Let's face it. Few people actually WANT to work out. Even the people who have done it for decades with a fervor that few would understand have days more often than not where working out feels like a needless chore. It's the nature of the beast. When you work out, you're beating your body down so it can grow stronger, and often the payoff is so far in the future that a lot of us don't see the point in committing to the lifestyle.
Luckily for you, I'm here to let you in on a little secret. Working out has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years. People know that it's good for the body and mind, but people don't want to sweat. They don't want to suffer through soreness and potential injury and they certainly don't want to eat broccoli, baked chicken, and rice 24/7. And with the continued rise in popularity of training methods like CrossFit, it paints the picture that being fit should cost a lot, including your blood, sweat, and tears.
The truth is: none of that is required to live a healthy lifestyle and to have a body that you like looking at in the mirror.
So where does calisthenics fit in? And for that matter, what is calisthenics?
Bodyweight training in its current form has been around since the days of the Greek philosophers, and based on a recent rise in awareness of calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, it's not going anywhere any time soon. Calisthenics is simply training with your bodyweight. Most people who want to get fit think that you need to pay exorbitant gym costs and lift heavy free weights, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is that the human body doesn't know when you're lifting a free weight or using your bodyweight. It only knows resistance and if you overload the muscles enough with some resistance, they will grow and you will undoubtedly get stronger.
Below are five reasons why you should be doing calisthenics including some of the benefits and practical applications.
5. It costs nothing to start.
As was stated earlier, people think you need a gym membership to work out. For a long time, people forgot that it was possible to get strong and build muscle with just your bodyweight. The fact of the matter is that you need nothing to get started. There are dozens of parks all around the country, very likely in your neighborhood or city, that have calisthenics equipment which consists of a pull-up bar and parallel bars. This is really all you need to get started, and parks are free to workout in. You get fresh air and you get space that you wouldn't always get in a cramped gym. And if you wanted to work out at home, the price of a decent pull-up bar is less than $30.
4. It lends itself to fat loss.
Let's get it out of the way first that if you want to lose weight and lose fat, the only way you're going to do so effectively and efficiently is by eating in fewer calories overall. One of the reasons calisthenics has gained in popularity over the last few years is that it can assist in the fat loss process like no other form of training.
Calisthenics is often trained in a full body manner, meaning you'll hit all your major muscle groups during your workout. This mass musculature recruitment means that more muscles are being broken down during the workout, including small stabilizer muscles.
You're also boosting your metabolism and you're getting a substantial cardio effect which means more calories are burned overall. Being lighter, overall, is generally a good thing in calisthenics since being lighter will improve your relative strength meaning more reps on exercises like pull-ups and dips. This also means that if you're lighter, you can do more work, thus burning more calories, thus losing more weight and more fat.
3. It trains the body as a unit.
There are certainly trade-offs to training with your bodyweight (an article for another day), but the fact of the matter is that you will be more functional in your movement patterns in the long run. The reason for this is that when you work out using your bodyweight, you have to incorporate more muscles into completing reps of whatever exercise you're doing. For example, when comparing the pull-up to the lat pulldown, your back is being targeted in a much different way.
The major difference here is that in the gym, most of what people do are isolated movements for their muscle groups. With calisthenics, you don't really get the benefit of isolating a muscle in the same way, and so the movements are a little bit harder initially and will require more effort from neighboring muscle groups to assist in the exercise.
A pull-up doesn't just use your biceps and lats, it also includes the traps, rhomboids, upper pecs, shoulders, core (low back, abs, obliques), rotator cuffs, triceps, and if your legs are straight or slightly in front of your body, your quads and glutes as well. A lat pulldown is called a lat pulldown because it primarily targets the lats while in a seated position. So, you've effectively pulled out the core and lower body from having to stabilize your body from swinging on the bar, you've isolated the back enough to where the small stabilizer muscles like the rotator cuffs don't have to do nearly as much work (which could lead to injury down the line), and the traps no longer have the advantage of a weighted stretch at the bottom part of the pull-up which is leaving gains on the table.
Calisthenics trains the body as a unit and forms neural links between different muscle groups so that when you're performing a movement in the real world, like climbing a wall, it knows exactly what it has to engage to do that task efficiently and effectively.
2. The strength from calisthenics carries over to other sports.
Building on the last point, it's not uncommon to find guys doing 200 pounds on the lat pulldown and yet they can't do a single pull up. When you're working out, a lot of the reason why people are in the gym as long as they are is because they're doing too many isolation exercises for glamor muscles, i.e. biceps, pecs, and shoulders.
The truth of the matter is that if you want to get the most out of your training, you need to be doing compound movements and calisthenics is built around tried-and-true bang for your buck compound exercises like the pull-up, the dip, push-ups, rows, squats, and crunches. Now, it's true that calisthenics won't build you big legs, but it will make your lower body strong as heck and for the guys at the gym who are skipping leg day, they're leaving tons of strength on the table since most of our strength output emanates from the lower body and back.
Doing exercises like the ones listed above everyday, or every other day, and progressively overloading on them will build you real strength that you can bring to any sport and impress people with. The reason for this also lies in the relative strength that you will have managed to build up over time. You're learning to control your body in space and the same can't be said for the gym-goer with an emphasis on aesthetics and not functionality. Which brings me to my final point...
1. You don't have to sacrifice aesthetics for functionality.
At the end of the day, a lot of us are vain and we want to work out to look good, whether that be for ourselves or to get that special someone to notice us. The problem is that most people spend too much time listening to bad advice about how to train to look good and they spend a lot of time on muscle groups that don't add anything to their physique and instead create imbalances between major muscle groups.
In general, what makes something beautiful is symmetry and balance, and calisthenics is the king of building a symmetrical and balanced physique. The truth of the matter with calisthenics is that because of everything I've mentioned thus far—the in-built cardio, increased metabolism, functional movement patterns, control over your body, etc.—you're destined to build a lean and naturally alluring physique. And it does so without having to sacrifice functionality for the sake of building bigger biceps.
There are tons of other great points to make about why one should be doing calisthenics, but the bottom line is that this is an easy way to get into working out without feeling intimidated by barbells and gym culture. The benefits far outweigh the cons and you get a lot of functional strength that carries over to most daily activities.
I also didn't mention much about gymnastic skill work or freestyle calisthenics, but as a bonus point, let it be known that working toward skills like a handstand, front lever, or a planche is just another way to impress people with your bodily awareness and control.
It's a fun way to train and progress is a lot easier to manage. And ultimately, it leaves you with no reason to make excuses. If you want to get fit and if you want to develop a healthy lifestyle, this is a free option that comes with nothing but the freedom to explore your body's potential.