What is calisthenics?
“Calisthenics? What’s that?”, you might be asking. It goes by various names, such as bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, aerobics, gymnastics, and isometric training. But calisthenics is just the use of your body as its own resistance to improve your fitness.
It’s a great way to improve every aspect of physical fitness. A good calisthenics workout will be cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training all wrapped up in one.
At first glance, calisthenics might seem to be too easy to accomplish much. And yet, bodyweight training has been around since the Greek warriors of old. Think Spartans. Now you’re on the right track. Do you want a warrior’s body? Calisthenics is the way to get it.
Calisthenic exercises when done right, can kick your butt. Don’t be misguided, this isn’t a grandma’s workout. Calisthenics is a great way to get in shape while offering the convenience of being able to do it almost anywhere and with little to no equipment.
Benefits of calisthenics
Full body calisthenics workout delivers a slew of benefits. Here is a list of some:
Gain functional strength
Because you use mostly just your bodyweight, and you do moves that are natural for the human body to do, you will get strong in a functional way. They work multiple muscle groups at the same time, training your body parts to work more in sync with each other. Instead of having stiff, uncoordinated muscles, you will become graceful and move with a style that impresses.
Total body workouts
Calisthenics can work every single muscle in your body. Some moves will work almost all of them at once. That is the beauty of calisthenics. You won’t be working just your pecs, or just your quads. One single move can work three or four muscles simultaneously. The more complex moves will work many more.
Keep your body proportionate
Because calisthenics works your entire body, you won’t end up looking like a top-heavy, chicken-legged man. Calisthenics will create a proportionate physique and no body part is left out looking weak.
Increase your flexibility
Calisthenics requires bending and stretching to complete some of the moves. Although it is always advised that you finish your workout with stretching, doing calisthenics will force your body to move in ways it’s not used to moving. This will increase your flexibility greatly.
Since calisthenics is a mix of strength and cardio, it burns some major calories. Calisthenics allows you to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. This is great for people who are looking to lose weight without losing muscle tissue.
Because calisthenics works your muscle and your heart and your lungs, these workouts will greatly increase your endurance. While playing soccer might have wiped you out in the first half before, after regularly doing calisthenics, you will have enough energy to finish the whole game and play like a pro.
Easier on your joints
Obviously, your joints were built to be able to withstand your body weight. Whenever you add extra weight to them, as you do with weightlifting, you are putting excess strain on your joints. By doing calisthenics, you can effectively strengthen your body and increase your fitness without putting too much stress on your joints. Granted, you can still be hard on your joints with plyometrics, or high impact calisthenics, so keep that in mind.
Work the core with every move
Every move in calisthenics will engage the core muscles in some way. With this constant use of these muscles, you’ll notice a stronger core than ever. Six-pack anyone?
Convenience, portability, efficiency
Making working out more convenient means you’ll be more likely to make it consistent. Ever miss a workout because you couldn’t make it to the gym that day? With calisthenics, that excuse goes right out the window. You can take your workouts with you on a trip. Less catchup when you get back. You can easily get in a good workout in less than 30 minutes. No more hours at the gym.
Because of the simplicity and portability of this type of workout, you save so much money. You don’t need to have a gym membership to do calisthenics, you can literally do them anywhere you find a 6’x6’ square of space. You don’t need equipment to do calisthenics. However, some equipment can be helpful and keep things interesting but most of these are small and cheap.
Calisthenics vs weights
Weight lifting is hands down the best way to pack on muscle size. You can progress in the amount of weight that you are lifting far above the amount your body weighs. Also, it’s easy to focus your attention on certain muscles.
Weight lifting does require a lot of equipment, however, and can be time-consuming. You can’t target the entire body with one workout, at least, it would be extremely difficult. Injury from weight lifting is more common than calisthenics. As far as flexibility, weight lifting requires extensive stretching afterward to keep the muscles and joints limber.
Calisthenics training won’t pack on major muscle in a short amount of time but the muscle that it does create is strong, dense muscle. This is because bodyweight exercises don’t only work the outer muscle but the tiny fiber deep within. You are limited in the amount of resistance you can put on your muscles, but progression is still possible.
Calisthenics mimics natural movements and increases flexibility, keeping the muscles limber. Calisthenics burns more calories in a shorter amount of time in comparison to weight lifting so its better for fat burning.
How to start calisthenics
The main thing to learn when starting to use calisthenics as a workout program is a proper form for the moves. It is crucial to use the correct technique for each move in order to prevent injury and to see results.
You must take the time to learn each move correctly. It is better to perform 10 perfect push-ups than 50 sloppy push-ups. Once you get a good library of moves down, you can learn variations and plyometric versions of these moves for an added challenge.
Then you can learn to build a workout with intervals, circuits, or whatever strikes your fancy.
Even though the equipment is not necessary for calisthenics training, there is plenty of affordable gear that can help you increase the effectiveness of some moves.
These little gadgets can help increase resistance or target certain muscle groups more than others. This can help you bust through some possible muscle building plateaus that you come upon in calisthenics.
Also, using equipment can make your workouts more fun and keep things interesting.
Here is a list of the most popular calisthenics exercises and how they are performed:
Squats work most of the lower body. This includes the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and quads. To perform a squat in a correct form, stand with your feet a bit further than hip-width apart, pointed slightly out.
You can put your arms out in front of you for balance if you need to. Then you bend your lower body in three different joints simultaneously. You will bend your knees, ankles, and hips to hinge your butt behind you as if you are about to sit down in a chair. Bend until your quads are parallel to the ground.
Push your weight into your heels and return to a standing position.
There are three different kinds of lunges, four if you count plyometric lunges. Lunges also work most of the lower body.
Forward lunges are done standing with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward. Step forward with one leg, bending both knees at a 90-degree angle. Push off the ball of the front foot and return to a standing position.
For a reverse lunge, step back with one leg and bend both knees at a 90-degree angle. Push off the heel of the front foot and return to a standing position.
Lastly is the side lunge. Start in the same position but step to the side, keeping both toes pointed forward. Bend the knee stepped out and squat back behind that leg, using the quads and hamstrings to stabilize the body. The other leg is straight and the foot has not left the original position.
This move is simple. Stand with feet hip-width apart and push up with both toes and lift your heels off the floor. This move works, you guessed it, the calves.
The push-up is one of the most repeated exercises. It works the pecs, biceps, and triceps. There are so many different variations that I’m not even going into them. We’ll stick with the original.
Start by getting down on the floor and laying down with your hand’s palm down at the sides of your chest. Keeping your body straight from your heels to the top of your head, push your chest off the floor until your arms are completely extended and hold, keeping your core tight.
Bend your elbows and bring your body down until your nose is about an inch off the floor. Don’t allow your butt to sink or to raise up. It is very important to keep the body in a straight line.
Pull-ups work your back and biceps and are done with a pull-up bar. Grab the bar with both hands, palms facing away from you at a little more than shoulder-width apart and hang. Pull your body up until your chin is higher than the bar.
Dips work the triceps and chest and are best done off a platform of some kind like a bench or a chair.
Sit on the platform and grip the front edge of the platform with both hands. Shift your wait up and off the platform, still in sitting position in front of the platform. Don’t release your grip.
Bend your elbows and dip your torso down toward the ground until your butt is inches off the ground. Using your arms, push your body back up to sitting position until your arms are completely extended.
Sit-ups work your abs. Lie on the floor with your knees bent about 45 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Pull your belly button in towards your backbone and raise your shoulders up off the floor.
You can put your arms crossed over your chest or behind your head but never bend your neck forward. There should always be space between your chin and your chest.
This move works your arms and core. Basically, the plank is a push-up holding the move at the top. The hold is the move. To make this move more challenging you can plank on your elbows.
Beginner calisthenics workout programs
As with any workout type, having a plan will set you up for success. Following a set calisthenics routine will not only help you to stay consistent but it will allow you to keep track of your progress and see where you need more work.
There are a few different ways you can start a calisthenics workout program. Below are two sample calisthenics programs that you can implement right away as a beginner at home or anywhere else that’s convenient for you.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Full body circuit
- 20 squats
- 20 forward lunges
- 10 push-ups
- 20 reverse lunges
- 20 dips
- 10 side lunges each side
- 5 pull-ups
- 30-sec plank
Repeat the entire circuit 3 times
Monday and Tuesday: Lower body circuit
- 20 squats
- 20 leg raises
- 20 around the world lunges
- 20 calf raises
- 30-sec wall sit
Repeat circuit 3 times
Tuesday and Friday: Upper body and abs
- 20 push-ups
- 20 dips
- 20 crunches
- 5 pull-ups
- 5 hanging knee raises
- 5 chin-ups
- 20 bicycle abs
Repeat circuit 3 times
In order to see results and maintain endurance, you need to fuel your body with the right nutrition. You don’t want to ruin all your hard work by eating an unhealthy diet.
The best diet to use in conjunction with a calisthenics workout program is high in protein, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and moderate complex carbs.
The best way to get enough protein to your muscles after your workouts is by supplementing with whey protein. It is the quickest and most efficient way to feed your muscles for optimum strength and growth.
It can be hard to make sure to keep your body supplied with all the necessary vitamins and minerals, especially when training. For this reason, most athletes will use a multivitamin specially designed for active people. This helps to keep the body running smoothly and energy levels high. Of course, there are other helpful supplements you may consider to get through your workouts and recover faster.
Always make sure to hydrate well before and after your workouts. Calisthenics will definitely make you sweat and you need to replenish your body with water.