If you’ve ever been curious about the benefits of calisthenics, then this post is for you. We all know the benefits of exercise, but what about calisthenics, specifically?
In this post we’ll cover five of these benefits. At the end I discuss two potential drawbacks of calisthenics.
Hopefully this post will help you determine whether calisthenics is the right type of training for you.
1. Train anywhere
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of calisthenics is the ability to train anywhere. Because calisthenics requires little to no equipment (other than somewhere to hang from), you aren’t shackled to a gym or free weights to get your workout in.
If doesn’t matter if you are…
- On holiday
- On vacation
- At the park
… you can still get it in.
Calisthenics is truly the minimalists’ approach to strength training.
But just because calisthenics doesn’t require any equipment doesn’t mean that it’s any less effective than normal strength training. This leads us to the next benefit…
2. Builds strength and muscle
It’s important to understand that whether you train with calisthenics or free weights, the concept of progressive overload applies. In other words, you must continually overload your muscles in order for them to grow and get stronger.
With weights, it’s easy: simply increase the amount of weight you are lifting.
With calisthenics, it’s not so easy. Since you use your own body for resistance, you must figure out ways to manipulate your body so that the exercise becomes harder.
For example, consider the pushup. Doing pushups against a wall is easier than doing normal pushups on the floor.
Changing the angle of your body relative to the floor changes the difficulty of the exercise.
Oftentimes progressing in bodyweight training requires that you learn a completely new exercise. This is more difficult than simply slapping more weight on the bar or picking up a heavier dumbbell.
The bottom line is that bodyweight training is just as effective at building strength and muscle than weight training, assuming you understand how to properly progress.
3. Strengthens and protects joints, tendons, and ligaments
In my late teens and twenties, I was an avid weightlifter. I was constantly hitting the weights and scoffed at the idea of bodyweight training.
Fast forward to my late twenties and it seemed I suffered with a new nagging injury almost every time I set foot in the gym.
While some of it may have been due to improper form and/or training techniques, I realized that moving heavy weights for a long period of time eventually took its toll on my joints and connective tissues.
Fast forward to today and I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. My injuries are gone and my training makes me feel better, not worse.
Calisthenics is excellent at conditioning and strengthening the tendons, ligaments, and joints. These connective tissues typically take longer to adapt than muscles.
This isn’t to say that calisthenics doesn’t come with its own set of risks. Its just these risks are lower and less frequent than compared to weightlifting, in my opinion.
The other benefit of strengthening the joints and connective tissues is that it makes real life tasks such as carrying groceries or moving furniture easier.
In general, the strength you build with calisthenics transfers well into raw, real world strength.
4. Learn impressive looking moves
Another one of the benefits of calisthenics is that you can learn how to do impressive looking moves. For example, who wouldn’t want to show off their handstand, front lever, or human flag?
These skills take a long time to develop, and being able to bust them out at a party just feels damn good.
5. Contains endless variety
Many calisthenics enthusiasts find calisthenics endlessly progressive. And I agree.
Once you learn a new exercise or skill, there is always another level beyond in which you can strive for.
Additionally, since calisthenics requires that you manipulate your body to progress, you are constantly learning new exercises and variations of exercises. This variety helps to eliminate boredom.
Does Calisthenics Have Any Drawbacks?
Now that we went over the benefits of calisthenics, let’s look at potential drawbacks.
The first potential drawback is the social aspect. Although there is a vibrant calisthenics community, oftentimes calisthenics workouts are performed alone at home.
For me, this is not a drawback because I prefer training alone in my basement.
But some people prefer a gym or class environment because they crave human interaction when it comes to their fitness.
This isn’t to say that you can’t make calisthenics social. You can still train at a gym or ask a friend / partner to join you in your workout.
Lower body exercises
The second potential drawback is the lack of exercise progressions when it comes to working your lower body.
Because you use your own body for resistance, the maximum amount of weight you can use to work your legs is your bodyweight.
For some, this might not be enough. For others, it is fine.
Consider the pistol squat (also known as a single leg squat). A 150 pound person could squat approximately 150 pounds on one leg as a maximum.
Looking at this in terms of the barbell squat, it would be the equivalent of a normal 2-legged squat with 150 pounds on your back.
For me, this is enough. I do not see a need to squat a ridiculous amount of weight. My legs are stronger and more functional now than ever before doing pistols.
Additionally, you can still make lower body exercises more difficult by manipulating your arm position, standing on an unbalanced surface, adding pauses, or adding weight.
Pure bodyweight enthusiasts may scoff at the idea of adding weight to any calisthenics exercise, but I am more of the mindset that you should use any and all tools at your disposal to accomplish your goals.
The benefits of calisthenics are profound. Not only does it give you the freedom to train anywhere with minimal equipment, it allows you to build muscle and get stronger with a low risk of injury.
What more could you want?
There are some potential drawbacks to calisthenics, but they are only drawbacks for certain types of people.
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