This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s strength kickstarter: the benefits of calisthenics workouts.
Many gym-goers like to focus on using weights to work their upper body, lower body or core during a workout. But using your bodyweight has huge benefits too, and isn’t for the faint hearted.
The proof is in calisthenics, a weights-free way to strength train.
“It’s a form of exercise that consists of a variety of movements performed with little to no equipment, utilising gravity and bodyweight leverage,” according to Héloïse Nangle, the head trainer at Core Collective, who says that it should be the “foundation for every other strength-gaining discipline”.
So, what exactly is calisthenics, and what are the benefits? Here, Nangle gives us all the important details on how to do calisthenics workouts, and why we would all benefit from having a go.
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What is calisthenics?
“Calisthenics reverts back to a very natural way of training”, Nangle explains. It dates back to times before the invention of the barbell, when people would rely on their own bodyweight to get strong.
There’s no need to worry about plateauing when doing calisthenics. Just because you only have your body it doesn’t mean you’ll run out of ways to challenge yourself. “You can use elevated surfaces to change the angle of the exercises, vertical surfaces like walls and poles and increase the percentage of bodyweight that you’re lifting to challenge your body in new ways,” Nanglesuggests.
The focus on using gravity is what might scare some people off, but is actually an interesting and exciting way to switch up your training. Think learning how to handstand and V-sit, working against the natural force to train your body. That’s where the gymnastic element comes in, creating unique shapes with your body using flexibility and strength.
What are the benefits of doing calisthenics workouts?
There are so many benefits to doing calisthenics workouts, says Nangle . These include:
- Improved posture
- More strength
- More flexibility in movement patterns
- Less chance of injury
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
Compound movements make you stronger, faster
Calisthenics workouts are all about doing compound exercises that use your bodyweight to make you stronger. In this regard, they are “the ultimate in functional training”, Nagal says, because “you are working out in a way that directly enhances the way you perform everyday life tasks”, by improving your mobility, stability and strength.
Improved functional fitness and core strength
Not only do they improve your functional fitness, but calisthenics workouts do so across your whole body. When doing calisthenics, “the body should work as a unit, combining your lower half with your upper half, with a connection to your midline”. This connection, Nagal explains, is the core. What this means is that “all muscles are recruited” when doing calisthenics exercises, and that “you will develop a very strong core” as a result of the way you leverage the mid-section of your body.
Best calisthenics workouts for beginners
For a simple but effective workout, Nagal recommends “performing a bodyweight ladder of the following exercises”, which means you do “10 repetitions of each, then nine, all the way down to one”. To really make the most of this workout, she also suggests “holding a plank for 30 seconds between each drop in number”.
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TRX or ring rows
While most calisthenics exercises require no equipment at all, there are some very effective workouts you can do with minimal equipment. To complete this simple bodyweight exercise, hold onto the TRX handles or rings and lean back, so that the handles are supporting your weight. “Keeping your body in line and your core fully engaged, pull yourself up until your hands touch your body,” says Nagal. “This can also be done by setting up a bar in a squat rack and holding onto it with either an overhand or underhand grip, shoulder-width apart”.
If you’re new to calisthenics exercises, you can step your feet further away from the TRX or bar, which will cause you to lean back less. Stepping closer to the machine will mean that you have to lift more of your bodyweight, because you will be closer to the floor when starting the movement.
A firm favourite of PTs, the press-up provides you with an easy-to-do and highly effective calisthenics workout, which can be done just about anywhere.
- Start on the floor on hands and knees
- Get yourself into position with your weight supported on your toes and hands beneath your shoulders, keeping both your body and arms straight
- Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground, and then explosively drive up by fully extending your arms
Nagal warns: “Take care to keep your core fully engaged and your tailbone tucked under.”
Squats are another gym classic that also happen to be a go-to calisthenics exercise.
- Stand straight with your feet around shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees and sit back with your hips, as if sitting into a chair
- To come back up, straighten the knees and push up
Nagal says that the idea is to go down as far as you can, and then quickly reverse the motion to take you back to the starting position.
If you want to really get your heart rate up, you can try burpees, which Héloïse says are “guaranteed to elevate the heart rate even further”.
- Start by standing up straight, and then squat down
- Once you’ve gone down as far as you can, reach your hands out in front of you and plant them on the floor
- Jump your feet out behind you so that you land in a high plank position
- Then do a press-up
- Jump your feet towards your hands, pushing yourself back into a squatting position
- Jump up to standing, and repeat
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