A lot of kids growing up been inspired by Bruce Lee, Jedi, and various Bond-dudes. I know I was. I would root for them while being amazed at how controlled, both in mind and body, they were going through their story. Who cares that it was all carefully written, produced, and advertised by money-making machine that is Hollywood. It still was a blast to watch and pretend you are one of them the next day at the playground.
Then there are elite athletes that captivate attention of millions of children and adults alike. Similarly to Jedi, they demonstrate mastery of physical skills and zen-like control of their minds during the performance. Most of them are outliers, but at least it’s not CGI or an impossible plot anymore. Those guys and gals got there through thousands of hours of practice and major sacrifices. Talent and winning gene-lottery can only get you that far. You still need to work your ass off and keep reaffirming yourself that this is something you want to do for the rest of your life.
What do both of those groups, imaginary heroes and elite athletes, have in common? Strong bodies. Strong minds. Confidence. Practice. Patience. Creativity. Control. I’m going show you how practice of calisthenics emphasizes and exercises those qualities.
Calisthenics is essentially gymnastics with mostly relying on your body weight to train. It’s extremely flexible and provides you with multiple paths: you can either focus on skills and learn how to do an awesome one-armed handstand (gymnastics) or you can focus on building strength (body-weighting). Find something in the middle that is suitable to your goals. Now I’m wondering why the fancy name for such a simple idea.
Duh. Have you seen those nerds?
Since English is my second language, it took some significant brain power to remember how to pronounce and spell ca-li-s-then-ics. So there’s that. Oh, and it’s like meditation. You get to reconnect with your body and have a tough conversation with it at times of pushing it to the next limits. Any practice that connects your brain to your body will end up benefiting both.
Confidence, Control & Patience
It takes some guts to trust your body when you are doing a handstand push-up on top of a pull-up bar. It might seem that to perform stunts like that you must have no survival instinct. But those maniacs can rely on their bodies because they’ve spent tremendous amount of time and effort to build them. For every successful handstand, there were numerous falls on the face. The confidence was built along with their bodies. The control was mastered as a necessity to keep going.
Another important advantage of calisthenics is that it doesn’t require a gym or weights. You get to make a gym from every pole, bar, or wall you can find. You get to have weights by putting your body into unusual positions such as one-armed push-up. People also seem to find very creative ways to show off their skills.
Let’s expand a bit on what practice of calisthenics entails. I’ve researched some programs and there’s a lot of fluff but majority of them focus on the same basic exercises. If, for whatever reason, one day you ended up in your PE class instead smoking cigarettes behind the school, then you already know most of the core movements: push-up, pull-up, sit-up, squats, dips. And, if you grew up in a post-Soviet country, had already given up smoking when you were ten, and attended PE classes regularly, then you’ve probably been exposed to some more advanced routines: muscle-ups, rings, proper gymnastic landings, and being forced to participate in cross-country skiing competitions.
The fact that it is indeed practice is the reason why it is so appealing to me. I admire the idea of going through tiny incremental improvements, and hitting plateaus, and building up the necessary strength and technique before you can even try a new skill. There’s no bullshit or shortcuts. A lot of other programs focus on immediate results without really going deep into principles and techniques. Of course, it depends on the goals. But I learned that I have to hustle to appreciate my achievements. Calisthenics is a nice fit for me as it provides necessary flexibility, challenge and routine without a destination. It makes me more independent and adaptable.
Some of the coaches are also preaching quality over quantity which also resonates with my values. You are supposed to give 100% to every movement you make and not half-ass them when you are tired. If you cannot do that rep, just stop injuring yourself. It’s a sustainable long-term plan which encourages improvement forever. Some coaches even argue against feeling sore the next day. Soreness feels good because it is a clear feedback to the fact that you actually worked out hard the day before. As in no pain no gain. Without soreness, you would feel as if you didn’t push yourself enough and that’s dangerous. It can lead to over-exercising and injuries, which will lower your performance.
The following routine is what I am starting with for the first couple weeks and will adjust it as I get stronger. Please don’t follow it as I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing and composed the routine myself after doing some research. I suggest you do the same for yourself. That being said, for two days of the week I will do Simple & Sinister because I still don’t hate weights and kettlebells are awesome. And on the other two days I’ll do calisthenics:
- 3 sets of 8 pull-ups
- 3 sets of 8 dips
- 3 sets of one-legged 8 L-sits
- 3 sets of 15 diamond push-ups
- 3 sets of 8 rows
- Handstand practice
Clear, simple, and almost boring. Just the way I like it.