Join the tribe of Movement & Calisthenics Athletes – people just like you that are working with their own body weight to get strength, lose fat build muscle, recover from injuries and live their best lives!
Is it how much you bench? How fast you run? Is it how much you can deadlift?
Every day we are exposed or thrown at a new training program, so much contradicting advice from all over the place.
Running is bad for you
Running is great
But in the end – what we are really chasing is what having strength, muscle, endurance, mobility and other fitness aspects will give us….
So today we want to explore what it means to be really strong in the world and what we here at The Movement Athlete Academy believes.
We hope that at the minimum it will make you stop for a second, question the ongoing fitness chatter and find the piece that is important for yourself – so you can live your best life on your own terms.
Does big muscle mean real-world strength?
A lot of people want to build big muscles. This is usually the case because of what’s usually shown in mainstream media.
If you have big muscles, you’ll look stronger, people will respect and praise you for your hard work. You’ll feel confident and powerful. You’ll feel more beautiful and accepted because of your chiselled arms and washboard abs.
Bigger muscles do not necessarily mean stronger but it can store potential to get stronger. Weightlifting is an excellent approach if you want to get these results.
The problem is: while you get these results, you also get slowly crippled after the years of training.
So ask yourself, what do you really want out of your training?
“At the end of the day [of weight training], I’d just be more sore or nauseous, but with calisthenics I’m identifying really functional performance errors in myself, that can’t be overcome by more weight or gutting it out – corrections take patience and acceptance.” –RYAN
“[With calisthenics,] I can control my body much better than before and am more confident about lifting things (like my kids!) without a risk.” – TIMO
These are just some of the huge life changes these calisthenics athletes experience after switching their approach from pure weight lifting.
Do you want to be able to lift your kids without the risk of tearing a muscle as the years go by like Timo?
Or do you want to address your weaknesses to be able to have an overall balanced healthy body like Ryan?
Their quest for goals leads them to the bodyweight approach. They made a switch from weightlifting to calisthenics.
Why choose calisthenics and not weightlifting for real-world strength?
Calisthenics is mistakenly branded as a beginner’s exercise. While you still don’t have enough muscle to lift heavy weights, do some push-ups first. While you can’t deadlift heavy, do pull-ups first.
If a full-on strength weightlifter was challenged by an advanced calisthenics athlete to execute a planche or human flag, do you think the weightlifter can do it? I highly doubt that he can barely do it even in poor form.
Even if the weightlifter got challenged to do a regular push-up or pull-up with perfect form and complete range of motion, he could struggle with these basic movements.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating on weight training. It has its place and it delivers well if you’re planning to build your physique. You can also develop massive amounts of strength through weight training, but it has drawbacks in developing real-life strength.
Why weightlifting is not ideal for real-world strength
❌Decrease in mobility
For example, in Enilson’s case:
“[Weight lifting] was kind of getting in the way of surfing, because you
were really tight. So you don’t have a lot of flexibility. So I ended up
having my shoulders really tight. Mobility is really bad.”
Enilson is a surfer. He doesn’t need brute strength and a huge build to ride the waves. He needs good flexibility and mobility, especially on his shoulders. Surfers need it to paddle more efficiently and to be able to transition from paddling to standing on their boards. Not to mention mobility allows comfortable movement in and out of the water.
❌Strength gains are too specific and not
“I’m already quite built because I used lots of weights. But it doesn’t really give me the strength I need…”
He shares the same sentiments with Jan-Erik.
“I felt like I really don’t care if I can take 5 kilos more in any exercise.
I really don’t care because it’s still the same exercise. And I don’t want
to get bigger or stronger in that particular thing”.
It’s not that the strength gains from lifting weights aren’t transferable to other movements, but the exercises from lifting don’t maximize the use of our full body. Instead, it focuses on individual parts of your body at a time.
❌Weightlifting does not maximize the full body
Anthony, an experienced weightlifter who turned to bodyweight training, said,
“Just the fact that it takes every bit of muscle that you have to be able to do [calisthenics exercises]. Every tiny little muscle rather than just the big major muscles when it comes to doing the big lifts.”
Every muscle fibre is used in calisthenics skills and exercises. Even the “isolation” exercises in calisthenics still require full-body activation for maximum gains and performance.
There would be muscle groups that would do most of the work but your whole body will work in order to execute even the simplest and easiest forms of push-ups or any other calisthenics exercises.
What you get from these holistic exercises go beyond your calisthenics workout routine. Karim is a dad of young kids and calisthenics helped him care for his family and keep up with his energetic youngsters. Everyday regular activities require strength and other fitness aspects, too!
This is what Karim said,
“Working out regularly definitely helps with trips with the kids, family
trips and being out all day with the young ones, you have to carry
them. You have to carry the bags and push them around in the
stroller. It’s physically demanding and I see many people around me
who are the same age or even younger who don’t really have the
physical strength and endurance to keep up with what their kids
need. I don’t want to be like them.”
❌High-volume lifting leaves you sore all the
Speaking of getting stronger in the real world, some people focused on weightlifting like Anthony. He’s been lifting for 10 years. He developed an amazing physique and strength but felt short in something very important that became detrimental for his health and peace of mind.
“Honestly, I was just tired of aching all the time and feeling like I was losing mobility.“
These aches are DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) caused by heavy lifting. And some of the aches are caused by his lack of mobility. It’s just because of lack of stimulation to promote mobility. Weight lifting CAN HELP in increasing mobility IF DONE CORRECTLY, but IT HAS A HIGH RISK OF DECREASING MOBILITY as well which is often the case for the majority of the people.
❌High risk of injury and developing recurring
“I was doing just compound lifts, squats, deadlifts, bench press. I was
starting to get tendinitis in my hips and then that led to my lower
back so I knew I had to just step away from it.”
Lose of mobility could lead to joint aches, muscle pains and tendinitis. Good thing Anthony found a solution to his problem.
But it’s not only Anthony who experienced this menacing ordeal because of weight lifting.
Jacques, one of the issues he experienced after the years of weightlifting was a nagging pain in the shoulder.
“[I] ended up getting some impingement in my shoulder…”
This impingement came from lifting too heavy with the overhead press, a shoulder exercise.
“I started doing yoga with my girlfriend and I realized how immobile
my hip complex was, so that was another bit of an eye-opener. Strong
legs from squatting and deadlifting, but it’s not very mobile. That’s the recipe for injury.”
There is a lot to correct in Jacques’ mobility because of the years of solely lifting weights. And Jacques is right; strong but immobile legs and performing heavy lifts don’t mix well.
❌Strength cannot cover for the lack of mobility
It is a recipe for disaster inside and outside of the gym.
That’s what happened to Edward. Physical demands from his work at the oil rig is very high that’s why he copes through weight training. He got stronger but it was making him stiff and immobile.
He also started teaching yoga but weight lifting was getting in his way. Aside from immobility, he felt too sore to move after a big weight session.
What’s even worse is that his body is feeling too tight and he developed muscle imbalances because of the weight training. He was in so much pain and heavily affected his day-to-day activities. The mere simple act of standing up straight became a struggle.
“It was hard to stand up and straighten up. It felt like my hips were
trying to pull my upper body forward. Whereas I think that probably came a lot from just having a weak lower back and spinal muscles. I believe I felt a lot of pain. Actually, how it felt, it felt like I was cramping, well not cramping. There was a knot in my lower belly stopping me from standing up straight.”
Eventually, Edward found a solution through calisthenics training. He still grew stronger, developed muscles and increased his mobility and flexibility.
With calisthenics, He got rid of the pain he used to devastate him. No more weak lower back because of his training that targeted to strengthen and increase the mobility of his weak links.
Since the switch, all of these athletes now experience the new strength and mobility from their calisthenics training.
No more they experience the aches and pains, the immobility and the struggle to move in everyday activities. Enjoying life more to its fullest.
So let’s go back to the real question:
Does real strength mean strength + mobility?💪
Well… Partly yes, because actually…
REAL STRENGTH is being able to do what you want when you want to.
Strength plus mobility as real strength is partly true. The combination allows you to move freely and enjoy life more than endure a life full of physical, emotional and mental pain.
Other than that,💪REAL STRENGTH is an overall strength that goes beyond the physical state of being strong.
For each one of us, it will be a different thing but it all stems from this basic notion of being able to do what you want when you want to.
It translates into real life, in all our day to do, in pursuing our dreams and wants and being useful and contributing to this world.
✊FOR MARK IT MEANS:
Mark experienced these downs in his life. Good thing he welcomed back calisthenics with open arms.
This is what he has to say,
“I always struggled with back pain, however, I figure it was part of the
process “no pain no gain”. 2015 this back pain started getting far
worse. To the point of taking pain killers all the time. By the time I
started losing track of how many pain killers I was taking I knew I had
to do something. Sucking up my ego, I went to the doctor, ‘No lifting
more than 15 pounds.’ This destroyed me! Calisthenics isn’t new to me,
its where I started when I was 18. Now being 30, its where I begin
again! Finding a new love for it, and even now that my back is feeling
better. I have actually sworn off weight lifting!”
That’s the thing about training calisthenics. It strengthens you holistically and addresses your weaknesses. This way you will not experience any imbalances that cause muscle and joint pains.
Having released from your physical pains changes your whole outlook in life like what Hans experienced.
✊FOR HANS IT MEANS:
MORE EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL STRENGTH
“I’m no longer troubled by back pain which helps my self-confidence a
whole lot (for those who suffered from back pain, they surely know
what I mean).”
Not only Hans got stronger physically, but he also gained more emotional and mental strength. This carries to various aspects of his life. Add that he can focus more on living since he has no more pain to worry about.
For others, their emotional and mental state is strengthened by calisthenics. Besides the chemicals induced when anyone exercises that promote a better emotional and mental state, personal satisfaction because of a sense of achievement also make anyone mentally and emotionally stronger as well.
“[Calisthenics] gives me personal satisfaction. Being able to use my own bodyweight to get physically strong is astounding to me and getting physically strong at the same time is a feat anyone would love to conquer.”
Going back to physical strength, getting strong with calisthenics is unique. Calisthenics training cover so much elements in fitness that when you first shift from weight training to calisthenics, you’ll be shocked with the level of difficulty skill training posses.
✊FOR TIM IT MEANS:
TO MOVE WITH FREEDOM
Here’s Tim’s experienced that changed his perception with the bodyweight approach.
“I have always been practicing sports but lifting weights changed the
way I looked and got me really addicted. It became a way of living to
me. However, after training my whole life with weights, I wasn’t able
to do a muscle-up or a handstand. I realized that I didn’t have full control of my body.”
Body control and body coordination are essential elements of calisthenics training. Without those two, even if you have the strength and mobility, it would be worthless if you can’t activate the right muscles for the movement/exercise.
Now, Tim’s goal is to learn the calisthenics skills. Combining not only strength but also mobility, body control, body coordination and other aspects needed for his certain goal.
For some, real strength isn’t this specific. Like Edward, for him, the real strength lies with the freedom to move without pain. As simple as scratching an itch at the middle of your back can do wonders for your life.
“Freedom. I’m free from the pain and free to actually move easier.
For one, if you’ve got an itch in the middle of your back you’re going to
The freedom to move is limitless. For everyone, it’s still very different, but we can agree that we would love to live with freedom and comfortability in our movement.
✊FOR JAN-ERIK IT MEANS:
BEING ABLE TO GO ADVENTURES
Like Jan-Erik wants that’s why he opted calisthenics as his approach in his fitness journey.
“I never want to feel like I’m restrained by my body or my health. If I want to pick something up or jump onto a cliff or whatever, I
want to be able to do that and do that comfortably. That’s the
health for me. I don’t want to be restricted and I want to be able to do
things the way I want to do them.”
For others, real strength isn’t bound at a single time frame. Real strength is ageing gracefully; maintaining the strength and mobility throughout the years. Maintaining the freedom to move even as time goes by.
Truly, exercise is difficult. Calisthenics is even more difficult.
✊FOR RYAN IT MEANS:
As Ryan said,
“The hardest part of calisthenics has been the patience it requires me to have with myself. With weights or cardio I could just power through plateaus or problem areas: add more weight, run faster.”
Training with calisthenics doesn’t only require physical toughness, it requires mental and emotional toughness, too.
As difficult training calisthenics would be, the rewards you’ll achieve during your journey is incomparable and worth every effort you put in yourself. As long as you have patience and you love yourself, you’ll grow stronger.
Why not give everything you’ve got in your training since you’ll be the one benefiting, right?
For others, real strength is the virtue you acquire upon the hardship you’ve gone through.
“Calisthenics builds character; it removes every handicap, excuse, and crutch, and it forces you to face your own worst enemy: yourself.”
To sum everything up and finally answer what is
Real strength goes far beyond the physical limitations of the human body. It’s strength plus mobility. It’s the ability to move freely without pain. Real strength is the physical, emotional and mental resilience. Real strength is being fit even after ageing. It’s a strong character. It’s taking care of your family and doing everyday activities with ease.
REAL STRENGTH has many faces and for each and everyone, it
might take a different shape and form. But certainly, it’s so
much more than just muscles and looks.
WHAT’S BEING STRONG MEANS TO YOU?
WILL YOU DECIDE TO BE STRONG?