My Unique Path to Calisthenics

by Corey Howard on July 16, 2013


Corey Howard ‘hangs out’ with his 9 year old son, Dylan Howard

“I’ve had the same training program for the last 6 months.” That’s what I told the gentleman sitting next to me on the shuttle back to the hotel after day 1 at the PCC (Progressive Calisthenics Cert). He seemed a bit confused but very intrigued. “What is it!?”

My road to Calisthenics is a unique one. My training roots are in powerlifting. Six month training cycles that incorporated max efforts and speed work have been normal to me for many years. After tearing my tricep and experiencing a badly herniated disc in my low back, I discovered kettlebells. Kettlebells took me through the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certification) and gave me an outlet to train heavy and hard while still getting in my explosive work. Recently though, due to a severe case of Scoliosis, my back issues flared up and have forced me to limit my kettlebell practice. Since giving up strength training simply isn’t an option, Paul Wade’s “Convict Conditioning” book provided an outlet for strength.

Anyone that says you can’t build insane levels of strength using old-school calisthenics just simply doesn’t understand bodyweight training. If we all agree that you can build crazy levels of strength by simply increasing the tension or load placed on the body then we should agree calisthenics work. For example – with a deadlift, you can simply add more weight. With push-ups you can begin with standing wall push-ups and end with a one-arm, one-leg push-up, or even progress to a handstand push-up off cement blocks! The basic rule of thumb is knowing how to manipulate the load or tension placed on your body. Once you figure that out, the kingdom can be yours!

So how did I take my powerlifting background and apply it to a ‘simple’ bodyweight training program and still get stronger?

First, I always begin with a simple joint mobility routine to warm-up.  Then I follow it with some basic rolling and crawling patterns to get the body firing, centered and stabilized.  How you do this is entirely up to you.  I always begin with 15-20 minutes of Primal Move.


Second, move on to strength work. After an efficient warm-up and firing up our nervous system with Primal Move, spend some time practicing your high tension drills. For example, this might be a handstand push-up paired with an assisted one-arm pull-up.

It’s also very important to pair movements that complement each other here. For example, I like to pair a horizontal push with a horizontal pull, a vertical push with a vertical pull, or a squat movement with a high total body tension drill, like a plank or hanging toe touch. I always limit my strength work to 3 sets and generally never go any higher than 3 reps. It’s also very important to take your time with your strength work. Rest up and begin each set fresh.

Third, we need to understand conditioning is important. Strength will make the easier tasks crazy easy, but we also need to spend time getting the heart rate up and practicing the basic calisthenics movements. I like to combine a few things for high reps.

As Paul Wade and Al Kavadlo tell us, practicing the basics helps build up tendon strength. Pay your dues on the fundamentals! An example for this portion would be 50 bodyweight squats paired with 30 lying leg raises for 3 consecutive sets of time. Or you could combine 20 kneeling push-ups with 10 horizontal pull-ups for 5 consecutive sets of time. This gives you some metabolic work and lays a foundation of the basics.


Fourth, don’t be afraid to sample various progressions. Once you’ve nailed one arm push-ups on a box for 3×3, don’t be afraid to go a little closer to the floor. Or once you’re able to do 200 basic bodyweight squats and 100 hanging knee raise in 5 minutes, fire up more reps or try the next progression and switch to straight leg raises.

So what’s a sample program look like?

Day 1

Warm-up: Primal Move for 20 minutes

Strength: 2 board depth handstand push-ups paired with uneven pull-ups

Conditioning/Basics practice: 50 bodyweight squats paired with 25 hanging knee raise, 3 sets for time.

Cool Down: Joint mobility work in areas specific to my needs followed by a half kneeling stability drill.


Day 2

Warm-up: Primal Move for 20 minutes

Strength: Pistol Squats paired with hanging toe touches

Conditioning/Basics practice: 20 kneeling push-ups paired with 10 Horizontal pull-ups, 5 sets for time.

Cool Down: Joint mobility work in areas specific to my needs followed by a half kneeling stability drill.


Day 3

Warm-up: Primal Move for 20 minutes

Strength: One-arm push-ups on a low box paired with one-arm horizontal pull-ups

Conditioning/Basics practice: Walking lunge paired with sledge hammering a tire for 10 min total.

Cool Down: Joint mobility work in areas specific to my needs followed by a half kneeling stability drill.

So there you have it. Always pair complimentary movements together for strength work and alternate the basics with the strength movements from session to session. With this basic outline I guarantee consistent progress. As you get stronger, your conditioning will get easier. Practicing and drilling your basics makes your strength better. It all fits together like pieces of a puzzle… Fire it up!



About Corey Howard, RKC, CK-FMS: Corey Howard strives to constantly become stronger, and to help others to achieve their fitness goals.  He is the owner of Results Personal Training, and can be reached at or



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