The “movement” of callisthenic strength training has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Many people are trading in their gym memberships for being outside and working out in the streets and community parks. Four months ago, I tried a calisthenics workout for the first time, and it completely changed my life. I haven’t been to my gym since, and I have never felt stronger and more balanced.
So what are the benefits of calisthenics compared to traditional free weight resistance training? First you have to understand the difference between the two. In short, the principle foundation of calisthenics focuses on moving your body in space without any restriction. Free weight resistance training, on the other hand, involves static loads where your body stays stationary and you move the weight from point A to point B.
Both types of exercise will help you build strength; however, I strongly believe that calisthenics is more beneficial for functionality as compared to free weight resistance training. Calisthenics will first and foremost teach you how to utilize your core. For example, look at some of the foundational exercises that are common in beginner calisthenics programs: push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and squats. Doesn’t appear to be a lot at first glance, but all these movements can be modified and progressed to incorporate muscle activation in various planes of motion. In order to progress to get more out of your muscles, you have to learn how to engage your core properly. Otherwise, your progress will remain limited. A lot of free weight resistance exercises focus more on muscle isolation as opposed to full body muscle activation, and progressions are usually as simple as just adding more weight. So doing an exercise like a biceps curl will not be as effective at forcing you to engage your core, because the movement really only requires good bicep contraction and some shoulder stability to be properly performed. So in a sense, calisthenics will tap in to the strength that is already inside of you, that you just haven’t been able to find yet.