Improve Flexibility, Decrease Joint Stiffness…The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Because calisthenics is not your normal “up the weight” training program, you will quickly realize just how important mobility and flexibility is for building your strength and calisthenics skills.

Here is why it is important:

Just imagine strength as horsepower in an engine…

….No matter how powerful, you can’t control it if your tires are worn out…

If you only focus on adding horsepower, you’ll end up with worn down breaks, broken interiors, and bald tires.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

This is a bad idea.

You are building your own death trap.

There are two ways it can go: 1. or you will end up not being able to use that horsepower 2. Or you will crash. Simple as that.

If you just kept on adding all the weight, more horsepower but I had no ability to control it in any way. When I weight lifted in the past, I had a lot of strength. However, I had a bad shoulder and a bad knee, and my back was hurting. It was only a matter of time until I seriously injured myself.

And this is where mobility and flexibility comes in.

If you want to get stronger, you need to build a base of fundamental strength, but you need more than just muscular strength. You also need:

  • Strong tendons and ligaments
  • Strong joints
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Control

You need to develop all the other fitness qualities and physical abilities to be able to handle your muscular strength safely.

Once you improve your brakes, tires, and interiors, we can add more horsepower. That enables you to improve your skills and perform more advanced movements. These skills will continue building on top of others for your constant improvement.. Because of that  all around aspect of calisthenics, you can actually build more strength than with just weightlifting!

Lack of calisthenics can not only hinder your progress, but can make it impossible to move forward. I quickly realized that my stiff joints were becoming a barrier in my success and it was time to take care of it. I dove into research on the topic; below is everything I have learned in the process of avoiding joint stiffness and increasing my overall range of motion.

What You Need to Know About Flexibility and Range of Motion

    • Strength and flexibility go hand-in-hand. You cannot attain success in your calisthenics program unless you have both strength and flexibility. In studying the essential body mechanics, we see that our muscles need to have the strength to be flexible. Notice that when you work out, your body does not let you go beyond a particular level of flexibility.  This is what is referred to as your range of motion. If you have no flexibility, you will have a limited range of motion, and thus reduced strength.
    • Weak joints can lead to injuries.  If the muscles stabilising a joint are weak, then this joint and the muscles associated with it are at risk for injury. This is an important aspect in your calisthenics training program. If you tend to have weak joints, then it is wise to start on the lighter end for your safety.

    To counter stiff joints and bring a drastic improvement in flexibility, try different types of stretches that target all the muscle groups. It is best to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, and consider two sets of each stretch for optimal results.  Follow along with the video below for an introduction to stretches.

When to Stretch in your Workout

Most of us are focused on warm-up exercises, and we tend to do different stretches as part of a warm-up session. Studies show that stretching is not considered to be part of a warm-up. Rather, your stretching should occur at the end of your workout when your muscles and joints are sufficiently warmed.  

Another ideal time to try out stretches is before bedtime, which helps to relieve some of the tension in your muscles at the end of the day. Stretching 30 minutes before bed can help your body ease all of the tension, and can help calm your nerves for effective sleep. Follow these easy tips to help improve your flexibility and to ease tension.

Another important aspect when looking to improve flexibility is to select the right stretches for you and your goals. For example, dynamic stretches are perfect for a warm-up session or before competitive activities. Static stretches are ideal for any post-workout routine, so this is something that any athlete can do in the gym to stretch the worked muscles.  Lastly, more advanced stretches (which brings the best results of all forms) is PNF.  This is an advanced way to stretch the muscles and joints, and should be done with a partner who knows what they are doing.

Clueless about static and PNF stretching? Let me explain more. Static stretching is a stretch without any movement. This means that you will be getting into your stretching position and then hold that position for a certain amount of time (roughly 30 seconds). Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) helps the body overcome resistance by using a contract/relax/stretch method. This cycle of tension and relaxation allows for deeper stretches and improved range of motion. Thisis considered the most advanced stretching method around. With PNF stretching and long-hold static stretching, we can get results on a permanent basis.

Important Tips to Improve Joint Stiffness

Now that we have gone through some tips, let’s look at some practical activities that can help to relieve joint stiffness and help us to prepare for calisthenics.

Upper body activities:

    • Head: Stand or sit and face forward. Your arms should be at your side, and your shoulders need to be square. Your head should be  turned to one side. We need to hold in this position for 30 seconds and then slowly face forward. Now we need to start turning to the other side. We need to look up and then look down. Your head needs to be rotated clockwise first, and then counter-clockwise.  Do all of these for 30 seconds each.
    • Triceps: Bring one arm up in the air and bend your elbow so that your hand is behind your body.  Bring your other hand up to your bent elbow above and slowly lower your arms behind your body.  Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch arms.
    • Shoulders: Reach one arm across your body towards your other shoulder.  Bring your other arm underneath that extended arm and hold that stretch for 30 seconds.  Switch arms and repeat.
    • Trunk: Your hands need to be placed on your hips, then start to bend at your waist to the left. Then straighten up and bend to the right.

Lower body activities:

    • Legs: Sit in a chair. Extend one leg out in front and place your foot on the ground. Slowly reach your hands down your legs towards your toes while keeping your legs as straight as possible.
    • Hips: Your hips need to be rocked from side to side; the weight needs to be on one hip and then shifted to your other hip.
    • Torso: While sitting, twist to one side and attempt to look over one shoulder.  Repeat on the other side.  Hold each stretch for 30 seconds each.
    • Calves/Thighs: Stand up and face the wall. Straighten one leg out back behind your body. Your palms should be pressed against the wall, and you need to feel the stretch by leaning forward into the wall. The stretch should be felt on your calves and thighs. You need to hold this position for about 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.

If you try out these tips and exercises, you will really be able to prepare yourself for calisthenics like I did.  These tips are ideal for improving flexibility to gain a better range of motion, and subsequently to gain better strength.

Do you have a favorite mobility routine? Share in the comments!

Professional trainer, ex cross-fitter and a long time calisthenic practitioner. I started with Convict Conditioning and achieved levels of strength which enabled me to take part in street workouts championships. Check Out our Resources and Start Building Real Strength just using your Bodyweight!
Reduce Lower Back Pain to ZERO – with Calisthenics

Reduce Lower Back Pain to ZERO – with Calisthenics

Today I will talk about the well-known problem of having constant pain in the lower back.

Lower back pain occurs through interconnection and overlapping of TENDONS and MUSCLES, and NERVES and NERVE ROOTS that travel to the feet from the lower back. Also, lower back pain can occur due to interconnection of both small and complex joints and also spinal discs.

Lower back pain can cause severe muscle spasms or even worse, it can be chronic. This problem can be also caused by taking a hit in the lower back (for example, during sport game as basketball, handball etc.), during lifting weights in the gym or even through any other physical activity.

I personally have friends that are facing chronic lower back pain that transfers from the lower back to the legs and feet. This problem is known as sciatica.

After many therapies, medications and all other treatments one of them come with a conclusion.

“I started stretching on a daily basis and gradually started implementing exercise that increased my strength in the lower back. One doctor said that I have a NERVE – DISC interconnection problem. That actually caused the pain to occur in my lower back. The doctor said that by stretching I’m preventing the possible NERVE-DISC connection which will result in pain occurrence. After my stretching routines, I was doing a couple of bodyweight exercises with the slowest tempo possible. If there was a sign of pain, I was stopping immediately and continued the day after. I was doing this for 5 months. Now I’m playing professional basketball and lift 170 kg on the regular deadlift.”

First of all I will start with the stretching section. I will mention a couple of exercises that you will do on a daily basis, right after you wake up in the morning, and before bed.

These stretches will focus on stretching the muscles of the hips (especially glutes), hamstrings and lower back.

Pigeon Pose 

Pigeon

Happy Baby

happy b

Half Lord of the Fish

lord of fish 

Lumbar Twist Pose

 Lumbar Twist

Cat Stretch

Cat Stretch

Single Knee to Chest Hug

Hug knee

Double Knee Chest Hug

 2knee 

Leg stretch with a Strap

 Leg stretch wrap

Figure 4 stretch

 figure 4

All these exercises are to be done gently, without forcing. If you notice any discomfort while you are doing these exercises, stop immediately. Focus on doing more than 10 seconds stretches for couple of sets. Make sure you stretch the both sides in those exercises that are single leg/side stretches.

Now let me proceed to the most important and forgotten method of strengthening the lower back.

Lower back strength = Injury free

I start from this formula. Those people who are limited in their physical activity are actually having a problem with each and every body part, due to their weak development.

You have seen athletes go through horrible injuries and yet they come back and play again.

You think that having torn cartilage in your knee is weaker injury than the lower back injury? You are wrong. For both injuries real treatment method, strength training program and patience is needed.

Top 5  bodyweight exercises to  strengthen your lower back

Let’s look at the top 5 bodyweight exercises you can do that will strengthen your lower back and will release the feeling of pain.

Hyperextension

hyper

This exercise is to be done on a machine like in the picture below. If you don’t have access to this machine than you can improvise by asking someone to hold your legs while you are lifting your upper body. NOTE: Keep your arms on your head.

Like all other exercises, this one needs to be done in slow tempo.  Again, if you feel any discomfort stop immediately.

Planks

plank

For me the best exercise that targets the whole body is the regular plank.

By doing planks you are strengthening each and every little muscle in your body. I’m mentioning this exercise because it is great for strengthening the muscle of the lower back too. Start by holding 20 seconds and gradually increase the time. Don’t force, the key is to know when is the right time to stop.

Superman Lift

Superman

Superman Lifts Is the most advanced exercise of these 5 along with the plank.

This exercise can be done both in isometric and dynamic way. I really do suggest that you first start with doing accessory exercises for this one. An example is the exercise bellow known as “Lower Back Extension – Leg Lifts”. Also if you have chronic problem it is suggested to start from lifting 1 hand and 1 leg separately, that will also work your lower back and upper back muscles.

super123

Lower Back Extension – Leg Lifts

leg lifts

This exercise is an accessory one for the superman exercise that I mentioned above.

The Lower Back Leg lifts targets all muscles from which the lower back and lower body is consisted. Starting from the hip muscles (glutes), then hamstrings and the most important part the deep pelvic muscles this exercise will strengthen your lower back like no other exercise will.

Lift and lower slowly. If you want to, you can hold the top position for 1 or 2 seconds before lowering your legs back to start.

As I mentioned in the superman exercise you can start with lifting only one leg and progress to this 2 leg variation.

Bridge

glute bridge

Bridging is the forgotten method of developing strong and healthy lower back and healthy spine.

Lift your butt from the ground like in the picture bellow, and hold that position for 2 seconds. Than lower back down, and lift again. This move should be done as slow as possible, that will prevent you from possible injury and unwanted activation of the irritated nerves.

By combining these stretches and strengthening exercises you will see tremendous improvements on your goal of releasing yourself from those long lasting lower back problems.

REMEMBER!

Do every exercise as slow as possible. Don’t force! Start by doing no more than 8-10 repetitions and gradually add sets and increase the reps.

STRETCH A LOT. But again, DON’T FORCE.

Do the stretches as much as you can, it is suggested to do them in the morning and in the evening, but if you can do more, than DO IT!

About the strengthening exercises it is recommended to be done once in a day for no more than 15-20 minutes for start.

TRAIN HARD, TRAIN SMART, EAT HEALTHY!

calisthenics training program

calisthenics training program

Professional trainer, ex cross-fitter and a long time calisthenic practitioner. I started with Convict Conditioning and achieved levels of strength which enabled me to take part in street workouts championships. Check Out our Resources and Start Building Real Strength just using your Bodyweight!
The Best Kept Secret to Improve Your Calisthenics: Flexibility

The Best Kept Secret to Improve Your Calisthenics: Flexibility

It was a few years ago when I entered the gym, more excited than ever to try out my new body weight calisthenics training program. I literally just heard about Convict Conditioning and the power of body weight.

I had been training religiously with weights for more than two years so I was (over)confident that I possessed all of the strength necessary to handle any and all calisthenics that were going to be thrown my way.

Well I was right, in a way.

I DID have a lot of strength, enough to struggle my way through that first day. BUT what I didn’t have was enough flexibility.

As the old saying goes, I was as “stiff as a board” with hamstrings as tight as a drum to go along.

What I had failed to realize is that to truly PERFECT calisthenic exercises, you have to be so much more than just strong. You HAVE to be flexible and able to comfortably move and position your body so that you can use all of that strength in the most efficient ways.

Knowing now that flexibility is the most essential skill to have towards perfecting calisthenics, I have provided you with some of the BEST ways to improve your flexibility and mobility so that YOU can master your calisthenics program!

rumble rolling

Use a Trigger Point Roller to Work on Sore Areas

 

1) Foam Rolling

At least 5 times a week. For at least 30 minutes.

If you’re not flexible like I was, it takes a slight time commitment. The good news is that foam rolling can be done on your time. It doesn’t have to be at the gym, it can easily be done at home while you’re watching TV relaxing. As seen in the picture, you just use the roller and your body weight to rub out the tension in sore muscle areas.

 

As I mentioned before in this article regarding the lacrosse ball; there is no wrong way to go about foam rolling. Just find sore areas and roll on them.

In my opinion the best option for foam rolling is a Trigger Point Foam Roller:
Check it on Amazon here Trigger Point Foam Roller

It might hurt a little at first, but over time your soft tissues will begin to loosen up and your muscles will no longer be as tight which obviously leads to increased flexibility.

If it’s not within your budget to go out and purchase a Foam or Rumble Roller, head to your local hardware store and pick up a decent sized piece of PVC Pipe. It will work just as well.

2) Practice Yoga

yoga

Yoga is an EXCELLENT way to increase flexibility

Seriously, just do it. Forget about how you think it might make you look. EVERYONE should be doing yoga.

Earlier this year I kept experiencing nagging soreness in my hamstrings regardless of how much I warmed up for my training sessions or how much I foam rolled. I would train my legs and then be sore for the rest of the week, just in time for the next leg day.

It wasn’t until I started doing one, one-hour yoga session weekly that I noticed the soreness becoming less and less intense.

Even if you’re only able to make it to one session a week, that’s still much better than avoiding it. Even if you have to skip a normal day of training to make it to yoga, you MUST do it.

Not only will yoga immeasurably increase your flexibility, your mind will be more at peace which will greatly improve ALL areas of your life, most especially your training.

If you’re a guy, stop worrying about what the girls in class are going to think about you, and then ask them out after class!

dancer stretching

Dancers obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to flexibility

 

3) Stretch

DUH!!!

I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere, sometime the “experts” decided that static stretching did nothing for us or was in fact a hindrance to reaching our training (calistenic or otherwise) goals.

Obviously there is a pretty significant correlation or relationship between gymnastics, calisthenics (bodyweight training), dancing , etc. And when it comes to verifying or debunking “rules” shouted out by “experts” , the best way to make a decision is to look at what the professionals do.

Simply look at the picture. I bet she’s more flexible than you or I, and she got that way by STRETCHING! Daily.

There is a very good reason professionals like dancers & martial artists stretch daily. Because it works!

The beauty of calistenic training is that it is so simple. Just you using your bodyweight to get stronger.

Don’t overthink the obvious. If you want to improve your flexibility you must stretch daily.

As with yoga and foam rolling, every little bit helps. If you’re bored at work or home, take 5-10 minutes and stretch your hamstrings, glutes, quads, etc. Every little bit helps.

4) Never Skip Your Warm-Up

If you include things like mobility, foam rolling, or stretching into your regular warm-up, and you never skip the warm-up you’re killing two birds with one stone by consistently working on your flexibility and saving all of that time that you think you don’t have.

Obviously, before doing calishenic work your should NEVER skip your warm-up anyway, but even if you’re pressed for time, and feel the temptation to jump right into your normal training session, DON’T DO IT. Simply cut out some of the volume or work from your training session and save the full warm-up.

5) Always Use Full Range of Motion (ROM)

ROM

Never sacrifice form or ROM for more reps

Lunges suck! They’re hard AND they take longer to complete than most other exercises. For those reasons, you’ll rarely ever see someone actually do them correctly (same for bodyweight squats and many other calistenic moves that involve the legs).

Mostly people sacrifice the movement by doing “half” lunges or “half” squats. By that I mean they fail to use a full range of motion i.e. they don’t go down all of the way.

I’m here to tell you that if you’re serious about increasing your calisthenic skill, you CANNOT sacrifice full range of motion for more “half” reps. If you can only do 5 full ROM lunges, that’s always better than doing 10 “half” reps.

If you’re only doing “half” reps, you’ll never increase (improve) your flexibility, you’re body & central nervous system will never become accustomed to being in positions that are required to complete complex calisthenic movments. Essentially your progress will stall.

No one wants that.

Just by simply making ROM a point of focus in your calisthenic workouts will increase your flexibility without adding any additional time which is always a win-win situation.

Obviously we are all busy.

One of my biggest frustrations with the fitness/exercise industry when I was first starting out was that with all of the information out there, it felt like I could or should always be doing more than I had time for.

I hated that feeling and I don’t want to make you feel like that.

Don’t feel like you won’t be able to make any progress if you can’t or don’t follow every single tip on this list. But if you’re able to add in even just one component to your routine or regimen, your flexibility will be increased, which will help you make the calisthenic progress you desire in no time!

 

 

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Professional trainer, ex cross-fitter and a long time calisthenic practitioner. I started with Convict Conditioning and achieved levels of strength which enabled me to take part in street workouts championships. Check Out our Resources and Start Building Real Strength just using your Bodyweight!