T Nation

Calisthenics Saves the Day


It all started when my MMA coach took me to the gym on day.
I was 15 years old at the time. Seeing my coach execute seemingly perfect squats, deadlifts and other movements made me fall in love with the iron.

I jumped from body building to power lifting, olympic lifting to strongman training and everything in between. I was possessed by the heavy weights.
Let me note that I am by no means a big guy. Im 5.6 and 155 pounds at my heaviest.
I look more like Bruce Lee and less like Ed Coan. But watching beasts like Jesse Norris, Brian Shaw and others lift massive weights had me determined to see how much I can lift.
I eventually got a 405 deadlift, 315 squat and 275 bench, as well as a 155 military press.
I was stoked about the progress but serious lower back, hip and shoulder injuries started catching up. My performance deteriorated and I felt like a weakling in a buffed out body.
As much as I did recovery and mobility work, foam rolling and warming up. Nothing seemed to help and my body was not having the heavy weights.

I felt lost. Like a big part of my identity was gone. But then I discovered the incredible potential of calisthenics and kettlebell work.

This is the program I wrote and followed for the past 6 months with frequent tweaking here and there.
It brought tremendous results and radically reduced the pain/inflammation I experienced from my injuries.
Note that I did use a relatively light kettlebell for my lower body movements and bands for some upper body work.

Box jump 5x 3-5
Superset: Clapping pushups 5x 6-10

Goblet squats 3x 10-15
Superset: Kettlebell overhead press 3x 4-6 ea

Inverted rows 5x 10-15

HSPUs 5x 6-15
Superset: Band face pulls 5x 10-15

Hollow rock hold 3x 10-20sec
Superset: SB ham curls 3x 10-15

Kettlebell swings 5x 6-10
Superset: Kettlebell pushpress 5x 5ea

Turkish getups 3x1ea
Superset: Racked kettlebell step-ups 3x 8-12ea

Pullups 5x 6-15

Ring dips 3x 8-12
Superset: Band pullaparts 3x 10-15

Stir the pot 3x 10-20sec
Superset: Band anti rotation 3x 8-12 ea

Note, I repeated days 1 & 2 twice each, and took the rest of the days off in this sequence: Day 1, Day 2, OFF, Day 1, Day 2, OFF, OFF

I am happy to say that I haven’t lost much size. I look more defined. My injuries are slowly fading away and I am enjoying training more than ever.
The most difficult part was getting over my old PR’s and previous identity of “heavy lifter.” The benefits of this new training style outweigh the costs, and that is what is important to me.

Please share similar stories, or ideas about calisthenics, heavy lifting or anything in between. And feel free to try the workout template above.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.


Hey man,

I’ve trained for several years in a similar style - mostly kettlebells, along with basic calisthenics (pull-ups, push-ups, pistol squats). I’m currently following 5/3/1 to build my lower body back up following an injury, but I’m itching to get back to kettlebells and bodyweight. I can totally related to the mental side of it as well, and it feels heartbreaking to lose strength on barbell exercises, but ultimately the improvement in quality of movement and how you feel is completely worth it. They aren’t magic - I can still mess up my shoulders with heavy kettlebell presses etc, and I’ve had to give up pistol squats - but they do have so many advantages.

Have you ever followed one of Pavel or Dan John’s routines? Or just your routine above? I’d highly recommend checking some out if you haven’t done so already.

Also is your username a Dire Straits reference? Fantastic stuff.

I look forward to following this log.


Hey! I appreciate your comment.

You make a great point about KBs and calisthenics not being risk free. I have definitely walked on the tight rope and nearly injured myself with movements like kettlebell presses and ring muscle ups. I have read somewhere that common calisthenics injuries include shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries because we spend so much time on our hands.

I have followed Pavel’s basic program outlined in his book “Enter the kettlebell” but am not aware of Dan John’s. I would really appreciate it if you enlighten me about those programs.

Also, what injury are you recovering from? I am curious as to how you are using the 5/3/1 program to recover from it.

And yes it is a Dire Straits reference. I wanted to use the actual song’s name but didn’t want to limit myself to kettlebell “swings” haha.

Hope to hear from you soon.


Dan John has a great routine called the 10,000 Swing Routine (https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/10000-swing-kettlebell-workout). It’s basically 3-4 sessions per week each made up of high rep kettlebell swings and a strength movement. I’ve done it once fully and really enjoyed it.

I’ve spent a while doing Pavel’s Rite of Passage routine, but the high volume of presses bugged my shoulders. I had huge success with his Simple and Sinister routine though - I ran it for over 6 months and it’s definitely the best routine I’ve ever done in terms of general athleticism and injuries, but I lost size and upper body strength.

I had a nasty open tibial fracture in January, and needed a metal rod the length of the bone. It was 10 weeks before I was able to start to walk again, and it’s taking a while to build up my strength. The reason I’m using barbell is because it feels safer than explosive, less stable kettlebell movements and also because I can load them incrementally, and progress really gradually. I have more recently begun to re-introduce two-handed kettlebell swings and unweighted Turkish get-ups.


Wow! I hope you recover from that injury smoothly. Seems like you know what you have to do.
I have tried the Simple and Sinister program as well and it is, as you said, very effective. But for someone with the additional goal of developing muscle mass, it isnt the best option.
Thanks for informing me about Dan John’s program, Ill check it out. I would also urge you to check out the homemademuscle page on YouTube if you dont know about it.
Its this guy from Greece who had to amputate his leg after a gnarly accident. He advocates calisthenics and other more philosophical training concepts. He has made some useful bodyweight training programs too.

In the meantime, get well soon. Train hard and smart.
Thanks for your input.