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Warming Up For Lifting Using Calisthenics Exercises

Calisthenics exercises are great preparation for heavy lifts later in training.

Calisthenics is a form of bodyweight training that incorporates a wide range of exercises. Calisthenics originated in Eastern Europe, and has strong roots in gymnastics, breakdancing and yoga.

The most basic form of calisthenics training is the underlying foundation of basic bodyweight exercises, often called ‘calisthenics foundations’. Exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups fall under this umbrella. This is the most commonly practiced form of calisthenics and is often used to supplement other forms of training such as Crossfit and even Weightlifting.

Calisthenics - The Perfect Warm-Up For Weightlifting

Calisthenics exercises have several advantages that make them the perfect warm-up exercises for weightlifting. The most obvious is that basic calisthenics exercises are not as strenuous as lifting heavy weights. This allows the muscles to ease into training, while still completing relevant movement patterns.

Less weight translates to less strain - and this is a key safety factor when considering which exercises to use when warming up. Cold muscles are prone to tearing. Think of muscles as rubber; when rubber is cold it’s rigid and unmalleable. Once it's warmed up, rubber, just like a muscle, becomes flexible and able to withstand much greater tensile forces. This is why it’s important to use less intense exercises when warming up.

Calisthenics bodyweight exercises also require a lot of core. This is particularly useful for weightlifting, as many weightlifting injuries occur as a result of a weak or poorly engaged core. Calisthenics exercises almost always put emphasis on the core, which is great preparation for heavy lifts later in training.

The Best Way To Use Calisthenics Exercises To Warm Up For Weightlifting

Although the exercises in calisthenics and weightlifting are visually very different, the underlying movement patterns are actually quite similar. These are called primal movement patterns and are the natural movements the body is able to execute. Examples of primal movement patterns include pull, push, and squat movement patterns. Obvious analogues can be drawn between bodyweight exercises and weightlifting exercises that target the same movement pattern.

One of the fundamental principles of warming up and training, in general, is specificity. The more specific your warm-up exercises are to the exercises you plan to complete in your training session the better. This makes sense: How can you expect to warm up the chest by doing leg exercises?

Calisthenics allows weightlifters to perform lower-intensity versions of their intended lifts by harnessing specific bodyweight exercises. The calisthenics warm-up should include all bodyweight analogues of lifts planned for training.

Example Weight Training Session With Bodyweight Analogues As Warm-Up Exercises

Bench press

The bench press is a chest and tricep exercise that can be simulated by push-ups. Gym benches provide the perfect opportunity to complete a progressive warm-up. By changing the incline of a push-up, the exercise difficulty can be modified. Placing the hands on the bench allows for the easiest kind of push up, incline push-ups; placing the hands on the floor allows for standard push-ups; and placing the feet on the bench allows for decline push-ups, the most difficult kind due to a larger portion of weight placed on the upper body.

Back squats

Back squats can be replicated by bodyweight squats. This allows for a great opportunity to fix form before loading squats. There are several key aspects of squats that need attention, and which are affected by myofascial tightness.

One of the big factors is the chest position. Often when squatting the chest drops too much, which creates strain on the lower back. A great bodyweight warm-up drill to correct this can be employed by using a wall. By standing next to a wall and squatting, it’s possible to easily observe whether the chest is dropping during the exercise.

Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is a great shoulder exercise that can be warmed up using pike push-ups. Pike push-ups are a push-up variation that emphasises the shoulders. They are completed in the downward-facing dog position by leaning forward and lowering down at a 45-degree angle (and pressing back up at this same angle!).

Pike push-ups are a relatively difficult exercise and can be assisted using resistance bands. By tying a resistance band to a bar above you and threading yourself through such that the band rests on your hips, the exercise can be made significantly easier. Alternatively, pike push-ups can be progressed to handstand push-ups against a wall if they are too easy.

Specific Calisthenics Core Exercises To Do Before Lifting Weights

The core is made up of abdominal and back muscles that support posture and compound movements. These muscles have predominantly slow-twitch muscle fibers and are designed for bearing weight for prolonged periods of time. They work alongside our heavy movers in virtually all movement patterns.

Because of the nature of core muscles, they are best activated using isometric exercises. These are exercises that are held for time. In isometric exercises, muscles don’t change length but instead experience constant tension. By using isometric exercises to warm up core muscles, we are exposing them to the types of stresses they are naturally designed to withstand. There are 2 calisthenics exercises that stand out for this purpose: superman and hollow body hold.

Superman

The superman exercise is an exercise that targets the lower back. It’s completed while lying on the belly and bringing the hands and feet off the ground. By raising the hands higher the exercise can be made more difficult. Typically, the superman exercise is held for 30 - 60s.

Hollow Body Hold

The hollow body hold is essentially the opposite of the superman and works the antagonist abdominal muscles. The hollow body hold is completed by lying on the back and raising the hands and feet off the ground. It’s also held for 30 – 60s.

The most important thing to note about this exercise is that the lower back should be in contact with the ground – arching during this exercise defeats the purpose.

Both of these exercises are important to prevent injury during lifting. Lower back injuries and herniations can be prevented with a strong core that is preactivated before training.

Conclusion

Calisthenics exercises are great for warming up before weightlifting. Many calisthenics exercises allow for lower intensity analogues of many lifts. The benefits of using calisthenics exercises before lifting can be summed up in safety, specificity, and core activation.

Vic Vale

About the author Vic Vale

Vic is a Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete, and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda, and Liquid Chalk Shop. His passions are bodyweight training and the art of movement.

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