How to Structure a Calisthenics Training Session

Apr 1 / Jacko

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Structure your training sessions around two key components: Movement + Strength
  • Movement: Select exercises that help you to move better and prepare you for the session ahead
  • Strength: Exercises need to focus on getting you stronger for the specific skill or movement you're working on and continually build a bigger base of strength. 
  • Hand-balancing skill training fits perfectly between the Movement + Strength phases of a programme. 

INTRODUCTION

This week we are going into more detail on how to structure actual sessions, the key phases of a training session that should be included. All of this information being based around the ‘School of Calisthenics Framework’. Finally we’ll end by looking into some specific example sessions that you can go away and try for yourself!

Where do we start? The basis for your session in its simplest form should include 2 main parts, based on the two building blocks of the ‘School of Calisthenics Framework’; Movement & Strength.

movement

This is essentially your warm up. It’s important that it’s specific to the training session you are about to embark on. It needs to involve some Movement Preparation to mobilise the joints and restore range of motion in those joints you are about to train.

It should also include some activation or Movement Patterning of the muscles you are going to be using. (In all of our online training programmes there are specific exercises outlined to target the key areas of Movement for specific training outcomes).
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The amount of time allocated and spent on this phase of your training session will be dependant on your identification of weaknesses. Many beginners in calisthenics struggle with shoulder mobility and tightness through the upper body and therefore initially need to spend more time during the warm up creating more range of movement that can then be effectively trained later.

The amount of time allocated and spent on this phase of your training session will be dependant on your identification of weaknesses. Many beginners in calisthenics struggle with shoulder mobility and tightness through the upper body and therefore initially need to spend more time during the warm up creating more range of movement that can then be effectively trained later.

strength

This is where the bulk of your hard work is done. Strength work is sub-divided in the ‘School of Calisthenics Framework’ into Applied Strength, where you’re aiming to build specific strength for a particular calisthenics movement like a Human Flag or Back Lever. And Capacity Strength, where you are building either more global strength, foundation strength for beginners or using them for conditioning purposes.

Training sessions can involve either one of both elements of Applied Strength or Capacity Strength depending on the goals you’ve set yourself, the weaknesses you’ve identified and how far along your Calisthenics journey you’ve come. Beginners will often work more on Capacity Strength, then after that foundation strength has been successfully built, progress onto more Applied Strength as they chase after their first ‘impossible’ Calisthenics Movement!

WHERE DOES HAND BALANCING AND SKILL WORK FIT IN?

This is a hugely important point and one that often gets missed or not address correctly. The problem often arises, as it’s something that isn’t often considered or challenged in traditional strength training programs. However like in a traditional strength or power training program you’d do your more explosive powerful and more technical lifts at the beginning of a session (after appropriate warm up) rather than at the end, the same can be said with hand balancing and skill work.

Cognitively demanding exercises (exercises and skills that require large amounts of brain power!) bridge the gap between Movement Patterning and Applied Strength in the Framework. Due to the cognitive demand of the skills it’s important to do them at the beginning of the session whilst the nervous system is ‘fresh’ so that you can create the best adaptation. Skills such as hand balancing in frogstands and handstands of course have a strength element (hence the cross between Movement Patterning and Applied Strength) but the proprioception and co-ordination of the hand balancing and total body control is one that’s demanding on entire neuromuscular system.
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Doing this type of work at the end of the session could not only increase your chance of injury but you’ll slow down your development and the learning process. So it’s best to hit these at the end of your warm up and bridge the gap between your Movement Patterning and Applied Strength or Capacity Strength phases of your workout.

It’s worth mentioning that because hand balancing can be extremely fun and enjoyable as well as the fact that you get to experience improvements very rapidly (within minutes during a session) it can be easy to fall into the trap of getting ‘addicted’ and spending way too much time doing them! It’s a trap we’ve fallen into many times! You’ll know if you’ve experienced it because you’ll have set aside maybe 10 or 15 minutes of hand balancing practise and then an hour later completely exhausted you notice that you start getting progressively worse. The more you try at this point the worse you get! Don’t worry though, you’re not actually getting worse, you’ve just done too much and your nervous system is completely smoked. It’s time to move onto something else! But better than that try to restrict yourself to between 10 and 20 minutes and then move on, even if you’re having ‘a ball’!

EXAMPLE SESSION PLANS

Ok so lets give you some examples to see how it all fits together. Included below are two session plans that could fit into the Training Template for a; Beginners Capacity session as well as a specific movement workout, a Handstand session for Beginners.

BEGINNER CAPACITY SESSION

This is focused on building basic foundation Movement and Strength for calisthenics. It’s based around Capacity Strength exercises all of which can be found in our Bodyweight Basics programme.

Warm Up: Restoring shoulder posture and range of motion at the shoulder joint.

Movement Preparation focuses on the shoulders

Exercise – SMR Pecs + Lats (1min each)

Exercise – Hanging Shoulder Mobilisation (1min each arm)

Movement Patterning focusing on the core and posterior shoulder / mid back to help activate.

Exercise – Floor YTW 12 reps x 2 Sets (controlled tempo)

Capacity Session: Basic Pushing, Pulling and Core strength

Circuit of exercises

Push – Push Up Plus

Core 2 – Walkouts

Pull – Bodyweight Ring Row

Core 1 – Deadbug

Reps & Sets: 8 to 12 Reps of each exercise x 2 to 4 laps of the circuit.

BEGINNERS HANDSTAND SESSION

Warm Up: Restoring shoulder posture and range of motion at the shoulder joint.

Movement Preparation focuses on the shoulders

Exercise – SMR Pecs + Lats (1min each)

Exercise – Hanging Shoulder Mobilisation (1min each arm)

Movement Patterning focusing on the core and posterior shoulder / mid back the help activate.

Exercise – Floor YTW 12 reps x 2 Sets (controlled tempo)

Exercise – Wall Handstand holds 3 to 5 reps / attempts of 5 to 20 Second holds

Applied Strength: Strength exercises specific to the handstand focusing on shoulder pushing strength where must people are weakest.

Exercise – Frog Stand Progressions 3 to 5 reps x 3 to 5 sets

Exercises – Pike Push Ups 3 to 5 reps x 3 to 5 Sets

Capacity Strength: Global pushing strength exercises

Exercise – Standard Push Ups 12 to 20 reps x 2 to 3 Sets

The majority of the exercises featured are included in our Bodyweight Basics programme which you can try on a 7-Day Free Trial as part of any membership

If you have any question please get in touch and we’re more than happy to help you along your Calisthenics journey. If you give these sessions a go please let us know how you get on and if you found the article useful on how to plan a session then please LIKE & SHARE to help someone else just like you.

Enjoy the journey

Jacko
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