Ancient World Callisthenics

Kozushi

More than 2500 posts
A short video by the BBC here.

How ancient Greeks trained for war - BBC Reel

I'm pretty sure they had what we would call callisthenics back then, but it would have fit more for them into the category of acrobatics. Acrobatics was hugely popular back then, primarily as far as the sources go, as a performance art. Tightrope walking, doing sommersaults, jumping and doing handstands from one horse to another as they gallop side by side, tumbling, shooting a bow with your feet while standing on your head and hitting a target, all that stuff that we still know as circus stunts is in the ancient sources and artwork, and it clearly depended on a solid base of bodyweight strength training. What for me as an ancient sports researcher isn't so clear is the link between acrobatics and the workouts of regular people, athletes and soldiers. Their workouts from what we have in terms of sources seem to be quite sport-specific. I've seen video of modern day traditional wrestling gyms in India, and the kind of things they are doing there minus perhaps the club exercises seem to come right out of the ancient Greco-Roman literature, things like burpees (actually a wrestling sprawl - a defensive move cum exercise), rope climbing, jumping, but the main "weight" lifted wasn't freeweights nor your own bodyweight it seems but your partner's bodyweight. As the old adage in India goes, "wrestling is strength", and I can see how wrestling drilling and sparring would be about the best way to develop strength in an ancient society that didn't have barbells or even chinup bars, gymnastics rings nor parallettes. The professional traditional wrestlers are in very good shape and can do remarkable things and feats of strength! Picking up another 250lbs human being repeatedly hours a days will do this to you! :)
 

Kozushi

More than 2500 posts
Roman soldiers had dummy horses to practice jumping on and off of in full armour. Climbing a rope or ladder to scale a fortification or cliff was considered part of military training. Rucking was basic training - the Romans went on a long heavy rucking march once a month to keep fit. I haven't come across descriptions of soldiers doing pushups or callisthenic type exercises though. Plato has a long section of his "Laws" describing military training and he is big on running wearing armour - lots of races of different lengths. Otherwise he talks about training dummies used as targets for missile and melee weapons. Wrestling comes up too. Certainly running gets a lot of attention. Training in formation and fencing are also big ones. Doing things like chinups or the human flag don't come up.
 

Kozushi

More than 2500 posts
The Pyrrhic dance, which means the war dance, was part of military training in Ancient Greece. It mimicked the postures of battle: brandishing your weapons, turning your shield, crouching, leaping, dodging, retreating (almost verbatim from Plato by the way). He points out that you should keep yourself in a tense, rigid posture for the movements to make them effective. I suppose we see a kind of strength and mobility training here that is combat-specific.

Women/girls are to learn the same military and athletic exercises and men/boys according to Plato, who saw this being the case among some neighbouring peoples to the Greeks (the Sarmatians for instance). Both men and women are trainers under his system.

Ambidexterity is to be trained, as it's fundamental to fighting as in wrestling, boxing, pankration, horse archery etc...

He says physical training is divided into two subjects: dancing and wrestling. Dancing he says is mainly concerned with bending and stretching, for physical fitness, agility and beauty. I can see cartwheels, handstands, hand springs, sommersaults, back bridges, all the stuff of modern day Gymnastic floorwork being a part of this. He says that all the fundamentals of dancing taught in the gymnasia carry over to "all forms of dancing" which must entail the military dances too, and for dramatic performances all the way from musical dance to the theatre to pantomime. (In book 7, chapter 796.)

So, I think we've found our proof of callisthenics as part of Greek athletics and basic military training then. But we need to notice that no mention is made of pullup bars or poles - seems to have been floorwork exclusively or probably exclusively.

Callisthenics/acrobatics predates the Greeks of course. We've plenty of evidence for these arts from much older civilizations. It was huge in China too let alone Egypt etc...
 

WhatWouldHulkDo

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Just a thought... if I'm an ancient general with an army of citizen soldiers whom I primarily need to stay in formation and keep fighting until I say it's time to stop fighting, do I have them spend much time training things like pullups? Probably not.

But, if I have my smaller troop of special forces whom I primarily need to scale and neutralize fortified positions so the enemies inside don't decimate my army, do I want them training pullups? Heck yeah.

I think there are things the masses ideally ought to be trained in... and there are things that separate some from the masses.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

Long marches in full gear were also usual. Basic conditioning, adapted to the terrain. If I remember well, Spartan soldiers were not that much dressed, all year long, to get used to both cold and hot temperatures for instance.

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Kozushi

More than 2500 posts
Just a thought... if I'm an ancient general with an army of citizen soldiers whom I primarily need to stay in formation and keep fighting until I say it's time to stop fighting, do I have them spend much time training things like pullups? Probably not.

But, if I have my smaller troop of special forces whom I primarily need to scale and neutralize fortified positions so the enemies inside don't decimate my army, do I want them training pullups? Heck yeah.

I think there are things the masses ideally ought to be trained in... and there are things that separate some from the masses.
They trained to climb ropes and to (I don't know the word for it) monkey climb(?) along a horizontal rope. They had to be able to do this to get across difficult terrain or into fortifications. And yes, there is written evidence for doing exercises hanging from a bar - sadly they don't get into detail as to exactly what, but I'll imagine pullups, chinups, levers, L-sits, muscle ups, swinging, etc.
 

kiwipete

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
fantastic post! I ended up watching the BBC video that played right into one about climbing Everest! Well worth watching too!
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

Below is the new entire Aleks Salkin' s article, regarding "old time bodyweight training":

How to melt fat and chisel muscle ‘the Greek way’

What’s the best thing about calisthenics (bodyweight-only) training?

The first thing that comes to mind for most people is usually that it’s convenient, it can be done anywhere, etc. But then again, that also describes the Thigh Master, and that thing’s patently worthless.

So while it’s very true that calisthenics is convenient and so on, what I love about it is that it’s also hands-down one of the most effective and efficient ways of blasting fat, chiseling out a lean, impressive physique, and building some real-world functional strength - and it does so without becoming a huge drain on your time.

Best of all:

Most calisthenics exercises are easier on the body and the joints than weight training alone, so you can work hard day in and day out – even on a high-mileage body – without piling up more injuries and tweaks.

It’s no wonder the Greeks (who coined the term “calisthenics” from kalos sthenos – beautiful strength) relied so heavily on this type of training to build up their warriors, athletes, scholars, and average citizens alike toward the human physical ideal.

The famous Greek philosopher Socrates even said “no one has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training”.

And what better way to take your body from amateur to pro than by adopting the form of training that the godfathers of Western physical culture – the Greeks – used to carve their shoulders, chest, back, core, glutes, legs, and every nook and cranny of their bodies so well that they saw fit to immortalize them in the classic statues that still hold firm as the standard for physical development even today?

So here’s a quick workout for you, split into two parts: a strength section and a high-rep conditioning section. If you’ve only got time for one, by all means, choose whichever one sounds more exciting/achievable for you and do the other section on a different day.

For the strength work, you should use your 8-10 rep max, or adjust the technique as needed to make sure you’re at around that level. For your conditioning work, use your 20+ rep max.

Strength

5 pike pushups with feet elevated
5 L-sit pullups
5 Pistol squats per leg
5 L-sit leg raises
5 Back bridge pushups

*Repeat for 5 rounds – rest as little as possible but as much as necessary between exercises and between rounds*

Conditioning

10 ring rows
10 dive bomber pushups
10 hip thrusts
10 Cossack squats

*Repeat for 3 rounds – rest as little as possible but as much as necessary to maintain proper form*

Here’s a short video with a demo of all the moves:

https://youtu.be/ln4TjzKdEx4

In time, you should seek to make your strength work harder by adding depth (such as in the pike pushups), longer pauses at the top/bottom of an exercise (which works great in pullups, pistols, leg raises, and back bridges), or, simply add another rep or two per set.

For the conditioning, work your way up to 5 rounds, then work up to completing all of the reps in fewer rounds.

For example, instead of 5 sets of 10 reps, go for 4 sets of 15, and then 3 sets of 20 (both of which will net you an extra 10 reps – win/win). By the time you can do 2x30, you’re ready for a newer, harder variation.

Do this three times a week – sometimes do 3 or 4 rounds for strength and 2-4 for conditioning (you don’t always want to do the same amount of work) – and as the weeks pass, don’t be surprised if you start turning heads at the pool, the beach, and around the neighborhoo
d as people start asking what brand new workout you’re doing. If you want to throw them for a loop and maintain your reign as the best looking bod in the neighborhood, tell them you use a Thigh Master and see if they all race out to get one. But if you like a little competition, forward them this program. Nothing spurs new growth like a little competition.

Now, before you go and carve out a physique that would make even the Farnese Herculese sculpture below feel jealous, let me first ask: are you on my email list?

If not, what are you thinking, man/ma'am?!

My email list is where all my top-shelf, grade A info goes out on the daily - NOT on social media.

In my daily emails, I'll show-and-tell my favorite tried-and-true methods for getting stronger, fitter, and healthier at home - no gym and no hour-long workouts required.

Plus, you'll get access to all my programs, challenges, courses, guides, and other no BS materials to help you get stronger, fitter, and healthier the fastest and simplest way possible (though not easy - nothing worth doing will ever be easy)

Click here to climb aboard (and get my free 8-week kettlebell and bodyweight challenge to boot)

==> https://alekssalkin.leadpages.co/8weekchallenge/

Have fun and happy training!

Aleks Salkin

You can also read other article, by following him on Facebook, right here:
Aleks "The Hebrew Hammer" Salkin

Then I wonder if a more "simple" approach such as TNW, paired with 2 or 3 heavy swing sessions a week and some pull ups would also lead to this kind of physique (which would be here a by product of strength)

Kind regards,

Pet'
 
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