Progressive calisthenics is the art and science of advancing calisthenics to produce greater levels of strength and ability.
It’s not about adding more weight to the body (that’s loaded calisthenics) it’s about using leverage, balance, control and skill.
Common examples are shifting push up and pull ups, single arm recline rows and pistol squats.
Most strength enthusiasts wouldn’t touch progressive calisthenics with a ten foot pole. At best they give shifting pull ups a try and practically run in haste to their pull down machines. I can’t say that I blame them, I used to feel the same way.
As a strength guru, I like to feel strong and powerful as I exercise. I like feeling muscle burn and pump up with intensity.
These are feelings that are hard to come by when someone first starts to journey into the world of progressive calisthenics. The primary reason being that it takes much more than pure brute strength to perform them. It takes incredible balance, coordination and full body control. These things are seldom as well developed as the brute strength one can gain on a leg press on bench press. As a result, when I first tried a U-shape push up I felt shaky and awkward, not strong and powerful.
At first I felt like loaded push ups were the only way to go. However, I have since learned that progressive calisthenics benefit the athlete in ways other forms of exercise can only dream of.
The reality of functional strength is that it takes more than forceful muscle contractions. It takes extremely high levels of balance and coordination. Sure you can move a lot of weight on the Hammer Strength machine, but it takes balance and coordination to use all of that strength out side of the gym.
The beauty of progressive calisthenics is that your strength grows along with the essential coordination you need to use it. On a weight machine you don’t need more control and balance to get stronger. You simply add weight. It’s fine and good, but it has it’s limits.
Improving strength is like pumping more horsepower into a sports car. It’s usually a good thing, however that power is only effective as long as it can be controlled. If the tires, suspension, transmission and chassis can’t control that extra power it’s extremely hard to use and even dangerous. Using progressive calisthenics is like going to the shop and asking for more horse power, but the mechanic will only do it if you upgrade your tires and brakes. So not only are you improving your power, but you’re improving everything else you need to use that power most effectively and safely.
Back in the day I wasn’t interested in all that. I just wanted to blast my muscles to the moon with intensity. Sure my muscles become stronger, but that strength didn’t translate so well into real life. Plus it got me a bad shoulder, sore hips, back problems and long standing plateaus. I had power, but I couldn’t handle it very well.
Now I have far more power than ever before, plus balance, plus control, plus coordination, and all of that good stuff.
After all, 800 horse power is far more effective in a finely tuned race car than the family mini van.