Are you curious about calisthenics but don’t know where to start? This complete beginner’s guide will show you how to get started with this popular form of exercise. You’ll learn the basics, including the types of exercises and equipment you need, as well as how to create a workout routine.
We’ll go in-depth about the pros and cons of this form of exercise as well as figure out your goals to see if calisthenics is right for you. I’ll also include my favorite YouTube channels to watch and many great sources to advance your knowledge. If that sounds interesting, then let’s get right to it!
Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed trainer or fitness professional/influencer. This information is based on my personal experience and research throughout the years of working out. Some of the information used will be supported by credible sources.
What is Calisthenics training?
Calisthenics is a type of exercise that uses your body weight and gravity to help you build strength and improve your fitness.
This makes it a great option for people who don’t have access to a gym or equipment. And, because you can do calisthenics anywhere, it’s a convenient way to fit in a workout.
There are two main types of calisthenics exercises: bodyweight exercises and isometric exercises. Bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and squats, use your own weight to provide resistance. Isometric exercises, like planks and wall sits, use tension to build strength and endurance.
Progressions– A simple way to look at progressions is what level you’re on. For example, with push-ups, many people can’t perform one. So level 1 progression for them might be a wall push-up since it’s easy enough for them to start there.
Or for pull-ups, you could try “Australian pull-ups” if performing a proper pull-up is still too difficult. The idea is to start based on your skill level.
Pros of bodyweight training
1. You Don’t Need Much Equipment
One of the biggest advantages of performing a calisthenics workout is that you don’t need much equipment. All you need is your own body, some space to move around, and a pull-up bar. This makes bodyweight training very convenient and accessible, as you can do it anywhere and at any time.
Note that many people will say you need no equipment at all, but if you want to focus on working out your back, a pull-up bar or a few other pieces of equipment will be much more effective.
2. It’s Effective
Despite not needing much equipment, bodyweight training is still very effective in building muscle and strength. In fact, many professional athletes and bodybuilders use bodyweight exercises as part of their training regime. It’s great to work out the entire body.
3. It’s Suitable for All Levels
Another great advantage of bodyweight training is that it is suitable for all levels, from beginners to advanced athletes. There are many different variations of each exercise that can be performed, so you can always find one that suits your level of fitness.
4. It Can Be Done Anywhere
As mentioned before, one of the best things about bodyweight training is that it can be done anywhere. Whether you’re at home, at the park, or on vacation, you can always fit in a quick workout.
5. It’s Inexpensive
Another big advantage of bodyweight training is that it is very inexpensive. Unlike going to the gym, you don’t need to pay for a membership or any equipment. Most of the time, all you need is your own body and some space to move around.
6. You Can Do It Anytime
Another great thing about bodyweight training is that you can do it anytime, day or night. There is no need to book a time slot at the gym or wait for the equipment to be free. You can just jump right in and start working out whenever you want using your own body weight.
7. It Helps Improve Your Balance and Coordination
Bodyweight training not only helps improve your strength and muscle mass, but it also helps improve your balance and coordination. This is because many of the exercises require you to use multiple muscle groups at the same time, which forces your body to work harder to maintain stability.
8. It Increases Your Flexibility
Bodyweight training can also help increase your flexibility as many of the exercises require a good range of motion. This increased flexibility will not only make everyday activities easier, but it can also help reduce your risk of injuries in the future.
9. It Boosts Your Metabolism
Another great benefit of bodyweight training is that it can help boost your metabolism. This means that you will burn more calories even when you’re resting, which can help with weight loss or maintenance.
10. More Focused on your ideal Body Mass Index (BMI)
When it comes to bodybuilding and powerlifting, you need to gain more weight to push more weight. Now can you get stronger while maintaining your weight? Yes, but at some point, your body will reach a plateau unless you add more weight to your body.
Calisthenics on the other hand is best performed when you’re at your ideal BMI. The heavier you are, the more difficult it is to perform these exercises. This form of exercise is focused on controlling your body weight rather than external weights.
Cons of calisthenics exercises
1. You may get bored
A potential downside of bodyweight training is that you may eventually get bored with it. This is because there are only so many exercises you can do without adding any additional weight or resistance.
If you find yourself getting bored with your workouts, it may be time to try something new or implement different variations.
2. Slow Progress
Another downside of bodyweight training is that you may not be able to progress as quickly as you would with other types of training. This is because your body will quickly adapt to your exercises, making them less effective over time.
If you want to continue seeing results, you’ll need to mix up your routine regularly or you can slow down the movements creating a longer time under tension.
3. Not the outcome you’re looking for
A common issue with working out for many is that they use the wrong exercise routine for their fitness goals. For example, if your mission is to lose weight and you are doing powerlifting exercises, then your results aren’t going to be what you want them to be.
For calisthenics training, if your sole goal is to get bigger, then body-building type exercises will be much more effective. So it’s important to understand your goals and your optimal way of getting there.
4. You can’t target specific muscle groups
Calisthenics training involves compound movements. This means when you perform the exercise, multiple muscles are being worked. Many muscles can be underdeveloped compared to the primary muscle group being worked.
For example, pull-ups primarily focus much more on your back muscles and can be less effective for certain areas of your body like your biceps.
What are some bodyweight exercises?
Now that we’ve discussed what calisthenics training is and some pros and cons, let’s talk about the movements themselves. I’ll break it down into 3 groups: upper body, lower body, and Core.
These will be the parts of the body focused on and I’ll include some of the calisthenic exercises to use for each group.
The upper body consists of the chest, back, and arms. Most of the calisthenics training will be focused on these muscle groups.
- Push-ups (Primary Focus: Chest)
- Pull-ups (Primary Focus: Back)
- Dips (Primary Focus: Triceps)
These are the main 3 basic movements for your upper body. Most of the pushing exercises will be some form of variation. Depending on your skill level, it’s important to pick the right exercise to be able to perform them with proper form while getting enough resistance.
If performing a certain level is too difficult, then going down a progression should be your main focus. Master one level before moving on to the next.
Push-up Progressions (Chest)
- Wall Push-ups (Stand in front of a wall and push yourself off The closer your feet are to the wall, the easier. Work on putting your feet further and further until you can move on to the next progression)
- Knee Push-ups (Get into a push-up position, but instead plant your knees onto the ground, leaving your feet hanging. Going onto your knees will create less weight to push off of and will be much easier to perform than a normal push-up.)
Level 3(base): Push-ups
- Wide grip
- Diamond (close grip)
- Elevated (the position of your feet is raised)
Level 4(advanced exercises):
- Handstand push-ups (great for shoulders)
- Explosive push-ups (coming down slowly then exploding when raising back up)
- Planche push-ups (Very advanced. Feet off the ground. Requires much balance and strength)
Pull up progressions (Back)
- Australian pull-ups (For this, you can use rings, TRX straps, a bar, or even a doorway. The further your feet are from the handles, the more difficult)
- Assisted pull-ups (You can use resistance bands or even a chair. This progression is best to simulate the motion of a pull-up without using your full body weight.)
Level 3(base): Pull-up
- Standard (shoulder width)
- Chin-ups (underhand grip, great for biceps)
- Wide Grip (great for center back)
- Close grip (great for lats)
- Muscle-ups (basically doing a pull-up then transitioning into a dip)
- Front Lever (moving your body parallel to the ground while holding onto the bar)
- Archer Pull-ups
Dip progressions (Triceps)
- Bench dips (using a chair or bench to perform the dip)
- Assisted Dips (using resistance bands or an assisted dip machine to alleviate your body weight)
Level 3(base): Dips
- Wide Grips (wider the grip the more focus on the chest. Do be careful since there can be injuries if you’re too wide or if you’re going too deep when your body isn’t ready to do so)
- Straight bar
Level 4(advanced movements):
- Weighted Dips
The lower body consists of your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. When it comes to growing the size of your legs, it’s much better to use weight training according to professionals. Although you still can get great training for your legs with calisthenics.
These two exercises are the main movements to perform and will have many different variations depending on your skill level.
Squats are an amazing workout since they use almost of all your body within the movement. They work on your balance and endurance as well. This will be the primary movement for training legs.
- Assisted Bodyweight Squat (hold onto something like a resistance band or bar to assist you as you move down and up)
Level 2(base): Body Weight Squat
- Standard (feet shoulder-width apart)
- Wide Stance
- Close Stance
- Pistol squats (squatting on one foot)
Lunges are great for working out your lower body. It can improve balance and stability.
- Assisted Lunge (hold onto something to assist you on the way down and on the way back up)
Level 2(base): Lunge
- Walking Lunge
The amazing thing about your core/abs is that they’re being worked in almost every exercise you do. In some way shape or form, you’re tightening your core while performing a movement. But if you want to work out your abs beyond that, there are plenty of exercises to develop your core strength.
Level 1 movements:
- Basic Crunch
- Knee raises (lie down on your back and bend your knees to your chest)
Level 2 movements:
- Hanging leg raises
- Lying leg raises
- Mountain climbers (get into push-up positions and raise one knee at a time into your chest)
Isometric holds are an important part of calisthenics exercises and resistance training. Simply put, they involve holding your body in a stationary position using your own muscular strength.
For example, you might hold yourself in a push-up or squat position. Isometric holds help to improve your muscular endurance and strength, as well as your balance and stability. Doing holds like dead hangs or holding a push-up position can help you increase your rep counts early on. When you just start out, losing grip on the bar or gassing out before your muscles give out is a common struggle, so it’s good to increase your grip strength as well as your endurance.
In addition, they can be used to help rehabilitate muscles after an injury. Whether you’re new to fitness or a seasoned athlete, including isometric holds in your workout routine is a great way to improve your overall fitness level.
What are some examples of isometric holds?
- Holding a push up positions
- Dead Hangs (hanging from a bar)
- Plank (push-up position on your forearms)
- L Sit
- Wall Sits
What equipment you will need for Calisthenics?
The beauty of calisthenics training is that you only need minimal equipment to get started. You can use a gym membership if you don’t feel like filling your home with fancy equipment as you advance in your fitness journey. As you advance, you can upgrade to using other pieces of equipment if you choose to do so. Some calisthenics equipment to consider might be:
- Pull-up bar (prioritize this before anything else to ensure you can work out your back.)
- Parallettes (great for getting a deeper stretch for push-ups or to progress for certain skill moves like an L-sit or planche)
- Resistance bands (great for assisting you by taking away part of your body weight to perform an exercise at a lighter resistance)
- Dip bar(s) (many people will substitute dip bar(s) for chairs to perform a dip or even use their counters from kitchens or bathrooms if they’re close enough together)
- Weight Vest (When your body weight becomes too easy, you can use a vest to increase resistance, also known as “weighted calisthenics”)
- TRX bands (great for beginner calisthenics workouts)
Can you get ripped from only calisthenics?
According to schoolofcalisthenics.com, if you can apply the principles of hypertrophy,
then it is possible.
Hypertrophy– a simple way to understand hypertrophy is training for muscle growth. The opposed way of training to hypertrophy could be something like strength training where you work out to become stronger. The scientific definition would be somewhere along the lines of enlarging an organ or fibers through stimulus.
Is calisthenics training optimal for getting ripped or jacked?
Many sources will be in favor of weight training if your goal is to get bigger muscles. This is because of the ability to isolate your muscles through weight training. Isolating your muscle groups can help you focus on one muscle while creating less fatigue. Now you can still gain strength and shred down using calisthenics, but as far as efficiency, it’s important to consider what your fitness goals are before going all in on one type of workout program.
Can you mix 2 training styles?
Many athletes will incorporate calisthenics into their workouts alongside lifting weights. As mentioned before, calisthenics is great for compound movements, while weightlifting can incorporate compound and isolation movements. Combining the two can help fill in the gaps where other exercise styles can be lacking. It’s essentially getting the best of both worlds.
What are some good Calisthenics influencers to watch on YouTube?
When it comes to exercise, it’s great to watch videos to visually see how the exercise is performed and what to think about when doing the movement. Also having insight from licensed professionals or advice from high-performing athletes is always a plus. So here are a few of my favorite influencers to watch.
When it comes to calisthenics, Chris Heria is one of the superstars in the industry. Chris Heria is a professional calisthenics athlete, trainer, and nutrition coach. He is the founder and owner of ThenX, an online fitness training program that has helped thousands of people around the world achieve their fitness goals. In addition to his work with ThenX, Chris is also a popular YouTuber and Instagram influencer, with over 2 million followers between his two channels.
On his YouTube channel, Chris shares workout videos, tips on healthy eating, and inspirational stories about his own journey to becoming one of the world’s top calisthenics athletes. His down-to-earth personality and genuine passion for helping others reach their potential have made him a role model for many people of all ages.
I enjoy watching Chris Heria for his progression tutorials to help you learn advanced skill-based moves in calisthenics.
Hampton from Hybrid Calisthenics is a professional athlete and online fitness coach. He has been involved in the calisthenics community for over 10 years and is one of the leading experts in the field. Hampton specializes in creative bodyweight training and enjoys helping others to reach their fitness goals.
He has created a wide variety of training programs and tutorials, which are available on his website and YouTube channel. If you’re looking to get started with calisthenics or simply want to learn more about this fascinating discipline, then be sure to check out Hampton’s work.
I enjoy watching his content for his opinion on certain exercises as well as his lifestyle-type videos.
Kyle Boggeman or “K Boges” calisthenics is a fitness instructor who specializes in bodyweight exercises. He teaches his clients how to use their own body weight to achieve their fitness goals. K Boges emphasizes proper form and technique, as well as progressive overload, in order to help his clients safely and effectively improve their strength, endurance, and flexibility.
In addition to personal training, K Boges also offers online programs and instructional videos. His programs are designed for people of all fitness levels, from beginner to advanced. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, build muscle, or just get in better shape, K Boges can help you reach your goals.
I enjoy watching his content because he’s a licensed trainer teaching straightforward information.
At the end of the day, calisthenics might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely something you shouldn’t neglect in your routine. Whether you choose to do full calisthenics training or add it to your workout, there are plenty of benefits.
It fights against many objections and excuses and can help you get started in your fitness journey. Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of how to start calisthenics.
So, is calisthenics something you’ll give a try?