With the rise of calisthenics in the online fitness community, it has been questioned whether calisthenics should be used in routines other than ones specific to goals in calisthenics. As a NSCA certified personal trainer (soon attaining my strength and conditioning certification), I have become more and more interested in the concept of using calisthenics in strength and conditioning routines. After utilizing these exercises in my own routines long-term, looking at the research, and seeing what trainers and coaches who use these exercises have to say about them, I have built my own perspective as to why calisthenics SHOULD be in any strength and conditioning program. In this article I will be discussing why calisthenics should be in these programs.
It's no secret that the key to having your athletes grow bigger and stronger is recovery from work out to work out. As an athletes, performing countless isolation exercises don't get you far. Your work out and recovery time is crucial, making big compound exercises your priority. Unfortunately, big compound exercises place high amounts of stress on the body. Exercises such as barbell squats, dead-lifts, power-cleans, and front-squats place immense stress on both the legs and the lower-back. If you are already performing squats and dead-lifts twice a week (on an upper/lower split) or even three times a week (full-body split), it's safe to say you are pushing your lower-back recovery. What unfortunately happens with these routines is that some trainers and coaches do not factor in the upper body exercises that also tax the lower-back. The bent-over barbell row is a big compound movement used by countless people to build a big and strong back, but unfortunately has also has been shown to place high stress/load on the lower-back. With periods of high volume squats and deadlifts, adding barbell rows on top of these exercises can place your training stress above your recovery ability. This can lead to regression and even injury. By adding movements such as pull-ups and inverted rows, athletes are able to still work the back at the same intensity (adjusting angle, grip, and added resistance) without placing additional stress on the lower-back. This leads to better recovery, while still performing periods of high volume on both lower-body movements and upper-body movements.
2. Lower Body Dominance
You could be asking, well why would I be performing periods of high volume squats and dead-lifts? To that I would ask you "what do you see happening in sports?" Athletes are using the power of their legs with the upper body supplementing their movements. This does not mean the upper body can be neglected, rather I am stating that sports are lower-body dominant in nature. In sports you do what? You sprint, jump, drive back opponents, and shuffle. Sure, there is more to any sport, but the basics require strength and power in the lower-body muscles. It would make sense to prioritize the strength and recovery of the muscles necessary for building immense lower-body strength and power while also improving upper-body strength/power (secondary). With my logic, you may be thinking "well, why don't you just practice your sprints, jumps, and foot-work?" The answer lies within my article WEIGHTLIFTING FOR IMPROVING ATHLETICISM, which you should feel free to check out after this article. With performing exercises such as pull-ups, dips, inverted rows, and push-ups, athletes are able to utilize majority of their lower-back work tolerance on big movements such as squats and deadlifts.
3. Functionality And Specificity
Sports are one word, "FUNCTIONAL". You are executing natural positions and movements to your best ability in order to compete against other athletes executing these positions and movements. You get knocked down on the field and need to get up quick? Push-up and get your body back up to run towards your objective. You have an opponent in front of you? Use the strength from your squats and dead-lifts to drive that opponent back (or even knock them over). Sports are functional in nature and require you to not just have strength, but have strength moving your body through space. If you can bench press the world but you also find yourself stuck on the ground rolled over like a turtle during a play, your bench press is worthless. If you can perform the whole stack during leg extensions, but you get driven back off the line...your "strength" is not specific to the functionality of your sport. By performing and progressing on exercises that transfer over better to your sport, you give yourself an advantage over your opponent.
With "calisthenics" being popularized and stereotyped as the street workouts shown online, calisthenics and its use in strength and conditioning programs has started to become questioned when used outside of calisthenic specific programs. Contrary to the beliefs of many, calisthenics (even with purely body-weight) has its advantages and should be used in strength and conditioning programs. Due to muscle overlap in high demanding programs, utilizing calisthenics can reduce the amount of stress placed on the lower-back. Due to the lower-body dominant nature of sports, prioritizing big lower-body movements without neglecting your upper-body is important. With the functionality and specificity of sports, performing movements that can be progressed for strength and hypertrophy while also being more specific to the sport the athlete is performing will elicit better carryover to their sport. Calisthenics is not about marketing and "street workout" Youtube videos. Calisthenics (weighted or non-weighted) is a tool athletes can use in order to improve their recovery, prioritize their main contributing muscle groups, and/or build sport specific strength.