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Anthony Cephas was a star wide receiver and track athlete at Fairfax High School, which led him to weight training. But he ditched the heavy lifting in favor of intense forms of push ups and pull ups. This new training regime has him flying high, and as big and strong as ever.
When thinking about calisthenics, a lot of people will think back to that junior high school P.E. teacher who will challenge anybody to a push up or pull up contest. Most people who are looking to build a good looking body usually will not turn to those type of movements. Instead they will gravitate to weight lifting or using various types of machines or apparatuses.
But there is a movement that is on the verge of capturing the fitness industry's attention. It's certainly not push up and pull up competitions. It is an advanced form of calisthenics that is performed by some of the most ripped athletes around. They are shocking onlookers by performing handstand push ups on a pull up bar. They are twisting their body like a gymnast, and at the same time they are showing an unimaginable level of upper body strength.
"Most people think of calisthenics as regular push ups, pull ups, or chair dips," said Anthony Cephas, who recently won the Battle of the Bars at the Santa Clara Fit Expo in Northern California. "In this case, now it's performing and taking it to another level. Now it's learning how to control your body. For instance, doing a handstand without the wall, and learning how to do push ups off of that, with no wall, it's just your core and your balance.
As much as advanced calisthenics is a type of resistance training, it is just as much of an art form, as the visuals of what these athletes are doing has viewers stunned with amazement. At the Fit Expo, there was a lot of buzz surrounding The Battle of the Bars competition, which is one of the first of its kind on an official level.
"Besides the CrossFit crowd, we had the biggest crowd at the fitness expo," Cephas said. "Our crowd was so huge and so anticipated from word of mouth, that nobody left their chairs, everybody stayed through the final event, and it was a huge success. The reaction is crazy. The crowd was so in awe that everything to them looked great. When people see it, they're like 'wow, amazing!' They're taking pictures as if we were Cirque du Soleil."
Cephas has a background in football, as he was a star wide receiver at Fairfax High School, and he was teammates with NFL Pro Bowl wide receivers Steve Smith and Chad Johnson while at Santa Monica City College. Cephas went on to play at Tennessee State. As a 400-meter runner in track, he clocked in with a time of 47.7 seconds while winning the Los Angeles City Section championship in 1996. Two severe knee injuries ended his football career, but he continued with weight training to build an impressive physique.
Weight training made Cephas a big and muscular guy, but a year ago he was mesmerized by Youtube videos of incredibly ripped guys performing advanced calisthenics. Since then he has revamped his entire workout regimen, with 80 percent of his workload coming from advanced calisthenics movements. Just about all of his upper body workouts use advanced calisthenics. He still uses weight training for his legs, because there are limited leg exercises when using advanced calisthenics. He occasionally uses weights for his upper body training, but mostly to test out his strength, and he says that he still has it, even though he usually does not pick up a barbell or dumbbell while training.
Since Cephas is not competing in football, he does not see a need to lift heavy weights, which at this point he sees as something that guys do just to look macho. He is really enjoying this new challenge, the results that he is getting, and he believes that it is more practical for his lifestyle.
"You're learning how to concentrate two functional movements of your body verses just one with weights," Cephas said. "When doing the bench press, you're laying down and you're only worrying about contracting one part of your muscle, which is your chest. But in this case, when I do push ups, my abs are engaged, my legs, my glutes, everything stays locked up. Which forms a better core and foundation.
"It's learning how to become one with your body verses becoming one with weights," Cephas said. "You want to be your own machine, not to be controlled by the machine. I feel that weights now doesn't look cool unless there is a lot of weight on there. I'd rather see a guy doing a one-arm push up instead of a guy benching 300 pounds. That's more impressing to me."
Cephas is a pretty big guy, weighing in at slightly more than 190 pounds with very low body fat. Compared to body builders, power lifters, and athletes who focus on weight lifting, he really likes the slimmer, but muscular look that he athletes who specialize in advanced calisthenics have.
"I'd say that they look more lean and defined," Cephas said. "They're not bulky. With weights, of course you get really bulky, and everything looks big. But when you take your shirt off, you'll have some pudgy areas, because you're not hitting the connective tissues. But with body weight exercises, you'll hit so many connective tissues, verses just the primary muscles that you're trying to hit."
Cephas adds resistance by either changing the tempo of his movements, or he wears either a weight vest or weight belt. When he is performing various types of push ups, he will have a training partner put weight plates on his back.
The great thing about these movements is that they can be performed anywhere, which is partly how advanced calisthenics was created.
This form of training has been performed on the East Coast for years. The fitness culture is not the same as it is in California, as many athletes took to the parks and playgrounds for their workouts instead of the gym. New York City crews such as the Bar Starz, Bartendaz, Bar-Barians, and Beastmode have perfected these movements and have wowed crowds for years.
Cephas gives a ton of respect to those crews, and he is now doing his part to give these movements more exposure. By taking these competitions to fitness expos, it makes the sport more legitimate.
These amazing feats are not mainstream like CrossFit competitions, but there are athletes that are getting the ball rolling, and it may be the next big thing in the fitness industry, especially as many people are dropping the weights and hitting the pull up bars.