This is how to start calisthenics: The Ultimate guide. The only guide you will need to know how to get started in calisthenics.
I cover every beginner problems and questions in this guide from what it is, benefits, calisthenics vs weight training, to FAQs, and workout and how to progress.
What is Calisthenics?
Well, According to the Wikipedia,
Calisthenics is a form of exercise consisting of a variety of movements that exercise large muscle groups, such as running, standing, grasping, pushing, etc.These exercises are often performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment, as bodyweight exercises.Wikipedia.org
In short terms, any bodyweight exercise is a form of calisthenics. Bodyweight exercise means exercises in which your muscles are working against your own weight and not plates, dumbbells, bars, etc.
Benefits of Calisthenics?
1. It’s almost free: you don’t pay for any gym membership, dumbbells, bars, extra weight costs or anything. You can invest in some pullup bars, resistance bands, and for weighted calisthenics you can invest in weighted vests, or you can use a Backpack.
But it’s almost free and does not require other than a pull bar.
2. Makes you very Strong: Most of the calisthenics exercises are functional exercises and building strength in these exercises results in building functional strength. And this strength helps you with daily tasks.
3. Variety: Calisthenics exercises and progressions will never bore you, it’s not like bodybuilding where for progressions you add weight in the bar and do the same thing again.
No in calisthenics you need to change your angles, and exercise progressions to progress through exercises and Continue building strength.
4. Build an Aesthetic Body: Calisthenics exercises are mostly upper-body, so you will build a v-shaped body which is both functional and aesthetic to look.
And having an aesthetic body has lots of benefits from showing off to photo-shooting, to boosting confidence.
5. Fast Recovery: As calisthenics is just your body-weight and consists mostly of compound exercises, your body will recover faster than the gym isolation exercises and very heavy weights.
6. Improve Coordination: A research on Pilates and calisthenics shows that after 6 months of doing Calisthenics, the participants coordination has improved.
7. Low Injury Risks: In calisthenics, you are very far from injury unlike in the gym where you have to load very heavy weights which can crush you. In calisthenics, you got no problem with that.
8. Can Do anywhere and Anytime: Calisthenics can be done virtually anywhere, you will just need a floor for pushup, and something to hang for pull up.
You can do it in the park, in the home, in the backyard, in the parking lot, in the hotel room, on Mars (there is gravity so yeah you can do it there too.)
9. Show off very Cool Moves: You can impress and surprise any of your friends with your calisthenics moves like planche, handstand, one-arm push up, front lever or just some explosive push ups.
Problems of Calisthenics:
1. Progressing in Calisthenics is a little tricky: In weight training, you will just add a few kilos of weight for progressing. In calisthenics,
you need to leverage angles for making an exercise harder or, you need to do another exercise like from push up to archer push up.
2. Some progressions have more gaps in Strength: In calisthenics, some of the progressions have more gap in required strength. So, it’s hard to progress from one progression to another. But that you can invest on resistance bands.
3. Limited Leg Exercises: Calisthenics have very limited leg exercises and lack of progressions. Like from squats you can only progress to pistol squats and then, there is no progressions.
But calisthenics have some variety of leg exercises like bridges, lunges, split squats, archer-squats, Bulgarian Squats
4. Mobility and Flexibility: After a while many people starts to have wrist pains. Since, Calisthenics exercises are body-weight exercises and some exercises need some level mobility and flexibility.
So, if you are having wrist pains then, before starting the workout in the warmup routine do some wrist mobility exercises and stretching and not for the Wrist but for the shoulders, hips, etc.
Which is Better Calisthenics or Weights?
Well let’s look at each of this advantages and disadvantages:
A. Weight training can increase strength by applying the progressive overload principle, it’s also very easy to slowly progress every time.
B. Progressive overload can also be applied to calisthenics but it’s a little trickier than weight training,
like we need to use angles, and progressions to progress. But with calisthenics, you can build functional strength which can be of lot of use in daily lives.
2. Injury Prevention:
A. Weight training has a higher chance of injury than calisthenics because it has heavy weight which if can’t handle properly then can lead to serious injury.
B. Calisthenics has a lower chance of injury because you are using your body-weight for exercises.
A. In Weight training, you can progress little by little everyday by adding small incremental weights to the bar.
B. In calisthenics, progressions can be tricky as to make exercise harder you need to rely on angles, leverage, and progression exercises.But if you are doing weighted calisthenics, then you could progress the same way like weight training just by adding weights.
A. In weight training, you need a lot of recovery time because your central nervous system will be exhausted after lifting heavy weights.
B. In calisthenics, you are going to have quick recovery as you are just handling your own body weight which your CNS is habituated to handle and can do more frequent training.
A. For weight training, you need a lot of equipment like different weights of dumbbells, plates, bars, some machines if you want, or kettlebells, etc.
B. For Calisthenics, you need nothing other than a floor, and a pull bar which can be found in the parks, or if you are creative you can find it anywhere.
And for weighted calisthenics, you may not need weights if you have a backpack you can add weight and then do weighted push ups, pull ups, dips, goblet squats, etc.
6. Muscles: Both can build muscles as there is no difference between tension produced by lifting a dumbbell and lifting your body-weight. Both are weights.
7. Fat loss: Both can help you to lose fat but calisthenics has more compound movements,
and it’s exercises require more stabilization from other muscles thus, the more muscles you use, the more fat loss.
8. Isolation of Muscles:
A. In weight training, you can easily isolate the particular small muscle groups like biceps, triceps, or chest, or just back. Which makes to fix lagging muscles which are underdeveloped than other muscles.
B. In calisthenics, you can’t have a lot of options to isolate particular muscles. When you do exercise you will use other muscle groups too.
A. In weight training, you can isolate some particular muscle groups thus, you can split your week into Monday – Chest, Tuesday – Back, Wednesday – Shoulders like that.
B. In calisthenics, you can’t isolate muscles thus, you need to split your workout into three movements. The best split is: Push-Pull-Legs. Monday – Push (all pushing exercises), Tuesday – Pull (all pulling exercises), Wednesday – Legs (all leg exercises) like that.
The basic Foundational exercises:
Like the Weight training basic exercises: Bench Press, Deadlifts, Rows, and Squats.
In calisthenics, the basic foundational exercises are: Push ups, Pull ups, Dips, and Squats.
Let’s learn how to do those exercises with proper form:
I will highly recommend you to check out the video for better visual understanding of how to those proper push ups.
Remember you need strict form when forming these basic exercises as you don’t want to build strength by doing bad form and then when you are progressing,
Suddenly you will have to go back to zero to learn and master those strict form push ups so, make sure you get it right.
How to do the Proper Push ups:
1. Placement of your hands: Place your hands slightly more than your shoulder width.
2. Your Body alignment: Make sure your body is straight. Your butt neither should be too high nor too low and your hands and perpendicular to the ground at 90 deg.
3. You Feet Placement: Join your feet or just maintain some gap, You have to in your forefoot. Straighten your knees, Contract your abs.
4. Lowering yourself: When you lower yourself, bend your elbows inwards, don’t flare out your elbows but inwards. While bending keep your elbows at 90 deg just let your body lower itself.
5. Stop an inch before your chest touch the floor: After that while keeping your body straight push yourself up and repeat.
How to do the Proper Pull Ups:
1. Hand placements: you should place your hands more than your shoulder width.
2. Keep your Body straight: Use your abs to stabilize your hanging body.
3. Contract your scapula: This is first part of the pull up. Imagine pulling yourself upward without bending your arms. When doing so, your shoulder will descends downward than your ears.
4. Use your Back: Lots of people try to use most of their biceps without using their Back. To use your back imagine pulling your elbows behind your hips. After reaching above use your biceps to pull further.
5. Placement of Legs: Now you can bend your legs or just keep your legs straight just make sure you are stabilize.
How to Do proper Dip:
1. Placement of your Hands: Place your hands in the parallel bar, What you don’t have it? Shut up. Take two chairs and Place your hands.
2. Placement of your legs: You can bend your legs or straighten them.
3. Your Body alignment: Contract your abs to stabilize and then, move a little forward so, that you use your chest more.
4. Lowering yourself: Bend your elbows but keep them 90 deg. Lower yourself until you are half way through. You can lower yourself a little bit more.
5. Back up: Push yourself back up without flaring out your elbows or using more power from any of your one arm. Repeat.
In the above video, the steps are already cover and I got no additional steps to tell so, that’s it for the Squats.
Calisthenics Beginner Workout:
Rules for Workout:
1. Unbreakable Form: remember a good form is very important when performing an exercise and for building that basic strength, you may not want to develop your foundational strength on weak, bad form.
2. Reps and Sets: if some of the exercise is very hard then choose an easier progression like if you can’t do push ups then do knee push ups but still can’t do that then do incline push ups.
The reps range 6-12 will be written so, if you aren’t able to do at least 6 reps then, choose an easier progression and if you are able to do more than 12 reps then choose a harder progression.
Below you will see something written like this 3×6-12, Rest: 2 mins.
Which means you will do the given for minimum 6 times or maximum 12 times that’s 1 set, you will then rest 2 minutes between sets and then two it again for total 3 sets.
3. Rest: this is a strength training workout, so you can rest as much as you want until you feel like you can do the exercise. But gradually try to reduce your rest time.
4. Don’t Exhaust or fatigue yourself: again this is a strength training, if you fatigue yourself then you will not be able to perform the exercise or worse your form will break.
So, avoid it for now. Reserve some 1 or 2 reps in your tank and stop when you start feeling a little fatigue.
5. Progressions: At first, you will start with the prescribed sets and reps and exercises
but every week try to progress either by increasing reps, adding sets, or lowering rest periods or doing more difficult progressions.
Like for example: you add 3 reps, or decrease the
inclination of push up, or adding 1 extra set.
6. Breath: Don’t forget breath during an exercise. The proper breathing is when you are lowering or relaxing muscles
let’s say when going down in a push up, you inhale and when going up, you exhale.
Workout: Full-body strength-based
Inverted Pull ups for 3×6-12 reps, rest: 2 mins
Incline Push ups for 3×6-12 reps, rest: 2 mins
Lunges for 2×20, rest: 90 secs
Squats for 2×20, rest: 90 secs
Planks for 2×1 mins, rest: 30 secs
If you are able to do then, do the workout the next day,
if you are very sore then, take a rest and do the other day. But not more than two rest.
Exercise Routine for Beginners:
This is just a beginner strength-building calisthenics workout but once you get hold of this
and develop the basic strength then, you can try all sorts of workout according to your goals.
How to Progress and Learn New calisthenics Skills:
Progressing to new harder exercises can be done by simply choosing the easier variations and slowly progressing to the harder exercises.
But, there are also many different ways and methods to speed up this process.
Like: Eccentric Training, with this method I was able to learn to do pull ups in some weeks.
It’s a very powerful method and it’s very hard for both the muscles and Central Nervous System.
In this method, you perform an exercise only eccentric part which is also known as negatives. What is this? If you ask then,
it’s when you are lengthening or relaxing your muscles, or lowering yourself.
Like in the push ups: if you are lowering down then,
it’s negative and when you push yourself up contracting the muscles, it’s positive.
How to Implement Eccentric Training:
For implementing the eccentric training to learn new calisthenics skills like push ups, pull ups, dips, handstand push ups, etc.
You just need to add some eccentric training at the beginning of the strength training workout.
1. Choose an exercise you can’t able to do yet.
2. Perform the exercise eccentrically as slowly as you can taking at least 2 seconds. If you can’t then don’t do it and choose an easier variation.
3. Repeat for 3-10 reps
For progressing increase your time under tension so,
let’s say you did 3 negative push ups, taking upto 2 secs then, progress by taking 3 secs then, 4 secs, then, 6 secs.
Do eccentric training 2-4 times per week. Rest properly as it’s very intense on your CNS.
Like this workout: warm up for 5 mins
Negative Push up for 1×3 reps as slowly As possible.
Knee Push ups for 3×10 reps, Rest: 2 mins
Negative Pull up for 1×3 reps as slowly As possible.
Inverted Pull ups for 3×10 reps, Rest: 2 mins.
Lunges for 2×20 reps, Rest: 90 secs
Squats for 2×20 reps, Rest: 90 secs
Plank for 2×1 mins, Rest: 90 secs
You can apply eccentric training to front levers, back levers, handstand push ups, Muscle ups, one-arm Push ups, or literally any exercise you are struggling with.
After doing the eccentric training day, take a rest the other day and then take a rest and then do the eccentric training.
Monday: eccentric workout
Wednesday: Normal strength workout
Friday: Eccentric workout
Saturday: Normal Strength workout (Choose light exercises)
Now, you can tweak this workout according to your own needs and goals. So, feel free to comment down your custom workout, I will love to see it.
Can Calisthenics build muscles?
Yes, It can, since weight is weight no matter if it’s a dumbbell or your own body-weight. If you want proof then,
you can search for Hannibal the King, Austin Dunham, Adorian Moldovan and Chris Heria or any Gymnast.
Look at their physique and you will know. They achieved this from mostly calisthenics.
For building muscles in calisthenics, stick to the 6-12 rep range so, if the exercise is harder and you can’t do at least 6 reps then, choose an easier progression.
And if you can do more than 12 reps then, make the exercise harder and choose an harder progression or just add weights which you can do by a backpack full of stuffs.
How can Fat people start calisthenics?
If you are fat then, calisthenics will be more difficult for you since, the more body-weight, the harder and stronger you need to be.
But I was very overweight when I started calisthenics, and I know how hard those push ups and pull ups can be.
So, first priority lose some weight and if you are like me who don’t want to count calories, and make things complicated then,
Do intermittent fasting. It’s simple, easy to do and very effective. The best part is that the studies show that intermittent fasting increases growth hormone.
Which can help you to lose fat, preserve already built muscles and grow muscles.
For Intermittent fasting guide,
Then, you need to focus on exercises and choose the variation you can do.
You can also do the workout mentioned above in a circuit style, where you will not rest between exercises and only rest between rounds.
Like: Inverted pull ups for 1×10 reps, Rest: no
Incline Push ups for 1×10 reps, Rest: no
Lunges for 1×20 reps, Rest: no
Squats for 1×20 reps, Rest: no
Plank for 1 mins, Rest: 2 mins
Now, After the completing all these exercises it’s one round and you will do three rounds of these with rest 2 mins between rounds.
Also, do some HIIT workouts which burns a lot of fat. In HIIT, you are going to do very intense activity for 30 secs and then do an easy activity or rest for 30 secs and then, do it again for rounds.
An Example of HIIT: Sprint all out for 30 secs
Walk for 30 secs
Sprint all out for 30 secs for 7 rounds
Be consistent and you will lose some fat and build the foundational strength for further progressing.
Where to Go from Here:
Once you have built the foundational strength then, there are a lot of options to go from here.
To progress from here, you can go to the next progressions This also known as Progressive Calisthenics. You will go from progression to progression.
Like from push up you can progress to one-arm push up and planche push ups and pike push up to handstand push up.
From Pull ups to one-arm pull ups, and Muscle ups, etc.
There’s a whole list of calisthenics progressions, you can search for.
Or, you can try Weighted Calisthenics which is also very great and at first you can just start with a backpack just make it full of heavy stuffs like: books.
Or, when you learn many exercises you can do the combinations.
Most advance calisthenics athletes and gymnast that they will do dips then planche and then handstand and that’s 1 rep of the combination exercise.
Now, This combination exercises creates high time under tension which is also the another factor for the muscle growth.
You can also start off simple by combining simple exercises like from frog stand to handstand, L-sit pull ups or where your creativity goes.
Where you go from here depends on your goals. If you just want to build most muscles and strength then, you will go to Weighted Calisthenics.
If you want to learn more calisthenics skills then, you will go to progressive calisthenics.
We cover that calisthenics is a body-weight exercise, there are mostly compound exercises and benefits of calisthenics.
We cover the difference between calisthenics and Weight training. And that calisthenics can also build muscles.
We talk about calisthenics progressions and how to use eccentric training for learning calisthenics skills faster.
Now, from here you can progress to new harder exercises, experiment with different workout styles, or you can progress to weighted calisthenics.
Which is easy if you have a backpack. Load it with some stuff and then do the push ups, pull ups, dips, etc with the backpack.
After building the basic strength it’s depend on your goals where do you want to progress and what’s the best way to do it.
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Until Next time,