Exercises that uses only the weight of your body as resistance are known as calisthenics.
And, just as any other “resistance” training, the goal in performing calisthenics is to promote muscle growth and strength. Originating from the Greek words “kalo,” which means “beauty”, and “sthenos”, which means “strength,” calisthenics
rose into prominence in the 19th century by the “father of gymnastics” Freidrich Ludwig Jahn, and fitting enough, there’s nothing really that is a better embodiment of “beauty” and “strength” than gymnastics.
Since calisthenics uses your body’s weight as resistance, it’s also known as bodyweight exercises.
And the big question about bodyweight exercises is how effective it is for building muscle and strength, or if it’s as effective as lifting weights.
To understand this, we need to understand how our muscles grow and get stronger. Muscular and strength adaptation occur when a stimulus,
or resistance, is applied to the corresponding muscle at a high enough intensity to invoke muscle overload. Simply put, the more weight you move with your muscles, the more your muscles adapt and become bigger and stronger. But it doesn’t mean that any type of weight movement will work.
Take jogging, for example, although can be very taxing on the heart muscles and promote cardiac muscle growth, it will not promote much skeletal muscle growth, not even in your legs.
The problem here is that the stimulus is not strong enough to target all the leg’s muscle fibers. If you’ve watched the muscle fibers video before, you will understand that we have three different muscle fiber types, one of which is used for endurance, known as type I, and the other two are used to provide great amounts of force, known as type 2 fibers.
Since running doesn’t require large amounts of force from your legs, type 2 fibers are hardly fatigued and not a lot of muscle growth occurs. It’s also the reason
why many do not consider jogging as a calisthenics exercise even though it only utilizes your body’s weight. But other calisthenics exercises do, in fact, illicit high enough of a demand to hit those larger muscle fibers. Take a pull-up, for example, where on average, people can hardly even do 5, the movement demands all fiber types to fire and eventually exhaust, thus promoting muscle growth.
Push-ups is another good example of a calisthenics exercise that can illicit muscle growth, especially for beginners that struggle to do even 10.
But eventually you will run into the problem of not having enough resistance. As tough as it may be to get to your first 10 push-ups, eventually 10 will be just an easy warmup.
When you start hitting 20, 25, or 30 push-ups easily, then we run into the same problem as we saw with running. Of course, you can definitely modify the push-up to make it tougher, such as elevating your feet on a platform, but ultimately you’re not changing the amount of demand on the muscle groups involved in a standard push-up, instead you begin shifting the muscles involved in the movement. With feet-elevated push-ups, you anterior shoulders begin taking the brunt of the resistance instead of your chest. So if you wanted to build your chest, you won’t have enough resistance. And you might be thinking, “Why not just add some weight on your back?” Well, at that point, it’s no longer just bodyweight, thus no longer calisthenics.
The next natural progression is using weights.
As great as calisthenics can be, there will a point where certain muscle groups, especially the strong muscle groups such as your chest, legs, and hips, will eventually need greater resistance. Also, since calisthenics require you using multiple muscle groups to perform an exercise, which isn’t a bad thing at all in terms of natural and functional development, but it does make it tough to isolate certain muscles. Now, that’s not to say that calisthenics cannot build an aesthetically appealing body.
After all, you have guys looking like this from performing just bodyweight exercises, but when you compare them to this, there’s a clear difference in muscle growth between the two regimens. Heck, even Olympic gymnasts have to use weights to push their maximum potential.
This is not to say that calisthenics has no place in anyone’s exercise program, you just have to understand its uses.
The great thing about calisthenics is that it’s absolutely free.
All you gotta have is the ground you walk on and a park with bars. The only time you have to spend money is from buying things like suspension systems or gymnastic rings.
For beginners, bodyweight exercises will provide all the necessary compound movements that are usually found in a beginner program, and doesn’t require you to motivate yourself to go to the gym. So if you do calisthenics and you like your results, stick with it. If you feel like you’re starting to hit a wall, then it’s time to move up to weights.