Written by Tom Dent
Calisthenics. As cliché as the next statement sounds, it doesn't make it any less true. Calisthenics has changed and continues to change my life. The word Calisthenics, comes from the Greek words kallos (κάλλος) , and sthenos (σθένος) , meaning beauty and strength. It's training methods date back centuries, making it one of the oldest around. However, it is surprisingly new to a lot of people.
Calisthenics is a full body, functional form of training, where the participant will use things like pull ups, dips, squats, press ups, leg raises, and levers (among a host of other exercises) to increase their body strength, and improve mobility. It’s a system that uses your own body as the resistance, with very little to no equipment. Because of the limited equipment needed and the fact that you are only using body weight as your resistance, Calisthenics is for absolutely anyone, of any age or ability.
For me, it all started after seeing a video of Frank Medrano, and a separate video of Hanibal for King on YouTube. (If you don't know who these guys are, go YouTube them now, absolute beasts). After seeing the videos, I became hooked, and started to add in these exercises to my weight lifting routine. It only took three weeks for me to completely ditch the weights, and adopt Cali as my main training system. I haven't bench pressed etc. for almost three years now. After practicing a few things, out of know where (some may call it fate) the UK Barstarzz crew started teaching at my local gym. I attended and became instantly hooked. I knew this was something I really wanted to do. The Barstarzz guys quickly became extremely close friends of mine, and before I knew it I had gone Vegan and trained with them every day. We are all still close now, and train together when we can, however a few of us are now dotted in different places around the world.
If you are unsure where to start, Barstarzz and Thenx have apps that you can download, with workouts and accompanying videos which are brilliant. If you don't want to go down that route, start with the basics and research regressions and progressions of the following exercises: pull ups, dips, push-ups, squats, handstands, back lever, front lever, human flag, planche and the iconic muscle up. Get yourself some pull up bands, green to black which you can get from amazon. Bands are great for helping you progress and to help with moves you can't quite get, or just to get extra reps out of.
If Cali is something you are considering getting into, I highly recommend you do it. It'll be the best thing you ever do. My advice to you though, be patient, it’s a cold mistress and you have to put a lot of effort and time in, however what you get out of it, will be the best reward you have ever received. The confidence it builds, the friendships it creates, the experiences it brings and the doors it can open are incredible.
3 EXERCISES TO GET YOU STARTED
Grab a towel or a jumper/t-shirt and roll it up. Lie on the floor face down. Extend your arms out in front of you, just wider than your shoulders. Not too wide though. Grab the towel and engage your shoulder blades by squeezing them together. To do this bring them down away from your ears and back, pinch the inside of the blades together. Engage your core, keep your legs tight and toes pointed. Now, keeping your shoulders locked in place and your hands about 2 inches off the floor. (Don't let your hands touch the floor again until you have finished). Start to pull the towel towards you slowly. Your time under tension should be 4 seconds. At the end of the four seconds the towel should be up under your chin. At this point you need to squeeze everything really tight and arch up, hold this for 2 seconds. After this, release and extend the hands back to the start position slowly. Again, time under tension should be 4 seconds. The whole movement takes 6 seconds. Once you have completed one rep go again. Do 3 rounds of 10-15 reps to feel the BUUUUUURN.
Lie on the floor face down again. Depending on your level, you can do this on your feet or knees. I will explain from the knees. Bring your hands in line with your chest on either side. Shoulder width apart or just a bit wider. Again, position the shoulders by engaging the shoulder blades like we did in the towel row. Engage the core. The aim here is to hinge at the knees so don't let the bum poke out. From your knees to the top of the head you should be in a solid line. Now everything is engaged, squeeze the floor with your hands and push the ground away from you. We want full range of motion so extend right to the top and lock your arms out. Keep everything controlled. Time under tension on this one wants to be 3 seconds, up 0 second hold and 3 seconds down. On the down keep everything solid and return slowly to the start position but just above the floor. Don't lie back down. Do 3 rounds of these and aim for 10-20 reps.
Lie face down on the floor, with your feet or knees together solid on the floor. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and lean on your forearms. Lift the but and core until you are in a straight line from knees to head. Suck your core in about half way between your spine and a normal relaxed position. Tighten the core up and hold it. Breath slow, long breathes without moving the stomach. Now, engage your shoulders like before but also engage your lats and squeeze your quads and glutes. Try to tuck your pelvis under, think opposite of Donald Duck posture. Every muscle in your body should be turned on and being squeezed. If the Plank is done right you don't need to be holding it for 5 minutes. If you can hold it for 5 minutes you're doing it wrong. There should be no pressure in your lower back and no winging at your shoulder blades. Try to do 2/4 rounds of 30 seconds. But work up to this if you are no-where near it.
**With all new movements, there is a potential for injury, however if you follow this guide and engage your shoulders and core correctly this significantly reduces your risk. Get a friend to join in and correct each other’s form (Cali is more fun with friends). Be stringent and don't move on until you have perfected it. Most of all though HAVE FUN and be part of a great movement.
Do you want to know more about Tom? Follow him on Instagram @tomdependent