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Calisthenics: Everything You Need to Know

Even if you’re uncertain what calisthenics is, you’ve seen it in action.

The ripped guy at your local gym who can lift his whole upper-body over a pull-up bar – that’s a muscle-up, and he’s practicing calisthenics. The guy you saw on YouTube who’s transformed himself into a human flag by holding his body parallel to the ground, he’s doing calisthenics too. And that guy you’ve seen doing dips in the park, yep, he’s doing calisthenics too.

Keep on reading if you want to dive deep and learn more about calisthenics.

What is Calisthenics

The word calisthenics comes from the Greek words “Kalos,” meaning beauty, and “Stenos,” which transposes as strength.

Originally, calisthenics as a method of improving health to ensure beauty and strength. It’s grown into a training process that shares a lot in common with gymnastics.

However, you can do calisthenic outdoors, which is also known as a “street workout.”

Most people perceive calisthenics by seeing someone doing an advanced variant of it. The man they saw was probably Hannibal Lanham (a.k.a. Hannibal for King).

His version of calisthenics, which he trained in parks around Queens, New York, brought the system to millions’ attention.

Calisthenics Versus Weights

The question isn’t whether calisthenics is more suitable or worse for you than any other training program. Instead, consider calisthenics as the basis for every other strength-gaining method, from bodybuilding to CrossFit.

That’s not to say that utilizing weights and joining bulk isn’t allowed in calisthenics. Weights can be used as long as your body is supporting natural movement patterns. You can do weighted calisthenics movements and see body development in size as a result.

What Research Says about Calisthenics

Science has also resolved that there are real benefits to doing calisthenics.

According to a 2017 study by the Sports and Exercise Science researchers are the University of Palermo, calisthenics is an “efficient training solution to develop posture, strength and body composition without the use of any major training tools.”

The research took 28 men and split them into two groups. One group trained calisthenics for eight weeks, while the other group remained with their regular workout routines.

After eight weeks, all participants had a body composition analysis, a postural evaluation, a handgrip test, and a press-up and pull-up test.

The researchers found that the men who practiced calisthenics had developed better posture and lowered their fat mass. Meanwhile, they did more press-ups and pull-ups, even though their training didn’t involve these specific exercises.

In contrast, the group who remained with their regular training routines didn’t make any development.

The Benefits of Calisthenics Workouts

You don’t need any equipment

The advantage of calisthenics is that you can do it anywhere, anytime-all you need is your body. It’s one of the only ways to increase mass and strength without the use of weights.

You can increase serious strength

You might be thinking: “How, if you’re not lifting barbells or dumbbells?” But you can achieve a lot using just your bodyweight. If you’re a 150-lb woman performing a bodyweight pull-up, you’re effectively lifting 150 lbs.

It’s true that you will obtain a particular max point of muscle growth with calisthenics. That’s because muscle mass comes from progressive resistance, and there will only ever be so much resistance given by your own body.

But that’s where getting creative comes into play. 

Use elevated surfaces to alter the angle of exercises, increasing the percentage of body weight that you’re lifting. Use vertical surfaces (i.e., walls and poles) to stimulate your body in new ways, and recruit your core like you wouldn’t believe (human flagpole, anyone?). Go faster, slower, longer, upside down, or improve your range of motion to keep producing physical and mental adaptations.

You’ll move better IRL

Since calisthenics is all about moving your body in space, it’s the ultimate working movement training. Working training implies training in a way that will enhance the way you perform your daily tasks.

You likely maintain better form

When using free weights or machines, you can continue to progress your strength and muscle mass. However, people often end up using too much resistance on a device or weights that are too heavy. That leads to compensating, meaning you don’t execute the exercise properly using the correct muscles.

Calisthenics gives you the required solid base of strength when including external resistance in your training. If you can’t lift your body weight, you definitely shouldn’t be trying to lift more on a machine.

You hit every. single. muscle

Calisthenics involves using the entire body and not emphasizing specific muscles over others. What I’m talking about is strength from the bottom of your feet to the tips of your fingers.

You’ll be gentler on your joints and connective tissue

When done wrong, resistance training can put extra stress on soft tissue structures like your tendons, ligaments, and fascia.

Calisthenics, on the other hand, only increases strength and size in balance to your muscular system. This means authentic and natural movements.

You develop your brain-body connection

Calisthenics exercise improves those fine motor skills that need your brain to work hard as well as your body.

Coordination, speed, power, acceleration, strength, quickness, and agility are all movements evident in a body that is trained in calisthenics.

Think of a gymnast: It takes a lot of strength, flexibility, and stamina to do these movements, not to mention incredible coordination.

You’ll feel like a badass

Yes, really.

There is a noticeable swagger about someone who knows that they have total authority over their body.

Performing a super heavy deadlift or hoisting a massive kettlebell overhead can make you feel super badass. But the same thing goes when hitting out plyo push-ups or being capable of pulling off a one-arm pull-up.

Calisthenics and Weight Loss

Calisthenics is more suited for burning calories, which may help you drop weight and body fat. That’s because it practices a lot of movement. This needs more energy, which your body generates by burning calories. The higher calories you burn, the more weight you lose.

Calisthenics can also be used in more strenuous workouts, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or circuit training. This can add even more extra movement and further increase your caloric burn.

The isolated actions of weightlifting don’t need as much energy. Yet, it’s worth noting that it will still provide overall weight loss. Building muscle improves your basal metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn at rest.

Calisthenic exercise is a vital ingredient in the treatment of obesity. Little information is known about the best and safest form of physical activity for people who struggle with obesity. More so if it involves volume-intensity. 

To study the effect of physical exercise programs in medical and surgical treatment for morbid obesity. Performing calisthenics also helps improve flexibility. This is made possible by incorporating movements that fully extend the body. It also reduces your percentage of body fat! Bikini body, here you come. 

A traditional calisthenic exercise is the jumping jack. This elementary school class takes more than just burn calories: it also runs towards heart health, strength, and stress relief. Your fat-burning metabolism is most efficient while you run at intensities varying from 47% to 64%. 

Sprinting is the most effective method of improving your endurance. It helps your maximum oxygen capacity and lowers your blood pressure. It can also result in an increased production of endorphins, which help to relieve stress.

Calisthenics for Beginners

You wouldn’t require to walk into a gym for the first time and instantly start benching 100kg. Leave the muscle-ups to more seasoned practitioners, for now.

You need to begin with fundamental exercises.

With calisthenics, the most basic yet essential movement is the humble press-up. If you’re not capable of doing a press-up, consider doing an incline press-up.

To do that, place your hands on a bench or anything that’s a similar height and can handle your body weight. With your feet on the ground, just work on moving through the press-up movement and building proper form.

Once you’ve mastered an incline press-up, you’re set to move on to doing regular press-ups, where you’ll be testing more of your body weight. If you can do 20 of those, then you’re set to move on doing dips, but you have to be able to manage 100 percent of your own body to do those.

As a beginner, you should also work on bodyweight movements like squats, lunges, planks, and basic pull exercises like rows.

To do a row, grasp onto a bar and fall backward. Making sure your feet are constantly touching the ground and pull your chest toward the bar.

This move is made simpler by beginning in an incline position. The more parallel you are to the ground, the harder this will get, and that’s your succession.

Calisthenics Workout for Beginners

Once you’ve tested out the beginner’s exercises, and are comfortable with them, put them into a whole routine with this calisthenics workout for beginners.

Do 2 to 3 rounds of the following exercises, and take 2 minutes of rest between rounds.

Press-ups

Between 5 and 20 reps depending on your ability. If you can make more than 20 moves onto the intermediate workout below.

Set up with your weight supported on your toes and hands beneath your shoulders, body straight. Take care to keep your core locked, so a straight line forms between your head, glutes, and heels.

Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground, then explosively drive up by fully extending your arms.

Squats

15 to 20 reps.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start the movement by bending your knees and sitting back with your hips.

Go down as far as you can and quickly reverse the motion back to the starting position. Keep your head up and back straight throughout the move.

Plank

30 to 45 seconds, depending on your ability.

Get in a press-up position but rest on your forearms rather than your hands. Make sure your back is straight and tense your abs and your glutes. Hold without allowing your hips to sag.

Close-grip Inverted Row

Between 5 and 20 reps.

Set up a bar in the squat rack and grab it with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Pull your body up until your chest almost touches the bar, keeping your body straight from neck to ankles throughout. Pause, then lower yourself back down to the start position.

Walking Lunges

10 to 15 on each leg.

Lunge forward as far as you can with your right leg, bending your trailing knee, so it almost brushes the floor. Use the heel of your right foot to push yourself off into the next lunge, this time leading with your left leg.

Side Plank

30 seconds on each side.

Lie on your left side with your knees straight and prop your upper body to take its weight on your forearm. Brace your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line. Hold this position while breathing deeply. Then roll over and repeat on the other side.

Calisthenics Exercises

We’ve already reviewed the kinds of beginner-friendly calisthenics exercises. But if you’re more advanced, then there are some various exercises for you to try.

Wide-grip Pull-ups

Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your arms fully extended. Your hands should be as wide as you can comfortably get them. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, exhale, and drive your elbows towards your hips to bring your chin above the bar. Lower under control back to the start position.

Dips

Grab the bars of a dip station with your palms facing inward and your arms straight. Slowly lower until your elbows are at right angles, ensuring they stay tucked against your body and don’t flare out. Drive yourself back up to the top and repeat.

Superman Plank

Position yourself in the normal plank position, holding your body in a straight line supported by your forearms and toes.

Next, slowly lift and extend one arm and the opposite leg, hold for five seconds or for as long as feels comfortable. Bring both your arm and leg back to the starting position and raise the opposite arm and leg.

Once you’ve mastered the movement, you can extend the amount of time you spend in the superman position.

Handstand Press-ups

Place your hands on the floor in front of a wall. Kick yourself up against the wall and straighten your arms. Keep your legs and body as straight as you can. With the back of your head parallel to the wall, bend your arms. Exhale at the bottom and push up.

Pistol Squats

Stand with your feet in a narrow stance and lift one leg off the floor. Bend your standing knee to squat down as low as you can while keeping your back straight. Push back up to the start position through your heel, then switch legs and repeat. That’s one rep.

Progression Calisthenics Workout

Complete 2 to 3 rounds of the following exercises, but reduce the rest period from 2 minutes down to 1 minute in between rounds.

Wide-grip Pull-ups

5 to 20 reps.

Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your arms fully extended. Your hands should be as wide as you can comfortably get them. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, exhale, and drive your elbows towards your hips to bring your chin above the bar. Lower under control back to the start position.

Squat Jumps

10 to 15 reps.

Squat down, keeping your back straight, until your thighs are parallel with the floor and your bum is about level with your knees. Explode upwards into a jump, and go straight into the next squat.

Arms Extended Plank

30 to 45 seconds.

Get in a press-up position but with your arms as far in front of your head. Hold yourself there with your arms fully extended. Make sure your back is straight and hold for the allotted time.

Dips

5 to 20 reps.

Grab the bars of a dip station with your palms facing inward and your arms straight. Slowly lower until your elbows are at right angles, ensuring they stay tucked against your body and don’t flare out. Drive yourself back up to the top and repeat.

Jumping Lunges

10 to 15 reps on each leg.

Lunge forward until your rear knee is almost touching the ground. Jump into the air, bringing your rear foot forward and the front foot back. Land in a lunge and repeat.

Hanging Leg Raises

10 to 15 reps.

Grab a pull-up bar and lower yourself into a dead hang. Let your legs straighten and pull your pelvis back slightly. Tense your core and raise your legs until your thighs are perpendicular to your torso. Hold then lower slowly back to the starting position.

Calisthenics and strength exercise programs are believed to cause weight loss. Nonetheless, exceptional care for volume-intensity exercises is required if you’re making an individualized exercise program.