The School of Calisthenics Framework
The School of Calisthenics Framework provides athletes with a progressive system that enables students to learn and achieve the various skills and movements in calisthenics. The calisthenics framework, outlined below, caters for all ability levels, as we will provide you with the exercises necessary to begin or support your calisthenics journey but also a selection of tools that can you can use to make exercises easier or more difficult. Applying the framework and training at the right level of difficulty will support you to achieve your calisthenics goals. All you have to do is add is some time, persistence and consistency. Do that and the framework will take you there.
The School of Calisthenics Framework consists of two main components; Movement and Strength, with each having two sub phases, Movement is made up of Movement Preparation and Movement Patterning. Applied Strength and Capacity Strength make up the Strength component.
Figure one: The School of Calisthenics Framework
Due to the demands of calisthenics training an important consideration of a well structured training programme should be to limit the risk of injury. Because of this the framework has been designed to not only guide you safely through your journey but also improve you general functional movement, health and wellbeing at the same time. You don’t have to be a gymnast to use the framework and no prior experience in any calisthenics style training is required. Our tutors are testament to this. The School of Calisthenics is about real people bringing progressive training to other real people, who like us, just want to be awesome!
Stage One: Movement
Your body is an extremely well designed machine and has the capacity to provide you with all the movement options you will ever need. Level one movements like getting out of bed and walking around are pretty easy for the body to manage, we get a lot of practice and the brain knows them well. They also require very small range of movement around the joints involved and minimal amounts of strength. But if we have the desire to learn more advanced movements, like those found in calisthenics, and more specifically movements that we can’t currently perform, we are going to have to do some physical and neural teaching. To effectively educate our kinetic chain (the systems within our body which manage movement) we require two components; Movement Preparation and Movement Patterning.
Your body tells a story of the decisions you have made in your life. What sports you have played, the type of training you do, how sedentary you are, what job you have etc. Throughout our lives our bodies have supported us in these decisions and depending on how well we have looked after it will determine its current physical state.
Not everyone arrives at his or her training session in prime physical condition to do a human flag. This movement requires the arms to be held overhead, fully extended, abducted, externally rotated and under tension. The shoulder has a high capacity for movement but that comes at the cost of stability and simply creating the body shape to hold a flag is one of the biggest challenges. Add in the fact that many people sit at desks, in cars and on sofas for many hours a day.
This leads to poor shoulder posture, restricted range of movement and disrupts the ability of muscles around a joint to work together. If we ignore this we face an increased injury risk and place a limiter on our ability to progress. We must therefore prepare the body for movement. Movement Preparation is about restoring the body to as close to it’s optimum as possible. It’s an ongoing process but real changes can be achieved in minutes within a session. Our aim is simply to remove muscular tension, improve muscle length, enhance mobility and activate the muscles we intend to use thus preparing us to move.
Whether you are new to calisthenics or a seasoned athlete your long-term progression will require you to learn new movement patterns. Movement is a skill, and like mastering any skill you must expose yourself to the stimulus. You may already have the strength to do a reverse lever but your kinetic chain does not know how. When we practice movement patterns they become more automated, remember the first time you tried to ride a bike?
In the handstand you are trying to move and control hold yourself in a position you body will have never been in before. In all fairness, your nervous system has absolutely no idea how to co-ordinate this the fist time you try it. But it’s an amazing piece of kit and will learn extremely quickly if it gets repeated opportunity to practice. This part of the framework focuses on teaching new movement patterns or enhancing existing ones before we proceed to add strength. Overall, Movement is focused on optimizing joint range of motion to allow us to create the desired shape using the correct muscle activation and firing patterns.
Stage Two: Strength
Strength is an essential part of calisthenics. The ratio of how much force we can produce relative to our body mass is going to be a determining factor in achieving many movements. Effective, safe and enjoyable progression along our individual training journey requires us to develop more strength but we can enhance and speed our development by making that strength adaptation more specific to the movements we are aspiring to.
Put simply this is about creating strength in positions which are similar to the movement pattern you are aiming to develop, but that are easier to perform. For example, it’s very hard for people to develop the strength required to do handstand push up by trying to do it a freestanding position. The movement pattern is too complex and there are far too many variables for the brain to manage simultaneously. During your Movement Patterning phase you will have made some steps towards teaching the brain but now we focus on the physical adaptation of increasing force production rather than the more neural focused stimulus.
The Applied Strength phase introduces exercises that follow a progressive continuum from beginner to expert and everything in between. Correct technique is still of primary importance to ensure you progress effectively by developing the appropriate strength in the movement pattern required. You’ll hear us use the phrase ‘earn the right to progress’ and it should be ringing in your ears during this phase of the framework. If you try and skip elements of the movement which you can’t do in an effort to fast track towards the end goal we guarantee at some point you will have to come back and earn that strength. Therefore in the interests of your long-term progression, ensure you have mastered each progression before movement on to the next. Calisthenics is a journey and some journeys take longer than others, that’s just the way it is, so embrace it and enjoy it.
There is no set specific numbers to hit before you can progress, only you know when you’re ready for the next level! We will however give you some guidance and introduce you to the locker which will become a welcome allie in developing Applied Strength.
The skill component that is central to calisthenics can sometimes become too prominent within sessions. The truth is, the central nervous system can only take so much stimulus in one sitting before it fatigues. But that is not a bad thing as an equally important part of your progression is getting strong. Remember, beauty and strength. Capacity strength is about ‘numbers’, which in training terms means volume and intensity. Sometimes the sticking point in our progress is plain and simple…. we aren’t strong enough! Technique is still vitally important, however the exercises in the Capacity Strength stage are less technically difficult than in Applied Strength and are based on more traditional body weight training.
There are no short cuts for building the overall strength required for calisthenics, that means getting some reps in your ‘calisthenics bank’ and earning your right to progress through hard work. The calices on your hands are your trophy and show success in this stage of the framework! Once again the locker becomes an integral part of successful Capacity Strength and utilising it to create different adaptations such as endurance, muscle development (hypertrophy), maximal strength or power will be key.