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Getting and staying in shape can be a challenge. Gyms can be intimidating and crowded, and cardio can be so boring it borders on torture for many. Add a busy work and social schedule, and finding time to dedicate to bettering your body can feel nearly impossible. Enter calisthenics. Calisthenics is a form of exercise that can be easily incorporated into even the busiest schedules as it can be done almost anywhere, with as little or as much equipment as you want. An extra bonus? You’re probably already aware of many of the basic and core calisthenics movements.
So, what is calisthenics? The calisthenics definition is “systematic rhythmic bodily exercises performed usually without apparatus,” and comes from the Greek words “kalos” for beautiful, and “sthenos” for strength.1 The exercises build strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and coordination, and are closely related to gymnastics and gymnastics training. The benefits and effectiveness of calisthenics is widely recognized, and used in many different settings and applications, from basic physical education in schools all the way to military training.2
Once you’ve learned the basics of calisthenics, it’s easy to apply the movements to your regular workouts, or build your own workout plans. Here, we’ll go over some of the different movements, calisthenics for beginners, as well as how to use calisthenics in the gym and with various equipment.
Also called body weight training, calisthenics can be an extremely accessible and convenient form of exercise as workouts can be built around little to no equipment. Movements can also be modified to fit any level of training, making them even more accessible and versatile. If you’re looking to get into shape for the first time, lose weight, or maintain or improve your current fitness level, calisthenics is a great choice. If you’re looking to really bulk up and add muscle mass, try adding a calisthenics session to the end of your weekly weight training routines to help with flexibility, muscle endurance, and joint health.3
Calisthenics Workout Plan
To build a calisthenics workout plan, it’s important to understand how the movements work your body. Traditional bodybuilding splits like biceps & back won’t work here, as calisthenics exercises are compound movements that involve the use of more than one muscle group at a time. For example, chin ups are a great exercise for your back and your biceps, but also require core strength and stability. To split up your workout sessions, focus on splitting between push/pull movements, or larger body areas like upper and lower body. This allows the different muscle groups to rest if you’re training for multiple days in a row. Alternatively, you can build a plan that works the whole body, with full rest days in between sessions. When using calisthenics as your entire fitness plan and not accompanying a weight or sport training regimen, aim for 4 sessions a week. To build your plan, look at the exercises listed in the following section. Pick exercises from each muscle group, depending on if or how you’re splitting your workouts, and then change up your routines to fit your needs. Make sure to use the exercises you like to perform best.
Calisthenics Exercises List
Below is a basic calisthenics exercise list, grouped by major muscle group. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a starting point to help you become more familiar with calisthenics:
- Pushups – try different variations to work different parts of the chest
- Hands spread wide = outer chest
- Narrow hands = inner chest
- Elevated feet = upper chest
- Elevated hands = lower chest
- Dips – you can do this on bars, or try between two sturdy couches that can hold your weight
- Pullups – palms should face away from you for more focus on your back
- Chin-ups – palms should face towards you for more focus on biceps
- Hyperextensions – if not at the gym, use a regular bench, or even lay face-down on the floor
- Squats – for all variations, it’s important not to let your knees cross over your toes
- Pistol Squats – modify this movement by holding on to a bar
- Squat jumps – sink deep into the squat after every jump to get the most out of this one
- Lunges – look up variations of this exercise to hit specific spots in your legs and shake up your routines!
- Calf Raises – calves push your body around all day, so you’ll have to do higher reps to fatigue them
- Step ups
- Burpees – modify these by stepping backwards and up rather than jumping.
- Sit ups – make sure to use your abs to pull your body up, and not momentum
- Plank – look up variations of this to target different areas in your core
- Leg Raises – great for targeting your lower abs!
- Deadbugs – lying on your back with legs raised and knees bent at a 90 degree angle, lower your arm and extend and lower the opposite leg until just above the floor, hold, and bring back to start. Alternate.
As you get better at each exercise, look for ways to modify them to make them harder and to keep progressing. You can also try pairing your routine with a support supplement like Delta Prime testosterone support. Heavy, low intensity compound movements such as a weighted pullup help boost testosterone, and support supplements can also help support your natural testosterone production.4
Calisthenics for Beginners
Starting any kind of new fitness routine can be daunting, but just remember that there are resources to be found everywhere. To set yourself up for success, follow these tips when you’re first starting to work with calisthenics:
- USE PROPER FORM! Just like in weight lifting, proper form is essential to prevent injury. Make sure you learn how to do a movement properly and master it before moving on to adding weights or a harder modification so you don’t form bad habits.
- Go Slowly. Don’t rush your progress, and listen to your body. You should challenge yourself, but nothing should hurt as you go through the modifications of an exercise. Be aware of previous injuries, and use the resources available to you to ensure your form is correct, whether it’s by referencing YouTube videos or a personal trainer.
- Use Modifications. Some of the most basic and common calisthenics movements can be challenging to work up to, like the pullup. If you can’t do the complete movement properly, there’s usually a modification you can do to help you work up to that point – search online or ask a friend to help you!
- Make it fun! Exercise routines you find boring or don’t like are ones you won’t stick to, so if you find a routine that includes exercises you don’t like – replace them with ones you do. Challenge yourself in ways that you find stimulating and fun.
- Push Your Limits. Exercising shouldn’t hurt, but if you’re not pushing yourself hard enough you won’t see results. If a routine calls for 10 reps but you can do them easily, add more reps to fatigue your muscles and challenge your cardio.
Calisthenics can be done anywhere, anytime, but the going to the gym does offer some unique opportunities. Many machines are made to help modify difficult exercises like the pullup or chest dip by partially supporting your weight, and there are also areas set up with specialized benches and padding for exercises like hyperextensions. Many gyms also include accessories such as weight belts for making exercises like pullups more difficult. Another bonus of doing calisthenics at the gym is access to help from staff for proper form and direction. Gyms that specialize in calisthenics training also offer many classes outside. You can also look around your area for callisthenic parks – because the equipment is so minimal, they can be easy to come across!
The beauty of calisthenics for many is that you can go through a complete workout without using any equipment. However, there are a few pieces that can help take your workouts to the next level. Pull up bars are essential if you want to do pullups or chin-ups outside of the gym, but don’t have access to a sturdy bar nearby. There are many home pullup bars available, but make sure whichever one you purchase is sturdy and sits in your doorframe snugly to avoid injury. Resistance bands and medicine balls are also useful when doing calisthenics, to help or make movements more challenging. While these tools can be useful, remember that you don’t need anything to get started doing calisthenics!
- 1 Merriam-Webster. Calisthenics. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calisthenics. View link.
- 2 Encyclopedia Britannica. Calisthenics Exercise. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.britannica.com/sports/calisthenics. View link.
- 3 Samuels, M. What is Calisthenic Training? LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 8, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/439209-what-is-calisthenic-training/. View link.
- 4 Odebunmi, O. (2017, September 11). Squats to Increase Tesosterone. LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved on May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/366650-squats-to-increase-testosterone/. View link.