Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Are you a complete beginner to calisthenics? Perhaps you are a couch potato that is looking to get fitter and stronger?

Well, whatever the reason, you have come to the right place.

In this article, you will learn what calisthenics is, the benefits it offers, and the exercises and equipment you are going to need to get started.

What Is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics Dip Bars thumb

The origin of the word calisthenics comes from the Greek words ‘kallos’ and ‘sthenos’, which translate to ‘beautiful’ and ‘strength’.

In fitness terms, the exercises performed would fall under the umbrella of compound exercises, this is because they work large muscle groups rather than isolating one or two.

These calisthenics workout and exercises utilize your own body weight to increase mass and power. You will also experience other benefits such as an increase in strength, agility, functionality, endurance, and mobility.

Benefits Of Calisthenics Workouts

calisthenics workout banner

Calisthenics workouts and training offer numerous fitness and health benefits, including:

  • More muscle mass. If you want to build mass, then you need to be able to provide your muscles with progressive overload [1]. It is certainly possible to provide this for beginners and intermediate users, but you are unlikely to achieve massive muscle gains through calisthenic performance alone.
  • An increase in flexibility. As your muscles become strong, they will become more flexible, too [2].
  • Weight reduction and fat loss. As you start to increase muscle mass, your resting metabolic rate will increase [3], this means that you are able to burn off more calories without any additional effort. Resistance training also causes your metabolism to stay raised long after a workout has concluded [4], unlike more cardio-based workouts.
  • Better endurance. Calisthenics workout involves performing the same movements repeatedly until your muscles become fatigued. As you become stronger and your muscles grow, you will also experience an increase in endurance and overall fitness [5].

Related Articles:

  1. Difference between calisthenics and weights
  2. Introduction to calisthenics equipment

What Are The Basic Calisthenics Exercises?

As a beginner, you will want to add these movements to your training and workout routine.

Most of these can be performed without any equipment, you will just be using your own body weight.

I would suggest choosing a rep range of between 8-12 for most movements with 3-5 sets. As you progress, you will be able to additional repetitions and sets.

Exercise #1: Squats

woman doing a squat exercise

Squats are an essential training movement for your legs, it is great for working your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Unsurprisingly, squats is one of the most popular calisthenics exercises.

You can perform this exercise by standing with your feet hip-width apart, with your feet pointing slightly outward.

When performing squats, you will have to keep your core engaged, and to squat until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.

Once you have reached depth, you can return to the starting position.

Exercise #2: Push Ups

Push-Ups

No calisthenics for beginners’ training routine would be complete without push ups.

This particular workout will work your upper body, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps. As you have to engage your core, your abdominals will get a workout too.

The correct form when performing a push up would be to start on your knees with your hands underneath, but slightly outside your shoulders. Next, extend your legs back until you are in a plank position.

To perform the push up, you should bend your elbows close to your body, you will lower towards the floor until your chest is almost touching the floor. Your body should remain straight throughout each stage, so no sagging or pushing your butt towards the sky.

Once you have reached the lowest point, push yourself back up to the starting position ready to perform the remaining reps of the set.

Exercise #3: Pull Ups

man doing chin up

Whether you are a beginner or at a more advanced level, you should make sure that you have added pull ups to your strength training routine.

Just a few reps of this workout will be a struggle as a beginner, but before long you will be able to knock out double figures.

Being able to lift your body weight will give you an incredible buzz, and many people will be jealous of you performing this act.

The correct form for pull ups will involve you standing facing a pull up bar. Using an overhand grip, and with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, you are going to be using your shoulder and back muscles to pull yourself up and above the bar.

Once your head is above the bar you can lower yourself to the starting position.

The aim is to complete as many reps as possible.

For some pull-up bar exercises, see our article here.

Exercise #4: Plank

Plank

The plank has been added to our list of beginner calisthenics exercises as it is important that you strengthen your core when working out.

This is to reduce the likelihood of injury.

Even though there are variations to the plank, they all work your core, as well as your upper back, your pectorals, and the serratus anterior (this is the muscle that wraps around the side of your chest and shoulders).

You must try to follow the correct form when performing this move, so start off as though you are going to be performing a push-up.

The aim of the plank is to stay in one position for as long as possible, so engage your core throughout and try to remain in a straight line throughout.

Exercise #5: Mountain Climbers

mountain climb

Beginners may not enjoy mountain climbers, but there is no argument that this exercise produces results.

Movements like this will help to improve your fitness levels. It will get your heart pumping and will give you an all-over workout, with your deltoids, biceps, triceps, chest, obliques, abdominals, quads, hamstrings, and hip abductors seeing action.

To perform mountain climbers with correct form: first, get into the plank position, then you will be bringing one leg in towards your chest as quickly as possible, before switching to the alternate leg.

Equipment For Calisthenics

Despite the fact that many calisthenics exercises and workouts require zero equipment, there are a few that do require you to purchase some equipment.

Luckily, most of these items are inexpensive. You may even be able to improvise with what you currently have available in your own home.

woman push up banner
  • Pull-Up Bar - The humble pull-up is seen as a staple of bodyweight training. So if you had to have one piece of equipment for calisthenic workout, you must make it the pull-up bar. Chances are your local gym will have at least one, but you may want to consider buying one to place in your doorway at home. There are also:
  • Ab Wheel - You can use one of these to strengthen your core. It can also strengthen your arms, shoulders, chest, and lower back. It is also an affordable piece of equipment, so you may want to consider adding it to your home gym.
  • Skipping Rope - Before you even start your calisthenics workout you will need to warm up. A skipping rope is an effective way to get your heart pumping, plus costs much less than a treadmill.
  • Resistance Bands - If you are looking to make your workouts that little bit harder you may want to try using a resistance band. They offer a range of resistances, so in theory, you will be able to achieve atrophy much quicker.
  • Gymnastic Rings - These may not be suitable for beginners. However, they are worth mentioning as an alternative to the pull-up bar. As these gymnastics rings move, you will have to work much harder to stabilize yourself during the movements.
  • Parallettes - There are two different types of parallettes. Smaller ones can be used for practicing handstands and for changing the angle of push-ups. Bigger versions can be used for dips.
  • Power Towers - Perfect for those with a limited budget and in a tight space. The workout tower is a piece of equipment that allows performing various bodyweight exercises.

Calisthenics FAQs

Can You Build Muscle With Only Calisthenics?

Yes, you can build muscle without weights (calisthenics), however, there is a caveat.

To build mass you need to provide your body with enough resistance to stimulate muscle hypertrophy.

When using free weights or machines it is easy to increase the resistance applied. All you have to do is add more weight essentially.

With calisthenics, it is certainly possible to increase the resistance of each exercise, such as changing the body angle when performing certain exercises. This small change will hit your muscles at a different angle, therefore increasing resistance and stimulating hypertrophy.

Is It OK To Do Calisthenics Every Day?

Yes, it is OK to do calisthenics every day.

You will need to make sure you are alternating any muscle groups worked, the same as you would with your free weight exercises. The alternating workout allows time for your muscles to recover.

You could try a simple upper body, lower body split, or something more complicated, but please make sure to avoid working the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

Is Calisthenics Better Than Gym?

The answer to the question is calisthenics better than gym would be it depends.

Both disciplines have their pros and cons, but in my opinion, the best option would be to perform them both.

When building pure strength and muscle, then free weights and the machines found at the gym will be better, you will be able to train specific muscle groups to create the aesthetic you want.

Calisthenics, on the other hand, won’t be able to build as much mass, unfortunately. You won’t see any professional bodybuilders claiming that they achieved their physique with bodyweight exercises and calisthenics training.

What calisthenics will offer is an increase in motor skills, strength, and endurance. You also won’t need much equipment either, with most exercises being performed with bodyweight alone.

By choosing both disciplines you are going to see the best of both worlds, plus an overall increase in your metabolic rate, improved fitness, and lower body fat percentages.

How Long Does It Take To See Results From Calisthenics?

It is possible to start seeing results from calisthenics after just a few weeks of your routine, especially if you are a beginner to any kind of resistance training.

It is worth noting that in order to see any kind of significant progress to your body mass, you will need to have a workout routine and train consistently for 1-2 years. You will also need to ensure that your diet is on point too, but that is the focus of a different article.

When it comes to building mass, everyone wants to see quick results, but this is not possible. Overtraining at the very beginning can lead to injuries further down the line.

It is better to start slowly and to build up your strength over time.

Do I Need Rest Days With Calisthenics?

Yes, whether you are hitting the free weights section at the gym, or performing calisthenics you need to give yourself the occasional rest day.

Each time you work out your muscles will be torn, and for these tears to be repaired you need to give them time to recover.

Of course, making sure not to train the same muscle groups on consecutive days will help, but having a day off completely will certainly aid in recovery, and ultimately will result in bigger muscle and strength gains over time [6].

How To Get Started With Calisthenics?

The best way to get started with calisthenics is to just do it.

We have given some basic beginner exercises that you can perform above. Just follow the steps laid out and see how many repetitions you can perform.

For some people the hardest step is the first one, so making the choice to start is a huge step forward.

Stick with the basics for a few weeks, or even months, then as you become more experienced and your strength improves you can start to incorporate some more advanced exercises into your calisthenics workout.

 

Other Resources:

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215195/
  2. https://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1413-35552012000300003
  3. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01325038
  4. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/epocarticle.html
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19620916
  6. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/recoveryUNM.html

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