No gym? No equipment? No problem!
Odds are you all have some fond memories of college. Odds are also that you all remember doing something you’re not very proud of during that time. I know I do. In my junior year of college I signed up to undergo one of those medical testing studies that seems to lure so many undergrads and other assorted weirdos into its sterile, scrubs-laden clutches with the promise of a quick $1,000+ in exchange for you to become a human guinea pig for a weekend.
That in and of itself isn’t what I’m not proud of (at the time it was the fastest $1,000 I’d ever made; don’t judge). Far from it. What shamed me that weekend was the sad predicament I found myself in – nay, CREATED for myself. After being told that I couldn’t bring a kettlebell into the facility with me to workout and pass my time during the weekend – and yes, I asked – I thought to myself “no problem, I’ll just figure out something else to do.” How wrong I was.
At this time I was familiar with bodyweight training, having read Pavel’s pedestal-worthy classic The Naked Warrior. I had done pistols before and had feasted on a face full of dirt more times than I could count after hurriedly attempting (and failing at) one-arm pushups. I had no patience, and was certainly lacking a hefty amount of foresight. Because I always had a kettlebell handy, I relegated calisthenics to the side, deciding that I’ll learn more about it “one of these days” when I had more time on my hands.
That time had come. And this naked warrior was completely unarmed and caught totally off guard. I lost a decisive and quick battle that weekend and my punishment was to spend a long three days as a shiftless layabout watching bad movies and avoiding the other walking medical experiments.
As with most early 20-somethings, it took me a long time of making the same mistake over and over before I learned my lesson. But I’m proud to say I’ve learned it well and have since taken on calisthenics training as a serious discipline, and I’ve been reaping the rewards ever since – both in terms of health, physical development, and, of course, strength.
One of the major things I learned that weekend – and something that it seems just about every strength fanatic learns the hard way at some point or another – is that lifting yourself into a very narrow corner will stunt your physical development on two fronts: first, in terms of your overall gains, and second, in terms of what you can get accomplished in less-than-favorable circumstances.
The sad truth is most of us are still lost without our kettlebells. Most of us are lost without our barbells. But no matter how lost you get, you will never be without your bodyweight – and that means your strength doesn’t have to get lost along with you.
So how do you work on continuing to get stronger when you are limited to next to no equipment, save for the ground, a wall, and something to hang on?
The program contained later in this article will address just that: how to get freakishly strong on a carefully crafted and logically progressed skeleton crew of exercises: a push, a pull, and a squat.
The first thing is to realize that you are, in fact, unlimited in your options with that skeleton crew of “equipment” and exercise selection.
The second thing to realize is that this is a golden opportunity to take advantage of what calisthenics does best: forces you to be creative, fill your training gaps, and build a strong scaffold for future kettlebell and barbell success.
“If I had two hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend an hour and a half sharpening my axe” – Abraham Lincoln
At StrongFirst we place a premium on fine tuning the basics for the simple reason that everything else is built upon them. And what could be more basic than learning (or perhaps relearning) how to generate tension from nothing and how to maintain the proper body position for the techniques in question? (The answer is “nothing”, for those keeping track at home.)
For the record, this is the hollow position: an open C shape of the body, with the distance between the sternum and the navel shortened, and everything between the fingers and the toes held tight as possible. Because there are plenty of fine details that go into this otherwise simple position – details that are beyond the scope of this article – you’ll get only a crash course here (attend an SFB one-day course or weekend certification to dive deeper into the details).