With the (almost) passing of the winter, along with it comes the final level of the game that is Calisthenic Movement’s Level 5 Mastery Program!
Only the end boss remains. 16 weeks are over – although technically it’s been longer than 16 weeks due to rehab work, life and other training done on top. Truth be told, it’s more like at least 20 weeks all in.
To celebrate and wave off the program I’m going to do my usual roundup of the last 4 weeks but also dive deeper (SUPER DEEP) – and evaluate/rate the program in the following departments:
- Muscle gain potential
- Strength gain potential
- Skill development potential
- Enjoyability aka FUN FACTOR
(I’ll also touch on some other minor factors I’ve been asked about Calisthenic Movement Programs towards the end, too.)
Phase 4 NUTS & BOLTS
This phase saw the frequency increase to 5 days per week although the volume wasn’t technically increased, at least initially. The sessions were frequent but short – usually only 2-3 exercises per workout.
In terms of movements, the most eye-catching arrivals were the tuck planche push up and the Bulgarian dip. The trusty old one arm push up was back this phase too!
The handstand push up phases out (although I kept working on these as they’re a nemesis of mine) and when you break down the thinking behind the tweaks CaliMove have made here, it’s actually pretty clever…….
They’ve worked a dipping pattern in for the vertical push to add variety and by introducing the tuck planche push up, they’re utilising the shoulder strength we’ve gained thus far and putting it to use with the planche progressions. It’s well known that the planche and handstand push up build each other really well. And it makes sense, they use very similar muscles, only the plane of movement is different and one is bent arm, the other straight arm.
This phase still has high volume, long duration static holds but it also has possibly the best of all worlds when it comes to the planche and front lever, as they have static holds, straight arm dynamic moves AND bent arm exercises for both!
I really liked the way they’d set this up. What else is missing really?!
What about the toothpicks down below?
As you’ll know by now, this program isn’t the stereotypical ‘create an upside down triangle’ – aka ‘keep the legs tiny to make the upper body look bigger’, calisthenics routine. There were leg exercises included once more, relax!
Admittedly though, not a huge amount. There were two main moves: the single leg glute bridge/hip thrust and the ‘sissy lunge’ – essentially a lunge version of the infamous sissy squat. However, as a disclaimer, I didn’t do these exercises. I substituted them for more challenging and relevant moves for my level; the sissy squat & the shrimp squat on a deficit.
And it would be easy to criticise the minimalism of this department of the program, but the reason(s) CaliMove have done this are:
1. It’s not a leg program. Legs are pretty low down the advertised priority list anyway.
2. Their aim is to make the program not require a gym and a ton of equipment
Bonus reason: they’re expecting most of the users of the program to not have all that much leg strength to begin with. It’s hardly like a 200kg squatter will find themselves on a CaliMove routine!
That said though, if you are experienced with leg training (like me) you will probably have to modify the moves by adding weight to them or opting for harder exercises which hit the same patterns. (More on this later).
Likes vs dislikes
1. Simple but beautifully effective progression model
Even if you don’t use the set increases in this program in a cyclical fashion like we just saw, you can use them to take care of your progress, PERIOD. Rather than worrying over how many reps to do and how complex to make the moves, you just work hard, establish a rep range for the ideal intensity, then come back next week and do an extra set.
The less you have to think about and the simpler you can keep things, the more successful you usually are – this goes for all walks of life as well.
2. The movement mix
Out of all the phases up to now, this phase had the most variety and easily the most exciting moves. Moves that stroke your ego, sure, but that’s what it’s all about, right? Levelling up.
If you’re the type that likes a bit of everything, this phase has got you covered as there’s never really a dull moment and with the higher frequency, you’re always shifting it up and doing something different. I almost saw this variety and movement complexity as a reward for coming this far.
3. Clever movement prep!
The more I trawled over the layout of the program with my coaching glasses on, the more I saw some very neat progression patterns. One solid example is the Bulgarian dip journey: in phase 1 we did regular ring dips, then in phase 2 there was ring chest flyes and eventually in phase 4 we attack the Bulgarian dip.
The Bulgarian dip is a wider variation and is harder on the pec fibers and the elbows if unconditioned, but the high volume ring fly work in phase 2 was acting as a nice ground-layer for the Bulgarian dip in the final phase.
I came into this program with an already strong Bulgarian dip but if you didn’t, you could well have unlocked this move by this point!
The first main criticism that comes to mind for this phase is one I seem to be saying so much, I often wonder if I’ve got Alzheimer’s super early………
1. High volume static holds!
The duration on these was still very high in this phase and the issue I have with this is it forces you to regress the holds so far below what you’re capable of. For example, I’ve held a 5 second full front lever many times and yet I had to regress right back to an active hang for some of the sessions!
And while that’s not inherently bad to step back and tidy things up, there’s a sensible amount of regression and then just under-working. It’s hard to say conclusively whether CaliMove crossed this boundary or not, as I may just be an ‘intensity bitch’ who can’t man up and suffer the volume/long duration stuff?
Because I suck so much at the planche, I didn’t have to regress much beneath my general standard (a tuck planche) so maybe my ego didn’t care as much as it did with the front lever?
I just think the hold times could have been a bit lower and slightly more intense. This would ‘excite’ you more than low level high volume stuff. But I do appreciate there’s a recovery component to be considered if the intensity is kept too high all the time.
2. High Frequency (a personal inconvenience)
This is a loose criticism but for me the high frequency was tricky. Where I’ve been doing some stuff outside of the CaliMove program, it was tricky to juggle the recovery and there were times I just couldn’t do what I was supposed to on the given days.
If you were solely following the program though, you should be fine. The only possible issue is getting access to a gym 5 times per week (if you need to use the gym). I know it’s a bodyweight routine but many people still use the gym to do calisthenics training for convenience, equipment availability and sometimes just to have the sheer space they may be lacking at home!
The way I worked around this was to stack the days together when I needed to. So for example, session 1&2 together, sessions 3,4&5 together or sessions 1,2&3 together and sessions 4&5 combined – or any combo that worked!
Sometimes this meant the routine took a little longer in terms of overall weeks than was advertised, but that’s fine. Bottom line: all moves were done for the sets & reps required throughout this phase and all the phases preceding it.
3. Minimal leg exercises
I’m definitely getting Alzheimer’s with all this repeating myself, aren’t I?
In this phase the leg exercises didn’t really change much in terms of volume or complexity. Which is strange because CaliMove have done such a wonderful job of working us through the progressions for upper body moves & skills so far.
It would have been nice to see the lower body follow a similar theme. Maybe we work towards an advanced pistol or shrimp squat variation at the end? Or a sissy squat? What about Nordic curls, single leg ring curls etc?
Granted, the intensity/complexity of these moves may force the recovery demands higher as I mentioned earlier but it would have been fun to see this journey unfold, just like the upper body journey has been unravelling the whole time.
4. THAT’S IT 🙁
All good things come to an end sometimes, is a mantra we’re forced to accept in this life and it’s no less true here. It’s been a blast test driving these phases and then taking to here and YouTube to dissect it all, it really has!
So I’ll miss not having another phase to update you with in 4-6 weeks’ time. Although a side realisation I had when reviewing this program as a whole, is there’s no reason you can’t run different phases at different times throughout a year……..
Phase 1 is a great preparatory phase and can be used as a deload or lighter phase after a period of crushing it. Phase 4 can be used cyclically too as the volume goes up during the 4 weeks, so theoretically you could increase the sets at a given rep range and then come back down in sets at a slightly higher rep bracket, as shown below……….
EVERYTHING out of 5?
Now we’re talking! This program is designed to increase your strength all the way through and that’s why it gets a nice 4/5 rating for this category.
Much of the work you do on the main compound lifts is in traditional strength training parameters (3-5 sets of 3-8 reps), and this is time tested and still works just as well with calisthenics compounds as it would with weights based compounds.
Most of the moves Calisthenic Movement work you towards in level 5 are strength dependant and this is the primary stimulus you receive overall in this program without doubt!
Skill development and strength gain go together like a hand to a glove, a foot to a sock, like the sun and the moon, and like El Eggs and Sven!
When we break down the nitty gritty of skill development, we find it all starts from a foundation of strength. A planche is only a ‘skill’ if you’re strong enough to planche in the first place.
The main difference and reason it warrants its own category is the specificity & applicability of the raw strength built, to certain skills aka calisthenic moves, aka ‘statics’.
Throughout the program there were many times where you got to ‘hone in’ on certain skills and positions, and for this reason I’m giving it a 4/5 for skill development potential!
Muscle gain? (MASS)
This isn’t the first program that I’d suggest if you had a gun to my head and told me I needed to make you bigger, or I’d die. Level 5 isn’t designed to be a huge hypertrophy program – It’s designed to round off the base building you’ve done up to now, to then set you up nicely for the intermediate-advanced stage in your calisthenics journey.
Although with that said, I’m still giving it a 3/5 rating for MASS gain potential.
Where the sets increase from week to week, this adds a nice volume increase that could see some hypertrophy induced/stimulated.
For me personally though, I didn’t see that much appreciable hypertrophy but then I wasn’t eating loads – and I’ve got well over 5 years of proper training experience under my ever-growing belt. So to see huge gains as a natural after what, 16-20 weeks would be quite extraordinary really.
If you ran this program with less experience though, you could well see some possible size gains providing all the usual is ‘on point’; nutrition, rest, hormones etc……
This program was super easy to use and user friendly. The interactive dashboard on CaliMove’s website has everything you could need on there, from instruction videos explaining how everything works voiced by the great ‘El Eggs’, to detailed video demonstrations of how NOT and how TO, do all the moves in every phase of the program.
You can even track your progress with their workout sheets and tick off each session along your journey. So if you’re someone who likes/needs accountability, they’ve got you covered there, too!
Even in the past when I’ve emailed CaliMove for clarification on things specific to me regarding their routines, they’ve always replied pretty pronto. Although in fairness this was a few years back when they didn’t have their 3.5 million YouTube audience they have today. But as far as I’ve heard they do their best to get back to you and help as much as possible!
(Can you imagine how many messages, emails and notifications they must get every day?! )
All in all this was a fun program to run and very easy to follow and we’re giving it a 5/5 for enjoyability/user friendliness!
Other outside factors (conditioning/mobility?)
Obviously the level 5 program isn’t a mobility or fat loss program by any means but nevertheless I’ve had a few questions about these categories.
As far as I know/am aware, the earlier levels (Complete Calisthenics Level 1-3) are more orientated towards work capacity – as that’s crucial when building a base in calisthenics and in any training in general.
By the time you come to level 5 you’ve already got a solid base and even though it’s not a conditioning orientated program in general, you will still get some nice conditioning effects (muscularly) in the higher volume phases of the routine.
Above all though, the program focuses highly on quality movement in a fresh state, which is crucial for strength & skill development………
Mobility is another category this program doesn’t cover by its very nature (CaliMove have their INSANELY popular Mobility Program for that, which you can read about HERE). Although that said, it dawned on me you could get some nice indirect gains from some of the moves in level 5.
The various V-Sit drills throughout the program would actively stretch your hamstrings and improve your forward fold by default. And the early phase 360 pull/Skin The Cat work would also build passive flexibility and end range strength in shoulder extension (arms behind the back/open chest)!
Even the frequent handstand work could develop active flexibility overhead, if practiced diligently enough. Of course, the extent of the flexibility gains you see here will be directly related to how flexible you are in these areas to begin with.
If you’re a little restricted in these areas you could see some nice free gains on the program, which is always a nice bonus; who doesn’t like a FREE GAIN?!
You guys know I’m not shy of reviews and have reviewed and test drove many programs across all kinds of scopes. So it begs the question: WHAT NEXT?
On one of my YouTube reviews there was a comment with a few upvotes asking me to review ‘Simonster’s’ program, and I’m not averse to it at all. I’m a big fan of his message and content, so I can only imagine his programs would be high quality too.
There’s also FitnessFaqs aka Daniel Vadnal who has loads of programs on the market – many of which are specific; there’s Pull Up Pro, Planche Pro & Lever Pro, to name a few. As a slight tease, I have access to Pull Up Pro (a routine designed to get/improve/strengthen your one arm pull/chin up game), so this could be a possible next venture?
I can self program too and am always working on my own personal goals/skills outside of these programs, but it’s great fun to trial these routines and share my experiences en route, to hopefully help you decide what’s right for you and your goals, also!
As promised, this post was long and VERY detailed. But I wanted to finish with a BANG. I thank you for joining me on this journey and I hope you enjoyed hearing all about it and it’s inspired you to get started on a CaliMove program.
As always I have made a YouTube video to go along with this post, which you can find below…….
I’d appreciate you watching it and if you like my content there, feel free to subscribe to my channel as I intend on making more tutorials over the coming summer – including a high pull up/muscle up tutorial as well as a back lever tutorial with advanced progressions!
Thanks for reading/watching!
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