Everybody wants to go straight to the advanced moves, but ain’t nobody want to make time for getting better at the basics!
Here at PCC, we get it. Your mind was just blown away from someone’s Facebook picture or YouTube video performing some sexy, ninja-like move that you want to try, too. This simply means you’ve been inspired to either try a calisthenics move (which is cool), or convert your training efforts exclusively toward calisthenics all together (even cooler).
But, like everything else people are good at in life, such graceful displays of strength, control and power require a considerable amount of time and practice to master. Not to mention the patience involved will humble anyone who might already have a strong fitness background from other disciplines (e.g., weight training, dancing and yoga).
That said, before moving on to some of the more advanced variations of calisthenics moves, EVERYONE needs to become proficient in the following basic positions.
1. Full-Depth Squat
Also known as an “ass-to-grass” squat, this is a basic human resting position that involves maximal bending of your hips and knees. NO ONE has any business loading this movement pattern until they can achieve full range-of-motion with their own bodyweight, and still remain upright from a postural perspective.
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing the Squat Chain (i.e., working up towards pistol and shrimp squat variations)
Recommended Practice: Sit in this position for 5-10 minutes daily. The more favorable times to do so are upon waking for the day, before bed, whenever on a rest day and before or after a tough workout. Feel free to shake up social conformity any time you have the opportunity to squat—especially when waiting in line or shopping out in public.
2. Supine Hollow Body
The hollow body is the ultimate educator on the principle of whole body tension. A challenging core workout on its own, this position teaches you the principles of progression in all of calisthenics. More specifically, it allows you to feel the effect of lengthening or shortening the body as a lever for resistance, so you can adapt your training on a given day accordingly. Without understanding the principles of progression in calisthenics, you will only be setting yourself up for failure—and even injury.
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Precision and Control Required in Handstand, Front/Side/Back Levers
Recommended Practice: Maintain this position for a total of 2 minutes on training days involving handstands, front/back levers and human flags. Use as part of a warm-up, or superset with the aforementioned moves as active recovery during a workout (e.g., 8 sets of 15 seconds, 6 sets of 20 seconds, 4 sets of 30 seconds).
3. Hollow Body Leaning Push-Up Plank
By “leaning” into a standard push-up position, you’ll reach a higher level of total body tension that forces you to have greater balance and control over your body. The ability to achieve this position also serves as an excellent confidence booster for when you start experimenting with moves that involve less point(s)-of-contact with the ground.
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Midsection Floor Holds (e.g., N/L/V-Sits, Side Planks, Planche, Manna), Inversions and Elbow Levers
Recommended Practice: Use as part of a warm-up on workout days involving midsection floor holds, as a “finisher” on workout days involving push-ups or as active recovery on workout days involving vertical and horizontal pull-ups. Work up to holding this position for a solid 2 minutes without form breakdown.
4. Hollow Body Backbend
When it comes to improving overall mobility, look no further than backwards bending (AKA “bridging”). Insert “do you even backbend?” parody for “do you even lift?” here. Known for its extremely therapeutic benefits on the muscles and tendons of the entire body, you can further enhance the quality of this position by putting the lower body into as much extension as possible and concentrating on pushing the shoulders past the hands. What you’re left with is a more “hollowed” version in the basic family of bridging that opens new doors for achieving stronger three-limb holds, geckos, stand-to-stands, walkovers and eventually, arched “Mexican” handstands.
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Handstands
Recommended Practice: Work up to holding this position for at least a solid minute after every workout you do. Given the powerful stretch that occurs in common problem areas for Americans from performing this movement (i.e., spine, shoulders and hips), you might even want to start devoting an entire training session to bridging throughout the week.
5. Hollow Body Dead Bar Hang
Similar to the full-depth squat mentioned above, passive hanging is another type of human resting position. When you take the passive hang one step further and connect the scapular muscles with the rest of the body, you’re left with this active hang that’s visually appealing and graceful. This happens to be one of the best positions for activating the core, as it decompresses the entire spine and puts the shoulders into a healthy stretched position with straight arms. With consistent practice of this deceptively challenging hang, you might “accidentally” become stronger at pull-ups AND start revealing your Diamond-Cut Abs.
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Pull-Up Chain & Leg Raise Chain
Recommended Practice: Hang from any straight bar (or any freestanding object for that matter) that allows you to put your body into a fully extended, hollow position, and maintain the position for a total of 1-2 minutes daily. This can either be done before or after a workout to facilitate warm-ups and cool downs—or as a nice complement to an active recovery day away from your regular training.
6. Hollow Body Bar Support
As with the other “hollow” positions above, you’re pretty much forced into a state of total body tension with the bar support—which will lead to stronger reps on any related movement you’re preparing to train. In this instance, the ability to support yourself over a bar in a straight arms, locked out, elbows forward position is definitely a good indicator that you’re ready to reach the top of the dipping chain and beyond. Who ELSE is ready to work towards their first straight-bar muscle-up?!
Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Straight Bar Dips & Top of Dipping Chain (i.e., Muscle-Up)
Recommended Practice: Use as part of a warm-up on workout days involving the dipping chain—or as active recovery on workout days involving vertical and horizontal pull-ups. Work up to holding this position for a solid minute at a time without form breakdown.
In no particular order, there you have six positions to master before you get slammed in the face with a serious slice of humble pie.
Why do we want to emphasize these isometric positions before worrying about reps and transitions anyway?
Simply put, it’s so we know where our body is in free space and when its position changes. That way, when we reflect on those workout days where our bodies felt ginormously heavier, we might be able to identify which positions felt strong and which ones felt stronger, so we know where to improve on next time.
I’ll end with one of my favorite training-related quotes which comes from Gymnastics Coach Christopher Sommer: “Save the nonsense. Bad form simply means bad attitude. Plain and simple. It means that you did not care enough to do it right.”
To acknowledge this quote from a PCC standpoint, always focus on becoming stronger than yesterday but not as strong as tomorrow! 😉
For more information about Eric, check out his website, EricBurattyFitness.com.