I started because I had to. I stay because I choose to.
I came back from my vacation last summer and took a look at the mirror. I did not like what I saw. One could say I enjoyed my vacation a bit too much. I already spoke about how it feels to be skinny-fat but that had gone too far. It wasn’t the image and the body I wanted for myself. As a person who was always generally interested in sports and exercising, I felt that I had to finally put in the effort, time and resources to changing that image.
Can you relate to that?
So I bought a gym card. I started going to the gym, following a program targeted to fat loss and strength based on full-body compound exercises together with some HIIT. In time, I adjusted my diet – back then following the traditional 5 meals a day with some modifications. And I started seeing results. I dropped some weight, my belly got deflated and my lifts were getting progressively stronger. Still miles away from looking anything like a ripped guy, but this was my first time properly working out since my actual first time properly working out, which was years ago.
And then it came. The one thing no one in the fitness and sports world wishes to their worst enemy. An injury.
It happened on a Clean and Press exercise, when I had pretty much reached my limit weight-wise. A cracking noise on the right wrist. Some pain but bearable. I finish the last two reps of that set (we all have done stupid things, haven’t we?) and call it a day.
If you have been training and following a regimen religiously for some time, having set a specific goal, tracking your progress and being really serious about hitting your target then you can imagine how it feels to understand that you cannot train for a while. It feels awful. It sucks.
Needless to say, the following days the only thing in my mind was when and how I could get back in the gym. How serious it was, how I could work around it. I got a wrist support, anti-inflammatory pills and stopped working out for a couple of weeks.
Once I set foot in the gym again, I knew that touching iron was out of the question for quite some time. I could still feel the pain when rotating my wrist – basic moves would cause me to tense and jump up.
People say “do the best you can in the circumstances you find yourself in” or something along these lines. So if lifting was not an option, it was time to get back to basics.
I now realize how ironic this expression is when talking about training. “Back to basics”. When is anyone really at the basics? Pushups, pullups, dips, bodyweight squats. The average trainee these days starts from loading the bar with tens of KGs and squatting, arguing whether or not “ass-to-grass” is better than parallel thighs in terms of knee-health. And that’s at best, since a lot of people’s idea of properly training is high-volume bicep curls until the pump doesn’t let your arms fit in your shirt.
So I started from the basics. Even with an injured wrist, I could work out my chest. Fist pushups with a “neutral” grip. That didn’t cause pain. Bulgarian split squats with a bulgarian bag around my neck. That didn’t cause pain. Inverted rows with a TRX. That didn’t cause pain. Hanging knee raises with a neutral grip. That didn’t cause pain.
Time was passing and I was finally doing the basics – what a contradictory statement. In the beginning two things were in my mind: how do I apply progressive overload to these exercises and when will all this be over so I can go back to lifting. Two months? Three months? I wouldn’t risk going in too soon, the last thing I wanted would be to add a whole year to my recovery. Until then though, I had to be making progress.
As the weeks were going by my focus started to lie more and more on getting better in those moves. I started seeing the value of simplicity it this type of training. I started enjoying the absence of extra equipment. I started testing out more advanced variations, prematurely maybe, and seeing gains that I hadn’t before.
It was like gradually falling in love with the girl next door. Finally appreciating what you thought was only the “next best thing”. And to some extent, like finding your calling. At least in the context of training and getting stronger.
As my recovery was getting better and better, I started playing around with the idea of not going back to lifting. The thought of staying with this, exploring what the people who are really good at it do. I knew there was something called Calisthenics, but it seemed like something that superhumans only do. Up to that point I could not relate to that, it seemed very far away for someone like me.
That’s because I had no idea. No idea that Calisthenics is actually another word for bodyweight training. No idea that Calisthenics starts from the basics. The pushup, the pullup, the bodyweight squat, the leg raise, the dips, the pike pushups. No idea that running, jumping, kicking, punching, throwing, pushing, pulling, climbing, swimming, crawling, squeezing, every single physical move that includes applying strength is, in fact, Calisthenics.
The moment I realized that, a whole new world opened up in front of me. A world full of elementary things that if followed properly and creatively can lead you to the same results a fully equipped gym can but with less hassle. A world of simplicity, creativity and minimalism.
Above all, a world with lots of good material. Books, videos, podcasts from a community that has a common focus: get stronger in a way that is less complicated and feels more natural.
I started Calisthenics because I was forced due to an injury. In retrospect, I can say that that injury was a blessing in disguise. It led me to an amazing discovery. I stay with Calisthenics because I am in love with it. Its simplicity, its focus, its endless possibilities but its high demands as well.
My journey in this new world has only just begun. I can’t wait to see where the road will take me.