There is a Calisthenics area in a park in north London that has hosted some of the most amazing feats of physical mastery I have ever seen. There are no entrance fees, no scoring system, it’s just bars and chains. When empty it looks like a very boring playground; when it is full it is the Roman gladiators who warm up before facing the lions.
I go at least once a week for (in my opinion) the best calisthenics workout around. Simply put, it’s a workout that uses your own body weight to exercise, but it’s actually so much more. It’s a scene: more than in the gym, there’s camaraderie, there’s showing off, and there’s celebration of human potential.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a great way to keep fit
Calisthenics teacher Mikey Holes started using his own body weight because he didn’t want to pay for a gym membership, but quickly got drawn into learning advanced moves where gravity is mocked and strength seems to go beyond limits. human capabilities.
“In the gym it’s ultimately about adding another five pounds to the barbell, but with calisthenics there’s skill acquisition,” says Holes. And it looks great.
Pull-ups are the heart of my training. I’m ridiculously, embarrassingly proud of my pull-ups. It took me a while to get to a reasonably well-executed set of 10 wide-grip overhand pull-ups, and I expect to receive some sort of scout-style achievement badge each time.
Like skateboarding, there are many businesses to acquire. There is the Human Flag where you stand horizontally on the ground with both hands on the bar, like a flag flying in the wind with the bar as a mast. There’s the Muscle-Up where a pull-up is extended in the air above the bar. But for the true Calisthenics black belt, Holes says there’s la Planche.
“La Planche is the very difficult one that people chase after. You are in a push-up position but your feet and body are levitated off the floor. The element of balance is simple enough, but the element of strength is enormous. La Planche is spiritually extremely close to the no-hands push-ups that Adam Sandler performs as the Zohan, only without special effects.
It’s about getting into the negative
The simple quick trick to learning these skills is to accept that there is no simple quick trick. My ambition is to master a handstand, for example. Like a skate move, this one will require two to five practice sessions a week, about 15 minutes each time. “It took me about three months to maintain a constant 10-second handstand. You have to bang your head against the wall for a long time, it’s a long term commitment. The progression is sometimes not so linear. The methods will work, but the progress can be 0.1% every week.”
The way to initiate many of the more force-based techniques is via the negative version. To build a pull-up, you rise to the top position of a pull-up and lower yourself, under control. Repetition of negative pull-ups will eventually build full movement. There is a negative to almost every calisthenics strength test.
Some of the more demanding maneuvers involve an element of real risk. Handstands are often performed on elevated surfaces above the unforgiving dry earth of an English park in summer. The key to mastering any skill that involves real risk or a sense of potential harm is learning how to safely abandon the mission.
Holes says, “I like doing risky stuff, it looks good. You need to practice bail first. It’s like skating on a ramp, before you fall you might slide on your knees, just to feel what that ramp is like. You never want to commit to anything until you have learned to let go. With a handstand, people are always afraid of falling on their backs, so they have to learn to get by with the wheel.”
Where to start
Holes recommends an incremental entry into calisthenics. A busy park can feel intimidating as men and women perform Human Flags and Planches, but a solid starting point can energize the body and be the first step on your journey to incredible triumphs.
He recommends starting with Australian pull ups — hands on a low bar with feet on the floor and body at an angle — doing at least five reps or more. Start with three sets. This is an upper body pulling exercise.
He suggests the same set and rep scheme for some elevated push-ups. If floor push-ups are too hard, you can place your hands on a higher surface and the weight is reduced from the angle. This takes care of the push element of your workout.
Finally, the bodyweight squats: a knee tuck that lowers the back toward the floor. He launches a few sets of split squats: one leg lifted behind you with the top of your foot resting on a bench while the other bends down.
Stars like Jason Statham and Chris Hemsworth use calisthenics for fitness and muscle building, proving just how far you can shape your body without weights.
There is a summer tradition that most men in outdoor areas train shirtless. It’s not part of the culture that I’ve personally been comfortable with, but I see that there is an element of human sculpture in these moves that elevates it beyond basic narcissism. And besides, what’s wrong with a little basic narcissism? Start pulling on your weight this summer by carrying on a calisthenics workout and I promise you will become pleasantly addicted.
Mikey Holes is on Instagram as @cali_strength_uk
#calisthenics #bodyweight #exercise #gym #scene