The Pleasure of Calisthenics

by Matt Schifferle on July 9, 2013

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It’s a pleasant Sunday morning at the gym and my friend is looking at me like I’ve turned into the Mad Hatter.  Someone on the treadmill asks from behind me,“What are you on and how do I get some?”

I’ve just finished a set of pull ups and I’m jumping around the gym like a man possessed. I’m smiling ear to ear and in a state of near euphoria.

“Calisthenics” I answer the guy on the treadmill. “It’s a good trip you should get on it.”

I’ve done all manner of exercise from bike racing to weight lifting over the years but nothing makes me feel as alive as calisthenics. The reason can be summed up in just two words:

Body awareness.

At the PCC, the term body awareness was thrown around quite a bit. Some were crediting it for the reason why the strength of calisthenics transferred so well to sports and activities. Others gave body awareness credit for the power to push themselves beyond perceived limits. But while all that stuff is great, I believe it’s the power to deeply enjoy an exercise that makes heightened body awareness so rewarding.

As a trainer I’ve noticed a relationship between how much a client is aware of their body and how much negativity or enjoyment they experience from it.

In the case of a negative relationship, individuals often regard their body as an opposing force. They relate to their physique as something that must be tamed and (heaven forbid) punished into submission. This often creates an inner conflict through which they have little hope of winning. As I always say, you simply cannot fight yourself and win.

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On the other hand, if someone has a heightened sense of body awareness they tend to foster far less negativity about their body and how it operates. In some cases, they even find the work pleasurable. They understand that the burning muscle and labored breathing isn’t their body punishing them, but rather those are the sensations of applying their own strength and discipline through the power of their mind. They feel strength surging through their body rather than struggle.

Calisthenics is unique in the fact that body awareness and appreciation is required to do the exercises. It’s very difficult to even attempt some of the moves without a high level of physical awareness.

For some folks, the requirement of awareness is scary and intimidating. They can’t distract their attention with a TV or smartphone. For others, like myself, the focus allows us to savor the rich sensations that can saturate our exercise experience.

In either case, turning the attention inward and savoring the sensations of an exercise can be a deeply enjoyable experience. So much so, that it can even make someone who once greatly disliked exercise to jump for joy while doing it.

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Matt Schifferle a.k.a The Fit Rebel made a switch to calisthenics training 5 years ago in an effort to rehab his weight lifting injuries. Since then he’s been on a personal quest to discover and teach the immense benefits of advanced body weight training.  You can find some of his unique bodyweight training methods at www.RedDeltaProject.com.

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  • Joel

    Matt, I don’t think I’ve ever put in into words or heard it described as well as you did in this post, but I completely agree. Too many view exercise as a chore – a necessary evil. If you’re focused on how much you dislike it the whole time, it definitely won’t be sustainable long-term! I like the distinctions you made on body awareness and making it an enjoyable process…

  • Matt!!!! Awesome article, brotha!!! SOOO psyched you attended this course!!!!!

  • Aleks Salkin

    Great point on calisthenics as encouraging body awareness, Matt! I have to agree 100% – since I’ve taken up calisthenics, my body awareness has been through the roof. I now even have body super awareness in some cases – I’m able to do things I don’t train for simply because my body knows how to move and how everything connects one to another.

    Chalk it up amongst the myriad benefits of training your body with your body 🙂

  • Mark

    Respect!! Great explanation, Matt! I’m looking forward to attending a future PCC.

  • HardShellBen

    Matt – great article! It was pretty awesome to meet you at this thing. I have shared much of what we learned with the people in my Kettlebell classes with excellent results. I like to start with calisthenics and watch the smiles begin.
    Lots of times, it feels like play, and sets the mood for the whole workout.
    Keep it up man!
    Ben Swarts

  • Paul Wade

    The Fit Rebel is now The Fit Rebel PCC!!

    Awesome article from an awesome coach. Admired the Red Delta Project and your other work to promote strength-calisthenics for a long time now.
    This community is getting to be phenomenal….

  • BertoftheMisc

    Been following your channel for a long time!

  • Barscience

    Excellent article.

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