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Pretty much everyone knows that calisthenics workouts are great for traveling or when you can’t get to a gym. They’re versatile, as there are a myriad of different exercises you can do, and can be done almost anywhere. The real question is if calisthenics workouts are as effective as their gym-based counterparts.
The most obvious benefit of calisthenics exercises is that no equipment is needed. Since your entire workout will be comprised of bodyweight exercises only, all you need is a little bit of space and your own body. Some equipment such as a pull up bar, rings, or parallel bars can allow you to do an even wider range of movements, but they’re not necessary. This makes calisthenics movements and bodyweight training ideal for anyone who doesn’t have regular access to a gym. This versatility also allows you to easily transition from exercise to exercise without having to change weights or worry if that next piece of equipment you need is being used. This lends itself well to conditioning/cardio workouts doing multiple circuit-style bodyweight exercises in a row.
Other benefits come along with calisthenics workouts that can’t be had anywhere else, as well. For example, according to a study performed by Sports Medicine in Auckland, New Zealand, explosive bodyweight movements can improve neuromuscular activation. This is because you’re actually moving the body through space instead of your body staying put and the weight moving. Also as a result, coordination, balance, and proprioception can all be improved.
While only needing your body is the biggest benefit to calisthenics workouts, it can also be viewed as their biggest drawback. This is because you’re then limited to only your bodyweight, meaning that certain exercises can just never be done in certain ways. For example, if you wanted to build big and strong legs in the gym, you’d do so by doing heavy squats. However, simple bodyweight squats won’t be able to provide adequate resistance for you to build those big, strong legs. A similar, yet converse, argument can be made for exercises in which your body is too heavy. This isn’t really a drawback though, as it can be easily gotten around with a little ingenuity.
Simply performing one exercise or another won’t get you results – it’s almost always how you perform the exercise that matters. Going back to the barbell squats example, simply doing said barbell squats in and of themselves won’t get you big and strong legs. It’s only when you go heavy that they produce those results. Keeping this sort of idea in mind, you can modify the bodyweight exercises in your calisthenics workouts to get better results.
A normal bodyweight squat by itself might not be enough for big and strong legs, but performing them as explosively as possible will lead to greater development. Stepping it up a notch to doing explosive plyometrics may even result in similar gains as someone doing barbell squats. Alternatively, you could switch to a one leg squat variation (e.g. – pistol squats, split squats, or Bulgarian squats) and more or less double the resistance on each leg.
A similar discussion could be had for the upper body in that regular push ups may not be difficult enough for you. However, you can easily make them more difficult by elevating your feet, doing plyometric push ups, or even doing them with one arm.
While calisthenics workouts are obviously the best choice for travelers or those who don’t have regular gym access, bodyweight exercises as a whole should be a part of your overall program. They can improve your athletic ability, help you develop greater control over your body, and even provide an alternative to your normal cardio workouts. They’re not always a direct swap for gym exercises, but similar results can be had by modifying exercises when necessary, and they can provide benefits many barbell movements can’t.