Two years have almost passed since I shared my vision for the future of calisthenics.
During these 2 years, calisthenics have continued to become more and more popular, but most people still hold a limited view about it.
When thinking about calisthenics, most people think of front and back levers, handstands, and crazy street workouts.
Others, not initiated into bodyweight training, think of calisthenics as some sets and reps of bodyweight push-ups and squats.
But what is calisthenics really?
To begin with, let’s see some definitions of the word Calisthenics.
The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kálos (κάλος), which means “beauty”, and sthénos (σθένος), meaning “strength”. It is the art of using one’s body weight and qualities of inertia as a means to develop one’s physique.
Calisthenics refers to exercises that are done in a rhythmic, systematic way using the body weight for resistance.
So calisthenics is just another name for bodyweight training.
Any type of bodyweight training.
As you can already see, this general definition can include a very wide spectrum of disciplines.
In this post, I am going to cover the biggest and most famous disciplines that are using bodyweight training to develop and meet their goals.
Not all of them could classify strictly as calisthenics. However, all of the following disciplines contain great exercises that could enhance your training routines.
So, let’s begin…
Gymnastics as an Olympic event have been so far the most well-developed form of calisthenics training. As a result, gymnasts are some of the strongest bodyweight athletes in the world.
Furthermore, this wide recognition and popularity makes gymnastics the most influential form of bodyweight training.
Although gymnastics is by itself a broad term and contains a variety of different disciplines… the main goal is to develop a large variety of athletic qualities, such us strength, agility, coordination, flexibility, self-control, kinesthetic awareness, etc.
Here are some of the gymnastics disciplines:
#1: The Gymnastics Rings (men only)
This is the event that requires the most strength of all the disciplines.
All of us have seen gymnasts perform unbelievable feats of strength on the rings and we have been amazed by the grace and strength these athletes display.
To win this event you have to move through a set of difficult positions while maintaining total control and having the rings remains still the whole time. At the end of the event, you have to perform an equally difficult and impressive ring dismount.
Some of the greatest “feats” performed on rings are:
- The Iron Cross
- The Maltese
- The Inverted Cross
- The Victorian Cross
And of course getting in and out of these position (which, by the way, is at least as challenging).
#2: The High Bar (men only)
This is another very exciting gymnastics event.
In this event the gymnast performs a routine that consists of aerial acrobatics in the horizontal bar.
The horizontal bar is like a pull up bar, but it is more “supple” so that it absorbs some shock during the landing faces.
Below you can see a video with some of the greatest moves of this discipline:
#3: Floor Gymnastics
Here the athlete has to perform a dancing-like routine in a square area.
The routines of this disciplines consist of both aerial movements (like flips) and strength movements (like the manna to handstand).
Of course, there are more gymnastics events than the ones presented above. Some of them are:
- The Pommel Horse (men only)
- The Parallel Bars
- The Uneven Bars (women only)
- and many others
Below is a list of helpful resources if you are interested in learning more about gymnastics training.
– The Gymnastic Bodies’ forum is probably the best gymnastics forum out there. Here you can find posts related to every aspect of gymnastics strength training, like skill development, conditioning, balance, mobility, etc.
– A great website where you can find very good tutorials and videos is Gold Medal Bodies. Their products are really solid too, as I have used them in the past (and still use them) with great results.
2. Street Calisthenics
Street calisthenics is a relatively new form of training that only recently has started to becoming popular with the help of Youtube videos. Previously bodyweight training was limited mostly to gymnastics, martial arts, and boot-camp training.
The majority of people used to think that you can get stronger only by lifting heavy weights or by using expensive machines, and there are many who still believe such nasty things. 😉
Most of us were introduced to this form of training by seeing bodyweight masters perform simple yet difficult workouts. I can always remember how excited and motivated I felt by seeing legends like Hannibal for King, Al Kavadlo, and others display tremendous amount of strength by using only their bodyweight.
Some great skills that are performed in this discipline are:
- The Human Flag
- Front and Back Levers
- One arm push ups and variations
- One arm chin ups
- Pistols and Shrimp squats
- And many more
Other than being a really effective form of training, street calisthenics have another great benefit. Because it has only recently started to develop, there is still a lot potential for improvement and all of us in the SOA community can take an active role in making street calisthenics become even more exciting and popular.
Here are some training resources (other than SOA) that can help you develop some of the skills mentioned above:
– The PCC blog. Lots of useful articles are written in this blog weekly. Some of the regular writers are Al and Danny Kavadlo and Paul Wade.
– The official Barstarzz Youtube channel. Here you are going to find lots of videos related to bodyweight workouts. There is a huge collection of motivational videos.
– The Strength Project Youtube channel. Similarly to the Barstarzz channel, here you are going to find lots of tutorials related to bodyweight training and motivational videos.
Many of us have seen breathtaking videos of crazy guys jumping from rooftop to rooftop, jumping great heights with no sign of fear and climbing walls effortlessly. Well… that is parkour.
Parkour like street calisthenics got huge popularity thanks to Youtube videos. However, parkour is an older discipline.
Even though, parkour is based on bodyweight training, very few view it as such.
There are 2 types of parkour.
#1: (Regular) Parkour
This is the original parkour, where your goal is to develop the ability to overcome any physical object and to reach your destination following the straightest line possible.
Some of the basic skills developed with parkour training are:
- Precision and broad jumping
- Shock absorption techniques (for landing)
- Wall climbing
This is an evolution of parkour.
Here the goal is no longer just to overcome obstacles or to follow a straight line, but to also express yourself and be a little more creative. (While overcoming obstacles of course.)
For example, a regular precision jump in parkour, becomes a precision jump with a back flip in freerunning.
The basics of freerunning are the same as parkour with an add of aerial tricks inspired mostly by gymnastics.
Lastly, parkour training can help you develop endurance, explosiveness, agility, coordination and a lot of courage.
Here is a list of helpful Youtube channels:
– The Tapp Brothers’ channel
– The La Flair Parkour’ channel
– Following channels of high level parkouristas/ freerunners is also very helpful and motivational. Such an expert for examble is Ryan Doyle.
Breakin’ isn’t really a form of strength training and, us such, not strictly a calisthenic discipline. Breakin’ is more of a dancing discipline.
The goal of this type of training is to become a better dancer and not a stronger athlete.
The main reason I included this into the calisthenic disciplines, while not including other forms of dancing, is because even if you are not interested in dancing, adding and learning some b-boy skills can be a great addition to your training. In particular, moves like flares and freezes, other than looking really awesome, can help you develop a lot of strength, coordination and balance.
Breakin’ is mostly about dynamic moves, but there are some static holds as part of the training, too. B-boy/girl training consists of movements like:
- Flare variations
- Windmill variations
- Various freezes
- Footwork training
- And a wide variety of dancing sequences
I haven’t gone too much into the B-boying community, so it’s difficult to find the best tutorials of these discipline. Some that I consider of good quality are:
– The VincaniTV channel
– The tutorials at the Strength Project Youtube channel
Climbing is the ultimate way of developing pulling strength.
There are numerous videos of climbers performing one are pull ups with ease.
Other than incredible pulling strength, climbers also have a very strong grip and fingers.
Various forms of footwork are being trained as well.
Climbing like parkour is a little dangerous and requires some safety measures to be in place.
There are different types of climbing categories with the main difference being the object you are climbing. Other than that the goals are similar.
Climbing, along with parkour, is literally a Shot Of Adrenaline and I highly recommend you to experiment with this discipline.
Lastly, the good thing about climbing is that you don’t need special equipment to start right now, as you have been probably thinking.
Even if special equipment isn’t mandatory in the beginning, the best way to progress fast is to find a local climbing club. By doing that you are going to have access to special climbing walls and all the necessary safety measures are going to be in place.
If you still want to train at home, this Youtube channel has some really good tips. However, you are not going to be as safe as in a climbing club.
Tricking is another fairly new discipline.
Tricking is very similar to floor gymnastics with the main differences being in the movements that are being performed and that a bouncy floor isn’t necessary.
Most of the tricking moves are aerial tricks and flying kicks.
Since all of the tricks are explosive movements this type of training is going to help develop a tremendous amount of explosive strength.
If you are interested in learning some flying kicks, you can check:
– Acrobolix. A great all around website with a lots of useful content about tricking and getting stronger in general.
Almost everyone has heard about yoga.
Yoga is probably the most ancient discipline that uses bodyweight training.
Of course, the goals of yoga are mostly spiritual and have nothing to do with becoming very strong physically.
As with breakin’, I included yoga in the calisthenic disciplines because you can easily implement various poses into your training.
Such poses are:
- The Bridge
- The Downward Facing Dog. Both the bridge and downward-facing dog are excellent for opening up your shoulders and thus for handstand.
- And countless others
You can easily add yoga sequences like sun salutation into your training as well.
Practicing yoga can help you increase your flexibility and balance and become more relaxed.
As you can see there is more than meets the eye in calisthenics training and the great thing is that this is just the beginning!
There are still a lot more disciplines to come out as calisthenics training becomes more popular.
The main purpose of this post was to help you see that there are more things that you can do with your bodyweight than just levers and handstands, which are great by the way. The sky is literally the limit.
There is vast ocean of movement ready for you to explore.
You can easily combine various movements and approaches into your training quite easily since the only requirement is your body.
This is a great time to be part of the calisthenic community, the future is really bright!
What discipline do you enjoy the most?
Did I forget any other discipline that should be there?
I would love to read your thoughts in the comment section below.
This is a really good post. May I ask you to leave it up for future reference? Thank you.
I did not know those gymnastic events were only for men or women.
I’ve thought of this before and I would say it starts off with gymnastics and ventures off down a different path after the basic moves are mastered.
I really like your piece of tricking and I’d love to learn a few of those moves in the future.
As for what you might have missed, I know some people love that slow movement stuff kind of like Ido Portal does, rolling around on the floor and doing certain twists and holds.
Maybe you could throw in some circuit training for military people who only focus on the basic moves. Also that zip line stuff might fit.
DDPYOGA is what I do. It’s a combination of yoga, body resistance training (I think it’s aka Isometric) and calisthenics. It was designed by retired professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page who used this system to rehabilitate himself back into wrestling. He started wrestling at age 35, then injured himself and told he could never wrestle again. He started using this system, and at age 40, not only did he come back into wrestling but he became a world champion 3 times. He also helped an injured army veteran restore his normal body functions. You can find Arthur Boorman on YouTube. And the system can be found on ddpyoga.com.
Yep, I’m familiar with DDP Yoga and the video. Very inspirational. 🙂
Great post but what about classic ballet. I am a ballet dancer and I am also into fitness and calisthenics but I know that in ballet you use your whole body all the time for everything, you need incredible full body strength and control for all the jumps, lifts, pirouettes, etc and because of that we train a lot with bodyweight and very little with weights and thats not all we not only need incredible strength but also amazing flexebility to preform splits in mid air. So I would have kind of expected ballet to be in here. However it is a great post.
Hi Jonas, you are right on. Classic ballet is another great example and the dancers have incredible strength!
Very enlightening, Todd! Thanks for posting.
Great to hear from you Mary! Hope everything with SowHope is going well! 🙂
Great post Todd, I enojyed it very much
Glad you enjoyed it Iban!