Calisthenics is a way of training that has been around for years but has particularly taken off in recent times, thanks in no small part to the growth of social media. Its popularity stems from a range of factors, including how convenient it is to do, how beneficial it is, and even how cool it looks.
However, just because you have heard that calisthenics is a great way to train doesn’t mean you will be able to jump straight in and start doing it yourself. Many will not even know what calisthenics actually is, while even some who do won’t know how to do many of the complex looking exercises.
Thankfully, calisthenics is an activity that is all about progression and development, and there are levels available that will be suitable for people of all different abilities. If you are going to use it safely and effectively though, it is important that you start out on the right plan for you.
This brings us to the topic of today’s article. I am going to explain all you need to know about how to start calisthenics and provide a complete guide for beginners to help them get started. So, if you are aiming to start training with calisthenic exercises but need a little guidance, this is the article for you.
What Is Calisthenics Training & Why Should You Start?
Calisthenics is a style of training where a person trains against the weight of their own body, rather than an external source of resistance, to improve their physical fitness.
It can be done anywhere and at any time, without the need for any equipment, and is perfect for developing strength, mobility, and coordination, as well as improving your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength, size, and definition.
How Does Calisthenics Differ From Weight-Based Exercise?
As we mentioned above, calisthenics uses your bodyweight as the resistance, whereas traditional weight training builds your strength using external weights, such as dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands or resistance machines.
Calisthenics also often involves using more advanced exercises, which have a greater number of variations available. This can make it both more dynamic and more fun and will prevent boredom from setting in as you progress through your training.
What Are The Benefits Of Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a truly fantastic way to develop your body, both inside and out, and it can benefit you in a variety of ways. With that in mind, we will now take a quick look at the top benefits that calisthenics exercises are able to offer.
Many people feel that it is much easier to stay motivated when you are working towards goals, such as learning hard skills like handstands and muscle ups. This is because it keeps your level of mental engagement much higher than when you are jut mindlessly following workouts with no end goal.
Being able to do a huge number of different movements and exercises, which will gradually give you more control over your physical abilities, gives you a far greater sense of accomplishment and belief. As you slowly gain total control over your body, you will improve all of your physical capabilities.
This includes coordination, flexibility, power, speed, and strength, and will result in you being able to do incredible movements that a normal person who isn’t trained in calisthenics simply could not.
No Gear Or Gym Needed
Many calisthenics exercises require nothing but your own body, which makes it a very convenient style of training, as you can do it anywhere and at any time, without the need for equipment.
Even some of the more advanced moves can be performed using everyday items, while not requiring an expensive gym membership to train makes it extremely cost effective as well.
Burns More Calories
Calisthenics workouts consist almost exclusively of compound exercises that involve multiple muscles and joints. This means you will move more and exert more effort, causing your body to burn a greater number of calories during a workout.
Studies conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health suggest a vigorous calisthenics workout will burn more calories than a standard treadmill cardio workout of the same duration. They also estimate that 30 minutes of vigorous calisthenics training can burn between 240 and 336 calories.
Balanced Approach To Fitness: Works On Flexibility, Mobility & Strength
Calisthenics forces you to train using functional movements, which will allow you to improve your ability to complete everyday movements or tasks with far greater ease. This will also improve your overall health, reduce injury frequency, and enhance physical performance in many other activities.
Then there is the fact that using too much weight when training with an external resistance can lead to compensation in your form. This may result in you using the wrong muscles and getting injured.
Finally, calisthenics allows you to work on your foundation and improve your body awareness, which will transfer all of the benefits listed above into your day to day activities and daily life.
Improves Physique & Posture
Calisthenics can involve multiple muscle groups at the same time, as many areas will need to be engaged to move your entire body. This will result in better activation of key muscles and prevent over-emphasizing some over others.
A 2017 study found that after 8 weeks of training using calisthenics exercises, people were able to improve their posture, strength, lean muscle mass, body fat percentage, and body composition. This resulted in a balanced and great-looking physique
Safer For The Joints
Lifting too heavy or with improper form or progression of lifts when using an external resistance can all lead to excess stress on the joints and other soft tissues. This can easily result in overuse injuries as time progresses, especially on the spine and knees.
Calisthenics trains you to develop strength and power proportional to your size and capabilities, without placing any external stresses on the body, making it considerably safer.
The Basic Movements: What Movements Are Involved In Calisthenics?
Calisthenics relies on using natural movements to train the body. Some of the most basic movements are things you will have often seen or even done yourself and include the following:
- Push ups
- Squats or lunges
- Pull ups or chin ups
- Leg Raises or crunches
- Russian Twists
- Jumping Jacks
Most of these may seem basic, but it is vital to master them if you want to get you foot in the door in the world of calisthenics, as they help you progress to the more challenging and effective exercises.
Getting Started: How To Start Calisthenics Training – A Beginner’s Workout
For people who feel they need maximum guidance, we have a free beginner calisthenics workout that will allow you to start off with a slightly more in-depth workout that you would likely be capable of if you were developing your own.
If you are not willing to invest in a paid program, we suggest you start off by getting an app to track your progress, and there are plenty of great free calisthenics workout apps out there. You can then start to build your own calisthenics workout plan using simple bodyweight exercises.
Like in any type of workout, the first 5 to 10 mins of a calisthenics workout should start with a warm up. The goal of this is to raise your body temperature and improve the flow of blood to the working muscles. This will help to prevent injury, allow you to move better, and boost your performance.
Start out with a plan of light aerobic exercises, such as performing 20 to 30 jumping jacks and then jogging on the spot for 3 to 5 minutes. You can also do easy variations of your actual workout, for example doing wall push ups instead of full push ups, as this perfectly prepares the right muscles.
Beginner Bodyweight Exercises
The basic plan you will start out on will see you do a collection of the most basic, beginner bodyweight exercises, to help you gain a better level of control over your body. You will perform 10 to 15 reps in every set, and aim to complete 3 sets of every exercise
Push ups target the chest, triceps, and shoulders, while also engaging the abs and involving a small amount of legs, making it an ideal exercise to build core and upper body strength.
If you can’t already to regular push ups, start by doing push ups on your knees, or do wall push ups by standing with your hands up against a wall. This will help you to eventually progress to push ups on your toes, which you should start to do as soon as you are able to.
Dips target most of the same muscles as push ups, although don’t involve any legs. How wide you put your hands will also determine whether they hit the chest or triceps harder. If you struggle at first, try doing a small range of motion and work your way up to going all the way down.
Squats target the quads, glutes, inner thighs, and hamstrings, and also involve a small amount of calves and abs. This is a basic move that everyone should be able to complete from the outset.
Lunges target the same muscles as squats, only they prioritise the hamstrings and glutes, while squats prioritise the quads, and you will be focusing on one leg at a time, rather than both at once. They are another basic exercise that everyone should be able to perform straight away.
A plank primarily targets the abs and lower back, but will also work the arms, glutes, and legs as well. While everyone should be able to perform a plank right away, some may only be able to do so for a few seconds at a time, so focus on trying to hold your plank slightly longer every time you do it.
Crunches target the core and are a great way to develop the abs. If you struggle at first, try sliding your hands up your thighs to gauge how far you are moving, so you can work to go a little further in each session and have an accurate way to track your progress.
You should finish every workout with 10 minutes of dynamic stretching. This will help to dispel any lactic acid that has built up and prevent any post workout muscle soreness.
Progressing: How To Progress In Calisthenics?
Once you have gotten stronger and mastered the basic workout, it is important to provide your body with new challenges, otherwise you will stop progressing and your results will stagnate. Luckily, there are a number of different options that are great for helping you to continually progress.
Progression-Based Approach: From Resistance Bands To Weight Belts
Resistance bands are a great way to assist you during exercise progression. A resistance band makes performing a skill easier, without changing the mechanics of the movement, meaning you can start to incorporate more challenging exercises, before you are quite ready to do them by yourself.
Similarly, you can add resistance to your bodyweight exercises by wearing a weighted vest or attaching a weight to yourself on a weight belt. This will allow you to continue developing by using the same basic exercises that you have already mastered.
Increase Repetitions & Sets
As you get stronger, you can start performing more repetitions and sets of each exercise in a workout. This will further challenge your body and stimulate muscle growth, without requiring you to do anything mechanically different.
Change Angles & Positions
Changing the position or angle of an exercise with respect to gravity may seem like a small adjustment to an exercise, but it can actually make it dramatically easier or more challenging. This is a great option to play with, as it creates countless variations of practically every exercise.
Advanced Bodyweight Exercises
The final method of progressing your calisthenics workout is to either replace your existing exercises with advanced bodyweight exercises or begin adding some in as additions to them.
Burpees are a great full body exercise that targets the legs, hips, glutes, chest, arms, shoulders, and core, and has a huge impact on the cardiovascular system and burns a massive number of calories.
Handstands target the arms, shoulders, and core, and are a fabulous option for giving you maximum control over your body. They are also a fun way to keep you engaged and constantly progressing.
Levers & Flags
Levers target the back, chest, arms, core, and legs, and are another fabulous option for helping you develop immense control over your entire body. Flags are a very similar exercise to levers, only they prioritise the delts, lats, and obliques.
V-sits and L-sits
V-sits and l-sits target the core muscles and hip flexors, and are perhaps the best progression from regular crunches, as they hit both the upper and lower portions of the abs in equal measure.
Pull-ups & Chin Ups
Pull-ups and chin ups target the lats, biceps, core, rhomboids, forearms, and delts, and are thought of by many to be one of the best pure tests of strength. You can also alter how close you have your hands together, to pick which part of the back you focus on and how much the biceps are involved.
Tips & Tricks: Some Tips & Tricks To Help You With Calisthenics
By this point, you should have most of the information you need to start performing an effective calisthenics workout. That said, I quickly want to cover some tips and tricks to help you with calisthenics even more, to ensure you truly get maximum value and results out of every workout.
Focus On Performing The Exercises Correctly
Make sure you heavily focus on using the correct technique and form. If possible, you should film your exercise sessions, so you can properly analyse your form and make any necessary adjustments.
Start out by doing low-repetition workouts for the first few weeks. 3 to 5 reps per set are enough to improve your body awareness and improve your strength in calisthenics, while giving you the opportunity to make sure you are doing things right, so you don’t waste your time.
Start Out Slow
As we touched on above, start out slow with basic exercises and gradually increase the difficulty level as you progress. This will help you to use the correct form, avoid injury, and generally progress as quickly as possible.
Ensure You Get Enough Rest
Times when you rest are when your body has the opportunity to heal itself from all of the stress and microtrauma you place on it while training. Sleep can also influence your muscle strength, and a lack of sleep increases the risk of injury, lowers energy levels, and disrupts your ability to build muscle.
Nutrition Is Key
Like with any form of training, building your physique and getting stronger is a combination of both exercise and nutrition. No matter how hard you train, you won’t grow if you don’t give your body all of the nutrients it needs to do so.
Make sure to eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients, whole foods, and plenty of protein from high quality sources, as this is essential to support both muscle building and repair.
Consistency is key to being successful in your training. If you set realistic goals, plan realistic workouts, an track your progress, you are much more likely to show up and stick to them, as you won’t get disillusioned by constantly failing to hit unrealistic goals that were never attainable.
Having fun with your training is vital if you are going to keep going long term. If you make sure you take steps to ensure you enjoy the process, you will stay motivated and give yourself the very best chance possible of achieving results.
FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions)
Before we conclude our guide on how to start calisthenics, I quickly want to cover some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQS) people have on the topic. This will ensure you know everything you need to when it comes to starting calisthenics training for yourself.
What Safety Tips Should Be Followed When Performing Calisthenics Exercises?
When performing calisthenics exercises (or any other exercises for that matter) it is important to warm up before each session, focus on using the correct form and technique, take things slowly, wear proper, non-restricting clothes, stay hydrated, and ensure you get plenty of rest and nutrients.
Following all of these points will give you the best chance possible to avoid any sort of injury while performing calisthenics exercises.
How Often Should Someone Practice Calisthenics In Order To See Results?
How often you will need to train to see results will depend on your goal and ability level when you begin the program. In general, it is recommended to do calisthenics at least 3-4 times per week for 30-60 minutes. This will give you a balanced approach to fitness and allow adequate recovery time.
Are There Any Particular Muscle Groups That Can Be Targeted With Calisthenics?
Calisthenics can target virtually every muscle in your body, as long as you are using a proper range of exercises to do so.
For example, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and handstands will train your upper body, planks, sit-ups, and leg raises will train your core, squats and lunges will train your legs, and burpees will train your whole body at once.
What Equipment Is Necessary When Doing Calisthenics?
Although many calisthenics exercises can be performed without any external equipment, there are some of the more advanced movements that will require a small amount of specific equipment to perform them safely and effectively.
The most common pieces of equipment you are likely to need are a resistance band, pull up bar, parallel bar, gymnastic rings, and a mat.
Can You Build Muscles With Calisthenics? If You Can, How Big Can You Get?
By using your body weight as resistance, you can target all of the muscle groups in your body and increase the size and strength of virtually every muscle. This makes it possible to build significant muscle size and strength with only calisthenics exercises.
That said, the gains may not be as dramatic as those achieved with weightlifting, as the maximum resistance you could train against will be greater. However, calisthenics still has the advantage of providing a full-body workout that can increase strength and flexibility in a safe and balanced way.
How Long Does It Take To Get Good?
How long it takes to get good at calisthenics will vary based on a number of factors. This includes your starting fitness level, dedication, consistency, diet, sleep pattern, and even luck with injuries.
If you are brand new to calisthenics, you can expect to see significant improvements in your strength and endurance within the first few weeks of regular training, as it is something entirely new to your body. You can also easily master basic calisthenics routines and exercises during the first few weeks.
After a few months of consistent training, you will start to be able to perform some of the more advanced exercises, at which point you will notice significant improvement in your physical abilities.
Final Thoughts On How To Start Calisthenics For Beginners
Calisthenics is a truly fantastic way to train, as it allows you to build size, strength, and definition, and even improve your cardio, in a way that is safe, convenient, and enjoyable. This article will hopefully have given you all you need to start taking advantage of all it has to offer for yourself.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.