Have you ever found yourself in the situation where just as you were about to enter the weight room, or walk past the gym entrance desk you had a sudden change of mind and decided to head outside to the local pull-up and dip bars instead, away from the stuffy gym atmosphere and out into the sun and fresh air?
Perhaps you’ve already been training for a few years, pushing and pulling weights here and there or regularly, sticking to a tight schedule, yet, when you leave the gym having done the same bench press exercise for the 999th time, you start wondering if there is something more you could do with your body, something more challenging or even, more rewarding?
Or maybe you are completely new to training and are looking for a fun and low-cost way of training; no expensive gym subscription, no fancy machines and treadmills, nothing but an effective training routine/regimen you can do anywhere, at any time.
If you are one of these people or have had one of those thoughts before, let me tell you the benefits of calisthenics and why bodyweight training is the right thing for you. Once you start, you will never want to do anything else!
Table of Contents
Benefit #1: Bodyweight Mastery
The first ever time I started training, it’s safe to say that I had very little knowledge of what I was doing, and therefore my workouts consisted mainly of YouTube video follow along routines of various coaches doing timed push-ups, pull-ups, and crunches among other things.
After a few months of evidently not seeing any progress whatsoever, I decided to switch things up and get an annual subscription at my local gym instead. There, I quickly picked up knowledge on which exercises to do and how to construct my own routine.
I progressed, for a while. At first, I really enjoyed this style of bodybuilding type training with barbells and dumbbells, always trying to push more weight, always competing with my friends to break more personal records.
But after a while, every time I walked out of the gym I realised that that was pretty much it; other than being able to move weights around, I wasn’t able to do anything with my own body.
The human anatomy is infinitely complex; it’s a machine that has been built to perform optimally in one of its most proficient capacities – movement.
From there on I, like many other people all around the world started looking into ways of training that could unlock my potential in strength training, the ability to move my body through space with control, mastering my own weight, before anything else.
I realised that with all of my prior training, I was in reality far less competent than a 5-year old child at moving my own body weight. I could do heavy weighted squats but when it came to doing a single, controlled pistol squat with zero added weight, I just collapsed awkwardly on the floor. I had a decent looking set of abs but when it came to using them for holding an exercise like the L-sit, I found it almost impossible to raise my legs and hold them straight for more than two seconds. I could overhead press at least 80% of my own body weight, but doing more than two strict handstand push-ups against a wall was nearly impossible, let alone holding something like a handstand – that was out of the question for me.
Bodyweight training came as an answer to all of that; I started putting on more muscle and strength, but I was able to use this newly acquired strength on all sorts of satisfying movements and exercises I had never been able to do before.
I used to look at people doing freestanding handstand push-ups and just sit there amazed, thinking there was no way I could ever do that when in reality, as with everything else, all it takes is some time and dedication, and you can do almost anything.
Benefit #2: Freedom
With calisthenics, you don’t have to confine yourself to the sweaty, sometimes overcrowded gym, and you don’t have to be freezing yourself off in negative winter temperatures either. The convenient truth about it is that you can work out pretty much anywhere, with no particular time schedule to adhere to but your own.
Benefit #3: Little Material Needed
Here’s the thing, most people can get by with absolutely no material at all. You can often find a nearby football cage, an outdoor pull-up & dip station, or a children’s park with a bunch of bars of different shapes and sizes.
However, there are some basic tools and equipment you can get your hands on to get a lot more from your workouts and to have everything you need in one single place; in your own living room or garage if you like it. A pair of gymnastics rings, for example, is probably the most useful piece of equipment you can get; it will allow you to do literally hundreds of exercises, scale them with ease to keep a constant flow of progress and construct a physique you can be proud of.
Another common purchase for beginners is a pull-up bar, and with many different pull-up bar types to choose from, anybody can turn their home into their own personal gym space at a small cost.
For those who are already proficient at certain bodyweight exercises, a weighted vest can be used to intensify an exercise.
If you think you need loads of fancy gear, equipment and clothes to get started though, you are wrong; you can start right now.
Benefit #4: High Carryover to Other Sports
You will be pleasantly surprised if you thought that weightlifting was the only way to get stronger, faster, and all around a better performer, at other sports.
In fact, a lot of professional athletes from all sorts of different sports backgrounds will do a lot of bodyweight training to improve things like their explosiveness, endurance, and strength. It is not uncommon for experienced calisthenics athletes who have never before been around a weight, to out-lift people who commonly use weights as their main training method.
A good example of that is Dan Jeong from Dan Jeong Conditioning on YouTube. Over several videos, he has performed “max” weight tests, where he tried to lift as much weight as possible on the three main weightlifting movements. Before ever having trained with weights before (only calisthenics and gymnastics), he was able to bench press 130kg, deadlift 211kg, and squat 143kg.
If you are completely new to training, you can head over here to find all the exercises you will need, and here for an easy to follow routine for beginners. The Bodyweight Fitness community is also a great place to search for more resources, or if you ever have any questions that need answering.
Remember to not get paralysed by the amount of information out there and to keep it simple. Use the routine linked above or pick some exercises that you like and make your own!
There are many benefits to calisthenics, and calisthenics is fantastic for learning how to control one’s own body weight.
With it, comes the freedom of being able to train almost anywhere at any given part of the day, and on top of all that, you need little to nothing to get started. The strength you will build with bodyweight exercises will allow you to become better in other sports too and can be used efficiently for that effect.
Starting calisthenics or transitioning to it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you can start right now.
What are you waiting for to start building the strongest version of yourself?
Founder of www.calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.