Bodyweight Training Isn’t Just For Yoga Moms
In the dark, misty depths of history, when men were violent,
bloodthirsty killing machines and women were slightly less prone to
fomenting a bloodbath, access to gyms was essentially limited to Sparta,
Greece and India. While neither of those nations are known for
producing hulking mounds of sinewy muscle in the modern era, they were
the only two places in the ancient world that boasted gyms. The Spartan
version, called the
agoge, was likely so nightmarish that one
would prefer to have sex with a broken-glass-filled-vagina’d Rosie
O’Donnell. Beginning at the age of seven, Spartan boys were underfed,
underclothed, overworked, beaten, and taught to be
goddamned hard. They were regularly forced to fight to death in an über, super brutal version of MMA called pankration,
in which fish hooking and eye gouging were encouraged. Though they
were gyms, they had no weights to lift- instead the students of the
agoge regularly lifted and carried stones and logs for distance as if they were in the modern World’s Strongest Man.
Spartans also did a lot of group-oriented calisthenics which,
interestingly, led Xerxes to think that they were weaker than a twink
with AIDS. After sending spies to watch the Spartans train, Xerxes
discovered that the Spartans exercised in unison with rhythmic
movements, which the Persians misinterpreted (hilariously) as dancing.
Thus, they thought they could just roll the apparently light-of-heel
Spartans up, and then unknowingly walked right into the teeth of a
well-oiled, incredibly strong war machine (Kagkelidou).
this is the closest thing to Greek Calisthenics you’ll see unless you
go to a Greek Calisthenics revivalist school, find a Crossfitter
obsessed to death with calisthenics, or build a goddamned time machine and
haul your happy ass back to the 2nd Century BC.
The Greek gymnasium was basically Curves for Women in comparison to the more-brutal-than-the-end-of-A-Serbian-Film
In a gymnasium, Athenian men over 18 received all manner of physical
instruction, the basis of which were calisthenics. For those of you
(like myself) who are slobbering history and archeology nerds, the word
calisthenics is actually ancient Greek and derives from the word
which means beauty and strength. The system of calisthenics was
essentially a system of bodyweight exercises that combined the goals of
hypertrophy, balance, strength, and endurance (with a healthy dose of
philosophy thrown in on top, because the Greeks were awesome like
that). Thus, it wasn’t so much a sport as it was a training system in a
cool-ass community center designed to make people awesome.
Somebody had to have modeled for this, so I’d say calisthenics are pretty freaking effective.
calisthenics have been revived and popularized in urban areas, more or
less, by teams like Barstarzz or other street performers. The system as
the Greeks originally conceived, consisted of ground work like pushups,
ultra wide grip static hold
pushups, handstands, handstand pushups, situps, leg raises, lunges
combined with a sort of Thai push kick, pistol squats, leaping front
kicks, high knees, and the like. They also did bar and ring work for
the upper body, much as you’d see modern gymnasts do- varieties of
pullups and muscleups and static holds. No one died (probably) but
given the state of the physiques on Greek statues, they were some ripped sonsabitches .
It appears you can get a jacked-ass upper body with nothing more than a set of monkeybars on a public playground.
street calisthenics, as it’s known, mostly consists of work on pullup
bars, dip bars, and jungle gyms. It seems to build some incredible
upper body hypertrophy and strength, as well as seriously ripped
physiques. Beyond that, it seems to have become a bit of a performance
art, so like the calisthenics of the Spartans, it could almost be
construed as dance at times. In reality, however, it’s simply a
rhythmic demonstration of incredible strength and muscular control,
which is after all, pretty goddamned cool. There seems to be no real set
program for street calisthenics- the goal is to just get strong and work
on body control. Thus, a heavy dose of dips, pullups, planks, and
squats are encouraged at the start. Then, you basically just play- try
stuff and see if you can do it. Then, get stronger and try again. For
those of you looking for linear periodization, you won’t find it here…
because linear periodization sucks, and we’re not robots.
Pretty serious hypertrophy. These guys are Lee, Ranjit, and Sai of Recession Proof Body (a cool moniker).
none of the above is mind-melting or ground breaking, but people rarely
think of it in terms of strength building. I can personally attest,
however, to the fact that I am far stronger when I include a couple of
20 minute sessions of bodyweight work every week. In fact, when I was
in college, a buddy and I used to “play cards” a couple of times a week,
and that kept us ripped in spite of the fact we were facing a couple of
Blizzards from Dairy Queen every day like we were college girls
sticking their faces under the frozen yogurt machine every day in the
caf. You know- chasing the freshman 15 (which I guess due to inflation
seems to have become the freshman 25, because I’m seeing a lot of
livestock wearing college sorority t-shirts lately). When we played
cards we’d watch either Rocky 3 or Rocky 4 and place a deck of cards
between us. We’d take turns drawing cards, and would do either pushups
(black) or abs (red). Black diamonds were diamond pushups, and red
diamonds were double the situps. We’d go through the deck a couple of
times, and kept me as ripped as a phone book at a strongman competition
and ready as an evangelical Christian dude on his wedding night. In
other words, “playing cards” was awesome addition to my 5-6 days a week
of training. These days, I simply do dips and pullups, which I find to
useful. If I can find a tall stack of mats, I might do high jumps in
between supersets of pullups and dips, or maybe ab wheel.
As this random Russian shows us, it’s all about the pullups.
third group I mentioned at the outset were the Indians, who actually
predated the Greeks and Spartans in terms of having a codified system of
exercise. There are extensive historical texts from early antiquity
regarding exercise, wrestling, and the sport that was eventually
bastardized by hippies in the 1970s called “yoga”. Physical fitness was
prized among the Indians, and every village had a gym in which
villagers trained and wrestled. The calisthenics regime followed by the
Indians is what led to them being the most dominant wrestlers in the
world for centuries, and it’s more brutal than an Al Qaeda execution
Body built entirely by milk, veggies, almonds, chickpeas, and clarified butter, plus bodyweight exercises.
program Indian wrestlers use arose out of this millennia-old system of
training do over 2000 dands (dive bomber pushups) a day, and can
do 1500 of them an hour, and the upper body specialists in India do
over 5000 a day. Additionally, they do two to three thousand bethaks
(free squats standing on their toes) a day, and the fewest a wrestler
will do in a day is 500. On top of that, they do tons of somersaults to
build flexibility and core strength, wrestler’s bridges for their
and headstands. Though they’re now considered weightlifting
implements, another feature of their training that could be replicated
without spending a single dime was club swinging, which could be
replicated simply by swinging a heavy tree branch or log. Again, they
had no program for training- they’d just bust their asses harder than a
slave coal miner in Scotland on the same exercises every day because
they wanted to be better than the next man.
the Pacific Ocean, thousands of blood-crazed, heavily tattooed, hulking
monsters of men, screaming hakas and wielding weapons made of bone,
wood, and sharks teeth built their massive bodies not with calisthenics,
but with the manliest of leisure pursuits- stone lifting, tug-of-war,
wrestling, and boxing. The Hawaiians were, at the time of their
discovery, considered to be some of the most physically striking people
in the world. It’s not hard to imagine Captain James Cook fawning all
over the Hawaiians like a preteen over the Jonas Brothers because he
basically landed on an island filled with clones of The Rock.
Additionally, their strength was considered unparalleled in the Western
world, even at a time when weightlifting and strongman were physically
one of the most, striking native races in the world (Aipa).
as in India and Greece, physical excellence was prized above all in
Hawaiian culture for men. The most famous king in the history of
Hawaii, Kamehameha, was as famous for his strength as he was for his
military prowess. As the 14 year old gripped a stone no other man on
the island could flip, the 2.5 ton “Pöhaku Naha,” he screamed:
“Naha Stone art thou:
And by Naha Prince only may thy, sacredness be broken.
Now behold, I am Kamehameha, a Niau-pio
A spreading mist of the forest.”
that he was, he strained so goddamned hard that blood shot out of his
eyes like he was a superheavy squatting in the WPO, and with blood
dripping from his fingers, he flipped that thing to the amazement
of everyone in attendance (Aipa, Monster).
pretty awesome that the greatest king in Hawaiian history was as famous
for his strength as he was for his conquests, but it’s unsurprising-
pretty much every leisure activity the Hawaiians participated in
showcased physical dexterity or sheer muscle power. Basically, the
Hawaii of yore was like an island filled with hot, strong women and
ultra-tan Hafthór Júlíus Björnssons. Boxing, wrestling, stone lifting,
and tug-of-war were all that were needed- no gym required (Games).
jumping to the mainland were the native peoples of the Americas.
Obviously, they were a very diverse group of people, but from North
America to South America there was a culture of exercise.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much written about any of their specific
exercises, but there are anecdotes. Both the Apache and Iroquois were
known for their extreme endurance and toughness. They were rugged and
incredibly strong, according to explorers like Oglethrope expedition
member Edward Kimber. He commented on the appearance of the Seminoles,
stating, “As to their figure, ‘tis generally of the largest size, well
proportion’d, and robust, as you can imagine Persons nurs’d up in manly
Exercises can be” (AIHDP). Likewise, South Americans were equally
strong and tough, and participated in crazy ass strength and
conditioning sports that were so tough they’d kill Rich Froning- stuff like the favorite pastime of the Ge Indians of South America- log
relays, where participants would carry short logs weighting as much as
200 lbs over courses as long as several hundred yards (Crego 189). As I
said, there is only anecdotal evidence of how they trained, but I found
a video of a Native American warmup that shows that the
Native American warmup is extremely similar to the manner in which the Ancient Greeks trained.
Not a bodybuilder, but the 54 year old world record holder in the pullup.
summary, if you think bodyweight exercise is a bunch of crap, you’re wrong.
Enough hard training in bodyweight work should, if done right, turn you
into a bona-fide badass. And for those of you who think you can’t build
big, stong legs with bodyweight work, consider this- Indian strongman
Monohar Aich had a 660 squat at 159lbs mostly from doing thousands upon
thousands of free squats in prison. Most pehlwani have tree trunk legs
despite eating a meatless diet, all from free squats, and if you look at
Grecian statues, all of the models for those statues had good to great
legs, without weighted squats. Thus, you might want to add in some
bodyweight work if you want to achieve your potential, because it
certainly won’t hurt, and it will almost definitely help.
Now, go do some pullups. Then do some more.
History of Indigenous Activity. American Indian Health and Diet
Project. Web. 28 Jul 2015.
Aipa, Daniel. Is Weightlifting a Hawaiian Practice? The
Ku Project. 16 Mar 2015. Web. 27 Jul 2015.
Crego, Robert. Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.
Games of physical strength. Hawaii History. Web. 27 Jul
Evangelia. Calisthenics, the Yoga of Greeks. Greek Reporter. 9 Oct
2013. Web. 27 Jul 2015.
Monster, Higa. Lifting Stones. AnimalPak. Web. 27 Jul 2017.