In the December, 2007 issue of Men’s Health, I came across a very thought-provoking article written about Robert Dos Remedios and his now-released book “Men’s Health Power Training.” The director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, Dos Remedios is critical of workouts such as the leg extension press machine and dumbbell curls. “You never isolate muscles in the real world…” He’s absolutely right.
Whenever you do something physical, from playing a sport to shoveling to lifting an object off the ground, you’re going to use multiple muscle groups. You’re also moving several joints while you do it. So, why does it make any sense to craft a routine that will heavily isolate your muscles and work only one joint? Also think about this: there are two ways to create power in your body. One is by the potential energy stored in your muscles and the other is by knowing how to synergistically moving your muscles to create power. If you’re always working just one leg of a potential movement, how are you doing to train yourself to create power throughout your body?
The obvious answer to this problem is to focus your efforts on using exercises where more than one joint moves. While Dos Remedios obviously relies on weights for strength training in order to achieve this with his athletes, I obviously lean towards not using them and relying on calisthenics instead. I have a good reason for this though. Can you think of a calisthenic exercise that doesn’t move at least two joints? Can you think of a weighted exercise that only moves one? Fact is, weighted exercises often move only one joint while calisthenics will move two, even three at a time.
While they’re unlikely to build the bodybuilding competition-winning physique any time soon, calisthenics have an obvious advantage in the quest for the real world strength physique. They are naturally compound exercises and will help you build a body that is as strong as it is functional.