The history of calisthenics

The world has always liked a show of strength. Whether it is in a battle or simply for harmless entertainment, the lure of flaring muscles and men and women performing to show off. With this came the need to continually exert their muscles through training and exercises to maintain and increase their body mass and muscles. Within the history of calisthenics, these are the reasons that eventually led to the coming of modern calisthenics.

Calisthenics has become very popular in our day due to the numerous benefits which it is sure to provide. However, not many people are aware of the history of calisthenics. However, for you to appreciate what the whole concept of calisthenics is about, it is important and necessary that we take time to explain the origin of calisthenics.

Calisthenics definition

The best place to start talking about calisthenics is from the word “calisthenics” itself.  This word comes from the word “kallos” which means in the ancient Greek language “to be perfect,” “to be good.”

Another word in ancient Greek language where this word comes from is “sthenos” which means “strength” in the ancient Greek civilization.

This word as it was understood back then was hinting to strength not only in the physical sense but also mentally. It is also closely linked to determination and limitless courage which is shown by any given individual.

The name of this concept comes from a very popular historian who was Greek. The name of this historian was “Callisthenes.” However, it is important to note that this name could have been spelled wrong when it was translated into English.

Therefore, calisthenics became known and defined as a method of developing one’s body through one’s body weight. This bodyweight will serve as resistance which would in effect lead to the development of the various parts of the body.

The first sign of calisthenics was there even before the name was invented. Calisthenics was visible in the way our earliest ancestors prepared them for various strenuous activities such as wars and hunting. For us to track down the history of calisthenics, we will try to start from the earliest of times.

Bronze age

It is a known fact that humanity’s history is filled with so many historical events about the various contests which were held to entertain the people of a particular city. These contests usually consisted of two men who would face off again each other in a great show of strength sometimes even to the death. We can categorize all such entertaining contests in two ways;

  • Wrestling
  • Acrobatics

These contests did not just take place without training. Men were allowed to train in anticipation of that great day when they would appear in the arena. They would train long and hard in order to outdo their opponents. We will now try to highlight certain civilizations who were known for specific actions. They include;

  • One such civilization was that of the Minoan Crete which were inhabited by the Cretans. This civilization is where acrobatics is believed to have started. With little equipment, people would put their lives in danger in a bid to perform acrobatics and outdo their rivals.
  • Another civilization where you can find some traces of calisthenics was the Mycenaean Greeks who lived and existed during the 16th century down to at least the beginning of the 11th century. We know this because of the reference to the famous Trojan War in the poem which gathered fame.

This poem is called “ILLIAD.” In the entire history of the western countries, this is the first sporting event that was done or at least recorded down in history. These events were organized by a man called Achilles which he did to honor his friend Patroclus who has died earlier. This event covered a broad number of games and sports which included wrestling, sprinting and even the disk throwing. It was the first step towards athletics.

Ancient times

We refer to the ancient times as the period where the Greeks and the Romans were the world’s superpowers. This period started in the 8th century BC to at least the 5th century AD.

If you look at the history book, you would see that these two large forces were known for their love for athletic competitions. Think of the Olympics, and you found the founders of the world’s biggest games. With more games came the need to train and prepare. It is important to note that there were no gyms during these periods. Hence, occurred the birth of calisthenics.

In Roman times, you could find traces of calisthenics with the Spartans. A tiny population, the Spartans were known to be very fierce fighters who feared nothing and no one. This small group of people or nation used tough training techniques to get themselves ready for wars which were to be fought against bigger nations, sometimes even Rome. You could expect the training of the Spartans to include calisthenics activities such as climbing ropes or sprinting short distances.

Medieval times

With the formation of Europe taking place, so was the steady growth of religion. However, at no time was the growth of calisthenics exercises stagnated. Even in the absence of such rigorous training, wrestling arenas still existed over Europe.

This was especially true in Rome as once, the emperor who governed that great empire was once a feared wrestler. His name was Basil I. we do not know too much about him and the techniques which he used to train. However, we do know that he was a wrestler and all wrestlers “train.”

Renaissance and modern times

The coming of the Renaissance brought along documentation and so it is easier to trace the development of calisthenics in that age. With this documentation came the interest the availability of the training methods which they used in earlier times. With knowledge about this gathering, the people in that age were able to advance such training toward perfection.

Due to such developments, the world of athletes recorded a historical moment when Fredrich Jahn invented the first gym which can be described to be a bit modernized. This great man is today considered to be the father of all times related to gymnastics. It is important to emphasize at this point that the advent of gymnastics at that point was for military purposes. So, many people did not use it on a daily basis.

The most historical moment which has been taken now as a day where training activities reached a whole new level in modern times was the Olympic Games held in 1896. These games mark the beginning of the world taking an interest in training events, and the use of the gym started in earnest. This beginning led to tremendous growth in the use of the gym, and with time, more complex methods of training were invented to suit the growing demand.


In the time that we live today, most of the world’s population embraced calisthenics. People every day are seeing the benefits of using a concept that started such a long time ago. It has lasted over the years and evolved into something which we at easy calisthenics can only describe as merely “incredible.” The exercises known to be part of calisthenics exercises have only increased and expanded. Some of these exercises include;

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Squats
  • Back levers
  • Handstands
  • Dips
  • Hyperextensions and so much more.

Concluding the history of calisthenics

We can describe the origin of calisthenics as nothing less than rich and entangled with man’s history. Calisthenics was the only way a man could stay fit since at in those times there were no gyms. During those periods calisthenics turned out to be a useful tool in the development of the body.

Even in our time, we cannot overemphasize the importance of calisthenics. In a world where people hardly have time to walk into a gym every day, calisthenics exercises provide a good solution. The oldest forms of exercises can be done anywhere, anytime without the use of any equipment whatsoever. Therefore, calisthenics makes for a very convenient and stress-free way to exercise, even when traveling.

One thing can be sure though about calisthenics exercises; it has been with mankind since the beginning of their history, and it will probably be with us forever.


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