A Beginners Guide To Calisthenics
Are you wanting to get into incredible shape, develop muscles and increase your strength without going to the gym? With Calisthenics you can, and you don’t actually need to lift any weights! This Beginners Guide to Calisthenics, will teach you all about this bodyweight workout. Here you will learn exactly what Calisthenics is, the perfect diet plan to follow and example exercises!
What Is Calisthenics?
A Simple Calisthenics Definition is that it’s a series of exercises that are done without any kind of equipment. It focuses on the core muscle exercises to help strengthen the entire body and develop muscle growth.
Interestingly Calisthenics is also known as body weight exercises, Parkour and freestyle workout. They all fall under the same bracket as they are in essence working out, without the use of equipment. Therefore when anyone talks about body weight exercising, they are also talking about Calisthenics. It is said to have originated from Greece, as it was originally called Kalos and sthenos. These translate to Beauty and Strength.
This workout routine has become more and more popular over the years. As it can be done anywhere whether at home or in the park, you can save a lot of money. You don’t need to purchase any expensive equipment or pay for any kind of gym membership. The benefits of doing Bodyweight exercises include;
- Muscle Growth
- Fat Loss
- Increased Stamina
- Boost To Strength Levels
- Improved Flexibility
Now it is a recognized workout and is even used by many US military camps. One of the main reasons why it is so popular is because it provides real world results.
A big advocate is Stephen Amell who stars as the lead in the well-known series Arrow. A lot of his workout routine consists of Parkour and he is more impressed with someone that can do 30 pull up than someone who can lift 30kg.
Be The Next Ninja Warrior
Have you ever watched Ninja Warrior? That is a perfect example of Calisthenics. It’s all about balance and working your core muscles with bodyweight training. Most if not all of the contestants do some form of Calisthenics.
Common Calisthenics Exercises
You will no doubt have heard and probably even attempted some of the most common of Calisthenic exercises. Below you can find a list of the most common, further into this beginners guide you will find complete routines and advice on how to perform the workouts.
- Sit ups
- Push ups
- Pull ups
- Box Jumps
- Leg raises
As you can see from the above exercises, Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are pretty much the same.
Calisthenics Equipment – What Do I Need?
The truth is you don’t need any…
I know that might be hard to believe, you don’t even need any dumbbells. Something that many people seem to not to be able to get their head around. How can you possibly increase muscle growth and strength, without lifting any weights.
What DON’T I Need?
These are the things you dont actually need to see some incredible results. Over time as you develop you may however want to invest in some of them to help further your results..
The first thing you don’t need is a gym membership. You can get incredible results from bodyweight workouts, without stepping foot in a gym. This is ideal for those that don’t have the money for gym membership, feel intimidated with gyms or would prefer to workout from home.
Set of Weights
Many people when looking to develop muscle, will go out and buy some weights. More often than not these can cost over $100, and then ultimately don’t get used much. As mentioned with Calisthenics, you don’t need to lift a single weight.
Looked at those treadmills or exercise bikes and thought it would be good to have one? Why? You don’t need to spend hundreds of $ on these machines. Calisthenics will help you get the results you are looking for.
Even though you can do most of the workouts without any equipment, there are some items that might make it easier for you as well as allow you to do some additional workouts. The one thing I would recommend getting would be some form of pull up bar, these would normally cost around $20 and connects to your door.
As you are getting more and more into the workouts, you might want to invest into a couple of additional items to boost your results. A complete workout set would include;
Push Up Bars
Push up bars are as the name describes, bars that help with pushups. They are perfect for Calisthenics as they help you get more out d each rep and therefore see much better results. It is however possible to do more advanced workouts with them such as The L Sit, Tricep Dips and handstand push ups.
Pull Up Bar
The most common home pull up bars are those that go in between the door frames. These allow you to perform pull ups and chin ups. As you progress you might want to get a more advanced pull up station so you can perform advanced bodyweight workouts such as pull up pull overs.
Gymnastic rings are something you might want to try when you get a little more experienced with Calisthenics. They require a lot of balance which helps to strengthen your core muscles as well as give you additional upper body strength. Common exercises are Top Position Hold and Ring Dip.
Wrist Supported Gloves
This may seem like a strange one but I would recommend getting a pair of gloves. You can get a decent workout pair for $10 or less. They help to protect the wrists and also helps to offer additional grip on any other equipment you might be using.
Everything above will probably cost less than $100. If you was thinking about getting a home gym, this could end up costing $1000+ by the end of it.
Calisthenics Vs Weights
If you are trying to workout what is better Calisthenics vs weights, you first need to decide on what your goals are. I do both weight training and bodyweight training, I do have my preference and both do have their parts to play in all round body fitness.
What I am trying to get at is both of them are great, your end goal might however determine which is most suitable for you.
Bodyweight workouts can be just as effective as training with weights, as mentioned before look at the military or those that enter Ninja Warriors! If you are wanting to get the mass and size of a bodybuilder, then you are right Calisthenics will not do that for you.
For those kind of results you need to be lifting some heavy weights. If you do however want to develop a nice toned and lean physique, Bodyweight training is perfect. Instead of using a dumbbell to train the muscles, you are in fact using the weight of your body.
The point of Calisthenics is to help develop lean muscle and give you a athletic physique, it won’t make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although from my experience 95%+ of people that I have worked with want that defined muscle look and not the bodybuilders look. If that’s the case, Calisthenics is perfect for you.
Here we can do a direct comparison;
- Weight Training is perfect for those looking for mass and size
- Bodyweight or Calisthenics is perfect for a lean muscular physique
Pros To A Calisthenics Workout Routine
- Enjoy working out at home or in the open
- Cheap/Free Workout
- Ideal for all levels & experience
- Safer than using heavy weights
- Real world usage of workout
Cons To A Calisthenics Workout Routine
- Slower muscle growth
- Limit to weight that can lift
- Cannot build mass
Pros To Weight Training
- Quicker Results
- Perfect for building huge muscle
- Lift heavy weights
Cons To Weight Training
- Requires a lot of equipment
- Cost of gym membership
- Risk of injury increases
- Beginners often pay for a personal trainer
Real World Usage
Now it’s important to think about your goals and how you are going to apply them to the real world. Why exactly are you wanting to increase muscle? Now I do expect you are reading this guide because you have an interest in Calisthenics (and who wouldn’t!)
I do believe that you can get more out of Bodyweight training and use it in more real world situations. Going to the gym and lifting heavy weights is great, but when would you actually use that day to day?
With Calisthenics, you would be using it day in and day out. It helps to dramatically strengthen your core and balance, you therefore find that your posture is improved. Your overall fitness levels and stamina levels are increased, making you feel healthier.
If you are therefore looking for a workout that is actually going to have an impact on your life, personally I think bodyweight workouts are the way forward.
Calisthenics Workout Plan
Before we get into the Calisthenics for beginners workout routine, you first need to do some initially planning. This is important as it will help you to maximise your results.
When Will You Workout?
The great thing about Calisthenics is that it doesn’t take much time. You can do them in as little as 30 minutes. There are some routines that only take 10-20 minutes. It’s important however to plan when you will be working out and for how long. If you can get this done and set a schedule for yourself, you will slowly get into a routine and therefore never miss a session.
I am guessing you are somewhat of a beginner to bodyweight training, therefore I would recommend working out for 3 days a week. You could do some cardio training on a couple of the other days. As you get more experienced than you might want to start increasing the amount of days you are working out for.
The initial few weeks you might find that the routine takes you longer, you are just learning the exercises remember. Once you have started to memorize the routines, you will find that you are able to get through them quicker.
I would get yourself a calendar and pick the same days and times each week that you are going to workout. If you can, I would suggest aiming for as early as possible in the day. The earlier it is, the more motivated and awake we tend to be. If you don’t do the workouts until the evening, once you get home from work you may feel too tired and therefore not do them.
You have to be strict with yourself…The only person stopping you seeing the results you want, is you!
Know Your Starting Point/Limits
I understand too well the desire to get quick results and see those impressive gains. You do however need to take your time and know your limits. DO NOT push yourself too much at the start, you may cause yourself an injury that will slow down your progress.
Even if you feel confident in your strength levels, start on the beginner routines and try a couple of reps of them first to know you are doing them properly and that you can manage all of the required sets. If you cannot do a specific one, try a workout you can manage. You will soon find your strength levels increase and you can perform the exercise you first had problems with.
When I started, I could not for the life of me do a pull up. I tried and tried but couldn’t get one out..I focused on other arm and shoulder exercises such as press ups and bench dip (with a chair). Soon enough I tried a pull up again and managed a couple of them! With continued practice I soon managed to get my entire set.
It’s all about D.P.M – Dedication, Perseverance and Motivation
Beginner Calisthenics Routine
This routine is perfect for you, if you are just starting out with Bodyweight training. It requires no equipment, so is a perfect starting point to see how you get on. It contains 8 different workouts, completing all the workouts is 1 cycle. Work your way through each of them 1 set at a time, once all have been done once this is a cycle. Repeat until you have done 4 cycles. Rest between each exercise for 30 seconds. At the end of each cycle, rest for 3 minutes.
Plank – Hold for as long as possible
Planks are great exercises to help work the core and to focus on your ab muscles. The longer you can manage them, the stronger your core and abs are. Don’t be surprised though if you struggle to do them for over 30 seconds. As you do them more and more, you will notice you can keep at them for longer.
- Get into the press up position
- Bend your arms so your forearms on the floor and you are resting your weight on them
- Make sure your body is straight from ankles to shoulders
- Suck your belly button into your spine to engage your core
- Hold this for as long as you can, keeping count
Squats – 10 reps
Squats are a full body exercises. It does however help to improve your muscles in your thighs, hips, hamstrings and buttocks. They are well-known to be effective in some form of strengthening workout.
Eventually you can adapt this to add weights or even a jump at the end. Don't rush into this though, they may feel easy but it's easy to overdo it!
- Stand up straight with your feet in line with your hips
- Place your arms forward
- Tighten your belly button
- Lower down keeping your head and arms straight
- Go down as though you're sitting
- Straighten back up
- Repeat for the amount of reps needed
Lunges – 10 reps
Lunges are great full body exercises and ideal for those looking to strengthen their core. They are also perfect if looking to build muscle on the quads, glutes and hamstrings.
Eventually add weights but take your time as these can really hurt the next day!! (Been there before :))
- Stand with your legs shoulder width apart
- Pull in your belly button to engage your core
- Take a large step forward, placing your heel down first
- Lower yourself down so your front leg is at a 90 degree angle
- Make sure your knee on your back leg does not touch the ground
- With the leg that is at the front, push back to the standing position
- Repeat with the alternative leg
Push Ups – 10 reps
Push ups are probably one of the most well known body weight exercises. There are a number of variations but we will start off with a basic push up. If you are unable to do the following, place your knees on the floor instead of your toes.
More advanced push ups include one handed, weighted and diamond push ups
- Get into the plank position but keep hold your weight on the palm of the hands
- Keep your gaze looking forward
- Pull in your belly button into your spine
- Make sure your body is straight
- Lower your body down until your chest grazes the floor
- Push yourself back up with your arms
Leg Raises – 10 reps
As a strengthening exercises, leg raises are done to help build the rectus abdominis muscle. These are basically your ab muscles. They also help to stabilize the body whilst moving, helping to improve your balance.
- Lay flat on the floor on your back
- Keep your arms down with your palm against the floor
- Lift your legs up in the air so your legs are at a 90 degree angle
- Make sure you keep your back straight
- Slowly lower the legs
- Without letting them rest on the floor, repeat until all reps done.
Chair Dips – 10 reps
Dips are a great exercises as they can help work the chest, shoulders and triceps. You could use equipment to do these, you can however do them with just a chair or coffee table.
- Face away from the chair or table and place your hands on the edge
- Straighten your legs
- Lower your body down with your arms until your elbow is at 90 degrees
- Push yourself back up
- Repeat for all reps
Glute Bridge – 10 reps
Many people do the glute bridge as it helps to tone the buttocks. Although it is perfect for Calisthenics workout as it also helps to strengthen abs, hamstrings and adductors.
This workout might feel easy but don't let that stop you, its a great exercise. There are more advanced ones you can adapt as you become more experienced.
- Lay on the floor, face up
- Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor
- Make sure your arms are at your side, with your palms down
- Lift your ups up off the ground, lift them till your hips and shoulders are in line
- Hold this position for a couple of seconds and slowly return to flat position.
Sit Ups -10 reps
Another very common exercises within Calisthenics. These help to strengthen your ab muscles, using your ab muscles to pull your body up and slowly return back down.
- Lay flat down, face up and bend your knees
- Make sure your feet are flat on the ground, shoulder width apart
- Cross your arms over your chest
- Tighten your abs
- Slowly sit up, making sure you move your head first and finally your shoulders
- Make sure your feet stay flat on the floor
- Hold for a second
- Slowly lay back down
- Repeat for required reps
I would suggest doing this workout for at least 4 days per week. Stick with them for a full month and I am sure you will notice a difference in strength. After the month, you can increase the amount you do, and/or add in some more workouts.
If you are able to do all reps without any problems, increase to 12. You might find this too easy, if so you may want to try harder versions. If you are completely new to Calisthenics, these should be enough to get you started.
Calisthenics Meal Plan
Let’s be honest here, if you just do Calisthenics but dont have a very good diet you will NOT see the results you are looking for. Like with any workout, your diet accounts for 70% of the results. You need to therefore really try and focus on getting your diet as right as possible.
Start A Food Diary
One of the best things I would recommend is starting a food diary. I know you might think it’s a bit of a pain or time consuming, it really does help. Actually writing down everything you exactly what you eat, allows you to see potential problems. It also helps you make sure you are getting the right amount of calories into your body.
How Many Calories?
Since you are looking at doing Calisthenics, you no doubt want to shed the body fat. You therefore want to keep an eye on your calories and reduce them by about 500 per day. That doesn’t mean just cutting out a meal, you still need to eat and eat the right things.
Make Sure You Snack
It’s important to have a couple of snacks throughout the day. If you don’t then your body will end up storing more fat. I would recommend breakfast, a snack, lunch, another snack and then your evening meal.
Protein, Protein and Protein
You are going to be aiming to strengthen your muscles, therefore you need to “feed” them. This is where protein comes into play. I would recommend following a high protein diet, as this will help with muscle recovery. Leading to quicker recovery times and increased muscle growth.
Bin Processed Foods
We know they are not good for us, therefore stop eating them! It takes very little time to cook a simple meal that contains everything we need. All you need on a plate is the protein source, complex carbs ie brown rice and vegetables.
Calisthenics Meal: Breakfast Ideas
You want to make sure you start the day with a decent breakfast, this will give your body that jump start. I would always recommend adding eggs where possible due to the protein. Oats make a great breakfast and work well with a nice varied selection of fruit. If you are rushed on time, smoothies can be perfect. For a smoothie make sure it contains mostly vegetables IE spinach, kale, carrots, avocado. You should only have a small amount of fruit to help sweeten it.
The problem with fruit based smoothies is that they contain too much natural sugar. I would also add in a spoon of protein powder to give your body that little extra protein boost.
Below are some suggestions on what you could have for breakfast, starting the day in the right way.
- Scrambled egg on wholemeal bread with cooked spinach
- 4 egg omelette
- Oats and fat free yogurt with fruit
- Protein Smoothie
Calisthenics Meal: Lunch Ideas
Lunch is no doubt going to be a bit more of a rush for you to prepare, depending on whether or not you have work/school. Usually you will want to prepare it the night before or at the weekend and have the entire weeks worth sorted.
I would FULLY recommend making them beforehand, to many times I forgot to make lunch and therefore went to the shop and bought something I shouldn’t have. Cooking the night before hand also means you can prepare some really nice lunches. Alternatively to save time, double up on what you make in the evening and take one of these as your lunch the next day!
Some suggested lunches include;
- Salad with chosen meat
- Chosen meat with couscous
- Salmon fish cakes with salad leaves
- Chicken and Salad pitta bread
Calisthenics Meal: Dinner Ideas
Depending on when our working out, you might want your evening meal to be high in protein and complex carbs.
The protein boost is essential to help give your muscles that little extra recovery.
I would always recommend replacing simple carbs IE potato and rice with complete carbs. These include brown rice and sweet potato. Picture your plate and divide it into 3 sections. Your meat of choice, complex carb and a selection of vegetables or salad.
The following suggestions make extra evening meals;
- Steak, sweet potato and spinach
- Salmon with brown rice, spinach and tomato
- Roasted chicken, grilled vegetables and rice
- Beef and Black been chilli
- Stuffed Bell Peppers with rice
- Stir fry with brown rice
Common Calisthenics Questions
I have received a number of questions, below are the most common. If you do have any questions, please do let me know via comments below and ill be more than happy to answer them.
Should I have rest days?
Yes like any workout, rest days are very important. They are there to help your muscles recover and repair themselves. I would suggest having a rest day in between each day of workout.
Can I combine weight workouts with Calisthenics?
If you are wanting to, you can combine a Calisthenics workout with some form of weights. These can help build your muscle growth, going higher reps but lower weight can help with toning and sculpting of the body.
I cannot manage pull ups, is there an alternative?
Pull ups are not easy when you have just started, like I said before I really struggled with them. They are a great workout though so I would recommend including a form of them until you are able to full pull ups. Australian pull ups are a great option as they can help to strengthen your chest and shoulder muscles.
Is it important to stretch before doing bodyweight training?
Like with any kind of workout, stretching is incredibly important. If you do not stretch properly and warm up, you will potentially cause yourself an injury. As well as a warm up, you also want to do a warm down. I often go for a little run, as it helps with additional calorie burning.
Conclusion On Calisthenics Workouts
There we have it, a complete beginners guide on Calisthenics. Hopefully this guide has helped teach you what Calisthenics is and how it can help you become lean and and boost your muscle.
The exercises above are a good solid routine for any beginner to try their hand at. By doing these, you should be able to get a good understanding if it’s suitable for you. I would recommend giving these a good 4 weeks, I KNOW you will see some impressive results.
Results Such as;
- Muscle Growth
- Fat Loss
- Increased Stamina
- Boost to Strength Levels
- Improved Flexibility
There are over 200+ different Calisthenic workouts, each vary in difficulty.
Check out our Calisthenic infographic for quick info on this great workout. Please Share..