Calisthenics has steadily been gaining in popularity over the last ten years, particularly because the boundaries to entry are very low as minimal equipment is needed. Also social media, especially YouTube, has enabled modern calisthenics to become more mainstream. As a lover of moving naturally, let’s discuss this growing sport.
The history of calisthenics can be rooted back to the military and ghetto. Large group bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups and squats are a staple for many armed forces across the world. They are compound movements and efficiently promote muscular endurance.
The ghetto has further glamorised this type of natural movement, as all that’s required is a park. Ghetto calisthenics therefore shows great creativity in movement.
Today, it’s as much about image as it is fitness. I am talking about rebellion, creativity and freedom. It’s amazing to observe the physiques of these athletes who work without a gym or expensive equipment. But what the average Joe has to remember, a human flag or bar muscle-ups is not realistic without years of hard work.
I appreciate how inspiring these athletes are but one needs to accept their initial limitations or they have serious risk of frustration. There is little point comparing yourself to a fitness model if you have been a couch potato for ten years – movement is a personal journey and good bodyweight coaches are able to screen their client’s level of motor skills and conditioning.
Another consideration for the extreme form of the sport is injury. Everyone has an opinion on fitness and mine is that fitness training contributes to health. Professional athletes are not chasing health because they are often picking up a big pay cheque. They understand the risks involved and accept there will be a price to pay later in life.
If you speak to any experienced calisthenics practitioner, they will offer caution in practice. There are not many BarStarzz or Bondi Beach Bar Brutes (both leading individuals and groups in the movement) over the age of 40 for a reason. Years of excessive stress and explosive movements can lead to chronic joint pain and the poison is often in the dosage. If you are chasing elitism, then accept the risks. If you want to age gracefully in good health, you may want to cautiously approach extreme calisthenics or even stick with the basics such as lunges, squats, push-ups, hanging, pull-ups and horizontal rolls. If you did this for the rest of your life, you will age gracefully and be functionally fit.
Having said all that, modern-day calisthenics is a wonderful way for anyone to get outdoors and get fit. You don’t need a gym membership and you can work under the sun (and get that vital dose of vitamin D). As long as you remember never to compare yourself to others – especially YouTube fitness freaks whose highlight reels don’t show you the years of training – then you can enjoy the many benefits calisthenics has to offer. Approach your practice in a smart manner, get professional coaching and minimise the risk.
Craig Heslop is the founder of Tribal Fitness and is the only RKC IKFF Level 2 kettlebell instructor in Bahrain, as well as a MovNat Level 2 trainer, TRX personal trainer and desert survival instructor. Visit www.tribalfitness.com.
The Calisthenics World Cup
A first in Bahrain, and the whole GCC, this new World Cup, which is held under the patronage of the Ministry of Sports, will take fitness and natural movement on the island to another level. Teams of four from eight countries will compete for a US$10,000 (almost BD4,000) prize – the largest winnings any calisthenics event has ever offered. As a spectator, you will able to vote for your favourite athlete via social media and help the panel to select cup finalists.