights. Bodyweight exercises are generally not as demanding, and the lack of an external load reduces the chances of pulling a muscle or pinching a nerve.
Calisthenics Exercises to Boost Muscle Growth
A great workout for beginners should incorporate all the fundamental movement patters to help build muscle in a balanced and sustainable way. The following is an example of what you should aim for when starting calisthenics.
- Horizontal Push – Push ups
- Vertical push – Pike push ups
- Horizontal pull – Inverted rows
- Vertical pull – Pull ups
- Abs – Hollow body hold
- Lower back – Superman
- Legs – Jumping squats
The exercises above should be performed for 8-12 reps for building muscle. If this is too easy you will need adjust the exercises. However, if your goal is muscular endurance then the exercises should be performed for 10-20+ reps. Superman and hollow body hold should be held for 30-45 seconds.
If you’re looking for a well-rounded Calisthenics program you can do at a park near you, check out the Built By Bars Calisthenics Park Workout.
How Fast Can I Build Muscle with Calisthenics?
It can take some time to see results. A good way to gauge progress is to take note of the amount of repetitions you are doing. Progress here will translate to muscle growth, albeit several months later usually as neurological adaptions happen faster!
Despite training hard, it is equally important to eat correctly as this will play a massive role in your ability to build muscle. Protein intake is a huge factor when trying to build muscle. It should be consumed after working out as this is when protein synthesis is greatest.
If you’re still not making progress, it’s highly recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified personal trainer. Vic from Streetworkout Stkilda is an experienced calisthenics personal trainer that can take your training to another level – don’t hesitate to get in touch!