Drop the dumbbells: Get lean with this hot new gymnastic workout

If you’ve been on Facebook or Youtube recently, you might have stumbled across one of those videos, you know the ones: rather fit people doing gravity defying handstands or press ups in the park or maybe using some workout bars at home to pull off some super impressive gymnastic swings, if you haven’t…it’s just a matter of time. ‘Calisthenics’ is the new buzzword in fitness and it’s about to be so big…it’s threatening to knock Crossfit off it’s jump box.

So, what is Calisthenics exactly? Essentially, it’s a workout similar to gymnastics that builds “strength and conditioning through the use of bodyweight alone,” explains Mike Marchese, who works as a master trainer for the World Calisthenics Organisation. “It’s functional, rewarding. and awe inspiring. It’s in the top three most popular fitness trends in the world right now, it actually has been for the past three years and it’s still growing.” Explains Mike. “The best thing is it can be easily scaled to suit any fitness level.” 

More advanced moves include: one-hand balances, complicated somersaults using parallel bars or rings and the human flag (this involves holding the body in the air in a horizontal position - legs raised sideways, using the strength of your core and your arms – that are spread out holding onto a pole). Beginners start with lunges, press ups, assisted pull ups and handstands, while they build up enough strength to carry out the more complicated and impressive moves.

Calisthenics isn’t actually that new a workout, synchronised calisthenics have been used by sports teams and military units over the years to increase group cohesion and discipline. Calisthenics exercises are often used as physical evaluations for many military organisations, including the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test.

In fact, it’s older still. “It can be traced back to ancient Greece,” says Mike. The word ‘calisthenics' is Greek for ‘beautiful strength’ when translated.” 

Which makes sense when you see the chiselled bodies of the men and women who have taken the time to perfect the sport. One of these people is international male model and movement coach Roger Frampton, who has been using calisthenics as part of his training for over four years and now incorporates the moves into his own ‘Frampton Method’ workouts. He explains: “It’s a form of gymnastics for people that don’t have a gymnastic background. It’s impressive as it uses lots of hand balancing and coordination in order to maintain specific body shapes. It requires the user to start to understand their body and be conscious of the way it is moving. It’s particularly good for upper body and core, but depending on the exercises you practice, you can put the emphasis on certain areas of the body, for example a gymnastic handstand can teach you about your hip flexibility, core strength and even how to get a shapely butt.”

So, if calisthenics has been around for years why the sudden interest, now? Many credit the popularity to the ‘cool’ factor attached to the street workout element of the sport. “Street workout is basically calisthenics training done in urban areas such as outdoor parks without the use of a gym,” says Grace Kavadlo, a personal trainer, who is team leader for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification, and is considered to be one of the best female calisthenics artists in the world. “The movement really became popularised in New York and now is all over the world in places like Russia and the UK. It is a community of individuals that have embraced this type of training as a way of life.”

And of course social media plays it’s part. “Due to the rise of social networking sites like Instagram, calisthenics isn’t just fun but also looks impressive to the onlooker.” Says Roger.
“More and more people are posting their workouts on social media and who doesn’t want to be upside down in a handstand rather than doing a basic gym exercise?”

Well of course, we all want to look good while we’re working out. But what is so appealing about the sport to women? Who in general have shied away from weight-based training in the past. “Most women new to training are afraid of ‘bulking up’, and perhaps the appeal of not having to lift weights may be a draw,” says Grace. “A lot of these exercises, like squats, push-ups, bridges and reclining abs exercises can all be done with zero equipment. All you need is the floor beneath you, and a little space in your apartment.” 

Nadia Al-Bazaz, Personal Trainer and Calisthenics UK instructor says: “It can be terrifying for a woman to walk into the free weights area in a gym on her own if she's just started in fitness. The calisthenics community is fresh and doesn't laugh at us women who want to improve our strength and perform the same training methods as the men.”

And of course, there is what it does in terms of aesthetics for the body. “Calisthenics creates a leaner stronger physique for females,” explains Nadia. “It burns body fat as well as toning and building muscle, hence why it creates a leaner physique. The fact more than one muscle group is being used at any one time causes more oxygen flow to the muscles, which increases your heart rate. It's basically a weight lifting and HIIT session blended into one. Women might find muscles showing up that they never knew existed!” 

Sounds good to us…where do we sign up?

Frankie Holah, Personal Trainer and Calisthenics coach, gives you five exercises to get you started.

Upright Rows

Using a TRX or rings, with your feet on the floor and holding the rings, position your body at roughly 45 degrees to the floor. Let your arms straighten and keep your core engaged. From there you want to pull the rings towards you, and bring your chest up between the rings and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. This will help to strengthen your arms and upper back. Try 3 sets of 8-10 reps to get started and increase from there.

The negative pull-up or chin-up 

Grab a stool (or ask someone to help lift you up) and start with your chin over the bar. From there you want to lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Then start from the top position again. Keep your toes just out in front of you to create a slightly hollow shape and engage your core.

Incline Press-up 

Essentially a press up but if you haven’t yet got the strength to do the floor based, place hands on a bench, box or work surface to help get started. With your feet together and body straight, lean forwards and place your hands just over shoulder width apart, finger tips facing forwards. From there, lower yourself as far as you can without dipping your back and push back up to the starting position. Aim to keep your elbows at about a 45 degree angle from your body. Increase the difficulty level by choosing a lower surface next time until you can work on the floor.

Tricep Dips and Holds

Positioning your hands behind you on a box or step at about knee height. Finger tips facing your bottom, feet flat on the floor (straighter legs make it harder), bend at your elbow and lower yourself until your arms are bent to 90 degrees. Keep your chest up and don’t sink into your shoulders. From there, push back up to the starting position. Try 3 set of 10-12 reps with a 10 seconds hold at the top.

Hanging scapula pulls 

Getting used to hanging on and gripping a bar is key to your training. Hang from a bar (it’s called dead hang so just let yourself relax) – From this position, the aim is to squeeze your shoulder blades together like you’re trying to pinch your sports bra and lift your chest. This movement will help you to further strengthen your back and learn how to activate your lats, which are essential for that much wanted pull up.

Want to give calisthenics a go as part of your fitness routine? Let one of our personal trainers guide you on how to do it safely and effectively. Get in touch by calling or WhatsApping us on +971 55 542 7231, emailing us at info@fitsquaddxb.com or Fill out the form below and book your free consultation now.

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