Whether you’re a complete beginner to calisthenics or you’re a veteran athlete looking to incorporate this discipline into your workouts, you’re at the right place. You’ve probably either tried some form of calisthenics out already or seen it in action at your local gym or park. The pandemic lockdowns have skyrocketed the popularity of calisthenics, as you can practice them anywhere and without any equipment. A recent 2023 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine described calisthenics as a “rapidly growing recreational sport“. In this article, we’ll cover how to get started with calisthenics as a beginner.
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What is Calisthenics?
That crazy ripped dude you saw on YouTube who can hold his entire body in the air in a push up position with his feet levitating off the floor—that’s called a “planche” in calisthenics. Or perhaps a girl you saw on Instagram who could pull her whole upper body up above a bar from a hanging position using raw strength—that’s called a “muscle up”. It looks pretty impressive, right?
It is insane what a human body can achieve. You can think of calisthenics as art; the beautiful demonstration of strength and aesthetics through one’s physical body. Have you ever seen someone holding themselves parallel to the ground while being floated in the air? That’s known as the human flag, front lever, or back lever.
In a nutshell, calisthenics is a form of fitness that utilizes only your body weight and gravity as a form of resistance. These exercises are practiced with different levels of intensity and tempo, and it’s geared toward the advancement of strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, and coordination.
Anyone can practice calisthenics. In fact, you’ve probably done it before with basic movements such as squats and lunges for training legs, to Russian twists and leg raises for strengthening your core. Consider these to be the simplest form of exercise with no fancy equipment required, and you can do them anywhere and anytime.
The word “Calisthenics” is derived from two Ancient Greek words: Kallos (beautiful), and Stenos (strength). This is the art of utilizing one’s own body weight as resistance for the purpose of developing a physique. Unlike gymnastics, this can be practiced outdoors and it is also known as “street workout”.
Beginner Calisthenics Workout
When it comes to calisthenics, regardless of what your fitness level is at, you should strive to master the basics, also known as the fundamentals. These are the building blocks for the development of your strength. It can be split into 4 parts: pull ups, push ups, dips, and the final fundamental being leg training (think: squats and lunges).
Some calisthenics athletes do indeed “skip leg day”. This is mainly because they don’t want to develop muscles in their lower body because having muscular legs may weigh them down for more advanced skills such as the planche, which is harder to perform.
While this point is valid to a certain extent, you don’t want to be top-heavy where your upper body is disproportionately large compared to your lower body! If you’re interested in building strong and muscular legs with calisthenics, you can check out this follow-along leg workout at home.
For those who have never gotten into sports and want to make a change in their health, it is important to work on your bodyweight strength foundation, because if you don’t, chances of injuries are really high. It is also efficient to practice the basics as this will give you the experience of bodyweight training, and lastly, this is a natural way of training. Why should you train with extra weights if you can even train with your body weight?
It is highly recommended that you also practice the basics even if you have training experience, even though you may think that you are already strong. This is because form, technique, and execution of the exercise can always be improved!
Those who are transitioning from bodybuilding or powerlifting to calisthenics are most likely to do pull ups and push ups with a half range of motion (meaning you’re half repping), which doesn’t reap the full benefits of calisthenics. You should try to do every repetition as clean and strictly as possible with a full range of motion. This is essential in the later stage of your journey if you want to work up towards being able to do a muscle up or a handstand push up.
The goal that you should strive for in calisthenics before moving onto the advanced exercises is 10 strict form pull ups, 15 strict form dips, and 20 strict form push ups. The common ground is strict form, without swaying or rocking your body to complete the movement.
Calisthenics Workout No Equipment
Here is a calisthenics workout for complete beginners who have no training experience that works on all of the four fundamentals. Perform the following workout circuit 4 times, with 30 seconds rest in between exercise, and a 2-minute rest in between sets – Use a timer!
Wall Pull Ups
- Stand facing a door frame or a pole.
- Grasp your hands on each side of the object with your arms extended and your body slightly leaning backward.
- Exhale as you contract your back and bicep muscles to pull your body as close as you can toward the surface.
- Exhale as you extend your arms.
- Aim to do 4 sets of 30 reps.
Wall Push Ups
- Stand facing a door frame or a pole.
- Grasp your hands on each side of the object with your arms extended and your body slightly leaning forward.
- Inhale as you bend your arms to move your body forward toward the wall.
- Exhale as you use your chest and tricep muscles to push away from the wall.
- Aim to do 4 sets of 30 reps.
Jack Knife Squats
- Stand facing a stable surface such as a chair or a wall with your feet being hip-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Grasp your hands on an elevated surface in front of you and lower yourself into a squat by bending your knees. Lower down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your torso upright and your head facing forward.
- Exhale as you push through your heels to extend your legs to return to the starting position
- Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Sit on an elevated surface with your legs extended in front and your hands gripped firmly on the edge of the surface. Your torso should be leaning backward around 45 degrees.
- Inhale as you draw your knees as close to your chest as possible while keeping your legs together.
- Exhale as you extend your legs fully.
- Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
Types of Calisthenics Exercises
Below is a breakdown of different exercises for each of calisthenics’ fundamental components. You can pick any of these exercises and create your own workout program, see in the calisthenics training split section below.
- Pull: Wall pull ups, Australian pull ups, and pull ups.
- Push: Wall push ups, knee push ups, assisted dips, push ups, and parallel dips.
- Core: Knee tucks, lying leg raises, and hanging leg raises.
- Legs: Jack knife squats, air squats, lunges.
- Rest day: Basic full body stretches that should last at least 10 minutes in total.
Best Calisthenics Program
Once you can do the goal sets and reps range above, you can progress on to doing intermediate calisthenics fundamental exercises:
- Australian Pull Ups: Aim to do 4 sets of 15 reps.
- Knee Push Ups: Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Assisted Dips (parallel dips with your feet on the floor): Aim to do 4 sets of 12 reps.
- Air Squats: Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Lying Leg Raises: Aim to do 4 sets of 15 reps.
Awesome! Now that you are comfortable with the previous workout, you can move on to doing advanced calisthenics fundamental exercises:
- Pull Ups: Aim to do 4 sets of 15 reps.
- Push Ups: Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Parallel Dips: Aim to do 4 sets of 20 reps.
- Hanging Leg Raises: Aim to do 4 sets of 15 reps.
Calisthenics Training Split
To take your training to the next level, you should create a program that you can follow so that it becomes a routine. By planning, you will become more organized and ready for your session. Here’s an example exercise program that you can follow:
- Day 1: Core & Leg
- Day 2: Push & Pull
- Day 3: Core & Leg
- Day 4: Push & Pull
- Day 5: Rest / Stretching / Flexibility & Mobility
- Day 6: Push & Pull
- Day 7: Rest / Stretching / Flexibility & Mobility
The Key Takeaways for Getting Started in Calisthenics
To sum the article up, here are the key takeaways:
- Practice the basics regardless of your fitness level.
- Perform every rep with strict form, utilizing a full range of motion.
- Plan your sessions in advance.
Knowing these key elements is the best way to progress in calisthenics. If you’re not sure how to properly plan your workouts, or if your form could use some work, our online coaching services can help.
The team of experts at Gymless will take the time to clarify the dos and don’ts of each exercise in your custom workouts. To find out more about how we can assist you in reaching your calisthenics goals, simply book a free consultation today!
Q1: Can Calisthenics Include Both Isometric and Isotonic Exercises? Yes, calisthenics can include both isometric (static) exercises like planks and isotonic (dynamic) exercises like push-ups. This combination helps target different muscle groups.
Q2: Is Calisthenics Better Than Weightlifting? Calisthenics and weightlifting each have their benefits. Calisthenics emphasizes bodyweight resistance and functional strength, while weightlifting involves lifting external weights. The choice depends on your goals.
Q3: Can You Build Muscle with Calisthenics? Calisthenics can help build muscle when combined with proper nutrition and progressive overload. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and dips are effective for muscle growth.
Q4: Can You Do Calisthenics Every Day? While it’s possible to do calisthenics daily, it’s essential to allow muscles to recover. Consider incorporating rest days or alternating muscle groups to prevent overtraining.
Q5: What Are the Benefits of Calisthenics? Calisthenics offers benefits such as improved strength, flexibility, endurance, and body control. It’s a versatile and cost-effective way to stay fit.
Q6: Do Bodyweight Exercises Help with Weight Loss? Bodyweight exercises can contribute to weight loss by increasing calorie burn and improving overall fitness. When combined with a balanced diet, they can be effective for weight management.
Q7: How Do I Create a Calisthenics Workout Plan for Beginners? A beginner’s calisthenics workout plan should include foundational exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks, and assisted variations. Gradually increase reps and difficulty over time.
Q8: Can You Do Calisthenics and Weight Lifting Together? Yes, combining calisthenics and weightlifting can provide a well-rounded fitness routine. Calisthenics improves functional strength, while weightlifting can target specific muscle groups.
Q9: What Equipment Do I Need for Calisthenics at Home? You can start calisthenics at home with minimal equipment. A sturdy pull-up bar and exercise mat are useful but not essential. Many exercises require no equipment.
Q10: How Many Bodyweight Squats Should I Do? The number of bodyweight squats depends on your fitness level and goals. Start with a number that challenges you, such as 3 sets of 10-15 reps, and progress from there.
Q11: What’s a Good Calisthenics Workout Routine for Beginners? A beginner’s calisthenics routine might include push-ups, squats, lunges, planks, and modified pull-ups. You can start with 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise.
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.