The challenge is what my muscles needed to stay healthy long-term.
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” ― Molière
EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: Any advice or recommendation given in my writing is what works for ME and may not be the best regimen for you based on your psychological or physiological makeup and stability. Please consult a doctor when making decisions about your health.
For those who’ve been following my fitness journey on Medium, you’ve read my article espousing how I made the change to calisthenics about two years ago and felt it was one of the greatest changes I’ve made in fitness life.
With the rise of the pandemic and the shutting down of gyms all over the world, I had to do something to keep myself in shape and, after a bit of internet googling, calisthenics seemed like the way to go.
There are a number of great benefits to it that I write about in my previous article that includes being able to do it anywhere at any time, pushing my muscles to do more functional movements and the savings of not having to pay for a gym membership anywhere.
These three things have been great, but I began to notice that I was somewhat plateauing as it relates to some of my calisthenics moves. Therefore, I started to do a bit of research to see what things could help with this.
While the use of elastic bands is definitely something I plan to implement in the short future, one thing that I also started to see was the use of dumbells to strengthen various muscles that could improve my calisthenics movements.
As I begin to implement them, I started to notice a few things that have made up my mind that bringing weight training back into my regimen is a good thing for my body in the long run.
Variety is always good to keep the muscles guessing
When I do my calisthenics workout, I’m usually focused on accomplishing some specific move that requires a great deal of strength and skill. Whether it’s a handstand pushup or a full front lever, the work it takes to strengthen my muscles and improve my skills to perform a move takes hours and hours of me doing the exact same move in just a different way.
Many times, it doesn’t appear that I am progressing at all and my muscles are just getting used to the exercise. The improvement can be very slow, and when it comes to truly pushing my muscles to the next level, it just doesn’t happen overnight.
By adding weight back into my workout regimen, I’ve been able to implement a number of different exercises that are different from my everyday calisthenics work and, therefore, give my body a bit more variety to keep it guessing and growing.
Muscle confusion is the concept of switching up your workouts regularly to keep them guessing and growing. While you have to be careful to not try to switch too frequently or else your body won’t get the time it needs to grow, this is a great concept to make sure your body doesn’t get too used to doing the same thing over and over.
The reasoning behind this relates to how our brain and bodies are connected through a protein call PGC1a that increases when our muscles are stimulated. This improves the nerve connection for feedback between our muscles and our motor neurons.
When your body becomes used to an exercise over time, it doesn’t respond in the same manner from a growth perspective. This is part of what happens when you find yourself performing the same types of exercises and not seeing any major improvements in your strength.
By adding weights and doing different exercises, I’m now challenging myself in a number of new ways that force my PCG1a creation to increase based on the need for greater focus and intensity of my mind to perform the new movement efficiently over time.
I can do more progressive overload to steadily keep my strength increasing
In the same vein, it is much easier for me to perform progressive overload by using different weights as opposed to trying to do so while doing calisthenics.
In calisthenics, typically the way you increase your weight is by “unlocking” a different version of an exercise to be able to push your body to the next level of growth, so you will be able to get better at whatever skill on which you’re working.
Sometimes, the issue with this is that the next variation can take a fairly long time for you to be able to perform. For many of the exercises, it is not only about the strength of your muscles that allow you to perform said exercise but also the strength of your tendons to hold different poses or positions as well.
With that being the case, the development of those tendons can take a bit of time and cannot really be rushed or you may hurt yourself or damage something. Therefore, you are advised to be able to hit a certain amount of time with a hold (usually about 20–30 seconds) before moving on to the next level.
This can take some time and may not allow your muscles to grow at the clip that you would like.
Now that I’m back lifting weights, however, I can easily add more weight to the exercise I’m doing to push myself to grow faster without being in danger of pulling a tendon or hurting myself. Instead of having to wait to “unlock” the next variation to challenge my muscles more, I can just add a 2.5 or 5 lb weight to the exercise and go from there.
This has allowed me to make some pretty healthy gains in the last four weeks that has motivated me to continue to work to see more improvement with time.
It actually helps prevent possible injuries in the future
This last reason is something that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but I think it has definitely made a difference in my overall fitness health.
From a book I read, Younger Next Year, one of the findings from research from the authors is that individuals who live a vibrant life into their 80s never stopped lifting weights as they aged.
In fact, from the research, not only did they lift weights, but they didn’t stop lifting what would be considered heavyweight for them (something they could only lift for 4–6 reps) and to push themselves to really get their heart rate up during their exercise (60–65%).
Part of this reasoning is from the concept that we are always in one of two stages (growth or decay), so you have to push your muscles to steadily grow by lifting heavier weights to prevent them from atrophying over time.
I hurt my knee about 9 months ago from running and was wondering why it was so challenging for it to heal, as I have not been able to run for some time now.
What I was able to recognize shortly after going back to use heavier weight in my workout is that the muscle tendons around my knee were not getting the strength training that they needed to become strong enough to heal properly.
A month after I went back to using weights with my leg training, I began to notice that my knee began to feel much stronger and supported across the board.
This made sense in light of what was shared in Younger Next Year, as the authors talk extensively about how continuing to challenge your muscles allows them to build up the strength to actually prevent injuries in the future, as opposed to being the cause of them as some people may think.
By making sure your muscles are strong enough to support your bones and tendons throughout your body, you actually decrease the chance of some sudden movement or fall being the reason that something tears or breaks and causes a major injury.
Consistent weight training is a great strategy for long-term growth, and while calisthenics is still my workout regimen of choice, adding weight training back into the mix has given me what I need to take it to the next level.