The word Calisthenics comes from ancient Greek kallos which means “beauty,” and sthenos, which refers to “strength”. The ancient Greek and Roman athletes trained using calisthenics to build strength, flexibility and stamina. You can see the efficiency of calisthenics in the sculptures of human bodies that they built.
The Beginning Of Calisthenics
In the ancient times, Calisthenics was seen as strength training system. It was the art used by the finest soldiers to develop maximum fighting power and an intimidating musculature. All their strength was achieved without using any weights or machines. In fact, adjustable barbells weren’t invented until the 19 century and machines came later on.
One of the earliest records of calisthenics came from the historian Herodotus in 480 BC at the famous battle of Thermopylae.There was 300 Spartans versus one million Persians. Before the battle, King Xerxes from the Persian Empire sent scouts to spy on the hopelessly outnumbered Spartan army. To the amazement of Xerxes, the scouts reported back that the Spartan warriors were busy training calisthenics. Xerxes was shocked and confused; he couldn’t believe that the Spartans were preparing for war even though they were greatly outnumbered. Xerxes sent a message to Leonidas, the king leading the Spartan warriors. In the message, it was stated to move or be destroyed. Leonidas refused and decided to fight back the Persians. During the battle, the small Spartan force succeeded in holding Xerxes’ massive army at bay until the other Greek forces arrived.
The Spartans are still seen as the toughest warrior race to have ever lived on this planet. Their main focus during their training was calisthenics. In fact, their ancient style of calisthenics workouts was a major reason why they were very powerful warriors.
Calisthenics In The Ancient Times
During the ancient Greek times, Calisthenics was the primary form of fitness. The historian Pausanius described that all the great athletes of the original Olympic games trained using calisthenics; including boxers, wrestlers and strongmen of the ancient world. The ideal physique carved in Greek statues comes from these athletes who reached their level of development by training calisthenics. The Greeks knew that the practice of calisthenics developed the physique to its maximum natural potential and in perfect proportion with natural aesthetics. It achieves this balance effortlessly, because the resistance used by the body is not too light nor too heavy. Calisthenics produced not only great power and athleticism but also grace in movement and beauty of the physical form. This is the source of the term calisthenics, which combines the Greek words for beauty and strength.
The arts of calisthenics were passed from the Greeks to the Romans. Gladiators relay mainly on calisthenics for their strength and speed in the arena. The physical strength they gained by using Calisthenics combined with their combat training nearly destroyed the Roman Empire in the first century BC, when Spartacus and his gladiators rise up against the Emperor. The elite warriors of the gladiator army were so physically powerful that they defeated many Roman legions, despite being ill-equipped and outnumbered.