What do you think of when you hear the word “Calisthenics?”
You probably have flashbacks to middle school gym class, where you did push ups until you puked and jumping jacks in unison with the rest of your classmates.
Well, that’s not wrong. Both of those, and pretty much every exercise you did in gym, are calisthenics. But calisthenics has evolved beyond that.
Calisthenics has become a fitness movement based on highly functional workouts with minimal equipment.
Maybe for you, that’s just the workout you do when you’re too lazy to go to the gym, but serious practitioners can get better results on a playground than you do in your $60 a month gym.
What is Calisthenics?
To put it very simply, calisthenics is bodyweight strength training.
Common workouts can range from as simple as push-ups and pull-ups to as complex as jack hammers (handstand push-ups) and muscle-ups, a compound movement in which you pull up past the bar, flip your grip, and do a dip.
In essence, calisthenics can be as mundane or intense as you want it to be. No gym required.
Practitioners like to stick to big, functional movements.
Why Do Body Weight Training
Besides the obvious reason of being much more practical (and cheaper) to do than training using external resistance or machines, body weight training will actually give a better all-around developed physique.
While with weight training focuses on very specific exercises and movement which target each muscle group individually, body weight training will put more emphasis on your body as a whole.
Take gymnasts for example. These guys are absolutely jacked and are able to perform complex exercises which use muscles you didn’t even know you had if you would train just by using barbells and dumbbells.
So, with calisthenics training you are able to really connect with your body while developing a physique which can look just as good as if you would be using weights.
Is Calisthenics for Me?
The great thing about Calisthenics is that it’s not an all or nothing thing. Bodybuilders only train like bodybuilders. Powerlifters only train like powerlifters. But Calisthenics is different.
Since it’s based on functionality, everyone (and yes, I mean everyone) should be incorporating a little bit into every workout.
That means push-up, pull-ups, squats, lunges; the whole deal.
Chances are, you probably already were.
However, there is a line. Some of the more advanced moves, like the aforementioned muscle-ups, can be hell on your joints.
Full-bore calisthenics isn’t for everyone. If you already have joint issues, don’t expect the lack of weights to save you.
But if you’re perfectly healthy and just looking to spice up your routine, a well-programmed (and well monitored by an experienced practitioner) can be a safe way to get shredded.
How To Get Started With Bodyweight Training
If you’ve been searching around about bodyweight training you probably came a across a ton of movements which look absolutely fantastic, but at the same time so difficult to perform. Many of these exercises can really put any bodybuilder to shame.
But as in any other thing, you need to get started with the beginners workout.
If you’ve never really worked in a long time or you are a complete beginner, a good introduction to calisthenics or body weight training is to start off with really basic exercises.
To pick the right program, you need to first figure out what you’re capable of.
If you’re an avid gym rat, you probably already have an idea of what you can do, but if you’re going from couch to Calisthenics, you might have zero clue.
Here’s a very basic routine you can do to get started. If you can’t make it through, slow it down and use the easier alternatives.
If this is a breeze, move on to a more advanced circuit.
This circuit should be done non-stop. Take your rest after each round (at least 1 minute). Repeat 3 times.
Pull-Ups – AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible)
This goes first, because most of the beginners will flounder here. If you can’t do a full pull-up, there are alternatives, but getting to where you can knockout 10 should be your first goal. Try positioning a chair under one foot and using your leg to give you a little boost.
Push-ups – 10 Reps
If you can’t do a full push-up, don’t drop to your knees. Fine a bench or something elevated to put your hands on. As you progress, find lower and lower surfaces for your hands. Eventually you’ll be on the ground.
Plank – As long as possible
Your goal should be one minute of perfect form. Obviously, that’s going to take some time to work up to. Once you hit a minute, work in some harder variations.
Inverted Row – 15 reps
This needs to be at a minimum of a 45-degree angle. If you’re standing any more upright than that, you need to hit the gym and improve your lats before you tackle Calisthenics.
Bench Dips – 10 reps
This is also known as a tricep dip. This is another one without an easier variation. Once 10 reps feel like nothing, move on to something more advanced, like close-grip push-ups. Follow the same progression as you did to improve your standard push-up.
Squats – 20 reps
Make sure you master the squat form before attempting this circuit. Unlike pull-ups, it’s easy to cheat with squats. Bad form is worthless. If you have a Swiss ball, ball squats are a great way to build up your legs without risky sloppy form.
- Whenever you feel you can’t do any of the exercises above with good form simply do fewer reps or do an easier variation of the exercises – such as elevated pushups instead of regular pushups or chair dips instead of regular dips.
Keep doing that until you master these basic movements using your body weight only.
Once you have this routine down packed, we have you covered for the more advanced routine.
How To Progress
Once you feel comfortable going through the workout with good form and by performing the recommended amount of reps you can start adding more difficulty to the existing exercises or add new type of movements to the routine.
To put it in simple words, your workout routine should be based on progressive overload. This means you constantly need to make your workouts more challenging and make sure that you will be able to progress by following that program. There are a few methods to add more difficulty to your program.
The easiest one is to simply to more reps of each exercise, but this will be beneficial only to a certain point. Staying in the 6-12 rep range is going to give you the best results if you are looking to build muscle. But once you get passed the 12 reps mark you will need to re-think your training strategy.
Making the existing exercise more difficult is another way of progressing. Clapping push-ups are a great upgrade from plyometric pushups for example. Jumping squats are a great step up from normal squats and so on and so forth. Adding a 10 pounds weight to your pull-ups or dips can really make a difference, so give those a try.
Lastly but not least, you want to add in more and more difficult type of exercises to your routine. Muscle ups are a great progression from pull-ups or weighted pull-ups. Instead of just doing leg raises, do an L hold for a 10 seconds and see how that feels. Instead of clapping push-ups start doing wall push-ups and so on and so forth. Never let your body get used to what you are doing. By challenging yourself in each workout you will be able to progress and perform more advance calisthenics movements.
Work On Your Skills
Another aspect to keep in mind once you start adding advanced movements to your body weight workout is the skill. Many of these advanced movements will require a lot of skill, not just pure strength or endurance. This is taught by repetition, therefore doing those specific movements over and over again will strengthen the neurological connections between your mind and muscles. As a result you will become more skilled and be able to perform complex exercises better.
Over to you
Hopefully this has been helpful and got you all fired up to get started on your body weight training journey. Regardless of your training background, regardless if you are just a beginner or a seasoned athlete, calisthenics is one of the most fun and practical ways of working out. So why not give it a try right now? After all, you only need your body.