Memories of the traditional call and response workouts gathered in a circle around your secondary school P.E. teacher might seem quite distant, but calisthenics has quickly gone from an outdated exercise technique to becoming the New Kid On The Block.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – performing a range of exercises alongside school friends or team mates as your teacher/coach yells out orders in succession. But while common practice with calisthenics, this method doesn’t necessarily define it. Calisthenics refers to the type of exercise, not the method of instruction behind it.

In many ways it’s similar to bodyweight exercises, a topic I’ve discussed previously. Both place emphasis on the core idea of using our own bodyweight as the resistance for exercise and generally refer to exercise that is conducted without equipment. So are we looking at just a fancy word derived from our Greek cousins to describe the same principal?

Well although the core ideas are similar, calisthenics places more emphasis of exercising through stretching. And if I can urge you to think back to that P.E. lesson or that pre-game workout again, that will probably make sense. Remember how much emphasis was placed on making sure you had stretched thoroughly? Which is why one of the major uses of calisthenics is for warm-ups prior to sports or intense physical exercise.

Once you remove the use of gym equipment you would probably assume the primary aim of exercise is to improve cardiovascular fitness, but the truth is calisthenics can be used just as effectively for muscular development too. What’s more is that by relying fully on your own body, rather than other equipment, has been proven to help develop a number of other skills to, including agility, balance and co-ordination.

Today calisthenics is closely associated with the military and its close association has also led to its revived popularity. And REVIVED is the key word – it’s easy to think of this as a new phenomenon, but the truth is using our own bodies for resistance in exercise is instinctive and part of our DNA. It’s probably safe to say press-ups were being done long before gym equipment was ever invented, and in that way this modern form of exercise could more accurately be described as the oldest form of exercise.

When you think about it, calisthenics and the military are really dream partners. More so than in any other profession, comradery is stressed as a major part of the military services. That idea of group cohesion, teamwork and chemistry that is central to the military goes hand in hand with calisthenics. Now of course you could train using calisthenics in a room alone everyday, but because of its association with schools, sports teams and the military, it has become almost synonymous with the training of groups of people.

You’re also looking at one of the least expensive training methods on the market. Once you’ve got a bit of open space, you’re good to go. Of course the value of belonging to a gym community can be hugely important and has been shown to directly improve results, but the excuse of not having the money to join a gym doesn’t excuse a lack of progress – calisthenics proves that.

All of that comes before you even consider the actual impact that calisthenics can have on your body. Let’s consider the popular exercises:

  • Sit-ups
  • Pull-ups/push-ups
  • Crunches
  • Planking
  • Squats

These are exercises that have a particular association with imagery. The idea of a calisthenic body is that idea of a rippled effect with a muscular physique and low levels of body fat. And it might not be the most important thing about training, but it’s this type of body that so many people seem to strive to have.


Ollie Lawrence
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