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Using Calisthenics For Strength Training

Last updated: June 7, 2022

The calisthenic lifestyle and diet have taken the world by storm in recent years. Calisthenics is much older than we think, as they have early roots in both mainland Europe and England. The exercises first came to prominence during the late 19th century, around the era of the gold rush - used as a way to popularize exercise and gymnastics and even develop education physical health for women. Calisthenics nowadays helps to promote activity through accessibility and creativity, as you use whatever is around you for a great workout, rather than seek out specialized facilities and equipment.

In this article, we'll define both calisthenics and callanetics, how they differ, and ultimately, the best exercises for the most used muscle groups in these workouts.

What Is Calisthenics?

If you speak to someone of an older generation, calisthenics is a world that is interchangeably used with standard physical exercise. While we now mostly equate the word with fitness and gym memberships, "working out" used to mean standardized stretches and activities that were done on the radio, at home, or in large assemblies. Because this needed to be accessible to everyone and promote health, calisthenics developed into what we know today: low resistance exercises that focus on what is around, mostly relying on body weight rather than anything else.

Calisthenics focuses on the volume of repetition and proper form to achieve results. Improvement is tracked by doing more of the same exercise next week than you did last - for example - if one week you are holding a plank position for 1 minute and the next week an average of 1.5 minutes, you can tell that your body has made progress.  Calisthenics can be a workout, a warm-up, a cool-down, or even a morning routine to keep your muscles and joints loose for the day ahead.

What Is Callenetics?

Callenetics was developed by Callan Pinckney in 1980 as a response to her ailing condition. She had a serious illness that affected her back muscles and created this exercise to specifically target the entire back and supporting muscles for those that suffer from similar conditions. As many Americans have varying degrees of pain in their back, exercise has become extremely popular, especially after Pinckney's passing in 2012. Callenetics survives today through her many books, DVDs, and transposed videos of the workouts and their benefits.

Callenetics focuses on exercises that only need a mat, or in rare cases, a sturdy chair.

While it is often compared to calisthenics due to its minimal use of equipment, callanetics is more closely related to pilates. Because the exercises focus on deep muscle development and isolate the back, practitioners often see quick improvement of both muscular definition and flexibility as targeting the area with high volume and short exercises improve blood flow and promote strength training in that area when coupled with proper diet.

Calisthenics Back Exercises

Cobra:  This exercise focuses on the back, and more specifically, activating the muscles in your upper back and neck, perfect for those who sit for long periods, such as office jobs and streamers. Start by lying down on a mat or soft surface with your head down and arms and feet relaxed by your side. Engaging your core, squeeze your glutes and arch your back off the ground, making sure to only use your back muscles (every other muscle group should be on the floor, including arms and hands). Since this is a calisthenic exercise, you can do it until failure or 3 sets of 15 reps. 

Calisthenics Leg Exercises

One-leg squat:  One of the best exercises is the squat, as it is a compound movement that trains most of the muscles in your body, and their auxiliary muscles. When the squat varies by placing your body weight on only one leg, it targets the muscle groups specifically and puts more strain, breaking them down and building them back up better than before. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Before performing a squat motion, balance on one leg, and stretch your arms out for balance if necessary. Complete all reps before switching to the other leg. Do until failure, or 2 sets each leg for 10 reps.

Callenetics Exercises

Arched-back plank: Callenetics was specifically designed for back exercises, so all variations of each exercise will include the back. The plank, however, is a full-body workout that can be done on a mat, and is a preferred exercise for many practitioners. For this variation, you will arch your back, which further increases core engagement and works the upper muscles of the back - which is most common for posture and mobility issues. Hold a plank position by lying prone and propping yourself up on your forearms and toes, and then pushing the abdominal muscles inward and back outward. Hold until failure. Aim to increase the time held for a plank during every exercise.


What are calisthenics exercises good for?

Calisthenics is primarily bodyweight exercise, which makes it an easy exercise to begin, but difficult to master. It is good for cardio, strength training, mobility, and flexibility and has a lower impact on your body as it focuses more on volume and repetition rather than resistance.

Can you build muscles with only calisthenics?

Yes. Bodyweight is one of the best indicators of the optimum weight that you can carry for exercise. Performing push-ups, sit-ups, leg raises, pull-ups, and other bodyweight strength training exercises will help to break down the muscle fibers within your body. Muscle development only occurs after nutrition and proper rest have been administered to the fatigued and broken muscles, to help them build back stronger.

Is calisthenics aerobic or anaerobic?

Both. An aerobic exercise requires a sustained amount of oxygen during the workout - mostly synonymous with "cardio" exercises. Examples of aerobic calisthenics exercises are running, jumping jacks, cycling, climbing, swimming, and jogging. Anaerobic exercises are those that happen in explosive bursts, usually in a low reposition form, to focus more on muscle development rather than weight loss or working the cardiovascular system. While calisthenic exercises are usually aerobic (since the workout requires a volume of reps), you can perform certain explosive movements, such as burpees with a heavy backpack, muscle-ups, and box jumps.

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