It is certainly true that you don’t need anything other then your body or the floor beneath your feet to effectively practise Calisthenics. You also don’t need to spend any money at all to progress, as you can quite easily get your information off of Youtube tutorials and leave it at that. Having said that, I think there are certain ways that you can enhance your Calisthenics experience (unfortunately most of them do involve spending money)and to progress to the very best of your ability. All the points in this list do indeed tie in with the minimalistic ideals of Calisthenics and the items listed are generally portable, easy to travel with, and have a multitude of functions giving them good 'Bang for their Buck.'
Points 1-5 are aimed more at those just starting out on their fitness/ Calisthenics journey to think about, and points 6-10 will contain points for those further along their journey.
1. TAKE CARE OF THE BASICS:
This point is actually 5 points in one, with all five being crucial if you wish to function and perform at your best, not just from a Calisthenics or fitness perspective, but also life in general.
Sleep: You should be aiming to get 7-9 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep each night. (Obviously I know this is not always achievable, but is something to be aware of and to aim for when you can!)
Nutrition: Eat healthy foods most of the time, obviously treat yourself now and then!
Hydration: Drink water. Your hydration levels can be monitored by the colour of your urine. It should be transparent and a light yellow. If it is cloudy or a darker yellow then simple, drink more water! During exercise you can lose fluid when you sweat, so always make sure you have plenty of water available.
Stress: Stress is an evolutionary part of life, but prolonged and excessive stress can have a negative effect on your physical and mental well-being. Exercising can be a great way to destress, but you can also listen to music, talk to friends/ family, or read a book. Do what works for you and don’t be afraid of having some time to yourself to collect your thoughts.
Consistency: If you wish to improve and get better at something, then quite simply you need to work at it consistently. With regards to exercise, the most effective is the one that you’ll stick to and enjoy in the long term.
2. STICK A PULL UP BAR IN YOUR DOORFRAME
The pull up is one of the most effective exercises for increasing upper body strength and is a foundational move in Calisthenics.
Sticking a pull up bar in your doorframe allows you to effectively hack your environment, and allows you to grease the groove* for pull ups, and a wide variety of other exercises. I’ve found front levers and leg raises to work well and you can even hang gymnastic rings off the bar and work on dips, back levers and L-sits (and many more besides.) If you’re working on getting your first pull up, then simply hanging from the bar for a time that’s comfortable could be an effective option, or you could perform band assisted or negative pull-ups.
*Grease the Groove is a method created by Coach Pavel Tsatsouline (many of his books are worth checking out and his 'Fighter Pull up Programme' is a fantastic way to increase the number of reps you can do.) It is the performance of an exercise little and often and utilises the premise that the more you do something, the better and increasingly adapted you get at it. You can use this method for virtually any exercise you wish to improve.The aim is to not perform the exercise to failure (as this could lead to overtraining) but to perform an exercise you are comfortable with (of course with strict form ;) at a rep range you can do easily. You would then do this regularly throughout the day.
The bar I use is the Powerbar 2, and it's worked very well for me thus far. It’s pretty cheap and requires no screwing in, and is easy to put up and most importantly for those moments that your fiancé keeps banging her head on it, to take down!
3. ATTEND CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS, WORK WITH OTHER PEOPLE.
Calisthenics is an inherently sociable activity and attending classes and workshops is a great way to meet people with similar interests. I’ve found attending a variety has been of huge benefit myself, as it’s easy to get focussed solely on the things you do, and to get stuck doing them a certain way. It’s not until you go to another coach's class or speak to another practitioner that they can show you a different way of doing something, be it a new move, progression or even way of thinking. Making use of other's knowledge gives you a greater variety of tools to use when aiming towards your goals, and this means you are more likely to achieve them. You are also less likely to get bored and plateau.
Attending classes and workshops also offers a great opportunity to work with those at different levels to you. For those who are less advanced, you can offer tips, tricks and help in an understanding way, for you were once in their position. Through explaining how you achieved a certain move, progression, or how to perform an exercise with proper technique, you massively deepen your own understanding of it. Those who are more advanced then you, will push you to be better then you currently are, and can in turn, offer you advice and help. It’s a win win!
The Calisthenics Community is incredibly passionate and friendly, and I’ve certainly not found a shortage of people willing to give advice, tips, and to go that extra mile to help you .
4. READ BOOKS BY THE KAVADLO BROTHERS & 'CONVICT CONDITIONING'
Both ‘Streetworkout’ and ‘Strength Rules’ were the books I read when I first started Calisthenics, and I found them to be hugely inspiring. This was not only for the pictures of the impressive exercises being performed, but I found the Kavadlo brother's messages about fitness and life in general to be massively refreshing. They emphasised free thinking, simplicity, and the fact that exercise is something that is joyful, should be enjoyed, and a way to be in the present moment. It is be sociable, fun, and can be about doing and achieving things, rather then focussing solely on the way you look. If you’re just starting out on your Callisthenics journey then ‘Get Strong’ is worth a read as well, as this gives a more definite exercise programme (of 16 weeks) that can be easily followed.
Likewise 'Convict Conditioning' is a great book to read if you’re wishing to get inspired. It has a different tone to the Kavadlo brother's books, emphasising building strength and toughness (with a healthy dose of prison shtick to go alongside it) and is slightly more confrontational in its language. However, it’s great for showing you that you don’t need a lot of space, or to pay for an expensive gym to get massively strong. It’s easy to read and the progressions for the exercises are clearly laid out and are suitable for anyone, no matter their level.
5. GET SOME RESISTANCE BANDS
Resistance bands are a great assistance tool to have, no matter what level you are. I can’t think of many exercises where they cannot be used to assist in some capacity, and they can also be utilised for stretching and mobility purposes as well. You really are only limited by your imagination when it comes to using these! I’ve also found that people seem to enjoy the simple act of just bouncing up and down in them! (potential harkening back to the days when they used a baby bouncer?!) It’s best to have a variety of bands handy, so as you get stronger, you are able to systemically incorporate bands that offer less assistance, so that your connective tissue has the opportunity to gradually adapt to the stress being placed upon it.
I personally don’t think that bands should be solely relied upon to achieve a specific move, and you don’t want to become too reliant on them, but they can certainly add variety and are a handy part of your toolkit.
The best resistance bands are generally considered to be those by Rubberbanditz, and these are the ones that I use, and they are very good.
Disagree or agree with any of the points I’ve written? Then get in touch!
Points 6- 10 will be coming out next week.