Are weights weighing you down?
Consider calisthenics… a simple alternative to lifting weights that can help build functional strength and muscle.
In this beginner’s guide to calisthenics, we outline everything you need to know, including example exercises to try, a 7 day workout plan, benefits, common mistakes to avoid, and ultimately, if this style of exercise suits your fitness goals.
What is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a type of strength training that uses your own body’s weight as resistance, coupled with functional movement patterns.
While lifting weights can often be about isolation, calisthenics is about integration.
Every move, be it a basic squat or an advanced planche, uses multiple muscle groups in harmony.
Drawing from the Greek words “Kalos” (meaning “beauty”) and “sthenos” (meaning “strength”), calisthenics has grown in popularity in recent years, fueled by the increase in those exercising at home with limited equipment.
Is Calisthenics Merely Another Term for Bodyweight Exercises?
While the two share similarities, calisthenics distinguishes itself with its progressive approach. Beginners might start with basic push-ups and eventually transition to handstand push-ups.
As your strength and balance soar, so does the complexity of the movements.
The progression in calisthenics isn’t about adding more weights to a barbell or increasing the number of repetitions. It’s about mastering your own body, evolving your movements, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with just the weight you carry.
Movement Progression Vs Reps/Sets
Along with strength, calisthenics also emphasizes balance, mobility, agility, and functional movement.
We think this is where advanced calisthenics starts to share a lot of similarities with gymnastics, as you won’t be able to progress if you’re relying on strength alone… other attributes like balance need to be prioritized and trained to ensure you have total control of your body during the movements.
This teaches the body to move as one cohesive unit, ensuring real-world application, be it in daily tasks or athletic feats.
Simple Calisthenics Workout Plan for Beginners
|Sets & Reps/Duration
|3 sets of 8
|3 sets of 30 seconds
|3 sets of 10
|2 sets of 5
|3 sets of 10
|3 sets of 12
|3 sets of 10
|3 sets of 20 seconds
|3 sets of 8
|Pike Push Up
|2 sets of 7
|3 sets of 10 each side
|Bonus: Favorite exercise from the week
|As per individual preference
11 Calisthenics Exercises to Help You Get Started
When performing a plank, you’ll want to begin face down, with your elbows placed directly beneath your shoulders and your feet spaced hip-width apart. Activate your core muscles, ensuring that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Maintain a neutral neck position. Our guide on average plank times per age/fitness level includes some further insights into this iconic exercise.
You can also try side planks and reverse planks too.
Muscles Worked – This exercise primarily targets the core but also engages the shoulders, chest, and legs.
Common Mistakes – Avoid arching the back, letting the hips sag, or holding your breath. Always strive for a neutral spine and breathe evenly.
For push-ups, start in a plank-like position. Gradually lower your chest to the floor by bending your elbows. Ensure your elbows remain close to your torso as you descend. Then, exert force to push your body back up to the starting position. To practice your form, try hand-release push ups too.
Muscles Worked – This exercise strengthens the chest, triceps, and shoulders, with a secondary focus on core stability.
Common Mistakes – Beware of flaring your elbows out or lifting your buttocks too high. It’s also vital to ensure a good depth in each repetition.
To execute pull-ups properly, grasp an overhead bar with your palms facing away from you. Engage your core, and initiate the move by pulling your body upwards until your chin passes the bar. Follow this with a controlled descent.
Muscles Worked – Predominantly works the latissimus dorsi in the back, alongside the biceps and shoulders.
Common Mistakes – Refrain from using excessive momentum, incomplete movements, or not fully extending your arms during the downward phase.
Starting from an upright position, swiftly drop into a squat, placing your hands firmly on the ground. In one fluid motion, jump your feet back, landing in a plank position. Here, carry out a push-up, then spring your feet back to the squat posture. Cap off the move with an explosive vertical leap.
Muscles Worked – A true full-body exercise, engaging the legs, chest, core, and shoulders.
Common Mistakes – Skipping the push-up stage, landing too harshly, or neglecting to maintain a solid core can compromise the efficacy of the exercise.
Begin dips by positioning your hands on parallel bars or a bench situated behind you. Slowly lower your body until your arms form a right angle, and then push yourself back up with conviction.
Muscles Worked – Mainly challenges the triceps, with the chest and shoulders also playing an important role.
Common Mistakes – It’s important to ensure a sufficient range of motion, to keep the elbows from jutting out, and to prevent any unwanted shoulder movement.
Stand upright with your feet aligned with your shoulders. With your chest up and a straight back, bend at both the hips and knees, descending as if sitting back into a chair. Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, push through your feet to rise back to the starting point.
Muscles Worked – Targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, with the core aiding in stabilization.
Common Mistakes – Keep an eye out for knees that buckle inward, shallow squat depths, or heels that lift off the ground.
Initiate a dead hang by gripping an overhead bar with both hands, palms facing away. Let your body hang freely, elongating the spine and engaging the core slightly to prevent excessive swinging.
Muscles Worked – Focuses on the forearm grip strength, while also stretching and decompressing the spine.
Common Mistakes – Overarching the back, tensing up the shoulders, or using momentum from the legs can detract from the purity of this exercise.
Position yourself beneath a secured bar, lying on your back. Grasp the bar with palms facing away from you, and pull your chest towards it. Your body should remain straight from head to heels throughout the motion.
Muscles Worked – This is a prime mover for the mid-back muscles, also engaging the biceps and shoulders.
Common Mistakes – Allowing the hips to sag, pulling with just the arms, or not achieving a full range of motion can undermine the efficacy of the inverted row.
Pike Push Up
To do a pike push up, begin in a downward dog yoga position, feet hip-width apart, hands firmly planted, and hips raised high. Bend your elbows to lower your forehead towards the ground, then push through your palms to return to the starting position.
Muscles Worked – Primarily challenges the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest.
Common Mistakes – Diving too deep or not maintaining a strong “A” frame position can compromise the form and benefits.
Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet planted on the ground, arms resting at your sides. Engage your glutes to lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from knees to shoulders. Lower back down with control.
Muscles Worked – Predominantly works the glutes, but also the hamstrings and lower back.
Common Mistakes – Using the lower back excessively, not lifting hips high enough, or letting the knees flare out are pitfalls to avoid.
To do hip airplanes, begin standing on one leg with a slight bend in the knee. Hinge forward from the hip, allowing the other leg to rise behind you, while opening up your torso by rotating your hips. Return to start and repeat on the other side.
Muscles Worked – Engages the glutes and challenges the stabilizer muscles in the hips and core.
Common Mistakes – Losing balance, not keeping a neutral spine, or not rotating the hip fully can detract from the intended benefits.
Benefits of Calisthenics
Versatility and Convenience
No gym? No problem!
Calisthenics doesn’t chain you to expensive equipment or memberships. Your body is your gym, and the world is your playground.
This makes it a really inclusive form of exercise and a simple way to get started with strength training.
You may decide to exclusively follow a calisthenics training plan, or use it when you’re traveling or at home.
Holistic Strength and Muscle Development
Calisthenics promotes compound movements, ensuring that multiple muscle groups are activated.
The result? A well-balanced physique and functional strength that aids everyday activities.
Improved Mobility and Flexibility
These exercises often have a broader range of motion than their weightlifting counterparts. Over time, this leads to enhanced mobility and better movement around the joints.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Without heavy weights in the mix, the stress on your joints is significantly reduced. Combine this with the focus on proper form, and you’ve got a safer route to fitness.
Calisthenics is as much a test of mental strength as it is physical. Holding a plank or pushing through that last rep requires a mind of steel, fostering resilience and discipline.
It’s also likely you won’t be able to do advanced calisthenics movements straight away, so you need to be patient and stick with it to see long-term progress.
Community and Collaboration
The calisthenics community is vibrant and supportive. Engaging with fellow enthusiasts can lead to collaborative workouts, shared tips, and a sense of belonging.
Save those bucks! Most calisthenics exercises require minimal equipment, making it a cost-effective way to stay in shape.
A resistance band can be useful to help assist with pull ups… but other than that, you don’t need to invest in anything.
If you enjoy it, you may want to get a calisthenics app to help follow training plans and workouts.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Navigating the world of calisthenics can be akin to a dance: it requires balance, grace, and a meticulous attention to detail. However, even the most passionate dancers can miss a step. For those diving headfirst into calisthenics (metaphorically, we hope!), several pitfalls might trip you up.
First and foremost, many beginners rush the process. Calisthenics is about mastering your bodyweight, and this takes time. Hopping onto advanced moves without nailing the basics can lead to injury or stagnation.
Progress will be different for different people. For some, a push up might be the starting point… for others, a kneeling push up might be more suitable. Understand your body and don’t push yourself too hard at the start.
Slow Eccentric Repetitions
Additionally, while it’s tempting to go all out and “feel the burn,” neglecting rest days is a recipe for overtraining and burnout. It’s essential to give your muscles the downtime they need to recover and grow.
Flexibility and mobility are also fundamental for calisthenics, ensuring fluidity in movement and reducing injury risk. We’d recommend doing separate stretching routines throughout the week to help aid recovery.
Lastly, remember that consistency is key. Dabbling here and there won’t yield results; a steady and committed practice will.
Progress Tracking in Calisthenics
Progress tracking isn’t just about scribbling sets and reps in a notebook; it’s your personalized roadmap that showcases where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re headed.
Start by logging your exercises, sets, reps, and any variations you’re attempting. This helps in recognizing patterns and identifying areas where you may be plateauing.
Photos can be powerful tools. Taking weekly or monthly shots can visually capture gains and changes that the mirror might miss.
Videos are perfect for form checks,especially when you’re just starting out.
By revisiting old videos, you can self-correct, ensuring you’re not ingraining bad habits.
Lastly, note down your feelings and energy levels. Over time, these insights might reveal what external factors (like sleep or diet) most affect your workouts.
Your progress journal is your story, and every hero’s journey has its ups and downs… so embrace each chapter.
Does Calisthenics Build Muscle?
Absolutely! While calisthenics relies on body weight as resistance, it can still promote muscle growth and strength. The key lies in progression – as you master easier moves, transitioning to more advanced exercises will continually challenge and grow your muscles.
Is Calisthenics Different from Bodyweight Exercises?
While they might sound synonymous, there’s a nuance. Calisthenics workouts tend to focus on progressing to new movements, as opposed to just increasing repetitions and sets. Think of calisthenics like a video game – progressing through different levels.
How Often Should I Do Calisthenics?
For beginners, starting with 2-3 times a week is optimal. This allows time for muscle recovery, which is essential for growth and avoiding injuries. As you become more advanced and depending on your goals, you can adjust your frequency.
Can I Combine Calisthenics with Other Workout Routines?
Definitely! Many athletes and gym-goers mix calisthenics with weight training, cardio, or flexibility routines. It provides a balanced approach to fitness, ensuring all aspects – strength, endurance, and flexibility – are catered to.
Do I Need Special Equipment for Calisthenics?
While the majority of calisthenics exercises require no equipment, having access to pull-up bars or parallel bars can expand your exercise repertoire. However, many exercises can be modified to use household items or playground equipment.
Is Calisthenics Suitable for All Ages?
Yes, with a caveat. Calisthenics can be adapted for all ages, from kids to seniors. However, it’s important to choose exercises appropriate for one’s fitness level and any existing health conditions. As always, consulting with a health professional before starting any new exercise regimen is a wise decision.
Dipping your toes into the world of calisthenics offers a holistic approach to fitness that combines strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.
With your body as the primary tool, it’s an accessible and cost-effective workout style suitable for all ages.
From mastering foundational moves to engaging with a vibrant community, calisthenics is more than just a workout; it’s a transformative journey.
Embrace the challenge, stay consistent, and the results – both mental and physical – will undoubtedly follow.