Calisthenics- The Art Of Beautiful StrengthCallisthenic: a. (also Calisthenic) [f. Gr. κάλλος “beauty” + σθένος “strength”] Of or pertaining to the development of physical vigor in association with beauty.
The ability to control one’s own body has fascinated humanity for centuries. We marvel at the grace of an Olympic gymnast, feel breathless awe as trapeze artists sail through the air, and delight in the gravity-defying feats of Cirque Du Soleil performers. While the majority of us earth-bound mortals may never attain to such exalted levels of corporeal self-control, we certainly can develop to a much greater extent our own abilities with regard to strength and flexibility.“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We can “toil upward” toward the Golden Dragon Acrobats pinnacle by engaging in a regular program of calisthenic exercise.
The Attraction Of Calisthenics
Beauty and strength, mental, moral, and physical, are attributes universally admired and sought after. The ardent practice of calisthenics can, at the very least, contribute to physical pulchritude! For help with the mental and moral, look elsewhere.
Calisthenics exercise relies on very little other than bodyweight and leverage and thus can be practiced virtually anywhere. Living rooms, lawns, fields, veldts, beaches, mountainsides, decks, patios and parks are all suitable locations for the practice of calisthenics! Contrast this with the fitness machine-bound mentality of the modern gym-goer.
Strength (the ability to express force) is of limited value when not properly contextualized or controlled.
A very strong man might be able to bench press 500 pounds, however, if he is too obese to climb stairs or get out of his car easily, his strength in the context of daily life is nearly useless. Since it’s performance is contingent upon the ratio of strength to bodyweight, calisthenics-based exercise enforces a healthy bodyweight.
Strength without control is a frothing bull amok in a china shop. Calisthenics is all about control. Practitioners develop freakish levels of strength, balance, and agility as well as perseverance, patience, and proprioception.
How To Start
Begin your exploration of beautiful strength with a simple program of pushups, pullups and bodyweight squats. For tutorials check here, here, and here, respectively. For ideas with regard to how to develop the habit of training, see my article Three Steps to Better Health: Part One- Mind.
The pushup, pullup, and squat triad is fantastic in that it trains your body in three basic movement patterns: pushing, pulling, and squatting, which can then form the foundation for more advanced calisthenic exercises.
These very simple to learn and implement bodyweight exercises will get you started on a calisthenic journey that may well become an addiction!
At first, a set of 10 pushups, 5 pullups and 20 squats may be very difficult. Do not give up! Try to make progress by focusing not just on increasing the number of repetitions, but also by increasing your fluidity and comfort with the exercise. Do not simply race through the reps without engaging your intellect. Rather, try to focus on coordinating your body; pay attention to the working muscles and augment them by training your brain to tense and relax them as needed.
Although it is true that bodyweight exercise can not be made more difficult by adding weight plates to a bar, you can increase difficulty by manipulating leverage and progressing to unilateral efforts.
For instance, altering the leverage of the pushup by elevating your feet onto a bench will increase the difficulty of the exercise. Progressing toward a one legged squat , or Pistol (see photo below) will increase leg strength in a similar way to the effect created by doubling the weight on a barbell! Doing your pullups with one hand higher than the other (such as by gripping a towel hung over your pullup bar with one hand while the other hand grips the bar) shifts the bulk of your weight to one side of your body and allows you to thus progressively increase your pulling strength.
See the article Tree Climbing 101: (Part 2: Branch Out and Workout!) for suggestions on how to raise your calisthenics game even higher!
Once the basic calisthenics become muscularly and mentally easy, it is time to move on to more advanced exercises such as:
The Handstand Pushup
Hanging Leg Raise
For brief descriptions of how to do the above activities, please see the Google + series Mountain Man Calisthenics and search the hashtag #mountainmancalisthenics. (Or simply click on the photos above)
The Bottom Line
Implementing a program of progressive calisthenics costs nothing, doesn’t require exorbitant amounts of time, and can forge you into a strong, flexible human machine! Furthermore, the pursuit of “beautiful strength” leads to a more aesthetically pleasing physique.
In fact, if you aren’t careful, you may find yourself being referred to as καλλίπυγος!
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