How to set up calisthenics training to maximize results

Calisthenics workout is very popular among fitness enthusiasts. Since 2013, it has been among the top twenty trends in the world of fitness, reaching second place in 2017 and finishing fourth in 2018 [1]. The reasons for this popularity lie mainly in the fact that it requires no equipment and can be done outdoors. But there is more: people find in calisthenics workout an opportunity to acquire good body management and develop their muscles in a harmonious and proportionate way. In this context, calisthenics workout can be considered a fitness discipline based mainly on free body exercises or can indicate a relatively recent sport, which is constantly spreading.

What is calisthenics workout?

Although calisthenics workout as a sport is becoming increasingly popular, athletes are still a minority compared to those who use calisthenics workout as an alternative to free weights or machines, without having competitive goals. During the article, therefore, the word "Calisthenics" will be used as a synonym for calisthenics workout, since this meaning is more popular in most people who train in fitness. A model of training planning will be presented, taking as reference subject a person with little or no experience in calisthenics workout.
The person in question does not want to participate in Calisthenics competitions but sees calisthenics workout as a valid alternative to free weights and wants to know how to set up the training in an efficient and safe way. The information should then be adapted to the individual and supplemented with his or her own knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and other related areas of the fitness world.

Calisthenics workout: Training against endurance

Calisthenics workout, at a physiological level, is nothing more than resistance training. Therefore, the considerations and guidelines already defined as a scientific level by the ACSM for resistance training [2] apply to it. A recent study by Kotarsky and collaborators supports these considerations taken from physiology where it emerges that if parameters such as intensity and volume are monitored and balanced, calisthenics workout proves to be an effective method to improve strength and muscle mass, like the classic free weight training [3]. The principles of resistance training are general in nature and can be followed in different ways, preventing the definition of a unique and universally acceptable model for planning calisthenics workout.

When time does not allow you to train in outdoor facilities, a good indoor strength training is the best way to keep trained the muscle districts involved in calisthenics. The Pure Line offers the freedom, versatility and challenge of free weights within a fixed trajectory. Consisting of loading machines, racks, lifting platforms and a wide range of benches and free weights, Pure promises first-class performance and a truly comprehensive product portfolio for your elite training area. Pure Line optimizes the trajectory of movements and load distribution; each user can follow the physiological movement of their body maximizing muscle involvement and achieving maximum work intensity throughout the entire range of motion.

Exercises on the bar and in groups
The technology of fitness equipment has evolved over the years to meet the needs of safety and qualityin the movements that sportsmen increasingly seek for their workouts.  Those who focus their strength training on performance know that the most suitable products are the result of scientific and academic research, especially if they are tested by Olympic athletes, so as to ensure the best possible training experience. With its ergonomic design studied on principles of advanced biomechanics, Pure represents the most advanced solution in the development of customised training programs for strength, for any athlete and any type of performance.
Pure equipment gives athletes the freedom, versatility and challenge of free weights in a safe environment. Composed of Plate loaded machines, racks, weight lifting platforms and a wide range of benches and free weights, Pure promises extraordinary performance, a refined design and a truly complete range of products to equip your training area. In the Pure line products, workloads are distributed according to the trajectory of movement to produce optimal torque across the full range of motion.

Periodization of calisthenics workout

However, one of the many cues directly applicable to the field is given by Bompa and Buzzichelli [4]. The authors talk about the periodization of training: this includes both the planning and scheduling of the same and aims to put the athlete in the best condition at the specific time of the main competitions. Although the article does not deal with athletes aiming to achieve the best condition at any given time, with fitness enthusiasts who want to use calisthenics workout with maximum safety and efficiency, some of the principles of planning and scheduling proposed are directly applicable by professionals.
Pull up from the ground

Why periodize calisthenics workout?

At a scientific level, periodization in strength training has proved to be more effective than non-periodic programs [5, 6]: the fact of defining different periods in which we focus on the development of motor skills compared to not organizing training is positively reflected in the scientific literature.

Planning the training of newbies

For a person who starts practicing calisthenics workout with the intention of learning the main skills (planks, front levers, back levers, etc.) the focus should be, on the one hand, to prepare tendons, ligaments and muscles to deal with more intense work in complete safety and, on the other hand, to learn the correct setting of movements, always for a factor of safety but also effectiveness.

Step 1: Anatomical adaptation

The first phase, defined as anatomical adaptation, involves circuit exercises. It is recommended the duration of 6-10 weeks, 3 workouts per week. The exercises per circuit will be 10-15. The circuit can be performed for 2-3 laps, with a recovery of 30-90 seconds between exercises and 2-3 minutes between laps. At the end of the first phase, a possible crossroads opens: you can go to the hypertrophy phase or go directly to the phase of maximum strength. This choice will depend mainly on the goals that the person wants to achieve.
Training in structure by the sea

Step 2: The choice - maximum force or hypertrophy

If a person has no interest in maximizing the morphological changes induced by training but is more interested in the performance aspect (advanced learning skills) can go directly to the phase of maximum strength. If vice versa, the person is interested in maximizing the increase in muscle mass, the hypertrophy phase is recommended. However, it should be stressed that we talk about maximizing or not morphological changes that take place in compliance with the correct progression of loads and an optimal technique of execution.
Allenamento calisthenic di gruppo al Technogym Village di Cesena
The hypertrophic phase for calisthenics workout involves a duration of 6-8 weeks, 3-4 workouts per week. The load recommended by the authors is 60%-80% of the maximum. Those who train with a free body meet here the first difficulty in implementing what is written in books or the indications given at the scientific level: in calisthenics workout, those who train do not know their maximum in most of the exercises or, when it comes to skills, know which is the most difficult variant that they can perform but do not know how to estimate then which variant would correspond to 60%-80% of this load. In this case, the advice is to follow the indications on the volume, leaving out the percentages because it is impossible to estimate them accurately and especially because, at this stage, they do not play a crucial role. The number of exercises per session will be 6-9, 18-24 total sets. The number of repetitions per set will be from 12 to 6, starting the first week from 12 and going progressively towards 6. In this way in the weeks will decrease the volume in favor of greater intensity. The recovery between sets will be 2-5 minutes.
Outdoor gymnast
The hypertrophy phase, if performed, will be followed by a maximum strength phase of 9 weeks. The first six will be dedicated to loads from 70% to 80% of the maximum for 2-5 exercises performed for 3-8 series of 2-6 repetitions each. The minutes of recovery between the series is 2-3 minutes. 16-24 total sets per session, 2-4 sessions per week. The other three weeks will involve the use of loads ranging from '80% to 90% of the maximum 2-5 exercises performed for 3-8 series of 1-3 repetitions, recovery between series 3-5 minutes. Weekly frequency 2-4 sessions.
Training on a sunny day
The main problem with this approach is that the most sought-after skills in calisthenics workout are isometric positions. The progression, therefore, cannot use percentages that leave room for great inaccuracies in the practical application. However, a practical indication can be traced taking its cue from the competitive calisthenics workout: in races of an isometric position is considered valid when it is maintained for at least 2 seconds.

Isometric positions in calisthenics workout

Technogym ring structure
The position that can, therefore, be maintained for 2 seconds represents, in this case, the equivalent of the maximum for a dynamic exercise. Backward, a position that can be maintained for 4 seconds can be considered as 95%, 6 seconds 90% etc.
Sources and bibliography
  1. Thompson, W., Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2018. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 2017. 21(6): p. 10-19.
  2. American College of Sports Medicine Position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2009. 41(3): p. 687-708.
  3. Kotarsky, C.J., et al., Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res, 2018. 32(3): p. 651-659.
  4. Bompa, T.O. and C. Buzzichelli, Periodization training for sports. Third Edition. ed2015, Champaign: Human Kinetics. ix, 357 pages.
  5. Lorenz, D.S., M.P. Reiman, and J.C. Walker, Periodization: current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports Health, 2010. 2(6): p. 509-18.
  6. Williams, T.D., et al., Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med, 2017. 47(10): p. 2083-2100.
  7. Afonso, J., et al., Is Empirical Research on Periodization Trustworthy? A Comprehensive Review of Conceptual and Methodological Issues. J Sports Sci Med, 2017. 16(1): p. 27-34.

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