A NEW EXERCISE craze sweeping America has arrived in Scotland with pioneering gymnast Steve Frew predicting that ‘Calisthenics’ could prove transformational in encouraging inactive people to get fit, and target teenage drop-out from sport.
‘Calisthenics’, which stems from the Greek words kalos and sthenos, meaning beauty and strength, has gained traction with promotion by celebrities including Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson, as a way of improving your strength and fitness without needing any equipment. However, Frew believes the real benefits will be felt across communities where free outdoor access will replicate the lost arts of tree-climbing and other natural exercising children used to enjoy.
Edinburgh Park Leisure, who operate the Energize Gym at Lochside Place close to the Gyle, took the wraps off what they claimed to be Scotland’s first free outdoor calisthetics gym. Energize gym boss Chris Wark and Frew brought Paddy McIntyre and his ‘Scottish Cali Squad’ in to demonstrate, and they even roped in Edinburgh MSP and Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton to give it a try.
“I haven’t really done any sport in my life,” said Paddy, “other than running in gangs if you call that sport. But when I found this I thought I could give it a try, it might help make me a bit fitter, and it’s just been incredible ever since. I’m now running the Squad, teaching calisthenics and running events all over Glasgow every day – it’s a full-time job now!”
Squad member Christina Leon, Paddy and squad mates Sam Southall and Frank Corrigan (right) appeared to defy gravity as they held themselves in the air with one or two hands, or backs of knees, with just some metalwork for help. But they all insisted they were no gym bunnies, but more akin to kids enjoying swinging around. Christina said: “I didn’t do sport really as a youngster but I danced, and loved dancing.
“I saw this during lockdown and thought it looked quite fun. So, I’ve been doing it for the last year or so and I’ve amazed myself with how quickly you can learn and strengthen your muscles. It’s a great community where people can just join in and have fun, it doesn’tmatter what level you’re at because everyone helps each other. We’ve been doing it in parts of Glasgow and people stop and ask what you’re doing – it’s not hard to draw attention when you’re hanging upside down – and they want to have a go.
“I think it’s particularly good for girls – it’s definitely not a boys club! There is lots of talk about it on the Women in Glasgow Facebook page and when Captain Marvel posted in Instagram that she was using these techniques to get fitter it was cool, and I think that’s quite inspirational to young girls and women.”
The Scottish Cali Squad take part in and run events from Maryhill, Sighthill and Queen’s Park in Glasgow to Airdrie’s Scottish Calisthenics Park and the Coatbridge Parkour Park.
For Falkirk boy Frew, it was time the fun headed further east and Scotland’s first gold medal-winning Commonwealth Games gymnast – at Manchester 2002 – and veteran of five Games, believes today’s launch was an exciting start to attracting many more children and young people back into sport.
“It’s fantastic,” he said, “and really has great potential. This is big in the States, particularly in New York and LA, and it has taken off in London, and having seen it in operation particularly in deprived communities down south, and the way kids just took to it and loved it, I could see the potential for it engaging children and people not engaged in other sport up here in Scotland.
“This street gym is now open in Edinburgh, free of charge, and people of any age can just roll up to Energize, register at the desk, and there will be people on hand to help get them started. And we are looking to take it wider into public parks and work with operators to bring it to their facilities.”
Frew and Energize are working with City of Edinburgh Council and Police Scotland to develop ideas, while London parks have even recycled knifes confiscated from crime to turn into the calisthenics park equipment.
Cole-Hamilton added: “I need to get in shape to catch these guys, but it was great fun! I can see how it would catch on and it was great to learn more about it. It is really important that we look at all kinds of sport to encourage children particularly to get active, but also all ages of people, and the premise here where it’s a free outdoor gym, anyone can come along and have a go, and you don’t need equipment, just the bars, is great.”