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The School of Calisthenics drops in on Ipswich gym to redefine the impossible

PUBLISHED: 16:19 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:19 26 January 2018

Students at the School of Calisthenics workshop at EXF Fitness practise their pull-up variations. Picture: Mark Edwards

Students at the School of Calisthenics workshop at EXF Fitness practise their pull-up variations. Picture: Mark Edwards


Your body can do amazing things. Tutors reveal framework of exercises that can get anyone on the path to achieving grafity-defying feats such as the Human Flag.

David 'Jacko' Jackson and Seth 'Bear' Maguley share their skills. Picture: Mark EdwardsDavid 'Jacko' Jackson and Seth 'Bear' Maguley share their skills. Picture: Mark Edwards

“The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalos, which means beauty, and sthenos, meaning strength.”

These are the opening words of David ‘Jacko’ Jackson, the self-titled Head of Education and Human Flags at the School of Calisthenics, as he addresses 20 ‘pupils’ who have come to EXF Fitness, a stunning gym in a converted barn in Grundisburgh, for a workshop on this most gravity defying and gymnastic type of fitness training.

Jacko and his coaching partner on the day, Seth ‘Bear’ Baguley are stuffed full of kalos and sthenos – both muscular and lean and able to do the sports’ pinnacle move – the human flag, a feat of strength in which the body is held parallel to the ground whole grabbing hold of a vertical bar.

But, as Jacko tells it, he has travelled far to get to this stage. He was a professional rugby player and even selected for the Barbarians team, but his career was cut short by injury. Calisthenics seemed a good way to keep challenging his body and the moves he saw online looked like fun, but harder than they looked.

The School of Calisthenics shows how a human flag should be done. Picture: The School of CalisthenicsThe School of Calisthenics shows how a human flag should be done. Picture: The School of Calisthenics

“The first time I tried a frog stand [a basic gymnastic move in which you support your bodyweight just with your hand and tuck your legs up off the floor) I fell flat on my face. That’s how bad I was.”

He then supports his whole body horizontally off the floor with just one hand to show us how far he has come.

His point is that mastering advanced level calisthenic moves such as the muscle up, front lever, handstand and handstand push up will take time, but falling flat on your face is part of the learning process…as long as you get up and try it again.

Jacko says: “Movement is a skill, and like mastering any skill you must expose yourself to the stimulus. You may already have the strength to do a lever but your kinetic chain does not know how. When we practice movement patterns they become more automated, remember the first time you tried to ride a bike?”

What Jacko – along with Tim Stevenson, a fellow broken ex rugby player – has done with the School of Calisthenics is to create what it calls a Framework to break down these advance exercises covering movement preparation – enabling your body to get into the positions it needs for the moves – skills drills and strength.

Their website has downloadable tutorials to help beginners through to those who just need a bit of technical help to perfect the more challenging moves.

The school also organises workshops and calisthenics students in Suffolk are lucky enough to have one come to Grundisburgh.

To loosen us all up we start with some self-myofascial release, which is not as much fun as it sounds and reveals just how much pain you can cause yourself with just one tennis ball.

Jacko, who has driven here from Nottingham, says extended hours sat in the car and sedentary jobs all contribute to shortened muscles and a rounded posture which hinders us from getting into positions such as the handstand. So rolling a tennis ball into those tight areas such as the pec minor where the upper chest means the armpit.

It sounds like a Victorian dentist for a few minutes with all the screaming.

After some more movement warm-ups we begin with push-up variations – one-arm, plyo and Russian – all working up to a flying push-up, when you drive both your hands and feet off the floor in the ‘up’ part of the push-up, stretching out like Superman in the air. Some of the students were almost as good as the teachers on this one.

Next were handstands. We progressed from the ground up, rather than kicking up into the position, which Jacko said was really only a test of balance, not strength, so began with frog stands – no one face-planted – to stacking our hips ever higher and keeping our knees tucked in until extending into a full handstand. Again, some of the students were very impressive. They have obviously been following their online tutorials.

Finally we worked on muscle-ups – a more explosive form of the pull-up. The ever attentive Jacko and Bear showed us how to work on high pull ups, getting our chest to the bar, to build strength and get the height needed for the full move. Bear even demonstrated a version of the pull-up in which once chest high high to the bar he typewritered from side to side. Impressive.

Muscle-ups are an advanced move, but Jacko and Bear taught us how to use resistance bands to help support our bodyweight and help us get up and over the bar so we could start to drill in the whole movement and get our mind and body used to doing it.

When the workshop was over we all had a bank of new exercises to try that should help us get us to the goal of those flagship calisthenics moves and, in my case, more confidence that it might actually be achievable.

As The School of Calisthenics motto reads: “Redefining the impossible.”

For online tutorials or ebooks, visit here The website is also the place to find out dates for upcoming workshops. The Ipswich one was sold out and Jacko says there is a good chance they will be back so keep checking in. For their video channel of excellent tutorials, visit here

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