When you decide to start a new workout plan, you’re going to encounter dozens of different options. Some say that yoga is the way to go when you want to feel amazing in your body; others find that weightlifting has been the workout to transform their body into the results they were dreaming of.
Ultimately, the perfect workout for you is going to depend on what your goals and preferences are. To figure this out, you need to learn about the many different types of workout.
One form of workout that people tend to overlook is calisthenics. What is calisthenics, and how can it help to improve your body? Our complete guide today will help you learn more about this part of the workout world and discover if calisthenics is right for you!
What Is Calisthenics?
The first things that you need to know are the very basics, so let’s start with the definition of calisthenics. Calisthenics is a type of fitness workout in which you use your weight to challenge and improve your body’s form.
This means that with the weight of your body applied in specific ways, you are going to be training your muscles and form to be stronger, leaner, and more fit than it was before you started calisthenics. For this, there isn’t any particular equipment that you must have other than your own body!
There are a lot of different levels to calisthenics. For some, this is a basic training method just used to keep in shape or to lose weight. For others, it’s an art form that they use to develop almost as a type of gymnastics to complete spectacular acts of strength. It’s up to you to decide where you want to fall on this scale.
When Was Calisthenics First Used?
One incredibly cool thing about calisthenics is that we can become like our ancestors when we start doing these exercises, which they probably have used too! In fact, calisthenics has been around for longer than any of us can follow our family trees.
Calisthenics has been used in 600 B.C. by the Spartans, training their bodies in the Mediterranean. It has also been used in China by monks who were working to make their bodies strong so that they could protect their regions from dangerous looters and other threats.
The root of the word calisthenics can find its meaning in Greek. Callis comes from the Greek root word kallos, which means beautiful. Sthenos, which eventually became sthenics, means strength. Beauty and strength emphasized through the power of the body’s own weight—that is the power of calisthenics!
Generally, calisthenics is meant to improve the following:
- Aerobic condition
Basically, every single part of your body and fitness can be improved by doing calisthenics. The nature of calisthenic exercises tends to incorporate two or more parts of your fitness in every move. Your body is able to improve in very complete and thorough ways with regular calisthenic practice.
Types of Calisthenics Workouts
So you now know what calisthenics technically is, but you probably still don’t have a good mental picture of what a calisthenic workout is just yet. The funniest part about that is that you’ve likely done many calisthenic workouts in your lifetime. That’s right; all of us have done them before.
These are some of the most common, low-level calisthenics workouts:
- Jumping jacks
That’s just the start of a list that is sure to be very familiar to you! Calisthenic workouts are so popular because of how effective they are at improving overall fitness levels, and that is why everyone—from kids to the elderly—tends to use some type of these exercises when they are working out.
The Benefits of Calisthenics
Before we get too deep into the benefits, we have to be upfront about something. There are so many benefits to doing calisthenics that you might think we are exaggerating, but we promise that we are not.
Most exercise is good for the body; calisthenics just happens to be a very efficient and effective type of exercise.
As you read through all of the different benefits of calisthenics, keep in mind what it is that you most desire. What parts of your body and health do you want to improve? Find out if the benefits of calisthenics match with your personal desires.
No Equipment Required
One of the best things about learning how to do calisthenics exercises is that once you know how to do the movements, you can do them just about anywhere! Even if you don’t have a gym nearby or any weights to use, you can improve your fitness by using nothing but your body.
How cool is that? There are no excuses for not working out here. With calisthenics, you have everything that you need.
Of course, there are some calisthenics exercises that you can do with equipment if you want to change up the angles or skill level. For example, doing dips on bars or rings can up the difficulty level while still using your bodyweight as the primary resistance factor.
Easier Day-to-Day Life
We like to say that calisthenics exercises are real-world exercises. Much of what you do with your body during this type of workout mimics the ways that your body is used throughout a normal day.
For that reason, practicing calisthenics helps to enhance how you make it through your day-to-day life, whether that be in work or in fitness.
You can get strong by doing calisthenics even though you are only using the weight of your body to do it. Some people fear that they’ll max their growth out because their body only weighs so much, and they won’t be able to increase resistance anymore. However, calisthenics has the answer to that problem too.
By doing certain workouts on different types of surfaces or at different angles, you can increase the resistance that your body faces throughout the workout. The only limitation to your growth is your imagination!
Total Body Workout
Many types of exercise routines focus on isolating and targeting specific areas of the body in a rotation to round out where the body improves. With calisthenics, however, every single workout is already targeting two, three, four, or even more muscle groups for a total body workout.
The strength that you gain from doing calisthenics is a special type of strength. This strength is growing in every single part of your body, and you’ll feel so much stronger once you’ve practiced for a bit.
When doing exercises that require you to use machines, weights, or other types of equipment, it is true that you get a huge boost in muscle growth due to the added resistance. Needing to rely on equipment, however, means that you are putting more pressure on your body than ever before, and your form needs to be absolutely perfect.
It is possible to learn how to use weights and machines properly; we aren’t saying that it’s impossible. The beauty of calisthenics, however, lies in the fact that it is much easier to nail down proper form, thus reducing the risk of injury as you begin your workout journey.
Improve More Than Just Mass
Another unique aspect of calisthenics training is that it engages more than just your body. The training and movements used in calisthenics connect with your fine motor skills so that both your brain and body need to be fully engaged.
What does this mean for you? This means that aspects of your fitness related to your brain, such as quickness and agility, are going to be improved even more rapidly than they would have if you do other types of training.
Less Stress On Your Body
Generally speaking, calisthenics puts less stress on your ligaments, tendons, joints, and other connective areas of your body because you are using less external resistance. The risks of weight training can be balanced if done carefully, but calisthenics keeps your training into proportion with your body’s natural state since your body is the resistance.
Different Levels of Exercises
There are a lot of different levels of exercises that can be done in the world of calisthenics. You can always increase the difficulty of your daily workouts by changing angles and styles while still relying on your body weight to improve your fitness.
Movements like the human flag, which is when you hold yourself horizontal from a pole by using the strength of your core and arms, is something that a beginner to the world of calisthenics would not be able to accomplish. Once you build up from intermediate into advanced movements, however, you might find yourself being able to do just that!
Potential Calisthenics Problems
While we are fully committed to the power of calisthenics, every good thing has potential drawbacks. In the interest of you getting a complete look at what this type of workout can and cannot do, we want you to learn about these potential problems as well.
No Huge Gains
If your primary goal is to get huge muscles that look spectacular, calisthenics alone is not going to help you get that look.
While they can easily be incorporated into a routine that has weight lifting to get those gains, you won’t be seeing huge muscle growth just from these exercises, which rely on your body weight and that alone.
This might seem a bit superficial, but the simple fact is that some people will care if their hands are not as soft and smooth after they start to work out. When you do calisthenics, you’ll eventually move up to doing pull-ups, bar dips, and more. All of these exercises will cause calluses to appear on your hands.
These calluses are essential if you want to move to more intermediate and advanced movements, but they aren’t fun when you’re first getting started. Just keep in mind that, in time, these unsightly lumps will protect your hands.
Slow and Steady
Do you have the patience to wait and see results in a slow, methodical manner? Or do you want to be able to quantifiably and quickly figure out how much your strength has improved?
If you have patience, you’ll be great at calisthenics. If you don’t, you’re likely to feel more successful if you do weightlifting. After starting with a 15-pound dumbbell, you will be able to feel the joy of using 30 pounds of weights in a few weeks as your strength grows.
Calisthenics does amazing things for the body, but it does those things in a very methodical way. You are working out your entire body little by little, so the effects are not going to be as immediately clear to you as they would be in other types of workouts.
The basic movements of calisthenics—crunches, pull-ups, and push-ups—are moves that you are capable of mastering. With a few months of hard work, you will master them all. Your body will become adept at completing those actions. In a way, calisthenics will become easy.
For many people, this is the point at which they simply plateau. Your body will retain its shape, but you won’t see vast improvements because the movements will no longer be a challenge to complete. If you reach this stage, it’s going to be up to you personally to push past it.
It is possible to make movements harder once you’ve mastered them, but you need to have the willpower to do just that. Train static, and you will remain the same. You must push through to something that challenges you to keep seeing improvements!
Calisthenics vs. Weight Training
Many fitness lovers who want to improve their body’s shape and muscle mass find that weight training is the best way to get the results that they desire. Does this mean that weight training is a better choice in workout compared to calisthenics?
Let’s break down both types to find out.
How Are They Similar?
First, let’s discuss the similarities. Both calisthenics and weightlifting can be considered strength training workouts. The goal of this type of training is usually to have stronger muscles, but the exercises can also help to improve stamina and overall body health.
How Do They Differ?
Calisthenics uses the weight of your own body to create the resistance necessary to improve your body. On the other hand, weightlifting requires some type of weights or equipment in order to create that resistance.
Calisthenics can be practiced nearly anywhere, and there are a lot of different group classes that you can join as a motivator to help you to keep up with your workouts if you struggle to do so on your own.
Due to the nature of weight lifting, class settings aren’t usually appropriate, and it’s harder to work out if you don’t have the equipment necessary to do so.
For those who are seeking to gain muscle mass quickly, there’s nothing that is going to do so as effectively as weight lifting. While calisthenics recreates many real-world scenarios by giving your body a full-body workout, weightlifting is far more successful at targeting specific muscles and helping them to grow stronger faster.
Ultimately, the winner between calisthenics and weight lifting is going to depend on what your specific needs and goals are when you start working out.
We have found, however, that anyone (even those who want big muscles) can benefit from supplementing with calisthenics. On the other hand, weightlifting is not as universal in its benefits or requirements.
How to Get Started with Calisthenics
If you’ve decided that you want to give the power of calisthenics a chance to change your life, you’ll want to learn how to get started with doing calisthenics. Getting into this type of exercise is very simple. All that you need to do is follow these three steps.
Step 1: Learn the Movements
The first and most important thing for you to do is learn the basic movements used in calisthenics. While you’ve probably done a few crunches before in your life, have you considered your form or what muscles you are targeting when doing so?
Make a list of calisthenic exercises that interest you, and then start learning how to do them properly. You can talk to a coach at the gym, or find one of the many amazing fitness coaches on YouTube to help you figure out what you should be doing.
For example, you might check out this video if you want to learn how to do tricep dips properly as one of your first calisthenics workouts:
Using videos, online tutorials, and more, you’ll be able to learn how to do every single type of calisthenic movement that you want to try incorporating into your workout. That’s the first step that you need to follow!
Step 2: Practice Those Movements
Once you’ve learned the moves that you need to know to be able to do calisthenics, you’ll want to practice doing them until they become very natural to do repeatedly. The goal is to get out of your head so that you aren’t thinking so much about remembering how to do the movements. Instead, you want to be thinking about how your body is performing.
It has been said too often, but practice really does make perfect! By practicing your movements, your body will become more comfortable doing the motions, and you can do a better job of improving your body more effectively.
Step 3: Modify
Once you reach a point where you can do the movements that you have learned and practiced with absolute ease, it’s time for you to make some changes. Specifically, its time for you to modify those movements!
Have you mastered the push-up? Try doing some push-ups that are harder. Use just one arm, or do the push-ups on a stability ball instead of on the flat ground. These challenges will upgrade the difficulty level of the workout and help you to keep improving your physique.
Is it time for you to modify pull-ups? Easy changes that you can make in order to challenge yourself include using a wider grip width, doing them on gymnastic rings, or even trying to do pull-ups in natural settings such as on a tree branch.
Basic Beginner Calisthenics Workout
To give you an example of how to get started with your workouts, we’re going to set up a sample workout for you.
- 10 Pull-Ups
You will need a pull-up bar for this exercise. Grasp it with an overhand grip, and keep your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Hang below the bar with both your arms and legs straight.
Then, squeeze your upper back together to raise your body towards the bar until your chin is above it. Lower and then repeat.
- 25 Squats
Stand with your hands at your sides, and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your heels on the ground and your core tight, bend your knees and move your hips back until you are squatting with your thighs parallel to the ground. Hold for two seconds, and then return to the starting position.
- 20 Push-Ups
Set your body up in the basic push-up position by lining up your body with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Lower yourself so that your arms make a 45-degree angle.
Keep your head in line with your chest. Then, push back up and start again. If you can’t do this, put your hands on a table or another surface to lighten the load.
- 50 Sit-Ups
Lie on your back, and keep your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head, and then tighten your shoulder blades to ensure your elbows stick out to the side.
Using power from your core, pull your body towards your knees until your shoulders are off the floor. Roll to the starting position and then repeat.
- 10 Burpees
Start standing upright with your legs and feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms at your side. Squat down and put your hands on the floor in front of you before kicking your legs out, so you are in a push-up position.
Do a push-up, and then bring your legs back into a squat. Stand up and jump into the air with your arms up. Repeat!
- 30-Second Front Plank
Start in a standard push-up position. Squeeze your core and glutes to stay locked here for the complete amount of time. Lock into the position completely so that your core and shoulders are getting a full workout.
- 30-Second Side Plank
Start by laying on your right side. Prop your body up onto your right elbow and arm so that your shoulder is over your elbow. Keep your legs parallel to your body and on top of each other.
Then, place your left hand on your hip. Using your core, lift your hips off the floor so that your body is in a straight line. Hold, switch sides, and then repeat.
To complete this workout, you will want to do the following list of exercises three times. Give yourself 20 seconds to rest between each exercise and allow up to three minutes to rest between each set!
Planning Your Own Calisthenics Workout
If the sample beginner workout we’ve outlined above isn’t the right workout for you, don’t worry! You can easily create your own plan. In fact, setting up your own routine is the best way to choose movements that you find effective for your body to lose weight or otherwise increase your fitness.
Here is what we suggest keeping in mind as you plan your own workout:
- Aim for four workout sessions per week
- Dedicate two sessions to the upper body and two to the lower body
- Add in one new exercise every week to continually challenge your body
- Repeat the exercises multiple times within a circuit
- Do as many rounds as you can for 20 or 30 minutes every session
You can make amazing changes in your body simply by setting up a great system, and that system is something that you are in complete control of!
7 Beginner’s Tips for Doing Calisthenics
Even though you know a lot more about calisthenics now than you did just a few minutes ago, you might still have some fears about getting started with this type of workout regime. Is it going to be the right one for you? Will you be able to succeed and achieve your goals using it?
Having these kinds of fears is completely normal, but don’t let the fear of calisthenics not working for you keep you away from its potential. To help you gain the motivation that you need to succeed, we’ve pulled together seven essential tips for beginners in the world of calisthenics.
#1: Don’t Skip Steps
The first and most essential tip that we will give you is not to skip steps. Make sure that you learn how to do a movement properly and practice it for a few weeks before you move up to the next skill level. If you move ahead too early, you could hurt yourself and any potential progress.
#2: Focus on Your Body Alignment
Every move done in calisthenics needs to be done in a specific way so that you are targeting the right areas of your body. A big part of this balance is going to be in the way that you align your body. Make sure that your weight is always properly distributed when working out.
#3: Stick to Your Skill Level
Are you a total beginner to fitness? Are you unable to do a single push-up? Don’t worry! Modify your movements to fit your current skill level. If that means doing half the number of reps on a circuit, that’s fine! Your strength will grow, and you can readjust to match your skills.
#4: Set a Schedule
You aren’t going to see if you like calisthenics or if it has any positive effects on your body if you don’t try to do some type of exercise consistently. Set up a schedule to do at least two workouts per week at first, and then increase the number until you are doing four or five workouts a week.
#5: Take a Class
Due to the fact that calisthenics does not require equipment, you can find many classes for calisthenics workouts. Check your gym’s schedule to see if there is a class that you can join. Finding like-minded workout buddies will help you to be more confident in your success.
#6: Don’t Forget to Rest
It can be incredibly invigorating to be starting a new workout routine. You might even want to train all the time, but training all the time and not resting isn’t going to be good for your body. Don’t forget that taking rest periods is important. Listen to your body and rest your muscles when needed.
#7: Have Fun!
The final tip that we have to give calisthenics beginners is also the most important one, and that is you need to have fun! Sure, working out might be about achieving specific goals, but there is no reason that you can’t achieve those goals while also having a great time.
The Science Behind Calisthenics
Finally, we love sharing some scientific studies that will help curious minds learn more about why calisthenics works and whether or not it is truly effective. In the case of this type of workout, there have been a number of studies done that truly show how effective it can be!
These are just a few of the studies that we find most interesting surrounding the power of calisthenics:
- Elicit cardiovascular improvements
- May improve coordination
- Effective in both short and long workout circuits
- Improves posture, strength, and body composition
Conclusion: Transform Your Body with Calisthenics
What is calisthenics? It’s a style of workout that relies entirely on using your body weight to improve overall health and physique, and it is incredibly effective! The layers of benefits that calisthenics can bring into your life are impressive, but the only way that you will truly find success is if you find the routines appealing.
Take some time to learn the basic calisthenics movements. Give our sample routine a two- or a three-week trial period so that you have enough time to decide if this amazing workout will be the right place for you to train the body that you have always dreamed of. The power to do so is completely yours!