You don’t. 5 to 6 compound movements are more than enough. Especially when it comes to training for strength and skills.
In fact, strength is a skill too. A lot of it comes down to building strong neuromuscular connections (between the brain and muscles). And how do you get better at skills? You practice them. A LOT. And OFTEN.
If you train too many exercises, you won’t be able to practice them enough, and you won’t get good in them. A quote from the master himself, Bruce Lee, comes to mind:
“I fear not a man who practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who practiced one kick 10000 times.”
Same principal here.
I know what you’re thinking – isn’t it BORING to train only 5 fundamental movements?
It is, if you ARE NOT MAKING PROGRESS! As long as you see yourself getting stronger, leaner, faster, improving your technique… you will be engaged and excited about your workouts. You will come for more.
At the end of the day, that’s the main reason why we train – to make progress and reach our goals.
If you are not making progress, and masking it with a large variety of exercises, it is time to reconsider your workout and your priorities in training.
Feel free to watch the corresponding video below, and subscribe to my YouTube channel!
is definitely one of the most used and untrue phrases I have heard throughout the last 6 years, since I began working in the fitness industry.
If you are telling that to yourself, when you see someone perform perfect One Arm Pull Ups, a Human Flag, run an ultramarathon, or even starting a business – yes, you most likely won’t be able to achieve it.
Because you keep telling it to yourself!
In the vast majority of cases, it is not physically impossible for one to do it, but because you believe you can’t, you won’t even try, so you are not even giving yourself a chance!
Usually the physical is not the limiting factor, it is the mental side of things. We have all these limiting belief, and we do not trust in our own abilities. When we notice it in us, these negative thought patterns, it becomes an opportunity for growth. To know oneself. To compassionately inquire where do these beliefs originate.
The truth will set you free.
The mental aspect has always been a limiting factor in my life too, and it is something I am working through. Thoughts like, “I don’t know what to do… I don’t know how to earn money… I’ve done enough for today… This and that won’t work…”, have never been helpful.
Fortunately, thanks to looking up to action movie stars, and later athletes like Frank Medrano, David Goggins, or Rich Roll, I am consciously aware of the FACT, that I can overcome any adversity, and achieve any seemingly impossible goal.
The challenge is to internalise this belief through various means (topic for another post), so there is no conflict between the conscious and subconscious.
It is certainly a challenge worth undertaking. For it might make the difference between us living a life of quiet desperation, and living the life we always dreamt of, true to ourselves.
Late spring 2019. I decided to bring more awareness to mental health issues and raise money for the charity Mind Doncaster, by performing 1000 pull ups.
I have been training Push Ups and Pull Ups EMOM (Every Minute On The Minute) for quite a while at that point, David Goggins being my inspiration. I would break my own PR every now and then, in fact in August 2019 I did 1111 Pull Ups in one training session, and if I remember correctly, in the following days I ran a half marathon as well.
So I knew I would definitely be able to hit at least 1000 reps for World Mental Health Day, 11th October.
I trained most days, somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. Every minute I would do usually 7-8 Pull Ups. All good on that front, despite some aches here and there.
Organising the event and venue, in which it would take place, turned out to be more difficult.
I wanted to do it in the main shopping centre in town. So that bypassing people could donate a bit too. But the management claimed there was not enough space to set up a pull up bar there. Despite the fact they would routinely display multiple cars inside the shopping centre. OK…
That made me even more determined to do this challenge! Fortunately the manager of a small gym I was training a few clients at, was happy for me to do it at their gym.
The days prior to that I rested. No Pull Ups, just got a massage.
The the big day came. I woke up in the morning, did the Wim Hof Method (including cold shower), had a healthy breakfast and some ceremonial cacao. I cycled to the gym, did some more Wim Hof breathing, set the timer. 3, 2, 1, GO!
I started cranking out 6 Pull Ups every minute on the minute, pacing myself. 100, 200, 300… 600…
It went fairly quickly and I felt great. Energised. But I’ve noticed a problem. The steel bar was not smooth and soon my fingers got sore and began bleeding.
I kept going. I hit 1000 Pull Ups, and I was nowhere close to finishing. I had to do at least another 112 to break my own personal best. I did that, and I kept going.
Roughly from Pull Up no. 1200 things got harder. I had to put on some thin cycling gloves my girlfriend gave me due to my injuries. I dropped down to 5 reps per minute. Time started stretching out, and I moved my attention inwards.
At around 1500 reps I’d be sat on the bench staring into nothingness, or at the timer. When it beeped, I’d do another 5 reps, then go sit on the bench and continue staring. I was getting really exhausted, but I kept going. Just keep going…
I ended up surpassing the goal of 1000 Pull Ups by another thousand. 2000 Pull Ups in 6.5 hours. Hundreds of sets.
I did rep no. 2000, and said I was done. 2000 is enough. But in all honesty, I could have done a few hundred more.
I was on the verge of crying. I could not believe that I managed to push myself this much!
One thing you need to know about myself, I am not a strong person from nature on. I might be more flexible than others, but that’s it.
Even psychologically, my deafult behaviour is not to be a strong independent leader, but to hide and not be seen, due to some childhood trauma (thankfully, no abuse involved. Working on it). Previously I suffered from loneliness, social phobia when I was a kid, I’ve been on the verge of depression and of an eating disorder.
Perhaps that is why I looked up so much to strong people like Bruce Lee or Jean-Claude Van Damme, since my early teens. Hence why I learned martial arts, later Calisthenics.
And now I managed to pull off something this crazy, hard, monotonous and painful. I could not believe it! Honestly, this was one of the most intense moments of my life. Certainly more important than finishing school.
After this experience (as well as from running 13 – 22 miles at a time), I can see how certain people can use monotonous physical activities to reach an altered state of consciousness. Or simply to go into a state of meditation. It is common knowledge that ultramarathon runners wind up hallucinating after tens or a hundred miles.
When you are, sorry for the expression, balls deep in such an event, where you have been doing it for hours, and the end is not in sight, the only thing you can do, is to be present. Let it flow. Do not accept or reject what is happening. You cannot escape to your imagination, and you cannot stop. Just be.
Way too many people in order to achieve their goals, like losing weight or improving their health, chose to get on a drastic diet for a few weeks, maybe months at best. They go from a standard western diet, which is one of the leading contributors to all of the major illnesses our society suffers from, to a raw vegan diet, paleo, or keto diet, if not something way more dodgy. A juice cleanse or some kind of fasting.
And what’s the result?
Perhaps one manages to lose some weight, but it’s not sustainable and one ends up eating the same way they did before. More often then not, the weight starts piling back on, and in the worst cases one ends up doing damage to their metabolism, stuck in the yoyo effect, losing non-adipose tissue, or with an eating disorder.
What’s the solution?
A change of lifestyle. Not a temporary diet. Make smaller improvements you can manage as opposed to drastic interventions. I know that you might be eager to get rid of the excess weight, trust me I’ve been there. I had a time where I barely recognised myself, and wanted to change it as quickly as possible. I was desperate.
Back in 2015 I felt depressed and lonely, and somehow I ended up eating away my emotions. I gained around 20kg in a few months. I could barely recognise myself, and I wanted to get rid of the excess body fat FAST.
That’s where I messed up my eating habits even more, and only made things worse.
What got me through that challenging time of my life, was, you guessed it, making sustainable changes. Eating healthy, mainly unprocessed foods. No crazy fasting or 1 meal a day. 3 regular meals a day. Less than 12 hour window for eating.
Since then (roughly 2015 to early 2017) I haven’t had ANY problems whatsoever with my weight or eating habits.
And the changes I have implemented – I stick to them to this day. Why? Because it improves the quality of my life, I have the energy to go after my goals, and I know that I am lowering the risk of getting cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, even depression!
As I said in my previous video, start small. Do your research or speak to a professional. And most importantly, do it out of love for yourself and others. Because you deserve it!
Do you want to make positive changes in your life, but don’t know where to start?
Don’t become a victim to paralysis-analysis and START SMALL!
In the vast majority of cases, change takes time and it has to be gradual. Yes, some individuals can turn their lives around in an instance, and there is a time and place for radical changes, but that’s only a small percentage.
You want to gradually adjust to the change, stick to it over time, and not become overwhelmed by it. It’s about sustainable change as opposed radical and short-lived interventions and inevitably failing. Way too often we can see people get on a highly restrictive diet, to which they cannot adhere for longer than a few weeks or months. After New Year’s Day the gyms get filled up with new-years-resolutioners, only to return to normal a months later. There is no point to that whatsoever.
Add some more fruit and veg into your diet. Go for a walk in the morning. Do a few sets of squats. Learn about how to start a business for 5 minutes. Practice your instrument for ten minutes a day.
Turn these activities into habits. This will take a few weeks (or 21 days as the saying goes). Then expand them and build upon them.
Instead of learning about Bitcoin for 5 minutes a day, do 10 or 15 minutes now, and perhaps download the Binance app. For the past 3 weeks you have been consistently training pull ups twice a week, for two sets. Make it 3 sets this week. And add a third training session to your schedule. You get the point.
I can guarantee you that after a few months the small changes you have implemented will have snowballed and you’ll look back at what you have achieved with pride. And that’s what it’s about!
I do not particularly enjoy running – I’m not THAT crazy! Yet I still do it. Why?
It certainly has physical benefits, like reducing bodyfat, cardiovascular health, release of endorphins, etc. but that’s not the main reason for me.
Throughout the years, training has helped me tremendously with my mental health and to be the person I want to be. It significantly reduces fear and anxiety and boosts my confidence and motivation.
But running is different from other workouts. It’s monotonous and you cannot stop. You HAVE TO keep going. 10, 30, 60, 120 min. You are out of breath, too cold or too warm, your legs are starting to hurt, you are sweaty and tired. You are uncomfortable at best or downright in pain.
What can you do about it? Cling to it and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no!
Reject it and either distract yourself or stop? Not an option.
You just have to be with it. No judgement whatsoever. It becomes a meditation, which you can take and apply in your daily life. We all go through periods of sadness, stress, grief, pain. Sometimes they don’t last very long, but sometimes it feels like there is no end in sight. One has to then remain in a state where there is no conflict and no judgement (more on that in a later post/video).
It is a known fact that athletes who do ultramarathons (50, 100, 200 mile long runs) tend to experience hallucinations, and overall an altered state of consciousness. I am certainly not suggesting you should run such insane distances, I have never run more than 22 miles myself. Yet it shows us, that sports (when you are actively participating, not just watching ESPN on your TV) are one of the most accessible tools for the modern western man to reach altered states of consciousness, a state of meditation and to come back into the “felt presence of the immediate experience”, as Terence McKenna would say. Which is something most people in the West need more of in their lives.
You can watch my short YouTube video on this topic below.
The scene above, from the 1989 movie Communion, staring Christopher Walken and based on the story of Whitley Strieber, might still be a source of nightmares for its viewers. But more importantly, I am quite sure that many who have seen this motion picture asked themselves at the end whether there truly might be other, perhaps even intelligent lifeforms out there amongst the stars.
The purpose of this post is not to give you a definite answer to the question, rather share with you some of the thought processes and ideas I have incorporated into my psychedelic science-fiction debut Ascension.
As of today, 13th April 2021, we have not officially found any evidence of life off planet Earth. Although I must say that scientists have never been as open (yet still plenty of room for improvement) to the possibility. We are aware of the fact that most stars in our galaxy have at least one planet, and we have found worlds orbiting stable stars at the right distance (circumstellar habitable zone or Goldilock zone) of the right size and mass. We have discovered building blocks of life on asteroids and comets, as well as compounds which might be produced by life on other planets of our solar system (i.e., seasonal changes of methane and oxygen in the martian atmosphere). Some scientists are even convinced that the Viking probes did actually find life back in the seventies on the surface on Mars. More recently, Avi Loeb has been entertaining the idea of Oumuamua, the first ever detected interstellar visitor to enter our solar system, being an alien artefact. All of this is already quite a lot, and we have not even gotten into what some people might consider more “outlandish” theories, like the UFO/UAP phenomena, alien abductions and contacts with non-human intelligences after ingesting a psychedelic compound.
1. Primitive life in this solar system
Despite what the general population might think, there might be multiple places in this solar system harbouring at least some primitive lifeforms, which evolved independently of Earth life.
The first place is Earth’s hellish twin – Venus. The surface of this world most likely will not host any life due the crushing pressure of around 90 atmospheres, scorching 460°C and sulphuric acid rains. But above the acid clouds, one can find a region in the venutian atmosphere, which has remarkably similar conditions to Earth’s surface, though it is still mainly carbon dioxide and barely any oxygen. The recent discoveries of dark streaks in the atmosphere and of phosphine might indicate some kind of life, but it needs further investigation.
Next up is our other neighbour, Mars. The conditions there are far less deadly than on Venus. Seasonal streaks of mud have been observed on the surface, as well as underground ice, and organic molecules. What might be indicating that something is alive there, are the seasonal changes in methane and oxygen in the atmosphere, which is intriguing, to say the least. Any methane in the atmosphere would have been broken down within 300 years (give or take) by UV light, if it weren’t being replenished. Geological activity might be responsible for it, though that does not explain the seasonal changes.
Then there were the famous Viking missions. The landers were equipped with instruments which were meant to find life in the martian soil samples. Although some of the experiments were indeed successful, the results ended up inconclusive at best. The problem might have been in heating up the samples, and as mentioned above, after re-examining the results, some scientists are convinced that the Viking landers did actually find signs of life.
The only way to find out whether there is something once and for all, would be sending a manned mission to the Red Planet. This might happen in the late 2020’s, and the only real contender is SpaceX, led by Elon Musk.
Moving away from the Sun and past the asteroid belt, we have Jupiter. Carl Sagan, as well as Arthur C. Clarke in his brilliant book series 2001: A Space Odyssey, speculated that there might be gaseous lifeforms in its atmosphere. These would be extremely alien, as well as extremely resilient, compared to any known life. As of today, they remain a mere speculation. Or possibility.
A much better target in Jupiter’s space are his moons, mainly Europa. It is a well-established fact that moon (ever so slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon) has a global underground ocean of liquid water, and the entire moon holds much more water than Earth. The entire crust is made of ice, which cracks due to the mighty tidal forces of Jupiter (this keeps the ocean liquid, and as we know from Earth, hydrothermal vents are teeming with life). The cracks themselves are very colourful, which led some to the idea that it might be bacteria responsible for the vivid colours. Scientists have also observed geysers of water on the surface of Europe, similar to the plumes on Enceladus.
Enceladus, one of many moons of Saturn, is similar to Europa, though it is much smaller. Covered entirely in ice, its geysers are relentlessly shooting water into space, creating one of Saturn’s rings, which is the bluest object known in the solar system (fun fact). There is an underground ocean of liquid water to be found, and it has organic compounds in it. Humanity needs to send probes which would be able to physically penetrate the thick icy crusts of both Europa and Enceladus, though this is still decades away. Perhaps a powerful and cheap enough heavy-lift vehicle, like Starship/Super Heavy might speed up the process.
Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons (larger than Mercury) and the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere, is another candidate. In this case any life present would be significantly different to anything known to us and discovering a native lifeform would open our minds to whatever exists on distant exoplanets, as well as once again decrease the chances of being alone in the universe.
With an atmosphere made out of nitrogen, methane and hydrogen, temperatures around -180°C, pressure of 1.45 atm, with lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane and less gravity than the Moon, any life found here would become the discovery of the century. It would not be capable of utilising water like we do, though water is to be found in the crust and as ice solid as rocks, sometimes escaping out of local cryovolcanoes. It would have to rely on the liquid methane raining down from the hazy skies.
Not much is known about the outer reaches of the solar system, as neither Uranus, Neptune, nor the beautiful dwarf planet Pluto, have ever been studied long-term by an orbiter. In fact, no probe has visited the icy gas giants since the 80’s, so I shall leave it there.
2. Life outside of this solar system
Knowing all of the above, the fact that we have found similar objects in other solar systems, as well as planets like mini-neptunes, super-earths, possible water worlds, planets much older than Earth, etc., the chances of all of these objects being sterile are very slim. If we look at the big picture, at the unimaginably high numbers of galaxies, stars and planets in the observable universe, the chances of us being alone are close to zero. If the universe is larger than we currently think, which it might be, it is even more likely that life evolved elsewhere and even surpassed that of Earth. How this kind of life on exoplanets would look like is a whole other question.
From Earth we know that species, despite not being closely related, in order to adapt to an evolutionary pressure, ended up with very similar traits. This is called parallel evolution. Nature always seeks the most effective way and there are many patterns which repeat themselves all over the cosmos, almost in a fractal-like manner. Hence, to me it does not seem very far-fetched to think somewhere out there might be species of humanoid-looking extra-terrestrial inhabiting worlds with similar conditions like Earth. And considering we have found planets much older than Earth (up to 12 billion years old!), it seems likely that some of these civilisations might be ahead of the human race – technologically, and intellectually.
On planets which widely differ from Earth, whether it be super-earths, planets in compact solar systems around red dwarfs, eyeball planets, water worlds, planets with atmospheres unlike Earth’s… it is everyone’s guess what kind of lifeforms might be hiding there. Perhaps we would not be even capable of discerning whether we are dealing with an intelligence or not.
How much a race that is thousands, millions, or billions of years more advanced than we would differ from us, is awfully hard to even imagine. Most of the time we extrapolate from what we know about ourselves in order to envision such civilisations, but that might be truly short sighted. Just because we tend to build great structures, try to control, and manipulate our environment physically, it does not necessarily mean a non-human intelligence a million years ahead of us would do the same, but on a much greater scale. Instead of changing the environment to their needs, they might change themselves. Or they could change the surroundings through means we deem impossible. Have a look at how futurists predicted our times between 1900 and 1950. Now multiply that by a billion and you might get an idea of how alien more advanced non-human intelligences might be.
3. UAP sightings, close encounters and more
I know, UAPs, formerly known as UFOs, alien abductions and related phenomena deserve a separate article, and it is a topic most scientists shy away from. Yet, I cannot leave them out.
Yes, many of the amateur UAP sightings have very ordinary explanations. Meteorological phenomena, drones, experimental aircrafts (like the Stealth bombers), astronomical objects (Venus, bolides, satellites), rocket launches and re-entries… Most scientists would end there and will not look at much more fascinating cases reported by highlycredible and trained witnesses, including US Airforce pilots, commercial pilots and law enforcement officers, data from military radars, FLIR videos directly from military aircraft with metadata, visual encounters from aircraft carriers, as well nuclear installations. These encounters remain unexplained for decades, despites efforts from experts (UAP Taskforce) on behalf of the Pentagon. Most explanations from sceptics fall short to explain these sightings too.
Top secret aircraft of the enemy? Russian or Chinese? Perhaps in some cases. But many of the well documented encounters resist this explanation too. If any state on the planet was capable of constructing a craft which doesn’t need any wings or rotors, without an exhaust, is capable of traversing air as well as water, can do sharp 90 degree turns at insane speeds, can instantaneously accelerate, travel faster than the speed of sound without a sonic boom, and does not make any sound altogether, can drop from 80 000 feet to sea level in less than a second, which are all capabilities of these crafts that have been observed, some of these technologies, or at least the science behind them, would have surfaced to the mainstream. Yet we do not even have an idea how any of that can be possible.
(See the USS Nimitz encounters, Aguadilla sighting, recent leaked material from the UAPTF showing pyramidal UAPs and more).
Alien abductions are an even more controversial topic, and the victims are usually looked down upon as people with mental disorders or simply liars looking for attention. In some cases that might be true. But if there is something we can take from the work of John E. Mack, M.D. (former head of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Pulitzer Prize winner), it is that there are people claiming to have been abducted that are none of the above, and that the scientific establishment is very reluctant to even conduct proper research in this field.
Mack concluded that the contactees he did his research on did have an authentic experience, which led many of them to develop PTSD in many of them (especially those who had a more negative experience, as the nature of these encounters is very varied). Whether these events took place in ordinary reality or solely in the consciousness of the abductees (including infants) is another question. Though there seems to be a physical element to it – arguably the most famous case being that of Travis Walton back in 1975. Multiple witnesses were present, all of them passed lie detectors, Travis was physically missing for 5 days straight and decades later none of the witnesses changes their story.
At the end I would like to add that many of these incidents bare resemblance with folklore and myths from many countries. Small grey boy-ish creatures paralyzing families, intruding into a house despite all doors being locked, light orbs flying in the sky… all that can be found in European folklore from centuries ago. It might well be phenomena that have always been with us throughout the ages, mislabelled in the past, and science has not explained it yet. Whether there is a non-human intelligence behind it remains a possibility.
4. Warping reality
One thing I can say with confidence about a far more advanced non-human intelligence, is that its perception of reality, as well as the way it interacts with these realities, will be vastly different from ours. In more materialistic terms, think of the electromagnetic spectrum. We can see with our eyes only a tiny portion of it. Microwaves, UV radiation, gamma rays, all that is hidden from us. We cannot hear most frequencies, unlike other animals. And our brains have a limit of how much information they can process and be consciously aware of. They do not directly perceive what is “out there”, they construct their own reality. When it comes to the universe at large, most of it is unknown to us. Humans have learned quite a few things about regular matter and energy, yet that is only 4-6% of the entire universe! The other ~95% of the cosmos remains almost entirely unknown to us.
Despite the average person being most of the time convinced that this is the real reality, we do not know what reality truly is and how it looks like. The notion of space-time being base reality, the canvas upon which everything unfolds, might be on its way out. We already know thanks to quantum mechanics, that the cosmos is a, let’s say, very crazy and counterintuitive place on the subatomic level. Some scientists suggest space-time arises from a deeper level of reality which is hidden to us, some even go as far as saying this deeper level of reality is consciousness itself. Sounds familiar? Well, if you are familiar with eastern philosophies and religions, you might see some parallels here. Instead of consciousness arising within the universe, the entire universe arises within consciousness. Beautiful.
Whether this turns out to be true, remains to be seen. Remember, we are always trying to find new models of reality (mental constructs) which encompass and explain observed data and phenomena. And the current models leave us with quite a few questions unanswered.
Back to non-human intelligences. I am convinced these entities, given their longer evolution and greater scientific progress, would have found answers to most of these questions. Resulting in a different relationship with reality than we have, opening up a myriad of possibilities for them.
Now, can we humans interact with other realities? Perhaps even encounter other entities there? We do have reports of people throughout the millennia accessing other realms and communicating with beings in those realities, by means of changing their state of consciousness. There is one state of consciousness which modern humans can reliably induce and study. It involves ingesting a psychedelic compound, just like many of our ancestors in pretty much every culture around the world did. These compounds include psilocybin, mescaline, LSD as well as the most powerful molecule known to man – DMT, which can be found in every mammal, including Homo Sapiens Sapiens. All of the aforementioned molecules have been found to be anti-addictive and have many therapeutical uses when administered correctlyand in the right set and setting. (By no means am I encouraging anyone to take any legal or illegal substance, this entire post is a mere thought experiment with the ultimate aim to expand the reader’s horizon).
Especially in the case of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), witnesses experience a reality switch, where one can no longer perceive this reality even with open eyes. Instead, they enter a much more vivid psychedelic reality. Many would dismiss this as meaningless hallucinations, but the researchers conducting rigorous scientific enquiry into these experiences, like professor of psychiatry Rick Strassman, would argue otherwise. The test subjects described it as being more real than real and, in many cases, it was one, if not the most meaningful experience of their lives. These test subject often reported encountering other entities in the “DMT realm” which communicated with them. Whether these are actual non-human intelligences and not part of the test subject’s subconscious mind remains to be seen and it is part of Dr. Andrew Gallimore’s (computational neurobiologist, pharmacologist, chemist, and writer) ongoing research and efforts into mapping out the DMT realm and bringing back valuable information.
5. Final words
These were some of the themes and premises I worked with when writing my sci-fi debut Ascension whilst letting my imagination go wild. Whether there are creatures reaching out to us during altered states of consciousness, scanning our nuclear arsenals, taking us away whilst we sleep in the middle of the night or not, that was not the main point of this post. What I want you to take away is knowing that the probability of extra-terrestrial life is exceedingly high and that it is acceptable to entertain sometimes unacceptable ideas. Ideas that are being ridiculed or frowned upon. Remember, most of today’s knowledge used to be an absurd idea rejected by the establishment in the past.
In an infinite universe, everything becomes an inevitability.
Some of you coming to my website might be completely new to this, perhaps you’ve seen some cool videos on YouTube, and now you are curious. You are at the right place!
Calisthenics, sometimes referred to as Street Workout, is a way of training using one’s bodyweight as resistance, as opposed to using external weights and resistance machines, for example in bodybuilding. It is the oldest training method, predating all of today’s popular workout styles by thousands of years, but more on its history in a later blog post.
Unfortunately, as the use of dumbbells, loaded barbells, bulky machines, and later kettlebells took off, Calisthenics slowly disappeared out of mainstream gyms in the 20th century. What’s left are some circuit classes using the absolutely easiest bodyweight exercises and bastardized versions of some of the greatest exercises one can do. And gymnastics. That’s the only discipline reminding people that one can perform amazing feats of strength solely by training with one’s bodyweight. But for the vast majority of the population, it remains too inaccessible and it’s a lot more rigid than the old school calisthenics we are discussing here.
This way of using calisthenics in modern-day gyms is merely scratching the surface. The true potential of this truly ancient practice is far greater than most realize. Despite fitness moving towards big gyms and the use of heavy and expensive equipment, there were places where the original hardcore way of training calisthenics survived.
Prisons. Now, to make one thing clear, I never did time. But the legendary and elusive author of the book series Convict Conditioning, coach Paul Wade, did. That’s the book that got me into Calisthenics at a time where I was still mainly into martial arts but found myself without access to a gym. In jails like San Quentin the inmates didn’t have the luxury of using all this fancy modern equipment and getting seriously strong was a matter of survival, not impressing women.
Many of these prisoners knew a thing or two about strength training, and some of them even trained directly with the famous late 19th and early 20th century strongmen, which actually utilized bodyweight training quite a lot. And that’s where Progressive Calisthenics and the backbone of this system, the Big Six, survived, and later thanks to the aforementioned publications, YouTube and some very talented athletes seeped through into the mainstream.
To dispel a few myths straight away, yes, you can get insanely strong and build an impressive physique just by doing Calisthenics. There’s plenty of athletes to prove this point – from old-school strongmen to modern-day fitness influencers on social media. And by impressive physique I mean a “Greek god” or natural bodybuilder type of physique, rather than a Mr. Universe bubble gut type physique of someone taking a lot of, ahem, “supplements”.
Human muscles don’t know the difference between you lifting a barbell or just lifting yourself up. Resistance is resistance. And when it comes to the muscle fibers themselves, they only know two things: on, off. That’s it. Now the question is, can you get enough resistance for serious strength and hypertrophy gains without external weights? Well, depends.
If you use the modern “new school” calisthenics exercises, maybe when you are a beginner. You’ll get a bit stronger and some extra definition at the beginning. These exercises have their place and benefits, but if we’re talking pushing one’s limits to the extreme, getting insanely strong, mastering some crazy feats of strength, and putting on a few pounds of lean muscle, then no. How does it work then?
The answer lies in exploiting the right kind of leverage in the right progression. The Big Six consists of only 6 exercises (or I should say movement patterns), and each has ten different levels. Every level is slightly more difficult than the previous one. You build strength using one level and once can perform a decent amount of reps, you start practicing the next progression. Think of the Kneeling Push Up and how much harder a Full Push Up is. The difference is in leverage. And trust me, once you master the last ten progressions (and I’m saying once instead of if, because anyone can achieve it! You’re f***ing awesome!), you’ll be brutally strong! And you’ll have at least two world records under your belt
When it comes to building muscle, time under tension, training till failure, using drop sets, supersets, rest-pause method… all that can be applied to calisthenics. Endurance? No problem. You can chose some easier variations and put them into HIIT circuit, or do hundreds of reps David Goggins-style.
We will get into the pros and cons of Progressive Calisthenics, as well as history, in another post, before this one gets too long. Small spoiler – there’s a lot of benefits…