Bodyweight training and calisthenics are safe. Seriously, compared to most activities, you’re in a pretty good spot as far as getting hurt goes.
Still, there are a few risks that come bundled with this approach to training and by recognizing these on the way in, we can head them off and ensure a long and healthy calisthenics career awaits you. So, let’s take a look at what to expect.
RISK 1: REPETITIVE STRAIN
Bodyweight training is notoriously high-repetition. In honing strength-skills, it is necessary to put in thousands of repetitions on the basics. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, all come in for the high-volume treatment in most peoples’ routines.
This constant repetition is easy on the bony parts of the joints. Very rarely do you find a bodyweight specialist with serious back or knee problems caused by training. Repetitive strain injuries from all the repetitions, though, are a little more common. Tendonitis, bursitis, tennis elbow, golfers’ elbow, all are possible if not likely.
Don’t rely only on high repetitions. Research, discover and practice variations of movements. The more widely you practice, the less likely to incur a repetitive strain injury. Working on more advanced variations of movements means more strength work and less repetitions, which is a double benefit!
RISK 2: RUSHING
Having said that you should play with more advanced versions of movements, there is a risk to this. Doing too many jumping variations before the strength and stability of the joints are established, working on advanced core moves before the back muscles are ready to do their part, doing too many one-armed variations before you are proficient in the basics; all of these put you at risk for (respectively), the banged-up knees, back injuries, and muscle tears that bodyweight training otherwise largely avoids.
Introduce new movements slowly. Also, try to make it a playful process. There is no need to rush. The handstand push-up isn’t going anywhere; you can take a few years to master it and make sure you do it correctly.
Make the basics the bulk of your training. And make all of your ‘serious’ training focus on movements which you can competently execute. Add the advanced stuff in as play until it gets easy enough to move it into full rotation.
RISK 3: FALLING OFF STUFF
This sounds ridiculous, but if you’re doing box jumps, using stairs, and doing a lot of bar work, especially one-handed, then you will occasionally fall off something. Fall wrong and you’re looking at hurting more than just your pride.
Just like with ‘advanced’ movements, stick to what you can comfortably do, especially with things like box jumps. Beyond this, silly as it sounds, play sensibly. Don’t mess around unless you know you have something soft to land on, don’t climb on unnecessarily unstable things, and if you do fall, try to land softly!
RISK 4: IMBALANCES
It’s common for lifters of all varieties to develop imbalances. This is especially true of ‘bench-monkey’ lifters who work chest five days a week, arms three times, and legs once a year. However, even the calisthenics community is not immune!
Under-developed legs, relatively weak lower backs and, in those who don’t do enough pull-ups, weak upper and middle-back muscles are common.
Train for balance. Aim to spend about twice as much time on the back side of your body as the front, and at least equal time on upper body, lower body and core work. Keep a training diary and periodically check in to make sure you are hitting this kind of ratio in your training.
THE TAKE HOME
It’s not hard to tweak your bodyweight routine to bulletproof yourself and given the health and longevity benefits this type of training can so easily afford, it seems crazy not to implement these simple tips.
Assess your training and see if you need to bring any of these tips in to ensure you a long and healthy training life.