When it comes to getting fitter, stronger, and more muscular, most people head to the gym. Gym training is effective, and exercises like leg presses, bench presses, deadlifts, lat pulldowns, and squats can undoubtedly help you build the body of your dreams.
However, there are disadvantages to gym training, too.
For starters, gym memberships can be expensive, and if you sign up for a monthly contract, you could find yourself tied in and unable to cancel even if you stop going.
You’ll also have to spend time travelling to and from the gym. With the added travel time, a one-hour workout could end up taking 2-3 hours out of your day. Time is a valuable commodity, and a lack of it is the most common barrier to consistent exercise.
And then there is the environment itself. Gyms can be noisy, crowded, hectic places that don’t appeal to everyone. Some people find all that commotion distracting or even intimidating.
The good news is that you don’t have to train in a gym if you don’t want to. In fact, you can get a great workout using nothing more than your body weight.
In this article, we reveal the five biggest reasons for dropping the gym and doing calisthenics instead.
What is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is another word for bodyweight training, and the term comes from the ancient Greek words for beauty and strength. Evidence shows that the all-conquering armies of Alexander the Great, the mighty Spartans, and ancient Chinese martial dynasties used calisthenics to train for war and improve their fitness and health.
Most calisthenics exercises require no equipment, so your body is your gym. However, some moves require pull-up and dip bars, and things like parallettes and push-up stands are also popular.
Some calisthenic practitioners like to use weighted vests to make their workouts harder or resistance bands to make things like pull-ups and muscle-ups easier. However, all you really need is some open floor space and somewhere to do pull-ups to get a great full-body calisthenics workout.
There are several types of calisthenics, including:
- Basic or progressive calisthenics, e.g., push-ups, squats, dips, pull-ups, lunges, etc.
- Freestyle or skill-based calisthenics, e.g., front and back levers, muscle-ups, etc.
- Cooperative calisthenics, e.g., partner-resisted exercises, lifts, carries, drags, etc.
While all three types of calisthenics are effective and popular, basic/progressive calisthenics is probably the most accessible. The exercises are easy to master, and you can do them on your own, so it’s the perfect excuse-free workout.
Five Reasons to Train with Calisthenics
Regardless of your chosen training style, calisthenics workouts offer many advantages and benefits over lifting weights. The top five reasons you should ditch the gym in favor of calisthenics are:
Convenience / time-saving
You can do calisthenics almost anywhere and anytime. You only need enough space to lie down and, if you want to do pull-ups and chin-ups, a bar, branch, or beam from which to hang. This means you can work out at home, in your garden or yard, in a hotel room, at the local park or playground, or even in a prison cell!
Such convenience means you never have to miss a workout again.
In addition, because you don’t have to travel anywhere special to work out, a 30-minute workout will really only take 30 minutes. Transitions between exercises take no more than a few seconds, saving you even more time.
Builds functional and relative strength
Gym-based exercises do not always carry over well to the activities of daily living. For example, being able to bench or squat huge weights won’t necessarily make you a better athlete. Nor will they do much for your agility, coordination, or balance.
Resistance machines guide your movements, so you don’t even have to control your limbs as you exercise. This essentially takes your nervous system out of your workout, training your body to become “dumber” and less capable.
In contrast, calisthenic exercises involve natural movements and build the type of strength that makes you more useful outside of the gym.
This is why the military, athletes, and many martial artists use calisthenics as well as gym-based strength and conditioning exercises.
Interestingly, while gym-based training doesn’t carry over well to calisthenics, doing calisthenics will help improve gym exercise performance. So, even if you ditch weights for a while and do more calisthenics, you won’t lose much, if any, strength and may even come back stronger.
Can get you shredded
There are very few isolation exercises in calisthenics training. In contrast, most bodyweight exercises are compound, meaning they involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together.
Compound exercises burn many more calories than isolation exercises, so calisthenic training automatically increases your caloric expenditure per workout. In addition, because you can move quickly from one movement to the next, you can link several exercises together to create a fat-burning muscle-building circuit.
- Push-ups x 20
- Lunges x 15 per leg
- Pull-ups x 10
- Squats x 30
Rest for 60-90 seconds after the last exercise and repeat 3-5 times.
Improves body awareness
Many gym-based exercises are performed seated or using machines. Needless to say, this is not how your body works in nature. Outside of the gym, muscles seldom work in isolation and mainly function as part of a chain. And when was the last time you had to lift something heavy while sitting in a chair?
Take push-ups, for example. To perform a perfect push-up, you need to:
- Squeeze your legs and feet together.
- Engage your quadriceps and glutes.
- Brace your core.
- Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Engage your lats.
- “Screw” your hands into the floor and pull your upper arms into your sides.
- Engage your deltoids, triceps, and pecs.
- Maintain all these things as you continue to pump out the reps.
You don’t just “do push-ups.” With no bench to support you, you must learn to control every muscle and joint in your body. This control and awareness will improve your athletic performance and help strengthen and bulletproof your entire body.
Less joint stress and fewer injuries
While any type of exercise can cause injuries, calisthenics is often much safer than many f exercises. For example, while doing push-ups to failure is no cause for concern, bench pressing or squatting to failure can result in severe and even fatal accidents.
Similarly, lifting heavy weights can exert an enormous compressive force through your spine. It’s no coincidence that most gym injuries affect the lower back. Bodyweight exercises are usually much easier on your spine and far less likely to cause injuries.
In addition, calisthenic exercises are also easy to modify to suit your height and limb length. For example, you can move your hands or feet to find the ideal position for safer, more comfortable workouts.
Finally, with no benches to support you or machines to guide your movements, calisthenics teaches you how to control your body and stabilize your joints to prevent unwanted movement. This is good for your long-term joint health and a skill that you can use outside of the gym.
Of course, you can still hurt yourself doing calisthenics, but the risk is lower, and injuries tend to be less serious.
5 Reasons You Should Ditch Weights for Calisthenics – Closing Thoughts
Technological advancements in fitness mean that most exercisers use machines and other high-tech training tools to build strength and muscle mass.
While this approach can be effective, the benefits are often superficial. Sure, you may look fit and muscular, but you may not be able to use that strength outside of the gym.
In contrast, calisthenics builds real-world fitness and strength that transfers to almost any setting. Need to climb a rope, scale a cliff, leap over a fallen tree trunk, throw a spear, or outrun a pursuer?
Calisthenics will help!
Calisthenic training is one of the best ways to get and stay fit and strong. You can also build a muscular body and get shredded, training anywhere you can find some space and somewhere to do pull-ups. And it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.
You don’t have to give up lifting weights, but a few months of dedicated calisthenics training could be just what you need to take your fitness, strength, and physique to the next level.