Calisthenics Chaos Training: A Bodyweight Alternative To Strongman Training

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
April 27, 2015

Even though I have a passion for bodyweight training, I truly admire and respect strongmen.

These guys are phenomenal!

Their sheer strength and raw power is very impressive and inspiring.

Strongmen are among the strongest people on the planet and they owe their strength to their specific training.

Strongman training consists of regular weight lifting and event-focused work. One of the biggest factors of the success of a strongmen is what I call “chaotic training” (more on that later).

But can you become as strong as a strongman by training with bodyweight exercises?

Well, if you want to achieve the feats of strength that strongmen achieve, you will have to train like a strongman. However, if you want to build a resilient physique that can be adapted to every environment and have true strength and power, then Calisthenics Chaos Training is designed exactly for you.

What Is Calisthenics Chaos Training?

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To understand the concept and purpose of Calisthenics Chaos Training, we will have to take a look at strongman training.

If you have seen any strongman events, you will have noticed that strongmen never lift regular objects. These odd objects, as they call them, are very difficult to grab and hold (like the atlas stone) and their weight isn’t spread evenly. These factors, among with many others, provide a unique stimulus that regular weight lifting doesn’t.

The purpose of strongman training is to get really strong in all kinds of movement that can happen in everyday life.

But how can this be applied in calisthenics?

Well, if you have been following SOA for a while, you probably know the main difference between weight lifting and bodyweight training.

In weight lifting, you are moving an external object through space. In calisthenics, you are moving your body through space.

So, in weight lifting if you want to manipulate the difficulty you just have to manipulate the object.

In calisthenics, the most common way of manipulating the difficulty is by changing the way you move (aka leverage). However, there is another way to manipulate the difficulty. You can do it by manipulating the environment in which you are moving.

In Calisthenics Chaos Training, you are going to manipulate both variables with the aim to become stronger, faster, more resilient and adaptable.

Lastly, you shouldn’t expect to develop the kind of strength required for a strongman event or the physique of a strongman by training with calisthenics. The reason behind this is the SAID principle.

Why is it named Calisthenics Chaos Training?

The main reason I named this type of training “Calisthenics Chaos Training” is because of the main goal and purpose behind it.

This type of training is designed so that you are not only going to get stronger and faster, but you are actually able to apply this strength and adapt faster to chaotic situations and environments.

For example, sprinting in a track field is going to get you faster. However,  if you have to run in a “chaotic” environment where the ground isn’t flat, like in a mountain where there are trees, upward and downward hills, etc, you will not be able to run as fast and as long, if you are not prepared for such a situation.

Cautions:

Calisthenics Chaos Training is not for the faint of heart or beginners.

If you are a beginner you should focus on training using the easier bodyweight programs that are on the website to build a strong foundation.

About Strongman Events

There is a large variety of strongman events and all of them offer a unique challenge.

However, based on the underlying theme of each event, I roughly categorized them into two basic categories.

These two categories are:

1. Weighted Carries and Pulling

2. Odd Object Lifting

Of course, some events are more complex, but most of the time they are a combination of these two categories.

So, let’s start….

Bodyweight Alternatives For Loaded Carries & Pulling

Loaded carries are one of the core events of strongman training. The aim of these events is to lift a heavy weight and move it over a long distance as fast as possible. Such events are the farmers’ walk and the yoke carries.

Pulling events are similar to the loaded carries, but there is one major difference. In pulling events, the object doesn’t have to be lifting or carried, but rather pulled over a long distance for time. Such objects can be trucks and other heavy vehicles.

These events are very challenging for your body and require a lot of strength, speed and endurance.

Bodyweight Alternatives

If we break down the various weighed carry events, we can see that the main principle behind it is to move as fast as possible under an extremely large amount of weight.

Since in calisthenics you aren’t adding external weight to a movement to increase the difficulty, you are going to mimic the effects of loaded carries by moving in difficult positions as fast as possible.

Fortunately, such exercises already exist and we don’t have to design them ourselves. Such exercises are the animal walks, brachiation and hill sprinting. The goal is to move over a long distance as fast as possible.

1. Animal Walks

Description:

Animal walks, as the name suggests, are exercises that mimic the way animals move. There is a great variety of such exercises.

Many people are quick to dismiss such exercises because most of them seem to be easy. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Advanced animals walks are really hard and challenging to perform.

The goal is to move over a long distance as fast as possible while having perfect form.

Animal walks are going to help you develop strength, speed, endurance, coordination and mobility.

Progressions:

It is difficult to get clear progressions for animals walks since they are different from one another. However, we can sort them based on their difficulty.

1. Crab walk

2. Bear walk

3. Monkey walk

4. Duck Walk

5. Lizard walk

And many others. You can increase the difficulty of animal walks by training in a “random” surface, like a mountain hill.

Helpful Resources:

– Locomotion Conditioning Routine Beginner

Locomotion Conditioning Routine Advanced

– The XshaolingkidX Youtube Channel has some great animal walk tutorials.

How to train with this exercise:

The easier types of animal walks can be trained every day as a warm up or a cool down. For the more advanced ones, you can have a day or two dedicated to them.

I like training them in 3 rounds with 1 min rest in between. Each round can contain more than one animal walks.

2. Brachiation

Exercise Description:
Brachiation is an awesome exercise for upper body strength and very good for your shoulders. It is similar to walking but instead of moving on the ground you are going to move while hanging.

Progressions:

1. Hanging. You have to get comfortable in the dead hang position and develop the necessary strength.

2. Brachiation Level 1. This is the simplest form of brachiating. Here you are going to move from bar to bar one by one with both hands going to the same bar. The goal is to brachiate for 3 minutes.

3. Brachiation Level 2. In this progression, you are going to move from bar to bar one by one with your hands never on the same bar. Aim for 3 consecutive minutes before progressing.

4. Brachiation Level 3. In this progression, you are going to move through the bars two by two. The goal is 2 minutes of consecutive brachiation.

After that, there are many ways to make brachiation more difficult. You can make them explosive, train using ropes, etc.

Helpful Resources:

The Hanging Challenge

Brachiation Basics

Brachiation Orientation

How to train with this exercise:

Brachiation is not a very challenging exercise and if you have the interest to do it, you can train for it every day. You can do 3 rounds as a warm up or as a cool down.

Be careful and do not progress too fast cause you may injure your shoulders.

3. Running

The ultimate way to train your legs “chaotically” is parkour training.

If you aren’t interested in parkour, here are some ways to strengthen your legs:

1. Hill sprinting. You can make this more challenging by running in random mountain hills that have lots of trees, so that there is not a fixed path and you have to stay focused the whole time. If no hill is nearby, you can use stairs.

2. Going barefoot.

How to progress:

Before starting hill/ stair sprinting, I recommend you to start with regular training and sprinting. Running in short distances like half a mile is very useful. When you get comfortable and start to develop speed, you are ready to progress to hill/ stair sprinting.

Going barefoot should be approached with caution. In the beginning you should start lightly by walking very small distances slowly. After you get comfortable walking barefoot you can start practicing running drills as well. Shoes designed to feel like you are barefoot, help you train your foot muscles without the fear of stepping on something sharp.

How to train:

If you have already been sprinting for awhile, you can replace your sessions with hill/ stair sprinting.

If you decide to go barefoot, you can train every day as long as you are not overdoing it.

4. Combining The Above

The hardest bodyweight variation of the above exercises is to find a natural environment that demands a combination of all of these exercises.

In my experience, mountains are the ultimate training environment for this purpose.

Bodyweight Alternatives For Odd Object Lifting

The second category is strongman lifting events. The main difference between odd object lifting and regular weight lifting is that odd objects have difficult-to-grab handles or no handles at all and their center of mass isn’t centered or stable.

For this reason, odd object lifting requires a lot more grip and core strength and a larger amount of muscle activation.

Some of the events belonging in this category are:

the atlas stone

clean and press

flipping cars

– etc

Bodyweight Alternatives

The purpose of odd object lifting is to challenge muscles that are not usually challenged with normal weight lifting.

To get the same effect in bodyweight training you will have to train using “odd” tools and train at “odd” environments.

1. Pulling Exercises

Pulling exercises can be made more difficult by doing pull ups, or other pulling exercises, on more challenging surfaces.

Similarly to the strongman’s clean and press where the bar has a thick handle, in Calisthenics Chaos Training you are going to perform pull ups in areas that are difficult to get a hold on.

For this, you can use gymnastics rings, rope, towels, thick bar, climbing boxes, train with less fingers, etc.

How to progress

Of course, you should be able to perform at least 10 pull ups before thinking about training with a more challenging grip.

Since most of the tools are different in nature it is not possible to provide you with a progression plan. However, you can gradually make an exercise more difficult by increasing the bar thickness gradually, by starting with an easier pulling variation like Australian pull ups.

How to train:

You should train on challenging surface only as a warm up or on different days and not as your main strength session. The reason for this is that your grip strength is going to limit your performance and not get the required stimulus to increase your pulling strength.

When you get more advanced you can start climbing , which is one of the best ways to increase every quality required to become a better puller.

2. Pushing Exercises

Unfortunately, in pushing exercises there aren’t as many options to increase the demand as in pulling exercises.

One of the best ways to increase the difficulty of a pushing exercise is to train in a non-stable surface.

For example, rings push ups are more difficult than regular push ups.

Other than gymnastics rings, you can use lots of different tools, such us an inverted kettlebell, medicine ball, pilates ball, etc.

How to progress:

The way to progress is similar with the way you progress with regular push ups. Start with easier variations and as you get stronger you can train with advanced push ups on non stable surfaces.

How to train:

Other than the gymnastics rings which you can use regularly at all pushing movements, you should use non stable surface training as a warm up or a cool down.

When you get more advanced you can have an extra day to train skills like the shooter push up:

3. Using Random Objects in General

Other than the variations shown previously, you can use any tool and surface to perform an exercise. Like Ross is doing with this chair:

Or the chair climbing man:

Do not limit your imagination!

For more training ideas you can check:

Odd Object Training With Bodyweight?

Putting Everything Together

As I stated in the beginning, the aim of Calisthenics Chaos Training is to develop the kind of strength that can be applied to a lot of different situations…. and to build resilience and readiness as well.

The fat loss and muscle gains that come along are just byproducts.

Also, this is an intense type of training and you should approach it gradually so that you can increase your work capacity.

Here is how to implement everything together…

The Training Plan

Sample routine: 6 times/ week.

Day 1 – Strength training

Day 2Animal walks and brachiation

Day 3 – Strength training

Day 4 – Animal walks and brachiation

Day 5 – Chaotic training

Day 6 – Sprinting

Day 7 – Active rest

2 days are going to be used for strength training using regular calisthenics. In these two strength days you are going to train with low reps per set, like 5×5 (5 sets X 5 reps).

At the animal walk and brachiation days, you are going to use one day for form development and improvement and the other one to increase your speed and time.

In the chaotic training day you are going to train outdoors, using odd objects, etc. You can train with advanced moves following a low rep approach or less challenging moves aiming for endurance.

At the last day of each cycle you are going to sprint.

You can add short isometric training sessions during the animal walk days, too.

If you are trying to learn a skill like a freestanding handstand that requires very frequent training, you can still train for it by decreasing the frequency and intensity of the animal walks.

Every 4th or 5th week is going to be a deload week so that you can recover effectively.

How to Progress

In your strength training days, you should progress based on the skills you are trying to accomplish. For example, if you are training for a front lever, progress accordingly to that. During these days, you should strive to achieve harder skills.

In the animal walks and brachiation days, you should always count the distance you are covering and the time you need to cover it. In the first day of animal walks you should focus on your form and on achieving more advanced variations. You know that you have reached a good level of performance on a certain walk when you can move fluidly. In the second day, you should aim to improve your previous time records.

In the chaotic training days, you can progress by trying to increase the reps of a certain movement, like dips on rings if you want to aim for endurance. If maximal strength is your goal, you can try to achieve advanced skills on unstable surfaces, like one arm push ups on rings.

In hill sprinting you should aim to improve your time. I recommend that you train various distances and not just a fixed one for higher diversity.

Why Is The Training Plan Structured This Way?

This plan has 2 strength training sessions with the goal of increasing your overall strength. One strength training day wouldn’t be enough for you to grow stronger. Usually, strength training plans have 3 days dedicated strength training. Here the 3rd strength training day is converted to a “chaotic” training day.

The aim of the chaotic training day is to develop the ability to apply strength in more extreme situations. The main reason there is only one day dedicated to this type of training is because your are not going to grow as fast with more days dedicated to it. For example, if you are practicing rope pull ups, your grip is going to give up much faster than your pulling muscles (biceps, lats, etc) and not provide the necessary stimulus for strength gains.

The animal walk days are placed after the strength training days. I did this because animal walks are mostly endurance and coordination exercises and do not interfere with your strength training.

The sprinting days are there to help you become faster and more explosive. If you are interested in running faster or you enjoy running, you can replace one animal walk day with a sprinting day.

In the beginning, I recommend you to take it easy until you develop the work capacity necessary to follow this program.

Do you have any questions in regards to Calisthenics Chaos Training?

Feel free to post them below!

Bodyweight Todd

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Show/Hide Comments (9 comments)
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9 Comments
  1. Rohit

    I’m going to try some of these. I remember having done animal walks as a kid in Tae Kwon Do classes, but that is now over a decade ago and I don’t think I have the flexibility for them anymore. Brachiation is something I always wanted to try, but I can’t find monkey bars taller than 6 feet around me.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hey Rohit,

      Tucking your knees might feel clumsy, but it will definitely do the job, and you will be giving your core extra workout.

      If you want to regain your flexibility, JeromeFitness has some excellent tutorials on his youtube page, and he posts with great stretching videos regularly. Check him out:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-sFpYH25Vo

      Reply
  2. adam

    Enjoyed this. To be honest a great way of using external resistance without using the “traditional gym setting” is to simply invest in sand bags.

    Reply
  3. Peter Parker

    Hi Todd, this comment is for one of your popular posts “the 3month body weight training plan”

    I’m an ectomorph, skinny guy. I’m about 5’8 and weigh 60-63kg.
    I WAS active as I played football (soccer) anywhere from 3-7 times a week. My goals are to gain weight, muscle mass, strength, speed, agility and balance. I have done the research for each of these attributes and am willing to put the work in as I know what I need to do to become a professional in this sport. I was wondering if this plan would make me lose weight? As I want to gain weight but still remain agile and fast as my position in the feel required me to do so. I’m always told I’m skinny.

    The main reason for me giving up on most of my plans have been my diet, I get lost in this area quite a lot and don’t know what to do. I don’t really have a nutritional plan as I come from an Asian (pakistani/indian) family I do not know what food is being made, usually the spicy dishes with chicken and lamb Etc therefore it is hard for me to calculate calorie intake, protein, carbs, fats etc.

    I feel that I have two large meals a day and won’t eat anything else, I really want to get into the habit of eating 5-6 meals

    I usually have a cheese and onion sandwich or cereal with a bottle of water for breakfast and won’t have anything until 4-5 pm
    Then I will have a normal indian meal and won’t eat anything else for the rest of the day

    I was wondering if you can give me a plan as I know this is where I fail and this is 100 times more important and harder than the workout itself.

    Also I want to increase my speed and acceleration and as a football (soccer) player I practice my shooting technique, dribbling, new skills, control of the football… All these basic drills as I feel training the basics are the fundamentals of going anywhere in life.im more used to sharper and faster movements and quick reactions due to an opponent reading a specific move I make so I need to react and change direction or come up with a skill to beat him. So I was wandering if I can do this while doing this workout.

    I originally joined the gym exactly this month a year ago. I was consistent enough for the month until it was ramadhan (fasting period) so I had to stop. As a beginner at that time I was using free weights and machines and saw an improvement on my physicality. I weighed 53kg last year and was 5’8 but after my whole month of training I was 65kg.

    I still consider myself to be a beginner as I was on and off for the whole year and I don’t believe in a beginner going in for 3 days a week since I have the motivation and motto of “go and do something like a professional, if it’s not hard enough it’s not good enough”
    I know when I’m sleeping there’s someone else out there training. I have a plan right now which I’m yet to start due to seeing this plan. That plan is 6 days
    Monday-biceps Abs 100 push ups
    Tuesday- chest and shoulders
    Wednesday-triceps Back and legs
    Thursday -biceps, Shoulders, abs and push ups
    Friday-chest triceps back
    Saturday-legs abs 100 push ups
    I can keep consistent with this but know I don’t eat enough therefore I don’t have enough energy which causes me to start that “on and off” pattern. I know CONSISTENCY IS KEY. It can’t be more true and nothing is better than hard work.

    I just need somebody to help me and this is the first time I’ve asked for it, last year in February I was doing insanity and after month 1 I saw drastic change in my speed(I feel need for speed and always want to get faster as I’ve never been the fastest kid) but I noticed I was getting very skinny and I already was pretty skinny so I stopped which caused me to do join the gym. That’s basically my life story.

    Your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Peter Parker

      Also, even though I am skinny I’ve never had abs, I have quite abit of fat on my lower belly, waist, hips back, and the the back of my quads (hamstrings) areas. So nutritional and going into all the calculations of fat percentage and calorie, protein, carbs, fat, macronutrients intake is definitely where I get lost.
      I can see my abs pop out of the fat if I make a particular movememt such as oblique crunces.

      Reply
  4. Ken Paulsen

    Todd, thanks for your research and sharing your findings! This looks great!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Glad you like it Ken! 😀

      Reply
  5. Dylan

    Hey Todd,
    Very interesting style to this type of training, this would work well for me after I finish the program I’m on (just started a new one yesterday from the Bodyweight Bundle). I’m noticing a bit of Ido’s influence in here, guessing you must have enjoyed the training with him, but I can certainly see your own style in here, too.

    Thanks, Todd. You’re the man, great stuff.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Dylan, yes Ido is awesome. I took training with his students but it was still phenomenal! Keep up the great work my man!

      Reply
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