Calisthenics making a big comeback

It’s widely undisputed knowledge that to fully develop as an athlete, you need to do more than just practice your sport. Hours upon hours of training and sacrifice are usually required for an athlete to succeed, and there’s no cliché in the sports world quite like the one that two-to-three hour weight training sessions consisting of heavy bench pressing and squatting are the way to go. However, some in the sports world are beginning to disagree with that sentiment.

As bodyweight training, also known as calisthenics, re-emerges into the public light as an easy, inexpensive pathway to healthy bodies, many have wondered if such simplistic training with only one’s body can lead to gains in their respective sports.

Despite critics arguing that the body itself will never truly offer enough resistance to build strength and muscle like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting do, the calisthenics concept is developing more and more traction in the sports world.

Many point to the success of former star NFL running back and all-American sprinter Herschel Walker as an argument for what calisthenics can do. Walker grew up overweight and uncoordinated and began to work to change his body in middle school. A track and field coach told him achieving his goal was simple — work hard, and commit to a regimen of sprints, pushups and sit-ups.

Walker, who reportedly never touched a weight until his college days and even then only for team-mandated workouts, started his workout program and stuck with it religiously. Eventually, he built up to 2,000-3,000 pushups and sit-ups per day, as well as incorporating pull-ups, sprints and other exercises into his workout repertoire. Walker credits his calisthenics and cross-training for his success in the athletics world.

“I was doing CrossFit before they gave it a name,” Walker said in an interview.

Walker’s results speak for themselves when your accomplishments include Olympic bobsledder, Heisman trophy winner, and track and field all-American. It’s hard to argue with the training methods. Others in the athletics world have attempted to replicate such results with their athletes and bodyweight training.

Matt Potak, a personal trainer and high school football and wrestling coach in Florida, published his experimentation with bodyweight training online.

“I remembered that my coaches were big believers in bodyweight training,” Potak said of his high school wrestling days. “Our coaches insisted all we needed was running shoes and a pull-up bar. I remember getting great results training with these types of bodyweight routines.”

While coaching wrestling one season, Potak noticed his athletes had reached a level of exhaustion and plateaus lifting weights, and proceeded to implement an all- calisthenics routine. The results were beyond satisfactory, and Potak was impressed.

“We increased our strength and endurance levels as a team by performing this for one month,” Potak said. “If you’re bored with your current program, give bodyweight training a chance and see if it’s for you. You will see that bodyweight training can help you with all your goals.”

So as athletes look toward the future of strength and conditioning, could reclaiming the glory days of ancient Spartan and Roman warriors and bodyweight beasts such as Herschel Walker and Walter Payton be the next avenue? For those athletes and non-athletes alike looking to build a healthier, stronger and better performing body, it can’t hurt to find out.

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