“Complete Calisthenics” delivers an overview of body-weight exercises, as well as the information needed to begin a calisthenic workout program. It covers advanced exercises such as planches, levers, and flags, but it also provides simplified modifications and progressions for said advanced exercises for those who aren’t ready to leap into gymnast level practice. I’d say this book is ideal for an intermediate level practitioner or, at least, someone in sound physical shape who can knock out several push-ups and at least a few pull-ups. It offers one the information necessary to gradually progress toward the most advanced levels. While there are simplified modifications, a beginner who is out of shape may need more content on capacity-building and simplified modifications to get started.
The first six chapters form an introduction and give essential background information on equipment, nutrition, rest / recovery, warming up / mobility, and flexibility. The warming up and stretching sections provide many photos and explanations of key points, just as the latter exercise sections do.
Chapters seven through twenty describe and demonstrate the various exercises. These chapters can be divided into the first five chapters (ch. 7 through 11) that cover upper-body push and pull exercises (i.e. push-ups, pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups, and handstands.) Each of the aforementioned exercises has a range of variations offered–some easier and many harder than the basic. Chapters 12 through 16 explore levers (planche, front lever, back lever, half lever, and human flag) and these offer progressions, variations, and various approaches to entering the pose—since most practitioners will not be able to proceed straight to the full expression of the technique. Chapters 17 through 20 delve into the core, lower body, and full-body exercises. These are: floor core exercises (17), leg raises (18), lower body / leg exercises (19), and conditioning exercises–i.e. the full-body exercises that get the heart pumping (20.)
The last two chapters suggest an approach to building a training program and offer an FAQ, respectively. The approach suggested involves four levels. The first is called “the fundamental five” and it is built around push-ups, pull-ups, dips, hanging knee raises, and squats. The next builds upon the first and prepares one to transition to the third, which focuses on learning to do the levers. The final is called “complete calisthenics” and it incorporates all the advanced. The author also describes how one might approach optimizing one’s program to one’s needs and abilities.
The one thing that I missed is a discussion of intervals. Even if the author doesn’t use or recommend such an approach (timed work/rest), I expected he would discuss his rationale. In the FAQ, he does mention that the reason that he doesn’t discuss periodization (having occasional light spells for long-term recovery) is because they must be tailored to the needs / fitness level of the individual. At any rate, the role of time in workouts was conspicuously absent.
That said, I found this book to be quite well done overall. The pictures are explicit. The write-ups mention important points of consideration—e.g. safety challenges. There’s a thorough coverage of progressions and modifications. I’d recommend this book for anyone who practices calisthenics. Again, it’s probably a little more suitable for someone who either has an existing practice that they’d like to ramp up, or at least someone who has a reasonable level of fitness starting out.