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    What I’ve learned the last 5 years

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    It’s a common time of year to reflect back on what’s been happening in our lives, however I’ve been in a very reflective mood for weeks and months. As I was reflecting on this rather than looking back on just 2018 I was prompted by ‘Facebook memories’ of what happened 5 years ago this week.

    It really surprised me and changed my perception of reflecting on time. 5 years ago I hung my boots up and retired from a professional rugby career after medical advice due to a series of head injuries.

    I couldn’t believe it was 5 years ago. What on earth had happened in the last 5 years? I’d certainly never even heard about calisthenics let alone trained for it or started the School of Calisthenics with Tim!

    I started reflecting on what life was like back then and how much things have changed. When I look back on how much my training has changed as I started calisthenics, I started thinking about all the mistakes I made in the last 5 years!

    Mistakes are great though because it’s often when we learn the most and that’s exactly what I want to share in this blog. Over the last 5 years I’ve probably made all the mistake you can, which has helped me learn so much along the way!

    I’ve pulled together the top 5 things I’ve learned in the last 5 years, as I transitioned from injury and rehabilitation from professional rugby into calisthenics. My hope is that these lessons I’ve learned can help with your training and stop you making the same mistakes I made.

    What I've learned the last 5 years 1

    5 Lessons I learned in calisthenics

    #1.  Acceptance

    We all have different starting points. The fact that we are all different is what makes us unique after all. For me injuries played a large part in my rugby career. The last 6 years of my rugby career I broke at least one bone every year, a few operations and a series of concussions that put an end to the ‘fun’! Joking aside it was fun – I loved it and wouldn’t change anything really, other than try to avoid injury a little more, as it’s made me who I am today. The type of person I am as well as the way my body functions.

    Some injuries, were fixed other left with a ‘it will be ok’ type of attitude. It was always about trying to get back on the pitch as quickly as possible. So dislocated and broken fingers, AC joints and shoulder blades got to a point of playing again and that was that. I never thought I’d be trying to handstand and human flag after rugby finished so I couldn’t prepare for that.

    When I started calisthenics I would try to fight against these old injuries, wish them away and get frustrated by them. I’d then try and fix then with mobility and stability exercises before more recently coming to accept where my body is, what can and cannot be improved and take a far more gentle and accepting view of what I can do today. For example my shoulders aren’t strong enough for a straddle planche, although I’d love to be able to… but I’m cool with that now!

    That’s not to be confused with a defeatist attitude. I’m not saying that I won’t be able to do things like a straddle planche in the future. I’m just accepting where my body is right now and not trying to push or force it when it’s not ready!

    It’s actually kinda nice and ‘freeing’ to accept it rather than fight it… but knowing that one day I’ll redefine my impossible again, it’s just in the future.

    #2. Be kind

    Be kind to yourself. Being kind to our minds and bodies compliments the ‘acceptance’ lesson nicely. The mistake I made because I wasn’t accepting of where I was starting meant that I forced things too much at the beginning. I felt like I was or should be stronger at bodyweight training than I actually was.

    Lifting weights for rugby performance made me strong and powerful but the reality was, I’d been out of training for nearly 6 months getting over my head injury. My bench and overhead press were always weak and a handstand push up is just a different kettle of fish… as Tim always says “you must earn the right to progress” whereas at the beginning I wanted to start at the end goal!

    So be kind to your body, enjoy the journey and immerse yourself in the process rather than the end goal is my advice. It’s in that journey and enjoying the process where the magic of learning and satisfaction are developed… Don’t wish it away to get to the end goal sooner!

    #3. Have fun but not ‘too much’!

    You’ll often hear us talking about ‘having fun getting strong’ and I’m not trying to be a party pooper with lesson #3. One of the best and most enjoyable things about calisthenics in my personal experience is that we get to ‘play’ when we’re training and have fun.

    However a lesson I’ve learned over these 5 years is that if the things you are working on, the impossible you want to redefine, are based on strength (which most of mine were) you need to be spending time getting strong too!

    I recently gave some advice to a friend who wants to improve on his frog to handstand and muscle ups. I said to him “spend the next few months getting strong at weighted pull ups, weighted dips and wall handstand push ups and the rest will look after itself”! Reflecting on my own journey in the last 5 years, if I focused just on the strength of my pull ups, dips and handstand push ups, I’m pretty sure I’d be monster strong by now.

    But what about all the fun and play in training Jacko? You’re right, it’s a balance and everything comes at a cost to something else. My training had been out of balance, too much fun and experimenting with progressions and not enough basic strength. I need to keep the balance of play and strength in proportion to my goals. You might be the other way round and need more play, but just be aware and understand the balance and keep it in line with your goals.

    Lesson learned for me. 2019 is the year to get strong!

    #4. Comparison

    Who, what and why are we comparing ourselves with? This is one of the toughest lessons to learn in my opinion. It feels like human nature, we almost can’t help ourselves in comparing ourselves to others. You might be feeling bad because you compare yourself to someone who is far better or further along their calisthenics journey to you and that’s not fair. We can also use it to try and make ourselves feel better. When we see ourselves as learning something faster or better than a training partner or someone else in the gym.

    It’s still a comparison and in my opinion, comparisons hold us back. Even if in the short term it makes you feel good about yourself because you’re on the positive end of the comparison, I still think they hold us back.

    Let me explain. Going back to lesson #1 acceptance, I mentioned that we all have different starting points, different strengths, weakness etc and we’re all unique. That in its very nature makes any comparison to anyone else unfair and invalid. In science you try to create a ‘fair test’ by reducing as many variables as possible. If you have too many variables the result of the test become irrelevant or invalid because you have no idea what’s causing the changes and differences.

    It’s the same with our comparisons in training. No one in the whole world is just like you. No one else is just like me, so why are we making unfair comparisons.

    Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others, its not fair on ourselves and if we want to make any comparisons look back at the start of your own calisthenics journey and see how far you’ve come!

    #5. Who’s in control?

    The final lesson I learned and which I still battle with today (to be fair all 5 of these lessons I still battle with continually) relate to training frequency and rest.

    I’ve always loved training and hated missing out on it when I’ve been injured in the past. Back when I played rugby we had a full training schedule. In heavy training blocks we could be training 2 or 3 times a day and it was all dictated by the head coach. In the gym the strength and conditioning coach dictated what we did; how many reps, how long we’d train for and how many times per week etc.

    I was someone always eager to train and always remember doing ‘extras’ trying to improve myself and my skills. There would be times after some testing and screening that the S&C coach would say “no gym today, your nervous system is too fatigued”. I’d be devastated but there wasn’t much I could do, “you need rest Jacko”! So although I didn’t like it he was in charge and rest was taken. It was needed because recovery is so important and my test results showed I’d just not recovered from the previously day’s training.

    The problem I have now is that I’m in charge. No coach, no trainer to tell me what do and when to take rest. At first I loved it and is actually one of the reasons I started calisthenics. I remember being in the gym and looking around at all weights thinking they were starting to get pretty boring pretty quickly when not training for rugby. I thought to myself “you can do anything, train anything, lets have some fun!”

    That was great and I started my love of calisthenics, but the problem I have now is there’s no one to say “rest Jacko” – I need to say it to myself but I find it sooooooo hard!

    In the last 5 years I’ve always made the most progress in my training when I’ve been strict with myself on more rest days. Two or even three rest days in a week sometimes and I’d feel so much better. But I guess I’m addicted to training and my mind wants to do it everyday but my body just can’t.

    Some people struggle with motivation to train and find it hard to get to the gym. I’m the opposite and I know from speaking with lots of you on Facebook and Instagram you’re very similar. I know when I rest more I progress more and the lesson for me is to keep reminding myself of that when I’m planning out my training.

    I really hope these 5 lesson can help you. I’d love to hear if any of you have experienced some of the mistakes and learned similar lessons in your own journeys. Drop me an email at I’d love to hear from you.

    Merry Christmas to you all and for one last time in 2018…

    Class dismissed


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