If you are a Calisthenics practitioner then you are no doubt familiar with the term Progressive Calisthenics. For the uninitiated what that means is simply beginning your strength training with simpler variations of exercises which once mastered are succeeded by progressively harder variations.

A very famous training program promoting PC is for instance Convict Conditioning, although there are tons of workouts and programs based on progressions. CC is the one I have been following for a few months now, something I plan to write about in a future post. In short though, the program dictates that once you reach a certain level of proficiency in an exercise you can move on to the next stage: the same exercise in a harder version.

So since getting stronger is based on “qualifying” for the next step the aim is to always strive for getting there, in other words always going forward.

The problem with the “always going forward” mindset, I have found, is that it can easily be misinterpreted and lead to the cultivation of a feeling of rush. Be in a hurry to progress, finish the easier variation as quick as possible in order to reach the harder one.

This is heavily advised against by coaches and even stated clearly in the CC book. The general advice is to take as much time as you – you, the individual Calisthenics athlete with your own strengths, weaknesses and current level of strength – need in order to perform an exercise with a certain degree of quality. A number of repetitions with good form and, in most cases, slow tempo.

I have to admit that even though I generally follow the rules and take my time with things, I have also been a victim of this “rush to the next level” feeling. I could have spent more time getting better on relatively easy, not so challenging versions of an exercise. Why is that good? For multiple reasons, a few of which are:

  1. Becoming an expert in the movement. Getting the basics down so that they will never be a problem again in the future and training your muscle memory to remember how the exercise should be performed. This is much, much easier done when minimum strength is required to perform a movement than when you have to engage all your muscle and neural system in order to perform it.
  2. Developing a good mind-to-muscle connection. Learning how to really turn on the muscle in use, maintaining high tension all throughout the movement and thus taking the most out of each repetition. This is otherwise known as “milking” the rep.
  3. Letting the tendons and ligaments adjust to the movement. It is often said that your muscles might be strong enough to execute the harder exercise but something else in the whole chain is lacking. It may be that your tendons or ligaments are not strong enough which can subsequently cause some injury or joint problem.
  4. Progressing on the skills necessary to correctly execute the harder variations. A pistol squat is as much about strength as it is about balance and mobility. There are many trainees who can perform heavy squats but only a small subset can go all the way down on one leg – and back up again.

So since I got back from my vacation a couple of weeks ago, and not having trained for two weeks due to a small health issue, I noticed that my performance on certain exercises just wasn’t the same with what it was before I left. Sure, I might have gotten slightly heavier due to being a bit more relaxed with my diet (note: intermittent fasting really helps you not go too much overboard even when on vacation, although it is still a matter of being disciplined) and because of my absence but I believe this is a great opportunity to regress.

Deliberately regressing I think is a great way to fix problems that arise when progressing a little too quick. Yes, kneeling pushups do not sound as sexy as close a.k.a “diamond” pushups but if there is strength to be gained by essentially lifting a lighter load then why move on? Would it be smart to go to a 50kg bench press if you don’t own the 45kg?

My plan from now on is to score a 4/4 on the list I presented above while performing an exercise as properly as I can get it. Proper form, slow motion, full muscle engagement and tension turned on where it has to be on. I do believe that cheat reps have their place in a set, but when talking about progressing it’s real quality that matters. Anything else will show up as a problem down the road.

One step backward, two steps forward. That’s the key to progress, right?

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