Health and fitness are important parts of life, and are part of a mindset that I make sure is part of my day every day – even if that means just having an active rest day. I believe the body requires exercise every day. For a while I used to lift weights at a gym, but then that changed for me and I want to share some info about why I chose to leave that behind.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with lifting weights at the gym or at home, as there are multiple ways to “get results” in the fitness world. But I believe it comes down to enjoying something and asking what you want from your exercise. For me, right now, I use a combination of training styles, with calisthenics as the focus. With calisthenics (body-weight training) you can get all the same results as weight-lifting, become very strong, and build a truly firm foundation, while lowering your risk of injury significantly compared to weight-lifting.
Calisthenics (Body-Weight Training)
I, along with many others, strongly believe that calisthenics is the future of fitness. It’s already taken off in some countries and is now showing its spark here in Western culture -and for good reason. Many people I talk to lately seems to be looking for something different, as if they are bored of the same old gym/weight routine just as I was. It also seems people want to have more fun when they work out.
Calisthenics is about functional strength, natural looking bodies, free workouts, creativity, self-mastery, and healthy routines. It is also something many people can do. I believe that in general we are moving in this direction because times change, our minds change, and things seem to be shifting towards a more natural way of being, which means getting out of repetitive cycles.
Why I Left The Gym
I worked out at the gym for years and was lifting heavy. Did it work? Absolutely, I got plenty of muscle and gained strength. Exercising was part of my routine in high school, as I was inspired by a kinesiology course I took where I learned all about the body, muscles, nutrition, and how to work out to get results.
But I noticed that I started to get tight, I wasn’t flexible, and it was easy, even with proper form, to irritate joints when lifting heavier weights. I didn’t feel my whole body was getting strong either, just in certain parts doing specific things. Plus, I didn’t like the gym and lifting weights – the vibe, the repetition, the lack of creativity, the people so focused on hyping themselves up, looking at themselves in the mirror all day – it simply wasn’t for me. My goals were never about impressing people with my body. I wanted to be healthy, have functional strength, enjoy movement, have healthy joints, build strong neurological connections to my body, and exercise in an environment I liked.
Functional strength is strength that you utilize in everyday tasks. It also goes along with a lot of natural body movements. What I noticed in my experience from weight lifting was that I could get stronger at certain exercises yet I didn’t notice much functional strength increases versus training calisthenics. This was further illustrated to me when I would train my back and shoulders like crazy with weights, yet could only do a small amount of pull-ups. Weight-lifting often trains very localized muscles, whereas with calisthenics it’s more of a full-body workout. This was probably one of the most noticeable differences for me, I was gaining strength throughout my whole body in areas that don’t get touched by weight-lifting. Plus, doing calisthenics and avoiding weights healed injuries that I had struggled with for years.
Coming from a point of having my back and core heavily injured, this was a huge transformation for me. The photo below is of me after only 3 months of calisthenics training. My form for this “human flag” is not perfect yet in this picture, but it’s not far off. Three months later (today), I can now hold that same move with straight arms and flatter legs.
Choosing A Workout That’s Right For You
First off, don’t let anyone tell you what routine you should be doing or what workout methods are best. You have to do what’s right for you, and being aware of your options will empower you. If you don’t enjoy your workouts, then you will have a hard time with motivation and in general you will be forcing yourself to do something you don’t like. Find what works for you, calisthenics is only one option out of many.
For me, getting out of the gym and into outdoor calisthenic workouts made me LOVE my workouts. Compared to when I used to lift weights, I’ve never felt this good. I’m stronger and more flexible than I have ever been. My mind and body connection is through the roof and even though my goals are health related, the appearance of my body is the same as when I used to lift heavy, except now my muscles are longer and my body isn’t puffy and bloated. I also don’t need to go through bulk up phases and then slim down phases because my nutrition choice is a sustainable lifestyle versus being strictly fast-goal oriented.
Currently I do a mix of calisthenics and yoga. I add in sports and active rest time on days where I don’t work out. Don’t be afraid to use multiple workout methods and switch things up. It seems we often get afraid that as soon as we stop working out we’ll deflate. If that’s happening to you, you’re probably not building sustainable muscle.
Focusing totally on body image is a mindset I truly believe Western culture struggles with greatly; we are obsessed with physical results and short-term results. We’ll do anything to be a “hunk,” even if it’s not healthy for us. When you take the ego away and go for what’s a true healthy choice for you – for mind, spirit, and body – your choices and goals become very different, and your results do too.
Check Your Mindset & Goals
So is calisthenics for you? You answer that question yourself. What appeals to you? What do you want your lifestyle to look like? What do you like doing when you work out? You have to enjoy it! There’s no wrong answer.
If you want to be a body builder, and have that huge body, maybe compete in competitions, or be a power lifter (a couple reps of a ton of weight), then you will need to lift weights simply because you have to stress your body to incredible levels to get those results. You also have to eat in a specific manner to get those results and to be honest, much of the diet advice you get from these types of athletes is not all that healthy for you long-term.
If you are looking for a lot of functional strength, solid bone, and ligament health, good cardiovascular fitness, or a toned, muscular looking body, calisthenics will give you all of that.
One myth you hear a lot is that you can’t build muscle mass or get good results with calisthenics, but this isn’t true at all. You will gain a lot of strength and size, and be in great shape just as anyone working out at a gym does. There are easy exercises and tough exercises, and many of weight lifters have trouble performing some of them. Your body is your weight, so it’s not like you are not lifting weight, there’s just no added weight. You’d be surprised how hard many of these exercises are and how well they work any other body part, without an increased risk of hurting yourself.
This guy pretty much sums it up well and he’s been through a ton of different techniques. He explains why, in his opinion, he feels bodyweight/calisthenics is best. He does still lift weight as he believes in multiple types of training, but he covers some great points.
I’m simply trying to lead us to realize that it’s about kicking the ego out of your health and make it about a lifestyle choices and health. You can play in whatever realm you like, there’s no need to judge either, but keep yourself honest and in check with what you are doing and why. You have options. Choose what’s fun and engaging for you!