What is calisthenics?
A lot of people ask this question because let’s be honest: there are too many different brands of workouts and exercises available today. It’s crazy.
Calisthenics has been around for ages. It is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most entry-level way to get into exercise and fitness.
Not only is it low impact, but you need little to no equipment, and you can start even if you’re overweight and trying to get in shape.
In this guide, we’re going to cover the fundamentals of calisthenics, as well as the differences between it and standard, modern workout methods.
You’ll leave here with a list of calisthenic exercises you can get started with, and discuss how to get started in less than ten minutes.
It’s going to be a life-changing exercise movement for you, and it doesn’t take crazy commitment, expensive memberships or ridiculous equipment to get started.
- 1 What Exactly is Calisthenics?
- 2 How is Calisthenics Different from Traditional Workout Methods?
- 3 Basic Calisthenic Workouts
- 4 How to Get Started with Calisthenics
- 5 What Age Can a Person Start Calisthenic Training?
- 6 Equipment That Helps Calisthenics
- 7 Your Workout, Your Way
What Exactly is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is the act of developing muscles, burning fat and achieving relative strength using nothing other than your own body weight as a training tool.
Calisthenics has a medium between strength training and cardio exercise that allows you to develop muscles in often non targeted groups while shredding fat through cardio.
Let’s talk about relative strength. When you use forty-pound weights on dumbbells, you’re adding forty pounds of resistance to your arms.
That will help you bulk up your arm size. Calisthenics uses your own body weight, so you cannot exceed a certain weight—you are only able to use as much as your body weighs.
With that, you reach a relative weight and strength; it is relative to your body size and weight.
That means you can maintain a lean and chiseled physique with muscle definition in the places you want, like the arms, abs, butt, and legs, without having to bulk up or maintain a high caloric intake just to keep up that bulky size.
Calisthenics focuses on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups. While using your own body weight as a basis, you gain dense muscle mess.
The effects can be slower than some are happy with, but you’re building true strength first while slowly creating better aesthetics.
The exercise that contain calisthenics is used by multiple military bodies across the world, police, and has become one of the most popular forms of exercise over the last decade.
The main appeal is that you can start immediately with zero equipment. Nobody has to spend any money or be sold to.
Some equipment helps, like dip and pull up bars, but if you Google any calisthenics gym you’re going to see how barren they are.
That’s a good thing; it’s an easy way to achieve fitness without needing tons of money.
How is Calisthenics Different from Traditional Workout Methods?
Calisthenics doesn’t use what most traditional workout methods use.
It’s like a barebones approach to physical fitness that half focuses on cardio, half focuses on strength training.
For example, if you took on running or jogging as your main workout method, what are you going to do?
You’re going to need new running shoes, maybe a shirt, shorts that breath, headphones, a hat, something to listen to music with, sweatbands, FitBit, all that stuff.
With calisthenics, just take your shirt off, leave your shoes at the door, and get to it. There are no-frills.
You don’t need to spend money on hundreds of pounds of iron and lead weights. You don’t have to get a gym membership if you don’t want to.
So it’s cheaper, easier to get started, and gives you a blend of aesthetics and weight loss. Do you see a downside yet?
Calisthenics is also different from other workouts in one major and impactful way: you’re less likely to injure yourself.
Since you’re not using dumbbells or running like a maniac, and you’re only using your own body weight (which is something that your body can handle), you’re exercising in one of the safest ways possible.
Basic Calisthenic Workouts
I say basic, not to be confused with a beginner.
These eight exercises are some of the most fundamentally beneficial calisthenics workouts, and at the most, you only need a pull-up and dip bar to achieve these.
#1 Leg Raise
Lay on your back and keep your hands by your side (don’t move them off the floor). Raise one leg up in the air, hold it for a few seconds, and lower it.
Don’t drop it so it thuds on the floor, but actively keep your leg muscles engaged while lowering your leg.
You’ll feel a bit of a burn, and that’s exactly what you want. This is the most low-impact way to never skip leg day.
#2 Diamond Push Up
Push-ups are good, but they lack pec engagement. Hold your hands close together and spread out your fingers.
When you separate your thumbs and put them together, as well as your index fingers, you’re going to see a diamond shape in between them (well, it’s an oblong-looking diamond, but you get the gist).
Your arms are a bit closer together, which is actually going to make it more difficult to push up.
Because of the way you’re holding your arms, your pecs will get some active engagement, while your shoulders get a bit of the action as well.
#3 Russian Twist
Knees up like a crunch, torso tilted at a forty-five—then put your hands together and twist your balled-up hand left to right.
It sounds super simple, and it definitely is. Russian twists activate your upper abdominal, while also targeting your obliques, and it all comes to aid so many muscle groups.
The dreaded ab crunch is actually a staple in calisthenics.
The good thing about this is that I’m going to shatter everything you know about the ab crunch, and I’m going to do that right now.
You don’t have to come all the way up. Yeah, your angry PE teacher had it wrong. You’ll hear it twenty times in this post: form is everything.
If you’re just crushing yourself by tugging at your neck and feeling blood circulation to your brain is cut off, is that really an exercise?
It sounds (and feels) more like torture. Don’t pull your neck, just engage your core and only rely on that to pull you up.
If you only raise three inches off the ground, that’s fine—that’s what I want for you. Proper form means you’re actually engaging those muscles.
Do as many as you can without hurting yourself. Don’t pull on your neck, don’t flail your feet around.
Keep those knees bent, logs close and just try your absolute best. These will get easier, and you will be able to do more in a single sitting.
#5 Jump Squat
Squats are excellent for flexing your lower abdominals, glutes, thighs and you even get a bit of price action in there as well.
The thing is, the traditional squat isn’t going to cut it here. Jump squats require exactly what you would expect: you have to jump up, and then come down into a squat.
There’s a big cardio element to this from the essential jumping jack that you’re doing, but you’re also moving multiple muscle groups at the same time.
Alone, these are only so good, but when you do long sets with plenty of reps, you’re going to feel it work.
We all know what pull-ups are. While these require a pull-up bar in your home or at the gym, they’re still a core part of calisthenics.
You’re still only using your body weight to actually perform the exercise and engage your muscles.
I want you to understand something about pull-ups and calisthenics: they’re useless when done in bad form.
You need to actively engage multiple muscle groups, which include your biceps, triceps, pecs and upper abdominals.
With bad form, you’re going to miss the mark and only get about 25% of the workout benefits from doing this.
#7 Low Planks
Planks consist of you stretching out your body nice and straight while relying on your arms for support.
This of a proper push up form, except you never actually push up—you’re just holding your position while your body is upright.
With low planks, you should keep your body straight and tiptoes on the edge, but you can actually lean on your forearms instead of using your hands.
Hold these for ten seconds at a time, then give your body a three-second rest before getting back at it.
Dips are when you grab onto one bar with one hand, a neighboring bar with the other, and have your body positioned in the middle of them.
You hold yourself up in between the bars, and raise yourself up on your arms. From there, you dip your body down in between them while keeping your grip, and then you push yourself back up.
That’s a full dip. The more you can extend your arms and the lower you can dip down, the better. This won’t be too easy at first, but just focus on form and you’ll be okay.
How to Get Started with Calisthenics
Just start right now. Stop reading this, drop to the floor, and start with leg raises and Russian twists right now.
Don’t believe it’s that simple? Well, let’s break it down.
Since calisthenics is just using your own body as a weight, you already have all the equipment you need. If you can, quickly prepare a space to do your calisthenic exercises in.
Clear an area that’s about four feet by six feet.
That’s going to give you enough space to lay in one direction while performing your exercises while giving you plenty of widths in case you need it for more complex moves.
Pick a few exercises to get started with. You’re not going to start with one-handed pull-ups, but that’s the thing: you don’t need to.
Calisthenics can be applied to your life regardless of your weight or skill level with exercise.
Low-impact exercises, like Russian twists, low planks, leg raises and crunches don’t require more than you actually moving your body.
I want you to perform every exercise on our beginner’s guide to calisthenics that you possibly can.
Do them each three times to really see what you’re comfortable with (and be honest with yourself), and what you’re going to need to work up to.
When you’re getting started with Calisthenics, the main point is to use your own body weight. The way you do this properly is to focus on form on every single exercise that you do.
When you focus on the form above everything else, you might not be able to do as many legs raises in the beginning as you think.
Calisthenics is quality over quantity type of workout. Don’t worry, extra reps will happen in the future.
The form ensures you’re not going to get hurt, and that you’re actively engaging your targeted muscle groups 100% of the way.
What Age Can a Person Start Calisthenic Training?
Before we tell you that, we want to clear the air with other forms of exercise.
Whether it’s running, calisthenics, or yes, even weightlifting, you can start at just about any age.
I know, you’ve seen tons of news reports and articles about how dangerous it is for children to use weights.
Well, yes, because they’re clumsy and could drop them, but not for the reasons people talk about like growth plate disruption or muscle damage.
Any fitness is good, at any age. The difference is supervision, understanding, and form.
Kids usually don’t lift weights because it’s not exactly the most fun thing to do. They need exercises that actually interest them.
Now, to get to the core of a question, children can start calisthenics from the moment that they know how to walk a straight line without falling over.
Where’s the harm?
When you stand up after sitting on the couch, you’re using your own body weight and muscles to move. The same goes for getting out of bed in the morning.
Calisthenics is just an extension of what we’re all already doing on a daily basis. It’s more intense, sure, but it doesn’t pose major risks.
Take Chris Heria, a demi-God in the calisthenics scene.
He actually has his son (who I believe was five or six at the time) enrolled in a calisthenics program through his own studio and gym.
Working out is a great habit for anyone to get into, at any age.
Calisthenics, like any exercise, is only dangerous when you don’t pay attention to form, and for kids when they are unsupervised. That’s it.
Equipment That Helps Calisthenics
So the appeal is just hitting the ground running, right?
It’s a great mentality, and you can get started in no time.
The thing is, we’re not going to deny that there are certainly some things that help make this a much easier process. It’s not the required equipment, but it’s nice to have.
Need some extra traction? Don’t we all.
Some movements, like the Russian twist, could have you scooting around on the floor, especially if you have hardwood or tile.
These help keep you in place during in-depth, complex movements.
This sounds pretty backward, so let me explain it. In parkour, they use baggy pants that are fitted at the waist, and tight around your ankles.
The baggy part helps you with compound movements. You aren’t going to feel your sweatpants sliding or tugging down (which happens even if you’re lean and cut).
Since it’s best to do calisthenics shirtless, these are the only piece of clothing you really need in the privacy of your own home.
Push Up Stands
Having trouble getting that perfect push up down pat?
Get in line. The form is everything, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get it right.
Push up stands help you keep your arms straight in the beginning, and give you some extra traction since the bottoms of them usually have rubber strips or padding.
Your Workout, Your Way
Calisthenics has a ton of different ways that you can get started.
All it takes is some determination and a love for the rush of adrenaline that comes from all of the relative weight training you’ll be doing.
If you’re looking to get started on a workout as soon as possible, this is what you need to do.
Move your living room around, make some room, put on some tunes, and just get right to it.
Start out with some of the recommendations we’ve provided here, and you’ll be itching to continue your calisthenics training in no time.
To continue your calisthenics, consider getting a pull-up bar or a power tower when you get to the stage where you can do pull-ups and dips.
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