Bodyweight exercise is the ultimate form of self-care. It’s simple, low-risk, accessible to anyone, and its mental and physical benefits are nearly countless.
These benefits have been underscored by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us to get creative with how we keep in shape. Since many gyms closed—and, in some cases, went out of business—fitness junkies and casual exercisers alike adopted home fitness routines that we could practice in our living rooms or offices.
Personally, I noticed an enormous positive change in my level of motivation and sense of well-being after embracing calisthenics training. That is, an exercise routine that doesn’t rely on anything except my own bodyweight. No treadmills, dumbbells, or squat racks required.
What Is Calisthenics?
According to Pat Chadwick, the head calisthenics coach at Gymless, an educational website dedicated to bodyweight fitness, calisthenics is “a form of physical training that focuses on utilizing your bodyweight as resistance…[and allows] you to better understand your body.”
The best part about calisthenics is that it’s a truly inclusive practice. No matter your body type, income level, or where you live in the world, you can build a calisthenics routine to build your mental and physical strength. There’s nothing stopping you, regardless of your personal situation, from getting involved in this wonderful practice.
During our conversion, Pat Chadwick mentioned that there are five elements of calisthentics that every practitioner trains:
- Strength: These include functional exercises like pull ups, push ups, dips, and squats that develop the musculature of the body and assist in daily life.
- Endurance: Performing the above movements in a high repetition range to build stamina and strength over time.
- Statics: Isometric holds such as planks, front levers, and planches that build stability and core strength.
- Dynamics: Also known as “freestyle calisthentics”, this type of training combines all other elements with explosive speed.
- Flexibility: Elongating muscles and tendons via stretching to increase one’s safe range of motion.
Calisthenics is a truly holistic practice that develops all aspects of the body and encompasses all domains of fitness, including flexibility, speed, and strength. However, just as much as it develops one’s body, it also provides an incredible workout for one’s mind.
5 Ways Calisthenics Can Improve Our Health and Wellness
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on our bodies and minds. In fact, recent research found that, on average, we spend between 22 and 32 fewer minutes per week exercising now than we did pre-pandemic. To make matters worse, a major study found that prevalence rates of depression are now 7 times higher than they were in 2017.
The good news is that calisthenics training can provide much-needed relief from the psychological impact of COVID-19, while also keeping our bodies in top shape. Below, I’ve listed five proven benefits of calisthenics on our health and wellness.
Calisthenics is a celebration of one’s body, but it requires some hard work. The good thing is that you’re handsomely rewarded for your efforts. A recent study found that those who performed aerobic exercise, such as bodyweight calisthenics, for only 16 minutes per day, had a significant correlation with positive self-reported mood.
As we get older, our balance and strength become more and more important for preventing injuries. Functional movements that mimic the day-to-day demands of our lives, such as squats or step-ups, can help us retain proper motor patterns into our old age and keep our muscles well-preserved later in life.
Let Go Of Anxieties
Thanks to today’s global health situation, stress is more of a problem now than ever. Strenuous exercise is one of the best ways to keep stress at bay, and calisthenics provides an immediately accessible way to work up a sweat.
Plus, calisthenics lets you let go of highly regimented patterns of movement that require different parts of the body to work in isolation. Calisthenics often involves whole-body movements that require the whole body to work together. Sometimes, this can even resemble a dance more than an exercise, as is the case in muscle-ups or handstand walks.
If you’re feeling a little dull after working all day from home—and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t from time to time?—you can get a mental boost from a 20-minute calisthenics session. The massive cognitive benefits of exercise are well-founded by scientific studies, and calisthenics workouts, involving squats, burpees, chin-ups, and sit-ups, are some of the best ways to jack your heart rate and clear your mind for better mental acuity.
Fitness Without Joint Pain
Since calisthenics requires no resistance beyond your bodyweight, there’s less of a chance of injury. As we get older, our joints and tendons become more tender, and also take longer to recuperate from injury. Overdoing it with a barbell can lead to painful tears or injuries that can sideline you for months. Fortunately, bodyweight exercises involve far less of an impact on your joints and tendons, so you can move freely with peace of mind.
Where Do I Start With Calisthenics?
Bodyweight fitness is highly accessible since it doesn’t require any equipment or technical knowledge to get started. That’s why it’s such an incredible place to start in your fitness journey, and why it’s an ideal regimen for those who might not feel comfortable going to a commercial gym during the pandemic.
To get started, I highly recommend Pat Chadwick’s helpful instructional videos on YouTube. There, you can find guided walkthroughs for a wide variety of calisthenics exercises, including:
- Pike push ups
- Hammer curls
- Russian twists
- Mountain climbers
- Goblet squats
- And many more!
For example, this educational video on how to do lunges can help you safely master the technique in a matter of minutes. What I love most about Pat’s instructions is that he always explains which muscle groups are involved, and what daily activities the exercise helps with. In this case, he mentions that lunges assist with tying one’s shoes, or grabbing something from off the ground.
If you subscribe to Gymless’s YouTube channel, you’ll find a host of over 40+ unique workout videos to get you started on your calisthenics journey. After learning a handful of core movements, such as squats and dead hangs, you will be well on your way toward revitalizing your body and mind through calisthenics.
Calisthenics is About Progress, Not Perfection
Maintaining a regular fitness routine is hard enough at the best of times. During a global pandemic, we should be forgiving if we don’t quite stick to our workout schedule every day of the week. To use a classic adage: don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
The fact remains, however, that calisthenics makes it easy to make progress, and also easy to get started. There are few, if any, barriers to bodyweight fitness. Plus, there’s no gym required. For this reason, it’s the perfect type of training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Calisthenics is fitness democratized. Without money or a commercial gym, calisthenics proves that all you need is a cleared space on the floor to make incredible changes to your body and mind—well, that and a little willpower.