Pike handstands, ring muscle ups, flagpoles, front levers, back levers: if any of these words excite you, you are probably already familiar with calisthenics. Cofounder Joe tried some of these out for the first time today – here’s how it went.
When I was a kid, I played tennis, rugby, and swam a couple times a week. Then when I turned 13, my swimming coach took me aside one afternoon when I got to the pool all muddy from the rugby field and said: “Joe, if you want to be competitive in sport, you are going to need to pick one.”
I was the son of a Scotsman growing up in rugby country: the south west of France. My swim coach was convinced I’d pick rugby (in his own words I swam “like a stone” at that age). But the nonchalance of his question piqued my ego just enough for me to pick swimming over any other sport (he knew exactly what he was doing), and I haven’t looked back since. I trained 25 hours a week for most of my adult life, signed my first pro contract in 2010 and was happy to call it quits after the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Since then, I’ve kept pretty fit. But something started bugging me recently: I’ve been doing the same type of training I used to do as a swimmer – Olympic weight lifting, a little rock climbing and still a few swim sessions. So I decided to change this and give myself some new challenges. I asked a few PTs what they thought the best type of training was. This was my favourite answer, from Lawrence Price aka FaFitSake:
My advice is to be the best ‘human’ you can be – that means incorporating varied skills like calisthenics or animal flow into your repertoire, but also having the ability to run a decent distance quickly, to be strong, agile, mobile, skillful and able to adapt to new stimulus/environments as you come across them! I like to build a strong ‘compound strength’ platform and then diversify around that by breaking up the rigidity with plenty of mobility and natural movement work…
Calisthenics are a form of gymnastics that will get you to achieve slow, controlled and gracious body movements while causing some serious strength gains. James had me starting out with a simple skin the cat movement: a backward body rotation while hanging from the rings. So far so good.
Next, I was challenged to try a back lever – a very recognisable calisthenics move. Suddenly I was way out of my comfort zone. But with every movement he teaches, James has a ‘dumbed down’ version that is a little easier to start with. With bent legs, I manage a controlled swing back around the rings and can hold the lever for a fraction of a second, just enough to get a picture. That’s a win in my books.
Onto the human flag, or flagpole – another calisthenics requisite. I haven’t told James this, but there was a season in my swimming career when flagpole practice was a routine part of my gym training (I thought it best to keep his expectations low). My coach for the day has got some great tricks up his sleeve to get me into the right position off the bat. I shoot up into the horizontal hold, and again can stick it for a fraction of a second. I’ll take that!
Just 3 drills and about 30 minutes of intermittent work and my shoulders, elbows, abs and lats are starting to ache. This is probably the most intense form of exercise I’ve ever done.
The Greenwood Method proves a great way to get into calisthenics. I can now take these drills with me and work on them in my own time, before another session with James in a couple weeks.