Singapore Calisthenics scene has been rising the past few years. A mix of seasoned fitness enthusiasts and people who are just getting started in fitness gives Calisthenics training a try. The biggest question is, what is the best way for beginners to get started.
Here is a 5-step approach to safely and effectively learn Calisthenics training as a beginner in Singapore:
- Develop body awareness
- Learn the fundamental exercises correctly
- Be patient as your body takes time to develop
- Know when it's time to progress
- Stimulate growth with movement training
1. Develop body awareness
Calisthenics training is a very simple exercise where you only use your own bodyweight to increase or decrease the resistance of your exercise. It doesn't utilize a lot of equipment to complete a Calisthenics session.
With this simplicity lies a hidden complexity on the inside. You are not relying on how many plates you place on the bar, neither depending on a piece of equipment for your body alignment.
This means that you need to know how your body feels and how it is positioned in relation to your arms or legs to dial in the intensity. This will make it more complex for beginners to understand.
Going straight into the Calisthenics exercise might lead to putting too much or too little intensity that your body needs to progress. It is like going straight into the squat rack without knowing how much the bar and the plates weighed in total.
Here are two ways to develop awareness:
Breaking down the exercise into different parts before attempting to do it.
For example, doing a push-up exercise might be considered as only one exercise, but if you look closely, it is a combination of a plank and an arm pushing exercise.
So breaking down the push-up exercise to develop that strength needed to do a plank and doing a separate exercise to increase the pushing strength of your arms will make more sense. This will help you learn the push-up faster.
I have written a more in-depth article about how to do a push-up exercise correctly for beginners here.
Attending Pilates or Yoga classes
These classes will teach you to be more sensitive with your body. With its softer and slower approach, it will give you time to gradually build strength and develop mindfulness with your practice which will transfer well in your Calisthenics training.
At Umove Fitness Singapore, we use our Pilates classes as preparatory training for those who are just getting started with Calisthenics training. It is best especially if you are new to exercise in general as it will help you develop good overall strength and flexibility in the body, which you will need in starting with Calisthenics. You can check more of our Pilates classes here.
2. Learn the fundamental exercises correctly
Once you become more aware of your body, it is good to drill into the fundamental exercises. And you need to do these exercises correctly as this will serve as the foundation of your Calisthenics strength training.
Doing the movements in proper form will not only protect you from getting injured, but it will also help you to progress faster.
In our Calisthenics Fundamentals class, we will take you to a step-by-step approach to making sure that you learn to do the exercises correctly. We don't just do general warm-up movements just for the sake of doing them, but we develop warm-up exercises to help you tackle the basic calisthenic movements easily in the session.
3. Be patient as it takes time for your body to get stronger
Calisthenics is one of the types of training that you will get interested in after hearing from one of your friends doing some cool moves or maybe seeing a post on social media. It is very common to show off what people have learned in Calisthenics, like doing handstands or being able to do their first pull-up. This is fair enough as it is such a big achievement to celebrate.
What we have to understand is these skills will take time to learn. You will need to develop a certain amount of strength to do these movements, and your joints will take time to adapt to the loading of these new exercises that you are learning.
Failing to understand this aspect of the training will lead you to quit on the early part of your Calisthenics journey, or worse, it can lead you to get injuries when you push too hard too soon.
For example, people come to us because they want to learn to do handstands in the middle of the room. But when we ask them if they can do a regular push-up on the floor properly, most of the time, the answer is "no, I can't even do one."
You cannot expect your arms to hold your entire bodyweight up in a handstand position when you don't have enough strength to push a fraction of it from the floor.
This doesn't mean that you can't attend a handstand class if you cannot do a single push-up, there is always an easier version for you in the class, but it makes sense for you to work on your push-ups as well.
4. Know when it's time to progress
The key ingredient in reaching high-level Calisthenics training is knowing when to progress to the next exercise. Since Calisthenics exercises don't require fancy equipment, there is no difference between the set-up of a beginner exercise and a very advanced level movement.
For example, you only need the bar to do a basic pull-up, and it's the same set-up as the one-arm pull-up, which doesn't prevent a beginner from trying the other. But there is a world of difference between the two exercises. Unlike a typical gym training where even if you don't look at the numbers, you will see a huge size difference between a 20kg and a 200 kg set-up.
So there is a grey area for beginners to see between the different levels of exercises and how to progress with them. Two things will likely happen:
- Getting stuck with the same exercise - you will end up doing the same exercises for years as you don't know what the next level exercise is or are too scared to try a different one. Increasing the number of repetitions of the same exercise might be your only option to progress. This will lead to stagnation of your level or you getting bored as you don't see variety in your training.
- Going for advanced exercise when not ready - on the other scenario, is you will keep trying more advanced exercises which your body is not ready for. This will lead to a series of failures which will lead you to give up on your training, or worse will be hurting yourself as you attempt on these movements.
There are two things you need to know regarding Calisthenics progression:
a. What is the next level of exercise - knowing the variety of exercises you can do and learning which exercise comes before or after another will help you map your goals better. This will break down a long process into a series of achievable milestones for you to work on.
b. How many repetitions or how long do you need to hold before moving on to the next exercise - once you have learned the variations of the exercises, you will need to know the graduation mark in order for you to be certain that you are ready to proceed to the next level. This mark is expressed as the number of repetitions you can do a dynamic movement or how many seconds you can hold a static exercise.
It's like a test you take in your primary school, so you know you are ready to proceed to the secondary level.
5. Stimulate growth with Movement training
Now aside from working on a series of progressions linearly in Calisthenics training, our body has more capacity than we think to progress further. So how do we tap into this potential? By working with more movement concepts.
Inspired by the training camps and workshops that we have attended from Ido Portal, we have learned that we need to stimulate our bodies organically. So instead of looking at your training as a single line that is growing in length as you progress, you think of it as a circle that is growing bigger as you train.
This part is where we get our training more enjoyable where you can move, work and play more.
Here are the common movements that we work within our Calisthenics classes or in a separate Movement class:
Locomotion training - Your relationship with the floor
In simple terms, it's crawling on the floor with animal movement patterns. This type of training is not only fun but is also very challenging strength-wise and cardiovascular-wise.
This will take your pushing strength to a different level as you will expose your body to different angles of loading that will work on more muscles of the body.
Balance training - it is more important than you think
In the fitness industry, we try to preserve our strength and flexibility as we know that these physical attributes will deteriorate as we age. But it is very rare for a fitness class to work on balance.
In our Calisthenics classes, instead of just resting between the sets, we will go through some balance drills to improve this. And it goes beyond just one leg standing; we work on the rails in different positions and join them together to create movement patterns to improve further.
Coordination exercises for non-dancers
Unless you go to a dance class, coordination training will be left out in the deepest corner of your routine until it is forgotten, especially if you are not good with it. No, we don't dance in our Calisthenics classes, but instead, we work on some coordination drills, which are more doable for most of us non-dancers.
Coordination work doesn't only make your movement better, but there have been ongoing researches that it can stimulate the brain enough that it might be used as a therapy for Dementia. Here is a study from the Cochrane Library about Dance Movement Therapy for Dementia.
Object manipulation - don't spill your coffee while walking
Whether you like it or not, we interact with objects all the time in our daily life, and since we do, we might as well get better at it. A few examples of object manipulation are balancing objects in your hands or as simple as catching balls. This will not only improve how you walk without spilling your coffee but will also improve how you see things around you peripherally.
Like a professional football player handling a soccer ball, you may be amazed at how he juggles the ball, but we forget to admire how he sees everyone else around him while doing it.
Tactical games - beyond internet connection
Regardless of age, there is that child in us that would always want to play. A modified version of a Tag game or a slow-motion play-fight is good enough to stimulate this. It is fun, and it teaches us how to interact and connect with each other physically. In a world where we are getting divided more and more by monitors and mobile screens, this is even becoming more important.
If you are interested in what we teach, you can get our 3 session Introductory package to try our classes here.