In my previous post, I gave some Advice on Doing Calisthenics in the Winter intended for people who want to get better at calisthenics but who don’t have the luxury to train anywhere indoors when it’s cold outside. This post is for those who can afford to join a gym for the winter period, and will explain how to use a gym environment advantageously.
Calisthenics is an outdoor activity that happens mostly in spring and summer. Calisthenics is free because state-built calisthenics parks are usually public and not-for-profit. I personally think of calisthenics as outdoor gymnastics training and associate it with sunshine and fresh air. In the winter, however, it becomes unpleasant and risky to exercise on bars outdoors, as I explained in detail in my previous article. Therefore, some people take a long break from the activity, and others pay for a gym membership in order to continue practicing indoors. Third (like I used to) choose to just maintain their fitness by wrapping up with warm clothes and going out in the cold for quick workouts involving basic exercises like pull ups, push ups and dips.
Joining a gym doesn’t fully solve the problem of where to do calisthenics in the winter. The disadvantage of nearly all gyms in my city is that neither commercial, nor private gyms feature proper calisthenics equipment such as high bars and parallel bars, apart from Level Up, Primal Eden and Explosive Fitness which were established in around 2016. You will generally be restricted to doing only pull ups, dips and, if you don’t mind looking a bit weird at the squat rack or cable machines, muscle ups. Even if a gym is suitable for calisthenics, it could be expensive and people may not be able to afford it, especially if they don’t want to be trapped in a one-year contract. For these reasons, I see little point of getting a gym membership just for the winter. I firmly believe that you don’t need to train in a gym to be good at calisthenics, so I’ve been doing mostly basic bodyweight conditioning during the winter period and skills training for the summer.
At the end of 2015, my thinking changed when I came across a few videos of Adam Raw, a calisthenics beast from Czech Republic, doing weighted pull ups and dips with +80kg. I saw an opportunity to take my strength to a new level by taking up weighted calisthenics. In February 2016, I decided to join the nearest cheapest commercial gym in Leeds (Exercise 4 Less) for £9.99 per month with the objective to get bigger and stronger by doing weighted calisthenics. By the time summer arrived, my one rep max for pull ups was around +40kg and +42kg for dips. During the spring-summer period, I happily resumed training outdoors with focus on bodyweight skills, and time spent doing heavy reps in the gym gradually reduced.
I wouldn’t recommend taking up weighted calisthenics if you are a beginner. You must strengthen your muscle fibers and ligaments by learning to do lots of pull ups and dips with your own body weight first. Otherwise, you will put your physical health at risk.
If you are an experienced calisthenics practitioner who can afford a basic gym membership, I strongly recommend incorporating weighted bodyweight exercises in your training as the seasons change. Weighted calisthenics will stimulate your nervous system and help you build more strength. Weighted calisthenics will also prevent you from reaching a plateau. Needless to say, too much of anything can be detrimental. Be careful not to overload your muscles and injure yourself. Increase the weight every few weeks rather than days. It also important to deload several times a year, as in going back to bodyweight only skills and exercise for the summer, if you’ve been lifting heavy for a long period of time, in order to protect your bones and joints.