I’m going to be honest with you, up until last year I thought Calisthenics was just a bougie term for middle school P.E. class. As embarrassing as it may be to admit, the first image that popped into my head when I thought about Calisthenics was a jungle gym, kids being (annoying) kids and climbing up the domes or testing how long they can hang off of the tallest ladders. I say this as a former (annoying) kid - I even have a moderately gnarly scar on my right knee from falling off of the giant jungle gym at school. So, I guess I would consider myself a bit of a Calisthenics legend.
I only looked into Calisthenics in more detail after I got in touch with Anupama Shivacharya for a Näck Campaign. Anupama is the first certified female Calisthenics coach in India, and while I was reading up on her and her amazing journey I realised how incredibly wrong I had been about Calisthenics.
Sure, you may find some use out of a children’s playground or a jungle gym in your workout, but the world of Calisthenics is so far beyond just earning bragging rights for hanging on to the pole the longest out of your entire 6th grade class. The bragging rights are pretty cool, though.
If you’re like me, and you think back to your school playground or military training when you think of Calisthenics, let me give you a little breakdown.
Welcome to Calisthenics 101.
At the foundational level, Calisthenics is resistance training using your own body weight - meaning you use little to no equipment. It uses functional movements to help strengthen your flexibility, agility, balance, and coordination.
According to Tee Major, author of Urban Calisthenics, “the fundamental goal of Calisthenics workouts should be mastering control over lifting and moving your body in space.” And if you’re thinking that’s the goal for a lot of the workouts you already do, you won’t be wrong. Squats, push-ups, lunges, crunches, dips, jumping jacks, broad jumps, handstands — all Calisthenics.
We rounded up some of the leading Calisthenics coaches and practitioners in India to learn a little bit more about the community and their journeys.
Anupama Shivacharya, India’s 1st Certified Female Calisthenics Coach
Anupama was first introduced to Calisthenics in 2018 while attending a parkour workshop. She caught a woman repping 15-20 pull-ups at one go, and she was hooked. She started heading down to her neighbourhood park and began practising with the local Calisthenics athletes. “The vibe was beautiful. We blazed rap and hip-hop songs on the stereo and practised every evening until dark and the park authorities threw us out. One pull-up led to two and then ten and soon I was participating in the National Calisthenics Championship - 2019. I placed Runner Up in the Endurance Athlete category.”
But, as with most other fitness communities, she found the Calisthenics scene to be largely dominated by men. Most women feared that the movements would make them bulk up or look muscular and stayed far away from the Calisthenics parks, leading Anupama to realise that just like her, other women need female role models as well. With this as her driving force, she set out to get certified as a Calisthenics coach and made history by being the first female Calisthenics coach in India! “The reception has been great and many of my female clients are outperforming their male friends, partners and counterparts. ”
A major part of her mission since being certified has been to break the notion that Calisthenics is a hardcore, intense form of fitness. “Even basic movements like plank, bodyweight squats and performing a push up on the kitchen-top or dining table are callisthenics. It can be especially helpful for folks who can't afford a gym, are shy to attend a group session or are afraid to lift free weights.”
In the coming years, Anupama hopes to see more people seek out their local Calisthenics parks, trainers, and communities to take better care of their health. “We already have world-class Calisthenics athletes in India and more will follow but the general public needs Calisthenics more than we know.”
Kirsten Varela, Calisthenics Coach and Founder, Elysium Calisthenics Park
Kirsten started his fitness journey at the age of 19 at a conventional brick and mortar gym, but soon found himself wanting to branch outside. The gym was much too monotonous and boring and Kirsten was seeking something more.
He was first exposed to the crazy world of Calisthenics by watching a YouTube video, and he was intrigued by the moves and tricks the athletes were performing.
“Calisthenics was exactly the opposite (of the gym vibe). I found it exciting, thrilling and enjoyed the encouraging and positive vibes of the Calisthenics community.”
He taught himself Calisthenics by watching tutorials on YouTube. Without proper guidance, it was difficult to grasp the correct techniques but he challenged himself by only working on the basics for the first 6 months. He soon moved to Australia to study and got involved with Calisthenics on a deeper level. But, once he returned he found that there were no specialised studios or parks for Calisthenics in India. Wanting to create a space for people to practise and build a community, he got together with some friends and set up Elysium Calisthenics Park in 2018 - the first official Calisthenics park in India. “In the beginning, it took time to grow. But after a year, there were times when I had over a 100 students per session!”
He has high hopes for the future of Calisthenics, not just in India but all over the world.
“People are missing out big time, if they don't indulge in this beautiful form of fitness!”
Geetika Tandon, Calisthenics Practitioner
Just like a lot of us, Geetika started taking control of her health and fitness on a more intense level after the first lockdown. “I got stronger and was looking for something challenging once things opened up. I had been following a few Calisthenic pages for a while and realised that it was something I wanted to try finally.”
After scrolling through a ton of Calisthenics videos, she decided to look for Calisthenics parks and classes around her, which proved to be a bit of a challenge since there weren’t too many to choose from, and the lot she had to pick from were going to be a quite a journey to get to. Fortunately, she found a couple of parks close to her after a bit of a wait, and she decided to finally give Calisthenics a go. “It’s definitely something you can start practising at home, and that’s the beauty of it. Although I can see why it would seem intimidating without a coach, so i think classes are the best way to start”
During her time practising, she has seen a sizeable growth in the Calisthenics community.
“Just the word Calisthenics was so Greek to everyone a few years ago, but now it's growing and fast! Even people in gyms are inclined towards Calisthenics. From people practising in small places, to moving into large parks, it's the next big thing in fitness.”
Geetika is looking forward to seeing more parks opening up across the country, and more people of all genders, and all ages trying their hand at this beautiful sport.
As someone who is not a fan of traditional gyms, and as a former Calisthenics legend (bragging rights don’t have expiry dates), I do find myself interested in trying out Calisthenics for myself, get reacquainted with the bars and climbing domes from my childhood, and of course feel like an absolute badass.
Calisthenics is by no means a small community - it’s growing everyday with more people seeking to challenge themselves, and there’s only bright things ahead for these wonderful athletes as they keep hanging, pushing, and pulling the limit!