Let’s get something straight, right off the bat: calisthenics (as with any other form of exercise) takes time. There is no shortcut around hard work. However, there are definitely ways in which we can build and improve on our training.
A key concept in this process is progressive overload.
Progressive overload is the idea of making our workouts gradually more demanding, putting continuous stress on the muscles so that they are forced to adapt and grow.
There are four main ways we can do this:
In this article, we cover our five ‘must-have’ products for targeting each of these four areas.
Great for: dips (duh), pull-ups, chin-ups, muscle-ups
Once you’re comfortable with an exercise (e.g. if you’re consistently hitting 15-20 reps of pull-ups in a single set or 30-40 dips), adding weight to the movement is a good way to challenge yourself and bring some variety to your training.
A dipping belt allows you to do exactly that. It is, arguably, the most beneficial item for improving your strength in calisthenics.
To use one, you simply fasten it (like a belt) around your waist and feed the chain through a weight plate. This is easy if you train in a gym but, if you train outside or at home, it may be more practical to invest in a weighted vest.
With the belt you’ll be able to add more weight but with the vest you have more movement options (e.g. push-ups, squats).
A dipping belt feels pretty badass though. Here’s a brief explanation from the Brofessor himself.
Great for: handstands, push-ups, muscle-ups, dips
Wrist wraps have become an essential item in many gym bags. Not only do they help add critical stability – allowing you to do more reps and hold static poses for longer – they also dramatically reduce any pain or discomfort, following a series of intense sessions. This, in turn, allows you to train more frequently and worry less about injury.
However, should you experience any wrist pain it’s very important that you don’t ignore it. In this scenario, the first thing would be to have someone more experienced critique your form and assess whether that is the culprit. If you don’t know anyone in particular you could ask, you could always post a clip of yourself to Reddit’s r/bodyweightfitness and see what feedback you get there (it’s a great resource).
In calisthenics, it’s especially important to take care of your wrists. Here’s a great warm-up routine to incorporate into your training:
Great for: accessory work, anything with a bar
A weak grip-strength is a common limiting factor in bodyweight exercises. Often, our hands will give up before the larger muscles we’re trying to target. If you’ve been doing calisthenics for a while, you’ve probably experienced this when doing leg raises from a pull-up bar, for example.
Fat Gripz are a tool specifically designed to help you build stronger arms and with that, a stronger grip. Essentially, they just make the bar wider and thus more difficult to hold on to. This stimulates your muscles in an entirely new way which will be very obvious from your first use.
By regularly incorporating Fat Gripz into your training, your body gradually starts to adapt and you should notice your grip strength increase – both with them and without.
Great for: assisted movements, stretching/warming up
Resistance brands are great for a variety of reasons: they help with stretching, making exercises easier, making them more difficult and allowing you to change the speed at which you perform them.
One great use for them is to make challenging movements slightly easier. In this way, they act as a bridge between your current ability and where you’d like to go. For example, when first learning muscle-ups a good way to become familiar with the movement is by starting with a resistance band.
To do this, simply wrap the band around the bar, put your feet in the loop and practice the movement with the extra boost that a band provides. This allows you to develop the muscles being used which, in time, will help you to perform the exercise unassisted.
They can also be used to further fatigue your muscles by adding additional, assisted sets at the end of your regular, working ones.
Great for: improved grip on most exercises
No, this last one isn’t coke… it’s chalk. And in calisthenics, it’s your best friend. As previously mentioned, having a strong grip is fundamental to many of the bodyweight exercises in this branch of fitness.
You’ve probably seen gymnasts and powerlifters using chalk to help them for that exact reason and whilst you may not be a pro yourself, there’s no reason you can’t train like one.
Chalk is a simple tool which will allow you to do more reps and feel more stable in each one. You can either go the old-school route, like myself, with straight powdered chalk or if you’re looking for a more convenient, gym-friendly option, you can also use liquid chalk. They both serve the same purpose: absorbing moisture from your hands so you have a safe, reliable grip.
All in all, these are the five products we think will make the most noticeable difference in your training. You shouldn’t expect a massive, immediate leap in your performance but you should definitely get more out of each workout by incorporating these five staples.