Off the Gym, On the Streets

January 03, 2016 by Zean Villongco

It’s nothing like your typical gym workout. First of all, there are no conventional gym facilities to begin with. You are outside in the park; your equipment are only a pull-up bar, some benches, and the pavement; and your weights are nothing more than your very own weight. This is street workout.

At Track 30th in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, I caught up with what perhaps would have been a cast audition for the role of Spartan men in the movie 300. Any average ‘dad-bod’ Joe would have probably had his ego crushed while standing in the midst of a bunch of sweaty shirtless guys with rock-solid abs that could probably take on a sledgehammer and insanely ripped physiques that could only have been genetically engineered or were the freakish products of some cyborg experimentation. There they were, flipping themselves up on the pull-up bars or pressing a series of one-handed push-ups.

“Street workout came from calisthenics. Calisthenics means ‘beauty in strength’,” Edmon Luna, one of the founders of Street Workout Philippines, explicated. “The difference between gym and calisthenics is that calisthenics uses body weight instead of gym equipment.”

Calisthenics, being such a fundamental form of exercise based on body weight, is ancient and appears in various forms and guises throughout the world, most often as part of the training regimen of indigenous martial arts disciplines from Greek Pankration to Keralan Kalaripayattu. It is most often associated with the Greeks, given its etymology. Calisthenics gained recognition as a distict form of physical exercise in the United States in the 19th century by adherents of german gymnast Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. In the suceeding world wars, all sides trained their military men with regimens that borrowed heavily from Jahn's gymnastics-based exercises.

The street workout scene owes much of its current popularity to YouTube, as street crews started posting videos of their workout routines much to the curiosity and amazement of online viewers. The movement has already gathered much momentum and significant following that international federations have already been organized, and world championship games are now held annually. A quick Google search will yield you more than a hundred million results linking you to a Wikipedia reference, numerous team websites and Facebook pages, various exercise articles, and a few download sites for workout apps.

Here in the Philippines, street workout is steadily gaining traction as individual enthusiasts liaise with each other through social media and are coming together to assemble formal teams. The Street Workout Philippines crew, for one, started out in 2013 with only four members who, through their YouTube videos, managed to attract people to try out this reinvented fitness medium. They established their haunt at BGC on account of the availability of pull-up bars at Track 30th and its being at the strategic center of where most of the crew members are located. They meet regularly every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8 to 10 in the evening, a decent enough time to accommodate any office employee who’d like to get a really good workout after work while waiting off the evening traffic.

Unlike in most gyms, workouts on the street are tough and gritty. In street workout, there are no fluff, no poser, no little-miss-prissy, and most especially, no membership fee.

So how does one get started? “At first, we assess them,” Edmon explained. “If they can’t do pull-ups, we make them do push-ups. Mastering the push-up works the ground foundation before we go to the head foundation like the pull-ups and dips.” Edmon then further added that from this foundation, one graduates to executing more difficult calisthenics movements.

As one of the other crew members showed me a video of some beefed up guy doing some really extreme and already gymnastic moves on the bar, I thought, this is not the calisthenics that was taught to you in physical education class back in school. This is calisthenics ripped.

I decided to give what they were doing a try and subjected myself to their assessment. After competently executing a series of pull-ups and push-ups, Edmon handed me a favorable appraisal. “You’re strong. You’re already good for advanced.” Guess there’s still plenty of juice left in this old geezer. But I was damn well aware that in the next few days, my muscles would be throbbing sore like crazy. And so right I was, which only demonstrated how downright effective the workout turned out to be. Perhaps give it a few months of doing this sort of gig, I myself would be sporting one of those diabolically ripped washboard abs.

Exerpts from 'Body Double: Bodyweight Alternatives To Strength Training Classics'
By Al Kavadlo, CSCS

Push-ups Instead of Bench Press
Close-grip (aka "diamond") push-ups are a perfect progression from the standard shoulder-width variety, and when those get easy, you can start training toward clapping push-ups and one-arm push-ups.

Handstand Push-ups Instead of Military Presses
Unlike standard push-ups, handstand push-ups require a great deal of strength. If you aren't ready for handstand push-ups yet, try doing them with your body bent in half at the hips and your feet resting on a bench.

Pull-ups Instead of Pull-downs
For many people, simply working toward being able to do 10-15 pull-ups is enough of a challenge. However, just as with push-ups, if pull-ups ever get too easy for you there are a lot of ways to ramp up the difficulty. Just a few include clapping pull-ups, muscle-ups, one-hand pull-ups (where your opposite arm grips your forearm), and one-armed pull-ups.

Australian Pull-ups Instead of Bent-Over Rows
The Australian pull-up (or bodyweight row, or supine row, as it's also known) can be a great tool for a beginner to help work toward a full pull-up. However, even pull-up bar aficionados can still benefit from keeping this move in their regimen.

One-Legged Squats Instead of Weighted Squats
By squatting on just one leg, you automatically double the amount of resistance on your squat without needing any external load. Even guys who can comfortably squat more than their bodyweight on a barbell still struggle with one-legged pistol squats. The pistol will challenge your balance and mobility, as well as potentially eradicating minor lower-body muscle imbalances. They take plenty of practice, so don't be discouraged if you can't do them right away.

Back bridges or Back Levers Instead of Deadlifts
Bridging provides a nice stretch for the entire front of your body while simultaneously working every muscle on the opposite side. It's a fantastic strengthener for the entire posterior chain. You can do them for reps or simply hold the top position for time.

The back lever is definitely an advanced move, but if you're ready for it, it's also a fantastic tool for working your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. And just like good ol' deadlifts, back levers will also give your grip a nice workout.

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