By Sean Zucker –
As long as people have free time and money, there will always be new workout programs aimed at helping them lose weight or build muscle. Over the last couple of decades, theoretical all-in-one setups like Total Gym or Bowflex have led the way with Peloton, a more recent trend maker.
These products are far from scams, yet lots of fitness gurus maintain there is still plenty to gain by avoiding the hype and sticking with the basics. Enter calisthenics. The timeless exercise practice that requires little equipment and is proven successful at losing weight and gaining strength. Some research suggests calisthenics might be more effective at muscle building than weights or other equipment.
Men’s Health noted that the term calisthenics is derived from the Greek words ‘Kalos’ and ‘Stenos,’ translating to beauty and strength. The workout system is simple yet far-reaching, as one expert told the outlet. “Calisthenics is a form of fitness that utilizes gravity and bodyweight leverage to challenge your fitness level. I feel like that’s the easiest way I can put it,” said Kenneth Gallarzo, founder of Systematic Calisthenics.
Gallarzo added that the core calisthenics exercise may be productive, but most are far from groundbreaking. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks and lunges create the program’s foundation. The underlying idea is that these exercises provide strength training by optimizing a person’s weight as resistant in lieu of fancy machinery. It means little to no equipment is required. However, Gallarzo does point to pull-up bars, dip bars and resistant bands as useful add-ons for those looking to intensify their routine.
Shape adds that this barebones approach to exercise and training can deliver benefits that go beyond the likes of equipment. Calisthenics, for example, can help build substantial muscle. Consider the impact on a person who weighs 150 pounds. Any push they do means lifting their body weight of 150 pounds. The movements are also more natural than many equipment-bound exercises, which helps practitioners maintain better form and develop muscles they can use in everyday life. Beyond this, calisthenics is gentler on joints and connective tissue than weights, lowering the risk of injury. Shape also notes that calisthenics can improve the brain-body connection by optimizing fine motor skills.
“It is an art form of using your body weight as a means to maximize human power and athletic ability,” reported Tee Major, a U.S. military fitness instructor.
There is research to back up many of these claims. Notably, one study by the University of Valencia in Spain confirmed that calisthenic exercises can be just as effective at building muscle as standard weight training. When considering the slew of other benefits mentioned above, calisthenics might be more beneficial overall. Specifically, the study focused on the calisthenic staple of push-ups in comparison to its weight-aided counterpart—the bench press.
The university’s researchers determined the benefits after enlisting 30 students between the ages of 19 and 27 who had experience with push-ups and bench pressing. None were on any strict muscle-building diets or using performance enhancers. Each participant was assigned ten weekly workout sessions and early tests to determine prior muscle health and density.
For the training portion of the study, participants were divided into three groups—a bench press group, a push-up group and a control group. Researchers then tracked the muscle activation of target areas, including the neck, shoulder, forearm, biceps and quadriceps. The study eventually discovered that when equal in resistance, the push-up and bench press delivered comparable gains.
In short, at the absolute least, calisthenics was equal to working out with weights. Since related costs are lower, the movements are more natural, and there may be peripheral benefits involved, calisthenics seemed to be a no-sweat winner.