A review of my experience with Calisthenic Movement’s level 4 intermediate program – covering everything from value for money, to effectiveness, to user friendliness, to level of detailed explanation and whether or not I’d recommend it to others.
Back in late September I was looking for a calisthenics based program to guide me towards some goals of mine (improving my muscle up, working towards a front lever and just improving my calisthenics game all round). I have enough know-how to write my own program if I wish, but as I’ve said many times, I am not a fan of self-programming. Purely because you’re more likely to doubt your choices and second guess things – plus the tendency towards doing what you like versus what you’re not good at, and need to do.
I knew I needed a solid program (from a credible source) and began searching…….
99% of the free and readily available programs didn’t grab me. And besides, free programs don’t feature the accountability factor; the burden of actually having to pay for something and its effect on your sense of duty to complete it.
Anyone who has watched calisthenic or even fitness videos on YouTube, will have seen some of Calisthenic Movement’s work. They have over 500,000 subscribers and many of their videos have surpassed the million view count. Their content is both entertaining and highly informative. It’s about function, health and progression. Looking good is just a by-product.
So I looked into their programs and found they had many different options……from bundle packs to specific programs, such as the human flag program. And this is perhaps the single biggest reason I bought the program after all: They have pre-requisites for all of their main programs. Which means there’s a set of requirements spanning numerous movement patterns to determine which level of program (1-5) is applicable to you.
This is what so many other rival programs lack: definitive answers as to whether a program will benefit you or not; just doing push ups and dips is not enough for me to get a proper training effect. The same way doing archer pull ups and handstand push ups is far beyond those just looking to get started.
I had a look over the sea of information that is the internet, and really didn’t find much out there on Calisthenic Movement’s programs. There’s plenty on people like Frank Medrano and Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning, but not too much on ‘Cali-Move’; so I decided to help anyone out who finds themselves in the position I was once in, and provide a review that covers everything you could wish to know.
Let’s get into it!
Value for money
I purchased the level 4 & 5 bundle which works out slightly cheaper than buying them separately at 50 euros versus 30 each. 30 euros equates to around £25 or $32 dollars. Some people may consider that a bit costly, but the way I see it is: if you were to ask a local personal trainer for a detailed and progressive program, it would cost you at least that much, if not a fair bit more.
What you get –
You don’t just get a program and that’s it. You get 14 weeks worth of programming with regular test weeks built in to gauge progress. The test weeks are at predetermined intervals (usually 4 or 6 weeks). You get a detailed PDF booklet containing links to private exercise instruction videos. You get access to a complete warm up and mobility routine, along with the encouragement to email or contact them with any queries throughout the process – which I did, and I can say I was very impressed at their efficiency of response and their willingness to help you personally.
Effectiveness of the program
To answer this question, I’ll use actual pictures from my training diary to illustrate the progress I saw from the first test week, to the midway test week, and to the final test week.
The L-sit and the skin the cat seemed to have made the most improvement, with the pull ups being probably the most disappointing move. However, my pull ups are more explosive and I can comfortably get my chest to the bar for reps now, so it’s not always a pure numbers game, but sometimes a question of refined technique also.
Towards the last week of the second phase, I took the liberty – and it was a big one – of attempting a full back lever…….
I guess I was feeling strong that day or something, but I managed to pull it off; I lowered down and it stuck. I was ecstatic!
Now the level 1-5 programs don’t do specific lever work, but you do get exposure to lower levels of the front and back lever, where you accumulate volume and build a foundation.
Does the program get results? The pictures speak for themselves.
Using the program: Is it easy to use? And what I liked/didn’t like
As I alluded to earlier, the plans come with links to private Youtube videos that show the guys demonstrating ideal technique on every movement featured in whatever levels you happen to buy. If I had any criticisms in this department, it would be the lack of progression/regression to some of the moves featured. For example, they show how to make typewriter pull ups more manageable, but other moves could do with further options of regression; sometimes I had to use my own knowledge base to make that call rather than be told. Another example is the handstand push ups. You’ll notice in the first set of test results, I couldn’t even do one due to a shoulder injury and had to scale down to pike push ups.
Another criticism, and perhaps my last one, is the call for max reps on certain exercises without encouraging you to ensure you find a range to fail in…..this could leave some people doing over 20 reps per set on moves they may be stronger at. For me, this was the straight bar dip. I had to add external weight or I just did too many reps.
UPDATE: I’ve since been contacted by Sven & Alex of Calisthenic Movement and shown an updated version, containing guidelines on rep ranges using percentages and volume manipulation. This definitely goes a long way to silencing some of my criticism.
The Straight Bar Dip
Generally though, they include exercises relevant to the prerequisites outlined and you will always find degrees of individual variance throughout.
I thought they structured the plans really well and got a nice balance of pushing the endurance training effect, along with mixing in plenty of longer rest periods that allow for a greater quality of work.
Closing thoughts & my overall rating
I’m now moving on to their level 5 program and it’s nice to have it categorized as a solid intermediate program. You’ll find each level builds off the previous one and they incorporate intelligent progressions to the former levels – this keeps the window of progress open for seriously long periods of time.
If you can spare the money and like the idea of seeing recorded, real life results, then Calisthenic Movement’s programs are definitely for you. They do everything from full body plans like mine to specific plans for increasing repetitions, the aforementioned human flag, fat burning and even online personal training!
When you do go onto doing their full body plans, regardless of your level, I’d strongly recommend using a notepad for reference as to whether you’ve progressed from week to week and workout to workout. In fact, that rule goes for all exercise. How do you know where you’re going if you’re flying blind?!
“What gets measured gets managed”
Calisthenic Movement’s level 4 program gets an 8.5/10 overall and I’d happily recommend their programs to any aspiring calisthenic enthusiast – just select the appropriate level and work your way up. You’re in safe hands.
If there’s anything I didn’t cover, you can ask anything you wish in the comments section below.
FYI: Since the posting of this article I have managed to interview Alex Lorenz of Calisthenic Movement. We chatted training, flexibility and mobility, injuries, connective tissue health, the future of Calisthenic Movement, advanced skills and so much more. (An Interview With Alex Lorenz From Calisthenic Movement)
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