Learning new skills is the backbone of calisthenics strength training.
And because of that, no other form of training seems as exciting and fun as calisthenics.
Even though I have been training for more than 10 years, I am still as excited to learn new skills as I was in the beginning.
However, skill achievement can also be a very frustrating process.
Over all these years that I have been training, there were dozens of times, during which I was feeling that a certain skill is impossible for me, I doubted my abilities and sometimes simply quit.
After achieving lots of skills over the last 10 years, I have had insights and “aha” moments about the whole process.
Right now, I realize that if you want to achieve advanced calisthenics skills, lots of hard work is required and there are no real shortcuts. Yet, there are certain factors that, when in place, can help you learn advanced skills faster.
The aim of this post is to provide you with all the knowledge and insight I wish I had when I was still a beginner, so that you can learn the skill you aim for faster.
This is not going to be about training strategies, programs or strength training principles, but rather insights on a more fundamental level.
I consider focus to be the most fundamental principle for skill achievement.
Focus can also be on of the trickiest to implement.
For easier implementation, I like to categorize focus into 3 distinct categories:
#1: Short Term Focus
Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. ~ Vince Lombardi
Short term focus is about staying 100% focused during your workouts and putting your whole attention on the movements you are performing.
You should also stay focused during your breaks and maintain mental readiness.
The aim is to practice as close to perfection as possible.
Short term focus is going to help you get a sense of how it feels to perform each movement and develop the necessary muscle-mind connection. This is very important, since advanced calisthenic movements require a lot of balance and body control… not just brute strength.
Furthermore, the more focused you are the better form you are going to have and as such you are going to be able to move faster to harder progressions.
There is a reason why they teach focus in all martial arts disciplines and it’s not only about blocking punches, but about learning techniques faster as well.
Fortunately, I didn’t have many problems with short term focus, thanks to my martial arts background.
#2: Mid Term Focus
Mid term focus is about staying focused on single plan for about 3 months.
3 months (or even less) is all you need to see if the program you are following is effective or not.
If you switch training plans too frequently, your results and progress are going to be mediocre at best, even if the plans you choose to follow are sound and effective.
I used to make this mistake a lot when I was still a beginner and even though I was putting all my effort, I made very little progress.
#3: Long Term Focus
Long term focus is about staying focused on your training goal until you achieve it or you decide that it’s not worth it (more on this later).
This is the main reason it took me a long time to learn the handstand. Every time I started to train for the freestanding handstand, I found out about a new training plan on how to achieve another skill. So, I abandoned handstand training for the sake of the new skill.
What to do
The opposite state of focus is distraction and so the best way to stay focused is to get rid of things that can potentially distract you.
For the short term focus, all you have to do is to remove “instant gratification” distractions. Such distractions are checking Facebook, email, etc. If you turn down your phone, for example, during your training, you will have no problem. I also like to create a “Not To Do List”. These are things that you will simply not do. Look at this list frequently and it will remind you of things you should not being doing… which will help you stay focused.
For the mid and long term focus, you have to remove, like previously, all the potential distractions. These distractions are different – based on the individual. For me it was learning about new training plans that made me switch both plan and goal. So, all I had to do was to limit my exposure to new training material and keep my initial goal in mind.
#2: One Thing At A Time
Alright. You manage to stay focused for short, mid and long term…
Is this enough?
Hmm.. There is more to it.
You have to increase the intensity of your focus as well.
To do that you have to train one skill at a time. This is really going to help you keep your attention on the skill you are currently learning and your learning speed is going to increase.
If you are training for a lot of skills simultaneously, your attention is going to diminish over time.
What to do
Choose one skill and put it as the main goal of your training. Everything else should be secondary.
Stay firm in your decision and everything else is going to fall in place.
This is easier said than done. I had a hard time implementing this because I wanted to learn lots of skills very fast. However, the FASTEST way is to simply focus on one at a time.
#3: Be Consistent
Consistency is the next big component for effective skill learning.
With the term consistency, I mean to keep training no matter what and to not miss workouts.
Even if you manage to focus effectively on one skill at a time, your efforts should remain consistent, if you want to achieve new skills.
This is different from focus, because focus isn’t going to help you work out day after day.
In the beginning, I didn’t have any consistency problems, because I was always super motivated by Hannibal and other calisthenics masters. So, I always managed to get a workout in.
However, as I became busier and busier I started missing workouts and couldn’t find a time to get my workout in. Which leads as to…
What to do
I easily solved the inconsistency problem by establishing training habits. This was a complete game changer and I have missed very few workout thanks to this.
Of course, no matter what you do, you are going to miss workouts, because there are things you can’t control. But don’t let such events phase you. Even if you miss a workout, strive to get the next one in no matter what and keep staying focused to your goal.
#4: Give Your Best
If focus was the most fundamental principle for skill achievement, giving your best is the most important factor for achieving skills FAST.
If you put your best effort consistently over a long period of time with the aim to surpass yourself, you are going to achieve skills so fast that you won’t believe it.
This factor is very hard to explain in words. Some coaches call it attitude, others mindset, etc. But the main point is the same. It’s the belief that you can do better and striving to do it.
Do you think guys like Al Kavadlo train lazily while talking on their phones?
Of course not. They put their soul into it.
And that’s what you have to do if you want to go beyond mediocrity.
What to do
There are numerous ways to get to that level of motivation and inspiration.
Since everyone is different, you have to find what works best for you.
For me it’s watching videos with crazy calisthenic skills. A video of Hannibal training is enough to get me inspired to give my best for the workout. For this reason, I like to watch such videos prior to my workout. If I don’t have access to video, I like to visualize my goal and get myself pumped up that way.
There are a lot of other ways and combinations for you to try.
Here are the 2 most common ones:
Again this depends on the individual. Most people seem to enjoy intense music like rock and metal. Others might prefer to train in solitude. I know some people that get inspired by classical music as well. Test it out and find what works best for you.
Even if you are motivated by one type of music, I suggest you to experiment with others and see if you can find something more effective.
The music you are listening to, might as well be related to your workout. I couldn’t imagine myself training for freestanding handstand while listening to heavy metal. I would totally lose my focus.
As I said before, this is the method that works best for me. However, there are multiple videos online. Which one should you watch?
You can watch people performing the skills that you want learn. You can watch videos of people performing impressive and out of this world skills. You can watch motivational videos that are designed solely to motivate you, etc.
You can even watch videos that have a higher message than just achieving skills.
#5: Take Care Of Non-Training Factors
Your training results depend on lots of factors other than your training.
This means that even if you have taken care of all the previous factors, there are still things you can do to achieve skills even faster.
The most important outside factors, I consider, are sleep and diet.
These external factors are going to improve your recovery rate.
Why care about recovery?
Well… You have to understand that you aren’t getting stronger while you are working out. In fact, you are getting weaker.
Think about it.
If you perform a max-rep set of one are push ups, then after a minute you will not be able to do as many reps. You have gotten weaker. To grow stronger you have to recover.
Since, it’s recovery that gets you stronger, you have to give it the appropriate attention.
What To Do
I recommend starting with your sleep first. Take an honest look at your current sleeping patterns and see if you are sleeping enough. If not, start to take care of it gradually.
Since diet is a complex factor I won’t be covering it in this post. There are currently many posts on the site that cover different aspects of proper nutrition.
#6: Keep It Fun
Calisthenics training is supposed to be fun.
If you are not enjoying your training right now, you are probably doing something wrong.
There was a time before I started SOA, that I was training ONLY to build muscle. I was doing this because I wanted to impress other people. After all, I used to be a skinny guy and everyone would be impressed by my transformation. But since I was focusing on just this visual goal… I started to lose some of the inherent enjoyment of “movement”.
After a lot of frustration, I finally realized that bodyweight exercises is about WAY more than just muscle. Since then, my training sessions have gotten so exciting that I can’t wait for the moment I train.
Nice story Todd! But I just want to achieve calisthenics skills. I don’t care if I enjoy the training or not.
Well, you don’t have to enjoy it, but if you don’t, you are more likely to give up.
Also, it’s very difficult to put forth your best effort into something you don’t enjoy doing.
Let me ask you this question:
Would you rather achieve calisthenic skills while enjoying the whole process or would you prefer to feel that your workouts are a chore?
What to do
Enjoyment is an internal experience and it is very difficult to teach you how to enjoy something.
However, I believe that training is like music. Everyone likes music, but different people enjoy different styles of music. This is similar to training. Your body is designed to feel good working out, you just have to find what types of workouts you enjoy doing.
Lastly, you should know that you are probably not going to enjoy every part of your training and that’s fine. There are things that you have to do regardless of enjoyment, like:
- Mobility work
- Taking care of weak links
- Keeping your muscles balanced
Just focus on enjoying the majority of your training.
#7: Accumulate Knowledge
I started making the greatest progress in my training only after I started investing in it.
Previously, I was trying to figure out everything by myself and that was a long and confusing experience.
Even though I have reached a certain level, I still invest a lot in my training so I can advance even further.
In the beginning, it might not be so necessary to invest in training material, but as you move on, if you want to progress fast, you have to.
What to do
You should keep the balance between accumulating knowledge and implementing new training practices.
As I stated previously, learning about new methods used to be a huge distraction for my training. Now that I know much more than when I started… it doesn’t seem to be to much of a distraction. I continue to learn and grow but still stay focused on my main goals.
Sometimes, you might find offers like the Bodyweight Bundle and gain access to multiple training programs at once. To prevent information overload, choose only the products that are relevant to your goals and read only them for start.
#8: Be Patient
Be quick, but don’t hurry. ~ John Wooden
This is the mindset that you must hold at all times.
It might seem a little counter intuitive, but being patient and expecting results to take a while to manifest, is the fastest way to reach your goal.
The basic reason for this is that patience is going to help you avoid unnecessary injuries, which can potentially slow down your progress.
#9: Should You Ever Give Up?
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is lots of talk and motivation out there on how to never give up.
But things are not this simple.
Sometimes, it’s better to give up than to keep training.
This is very tricky, because you have to be very honest with yourself. Otherwise, you might quit because of self doubt or even some excuse.
To help you out, I will share with you my policy on this matter.
As you are evolving as a calisthenics athlete, your goals are going to evolve as well. So, the only reason I would “officially” abandon a goal, is to go after a higher goal.
As I stated in the “Keep It Fun” section, at one moment of my life I was training to impress others. After I started evolving, I let go of that goal, and I started to train for myself and my own amusement.
Yet, eventually… I stopped training “just for myself” and started training with the intention of helping others. I would try new diets, new techniques, new tricks so that I could help others. SOA is the result of this goal of mine.
#10: The Habit Of Skill Achievement
This might have been a lot of insight to digest in one read.
You might also feel a little overwhelmed and want to apply everything at once, but that would defeat the purpose of the first two insights, which was to focus on one thing at a time.
For this reason, I decided to leave this as the last lesson.
After you have learned your first advanced skills and implemented some of the tips in this post, everything else is going to be easier and almost feel like it’s automatic.
It is going to become a habit. Your confidence in your abilities is going to increase.
It’s not that skills have suddenly become easier to learn. Its simply that the “internal resistance” has decreased. You will have less doubt in yourself because you have done it before.
In short, here are the 10 insights for faster calisthenics skill achievement:
- One thing at a time
- Be consistent
- Give your best
- Take care of non-training factors
- Keep it fun
- Be patient
- Learn when you have to give up
- Learning skills is going to become a habit
I tried to list my insights in terms of importance starting from the most fundamental.
For this reason, I recommend you to start with focus and gradually move towards the integration of all the insights.
Lastly, you should return to this list often and see how you can improve your current calisthenics practice.
Which one of the insights would make the biggest difference in your training?
Do you have any insights from your own training experience?
– Bodyweight Todd
Beautiful article. I’ve been working out for a long time and now I realise I’ve just been working out and not training. Going to implement this. Thanks for the insight. ?
Even 5 years later this article is one of the most insightful and useful I’ve ever read about calisthenics. It just confirmed all of my thoughts about focusing on one goal at a time and being patient and consistent. Thank You!
Great article! I just started working out again 3 weeks ago with bodyweight exercises and now I want to start learning calisthenics skills. This helped me a lot and will follow me on my journey. So thank you very much. Love from Germany.
Thanks for this inspiring and well-written article – this really spoke to me!
Thank you for this atricle! I instantly feel like working out right now. Just what I needed 😀
That’s great Lizzy!!!
Very good article. I experienced the same and I learned the same lessons. This is a reason for why I’ve chosen Calisthenics – it’s not just workout, it’s a life philosophy.
Absolutely Renata! Definitely a lifestyle!
Great article thank you
Glad you like it Andy! 🙂