Whether you’ve heard the name or not, there’s a good chance you’ve already been doing calisthenics exercises without even knowing it. Calisthenics are exercises that use the body’s own weight and nothing else. Push-ups and squats, the most common calisthenics exercises, are staples of many circuit sessions and many of you will already know they can be a major challenge, offering something different from traditional weight training. In this blog post I want to analyse calisthenics exercises and assess the benefits they can offer your workout routine.
The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalos, which means “beauty”, and sthenos, meaning “strength”. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it was named after one of its earliest proponents, the Greek historian Callisthenes, even if it has been adapted to English with the wrong spelling.
What are the benefits of calisthenics?
Calisthenics exercises have many benefits that can be difficult to reproduce with traditional weight training. Even if the focus is lifting weights, any athlete can benefit from adding calisthenics to their workout. Some of the top benefits include:
- No equipment required
The biggest benefit of calisthenics exercises is that they require minimal equipment. This means they can be done at home, making them ideal if you can’t get to the gym, or have limited time and can’t complete a full workout.
- Strengthens the whole body
Where weight training is beneficial for isolating individual muscles, calisthenics is excellent at recruiting multiple muscle groups. Take a bicep curl, for example: it targets only the biceps. A pull up, however, recruits the biceps, back muscles and shoulders, bringing more overall strength, development and coordination.
- Develops flexibility
Another aspect of physical capability which can be developed thanks to calisthenics is flexibility. Most of the movements are fully extended which results in building strength without losing flexibility. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have to stretch if you perform crunches, lunges, or squats.
- Avoids monotony
Performing the same types of exercise time and time again can become repetitive and, let’s face it, a bit demotivating. Calisthenics exercises offer a nice break from traditional weight training, letting you do something different while continuing to develop strength and conditioning. Calisthenics can be added to your current workouts or a complementary workout.
- Increases BMR and fat lose
As calisthenics recruit multiple muscle groups for each exercise, calisthenics have an added fat-burning capability because of a boosted metabolism and basal metabolic rate.
- You learn some cool moves
If you’ve ever watched videos of top calisthenics exercises you may have been inspired. Calisthenics exercises can be extremely difficult to do, meaning they look impressive if you can perform them.
What are the limitations of calisthenics?
So, as you can see, there are some great benefits from calisthenics exercises but there are also some limitations. Whether you choose to adopt calisthenics into your training really depends on your fitness goals. If you want to develop strong, lean muscle tissue then calisthenics could be the right form of training for you. If, however, you are aiming to develop size then it would be worth considering the drawbacks below.
- It’s hard to isolate certain muscles
If you’re training for general strength and endurance then isolating muscle groups may not be at the top of your list. If, however, you want to recover from injury, target a weak muscle or build a specific muscle to achieve balance then calisthenics may not be the way to go. Calisthenics make it hard to isolate specific muscles and, in this respect, weight training is superior.
- Leg training has limitations
This is the biggest disadvantage of bodyweight training and the reason calisthenics is often discredited by weightlifters. Calisthenics can help you build muscle and strength in your lower body with exercises such as the pistol squat and explosive squats, but it can be very hard to develop maximal strength and to build hugely muscular legs (like a body builder).
It’s not right to say that weightlifting is superior to calisthenics regarding leg training, since calisthenics clearly has many advantages in the area that weightlifting doesn’t, but if your goal is to develop hugely muscular and strong legs, weightlifting would be a better option for you.
- It can be hard to measure
Unlike weight training, progressions can be hard to find in calisthenics. In weight training you can add more weights, reps or sets and, over time, you can see your progress. With calisthenics this is much harder and while there are progressions, it can be impossible to know how much strength you need for each stage and this is one of the main reasons people give up on calisthenics exercises.
- Hard to build lots of muscle mass
While bodyweight exercises are effective at building a muscular body, it’s much harder to get the body of a competitive body builder. With weightlifting you can keep packing on more and more weight and force your body to get bigger and bigger. Really, there is no limit to the amount of weight you can put on the bar (except for what the human body can structurally take).
Who are good examples of calisthenics athletes?
The top calisthenics athletes in the world are the following:
- Frank Medrano
- Hannibal for King
- Lazar Novovic
- Adam Raw
- Corey Hall
- Vadim Oleynik
- Kris Karlsson
- Pavel Rudometkin
- Brendan Meyers
Calisthenics can be an excellent addition to your workout routine, whether they are included in your weightlifting regime, or you add a calisthenics workout as a separate session. If you would like more information then please feel free to get in touch with us!