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Strength Training For Calisthenics

One of our goals at Club Calisthenics is to help our members build full body strength using calisthenics and traditional strength training. Many of the skills that we train (front lever, planche, deadlift, etc.) require a high level of strength. So what is strength training and how can you optimize it for yourself?

First, let’s talk about the general parameters for strength training.

When it comes to resistance training, the reps, sets, rest times, and workload have a major impact on the end result. If strength is the primary goal, you’ll want to keep the reps lower and rest time higher. If muscle endurance is the goal, higher reps with lower resistance and shorter rest times is ideal. For maximum size (hypertrophy), you’ll train somewhere in between strength and endurance parameters. Also keep in mind that there is, at times, some crossover between strength, endurance, and hypertrophy parameters.

Ideal parameters for strength building:

Sets: 3-5 sets

Reps for dynamic movements: 3-10 reps

Time for static holds: 10-20 seconds

Rest between sets: 2-3 minutes

Workload: there are several schools of thought on this one. Some people swear by going to muscle failure on each set. More conservative trainers suggest leaving 1-2 reps or 2-3 seconds “in the tank” to conserve energy and prevent injury. At CluCal, we prefer leaving a few reps in the tank to protect the body from injury.

Now that we know strength parameters, let’s explore some common mistakes people make when trying to build strength.

Working on too many skills at once. Sure, you can train front lever, planche, straddle press, deadlift, squat, pistol squat, manna, and improve your mile time all at once, but you’ll most likely progress very slowly. If you really want to get strong at something specific, it pays to choose a couple things and focus primarily on those for at least 6-8 weeks. This is called specificity. In other words, if you want to increase your deadlift weight, you have to do deadlifts regularly. It’s hard to get enough volume on your deadlifts when you’re also training 600 other things!

Not taking enough rest in between strength sets. The ability to produce maximum force with your muscles requires that they have enough fuel. In order to replenish fuel between sets, they need rest. Many people think that in order to have an effective workout, they need to be moving non-stop, keep their heart rate up, or get super sweaty. This isn’t necessarily the case, especially for strength training. Non-stop movement is helpful for training endurance, but for strength you’ll want to keep the reps low and the rest time high in order to push more weight.

Using the wrong sets, reps, rest time, and/or workload. Some people think that when it comes to reps or hold times, more is better. Imagine you’re trying to build strength in your front lever and you’re doing 30 second holds every time. You will make progress, but it will take a lot longer because you’re using so much energy on those long holds. Imagine what would happen if you dropped your holds down to ten seconds. You’ll most likely be able to hold a more advanced front lever position than you can for 30 seconds. Also imagine what would happen if you didn’t use the appropriate workload: make it too easy and you won’t make progress. Too much overload and you risk injury.

Other tips for successful strength training:

If you’re on a time crunch and don’t want to rest for three minutes in between sets, consider doing supersets: alternating between two exercises that work different muscle groups. Example: 10 reps of squats + 5 reps pull-ups + only 30-60 seconds rest. That way the legs get a reset while you do your pull-ups and vice versa. You’ll still sacrifice a bit of strength on those exercises, but it’s a great way to make use of limited time. Another option is to stretch or do mobility in between strength sets (avoid stretching the muscles you’re working in your strength sets.)

Do your hardest exercises first (hint: think multi-joint, full body movements). For example, if you’re working upper body pull, do your pull-ups, chin-ups, or front lever holds before doing isolation exercises such as bicep curls or dumbbell rows.

Do your strength training before conditioning or cardio. If strength training is your primary goal, you’ll want to work on that while your energy is freshest. A little bit of cardio as a warm-up is fine, but save the running or the burpees for the end of your workout or another day entirely.

We hope that you found this information helpful as you move forward in your own strength journey. Keep in mind that one of the most important things is to enjoy your training! Move in ways that are enjoyable to you and allow you to connect with your body and your community. The strength gains are a byproduct of this enjoyment and you can start by checking out our ONLINE Courses!

P.S. Did you know that mobility work translates into the ability to learn new skills? Develop strength in a fuller range of motion for your calisthenics journey with this FREE Mobility Video!


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