If your usual training regimen involves lifting barbells stacked on either end with heavy iron plates, things like push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and handstands may seem like mere child’s play. In the age of the all-important question, “Do you even lift?” the idea of bodyweight training might make you scoff or even laugh. You may be thinking, “Why would anyone do push-ups when they can slap some plates on each end of a barbell and pump out a few sets on the bench?” or “Why would someone use their own bodyweight as resistance when there are gyms full of equipment to use?” Well, these are the very questions I’m here to answer.
1. Body Awareness
Perhaps the most unique advantage of calisthenics and bodyweight training is the development of body awareness or proprioception – the sense of where different parts of your body are in space relative to one another.
While pushing or pulling progressively heavier weights will certainly make you bigger and stronger, advanced calisthenics movements like handstands, planches, and back levers depend on much more than sheer physical strength. Progressing in calisthenics requires that you not only get stronger, but also that you develop balance, stability, flexibility, and control–qualities that may be overlooked in other strength sports. By developing these qualities, you will experience a heightened sense of body awareness; you’ll feel lighter, more agile, and more coordinated not only in the gym, but in your daily life. You’ll also find that this sense of body awareness carries over to other areas of life besides training, such as eating and relaxation, making life much richer and more satisfying.
We hear the terms “functional strength” and “functional training” tossed around all the time in the fitness world, but what exactly do they mean and why should we even care? Simply put, functional strength uses the whole body rather than isolating individual parts of it, and functional training is exercise that reflects or carries over to movements we perform in our everyday lives.
While curling dumbbells or using specialized machinery to train each individual muscle may create an aesthetically pleasing physique, what good is packing on muscle that doesn’t allow you to do more with your body? Even strength-based sports like powerlifting and weightlifting, which are certainly incredible displays of raw strength, power, and athleticism, don’t carry over into everyday activities the way bodyweight training does. While they develop important functional qualities such as strength, stamina, and power output, realistically, when is anyone going to need to move a massive object from the ground to overhead in one quick motion?
Don’t get me wrong, these sports definitely have great value and I respect and have taken part in all of them, but it is only since I’ve begun incorporating calisthenics into my training regime that I’ve noticed an immense shift in the ease of my daily activities. The movement patterns of bodyweight exercises are natural and require use of multiple parts of the body at once; there is no isolation training in calisthenics. Daily practice of bodyweight exercises as well as gymnastic and plyometric movements have brought me a sense of strength that weights never did; the more I train, the more I feel like I’m becoming a master of my own body. No matter what physical challenges I face on any given day, my calisthenics training has made me strong, confident, and prepared to take it on.
If you’re anything like me, you crave variety in your life; getting up and doing the same thing day after day will end up driving you crazy. Even if you’re perfectly content when settled into a daily routine, sometimes it’s just nice to spice things up and try something new. The main reason I moved away from lifting as my primary training style was simply because I found myself bored of the same repetitive training routine. Stuck at a plateau, I needed something new to spark my excitement and reinvigorate my passion for training, and that something I needed was calisthenics.
The beauty of calisthenics is that it is such a broad term. When people think of the term “calisthenics,” they may envision people swinging around on bars like monkeys or doing endless sets and reps of basic bodyweight exercises. While these aren’t necessarily inaccurate, the term “calisthenics” or “bodyweight training” encompasses any form of training that utilizes your own body as resistance. This can mean cranking out sets and reps of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, and the like, but it can also include a wide variety of sports and activities that rely on using strength and coordination to move your body through space: gymnastics, acrobatics, yoga, dance, rock climbing, parkour, martial arts, obstacle course running – the list goes on. Now that I incorporate many of these activities into my training regime in addition to lifting, I have such a wide variety of activities to choose from that I never find myself stuck in a rut.
Another unique advantage of calisthenics is that it is the most versatile style of training; it can be done anytime, anywhere, with equipment or without. You can train in a gym, in a park, on a beach (get jacked AND tan at the same time!), in your house or apartment—there really isn’t anywhere you can’t train! Unlike other strength sports, the only piece of equipment required for calisthenics is your own body. And luckily, you take that with you everywhere! Of course, if you want to progress and take your training to the next level, you can use equipment such as bars, rings, ropes, boxes, and parallettes—things that are found in most gyms anyway. However, you’ll find that when you start training calisthenics, you’ll begin to see your environment in a new way; everything around you becomes a potential training implement!
Plus, because it’s so versatile and efficient, calisthenics makes it easy to maintain the consistency required for long-term muscle and strength development. No matter the circumstances, whether you’re traveling or just can’t make it to the gym, with calisthenics, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great training session in. With calisthenics, the world becomes your gym. Or, as I prefer to say, the world becomes your playground.
I get asked all the time, “what are you training for?” and when I reply with, “just for fun,” people seem surprised, as if there’s no point in training if there isn’t an ultimate end goal. Competition can be exciting and rewarding, but to me, and every other calisthenics athlete I’ve come into contact with, training in itself is enjoyable and fulfilling.
It’s been found that with a strong sense of body awareness generally comes a more positive relationship with one’s body, which makes training a pleasurable and enjoyable experience rather than a strenuous chore. That labored-breathing, burning-muscle sensation that many people find highly undesirable and unpleasant is actually something bodyweight athletes strive for, as we perceive it as a sign of getting stronger, not a sign of struggle or weakness.
The major difference I’ve noticed between calisthenics athletes and other athletes is that bodyweight athletes don’t view their training as “training” at all. To us, training isn’t work; training is play. It’s not a chore or a task on our to-do list; it’s not something we have to do, but something we want to do, look forward to doing, and enjoy doing. We don’t wake up in the morning and say, “What time do I have to train today?” Instead, we say, “What time do I get to train today?” If the latter isn’t what you’re thinking on a daily basis, perhaps it’s time to switch up your routine and incorporate some calisthenics into your life! After all, you never know what kinds of amazing things your body is capable of until you get out and try.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.